Witnesses For Christ
May 5, 1996
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomi Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA, Translated January 1, 2009
1. We will begin reading as of today's service from The Acts Of The Apostles. To begin then, please look at verses one and two. "Oh Theophilus, having already inscribed it in the first scroll, I have recorded everything from the day Jesus began to minister and to teach until he gave the chosen apostles instructions through the Holy Spirit and ascended to heaven." The first scroll which was already written is The Gospel According To Luke. He says, "Everything from the day Jesus began to minister and to teach until he ... ascended to heaven" is written about in Luke's Gospel. Of course, the fact that Jesus had begun to minister and to teach is not implying that after Jesus ascended to heaven, he was finished [ministering and teaching]. Later on, with the second scroll, Luke is wanting to say that "I am inscribing what Jesus continued to do and to teach, among the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, after he ascended to heaven."
2. Today I read to you from the beginning of the chapter to verse eleven. [What happened] from Christ's resurrection to [his] ascension is recorded in it. This is the range of the text writen in Luke's Gospel. [We] still haven't gotten into the main details of Acts. What Christ did between the resurrection and the ascension has very great meaning as we understand the work of the disciples later on and the figure of the church. And it will also lead to our understanding correctly what our church is as we are placed in this modern world, and what it means to be a Christian. What did the risen Christ do until his ascension? Today we want to take careful note of just these two points.
3. To begin, please read verse three. "Christ showed the people that he was alive with numerous proofs, and for forty days he appeared to them, and spoke about the kingdom of God." We want to take note first of the interesting descriptive line that Christ "spoke about the kingdom of God." This clearly shows that wherever the church had to put its eyes is where the focus must be zeroed in on when we consider its work, which is on "the kingdom of God." The church must always be thinking "the kingdom of God." When we read The Gospel According To Luke, which is the first volume, we easily see the reason. The central subject of Christ's preaching was "the kingdom of God." "Everything that" Jesus "began to do and to teach" pointed to "the kingdom of God." Jesus declared "the kingdom of God" by words and actions. Furthermore, Christ has continued to do so through the church.
4. "The kingdom of God" stands directly for "the government of God, the reign of God." First of all it is [our] hope in the coming world for which we are waiting and expecting. The hope of the kingdom of God, the hope of a heavenly kingdom, could be defined as the hope in a world in which God alone governs perfectly. Since it is a place where only God governs, it has no sin in it. It has no death in it. It has no sickness. It has no sorrow. It has no grief. The power of evil is destroyed and is not there. The kingdom of God is wonderful because only God reigns over it. This passing world is a world where the power of sin and death rule over it. This world has grief in it, it has absurdities in it, evil rules it, sorrow fills it. Therefore, the hope of the kingdom of God is fundamentally the hope in the world that is to come and not this world.
5. However, Christ did not merely declare the kingdom of God as a far off hope. Christ said, "If I am casting out evil spirits with the finger of God, the kingdom of God has come to you," (Luke 11:20). In addition, he said, "Truly, the kingdom of God is among you," (Luke 17:21). The things Christ did, the works of healing, the different signs, the miracles, are things that show the arrival of the kingdom of God. Christ showed that the kingdom of God has already come through those works and words of his. This is saying, namely, that people can live in the kingdom of God already while in this world and not just wait for it just hopeful of the kingdom of God. People can live under the blessed and gracious rule of God. People can live in fellowship with God.
6. In this way then, Christ declared the hope of the kingdom of God and showed the arrival of the kingdom of God. Also, Christ's work as the savior was nothing other than to bring persons into the kingdom of God. For that reason it was necessary for God to arrange for him to walk as the suffering messiah. -- Because no one could ever enter the kingdom of God as is, unchanged. Since the kingdom of God is a place where only God rules, sinners cannot enter into it. -- Because for a sinner to enter directly into God's presence means judgment. Christ had to make atonement for sin in order for persons to turn to God and to live in the kingdom of God. -- Because unless one's sins are forgiven, nobody can enter into the kingdom of God. Therefore then, in the last section of Luke's Gospel the text says the following. Please look at Luke 24:45. "And in order to enlighten them to the scriptures Jesus opened the eyes of their hearts and said, 'It is written as follows. The messiah will suffer and be raised from the dead on the third day. Also repentance effective in obtaining the forgiveness of sin will be proclaimed to persons from all different nations in that name. Beginning from Jerusalem, you will become witnesses of these things. I am sending you the one whom the father promised. Stay in the capital city until you are overshadowed by the power from on high.'," (Luke 24:45-49). Well, we quickly see that this section corresponds to the beginning of Acts which I read to you today. Thus, the resurrected Christ stated that in order for the kingdom of God to be declared by the apostles and for persons to enter [the kingdom], the messiah would suffer and be raised from the dead, and repentance effective in obtaining forgiveness of sin would have to be proclaimed in the name of that suffering messiah.
7. The church must not take its eyes off this "kingdom of God." The church is not to be concerned only with meeting the psychological and the physical needs of persons. The church has to do with the kingdom of God. [The church] has to do with the relationships between persons and God. It has to do with the eternal salvation of human beings. I repeat. The miracles of Christ, for instance the works of healing, are "signs" that point to the arrival of God's kingdom. Even in The Acts Of The Apostles which we will be reading from here on, a lot of miracles of healing can be found. [But] they were not special events at all two thousand years ago. Many descriptions of miracles have been left behind even in the church, historically speaking. From a modern perspective or even a secular one, healings and other miracles are not strange at all in Christ's church. At the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, [England], which is a part of the Anglican Church, which I visited in January, such miracles of healing take place every week. Perhaps even in Japan, the time will soon be here when such things won't be strange. But, we must not forget that it says these are "signs of the kingdom of God." We must not say that the healing itself like a new religion with healing for sale is the salvation. Even if a person is healed of an incurable illness, (unless he or she is let into the kingdom of God), whenever a person has lost his or her relationship and fellowship with God, then he or she does not have true salvation. -- Because the person is still a lost person and not having true life he or she will perish. The eyes of the church must be on the kingdom of God, which Christ declared. The center of that preaching is to be on proclaiming through the name of Christ the repentance effective in obtaining the forgiveness of sin. It is just how he said it, "You will become witnesses of these things."
8. Next, Christ commanded that the disciples should wait for the Holy Spirit. "Don't leave Jerusalem, but await that which the father promised, which you have heard from me before; because John conferred baptism by water, but soon you will be conferred with a baptism that comes from the Holy Spirit." After that, Christ went on to say some more, "When the Holy Spirit comes down upon you, you will receive power. And not only in Jerusalem, but in all of Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth, you will become my witnesses," (verse eight). He told them to "Remain in Jerusalem." They must wait. Why is [that]? Christ showed the apostles with numerous proofs that he was alive. They met with the risen Christ. I think we could say it was a deeply religious experience. If that's the case, then why couldn't they become witnesses of Christ on that alone? They were personally taught by the risen Christ on the kingdom of God. I am quite sure that what took place is that the eyes of their hearts were opened that they might discern the scriptures, and they were taught how the scriptures speak regarding the Christ, and why the Christ had to suffer. Why couldn't they become witnesses of Christ with that alone? Why couldn't they leave immediately and do the work of preaching?
9. [They couldn't], however; Christ says, "When the Holy Spirit comes down upon you, you will receive power. And ... you will become my witnesses." To become witnesses for Christ they needed power. How ever special and religious an experience may be or how ever deep and theological the insight may be, these things do not make a person a witness for Christ. [You] need power. And that power is a power that comes from God, it is a power that is present through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, it is the Spirit of Christ. In other words, there is power to make us witnesses for Christ when God himself comes to live inside us and works in us. So, in the very short sentence of "When the Holy Spirit comes down, you will have power," the church's true nature is brilliantly revealed. The church is not an entity that is merely entrusted with a certain amount of tasks by God and then executes them. The church's true nature is when the Spirit of God, inside [the church] works as the main agent. It is when Christ lives inside [the church] and is working. Christians are not merely entrusted with a task and told to "Do your best and accomplish it." Christians ought to expect that by being filled with God's Spirit Christ will live and work through their lives. Because the one who gives the power to be witnesses is the Holy Spirit, and it is the risen Christ who lives and works, the issue is not whether a person has or doesn't have the ability. The issue is not whether [a person is] young or old, healthy or bedridden. The apostles were called "illiterate ordinary men," (Acts 4:13). Yet, the power of the Holy Spirit made them witnesses for Christ. That is the reason we, too, should seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit, pray, expect, and wait eagerly.
10. The apostles had to remain in Jerusalem in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be given the power to become witnesses. Christ told them to stay in Jerusalem. That place was a place of frustration for them. It was the place where they were frustrated by having once supposed, "I will even give my very life away for Jesus!" It was the place they betrayed him. And it was the place where the religious powers of the powerful Jewish authorities governed. It was the place where they could not help but admit that they existed like trash so that how ever hard they tried they could not do a thing. It was a place where they were to be made utterly and completely humble, a place where they could now only be expectant, wait eagerly for God, and pray. Jesus commanded that they remain there.
11. In a similar fashion, I think that Christians everywhere must honestly come face to face with their own powerlessness. At times it will be necessary for us to stay in a place where we are utterly and completely humbled. -- Because try as we might in the flesh we're born in, our tenacity and efforts do not testify to Christ or guide persons into the kingdom of God. The very pride of human beings, unwilling to surrender themselves, to trust, and to seek God in prayer, hinders true preaching. As a result of not realizing that, how many times has it been that even though [people] are supposed to be living as a witness for Christ, no matter how much time goes by, just as always never changing, the people around them never encounter Christ, but are in a place even further from the kingdom of God!!! Staying in the capital city, they prayed expectantly. We must study the meaning of that.
12. Well, when Christ finished speaking everything, right as the apostles were looking, he ascended into heaven. As this is an event that comes under divine mysteries, taking it as a remarkable occurrence, a phenomenon, we don't clearly understand what kind of thing this was. But, we are reasonably assured that there was an event worthy to be called "the ascension," because after this Christ would not appear as the risen Lord visible to the eye, but yet the apostles never worry and never become anxious again. Christ became the unseen One, but to them he became even closer, more of a friend, and more certain a person. Also, the ascension of Christ expresses that Christ became the One who is the highest on high. As it has it in the Apostles' Creed, it has the meaning he "sits on the right hand of God." It was expressed with the ascension and with Christ's having said, "I receive absolutely all authority over heaven and earth (from God the Father)," (Matthew 28:18). In fact, as Christ lived and worked with that authority and power in those who prayed together and were filled with the Holy Spirit, the first generation church was formed. We will, in due time, come to see in this book what that is. We want to go on reading this book together always remembering that it is also about our church which is in the same long line to the church which we see here in this text, and it is about our own day to day faith lives.