Musing about mission – Being a witness Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NIV copyright Biblica)

Continuing my notes from things I’ve shared in staff meetings here are a few thoughts from Acts 1:8

Context:

This is one of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances to his disciples. Luke opens the book of Acts with this final appearance just before Jesus ascends into heaven. Here Jesus tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them when they will receive power.

As he has noted in v5 in a few days they are to be Baptised in (or with) the Holy Spirit, a mark of this new era that Jesus’ is inaugurating. A baptism not just of cleaning, but of power. The power needed to carry out the mission he is giving them.

In many ways Acts 1:8 is a summary of the book of Acts, but it is also a key verse for mission and has a couple of things to draw our attention to.

Witnesses:

The Spirit comes to enable the disciples to speak boldly. To enable them to witness (Baptism in Spirit, prophetic element).

In the Old Testament a witness is someone who helps establish facts. Hence passages like Isaiah 43:10-12:

 “But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.
    “You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.
11 I, yes I, am the Lord,
    and there is no other Saviour.
12 First I predicted your rescue,
    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
    says the Lord.

Those who experienced Jesus and saw his resurrection, such as the disciples are now qualified as witnesses. The Spirit will give them the power to boldly articulate what happened. Rather than worrying about how it will all end, what the end result will be for Israel, Rome or others they are to be focused on carrying the message.

For us – now we are those who have experienced Jesus in our lives – who know God, are chosen and believe in him. So, bearing witness is more than just evangelism – it’s about living out the principles and practices of the kingdom of God (in places where you might get killed, among your enemies, among hostile cultures). All of us are called to bear witness in a variety of ways.

Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the world.

Traditionally, people have used this, when talking of mission, to talk about local area, wider country, and the whole world. Or perhaps witness to people in the same culture, a similar culture, and cross cultural.

And although there has been a dispute about exactly what it means perhaps we might note there is more to this than Geography.

  • Disciples were from Galilee not Jerusalem, so Jerusalem wasn’t their local place anyway.
  • More likely it has an ethnic element: from Jews (centred on Jerusalem) to Gentiles (centred on Rome and the ends of the earth). This is the basic structure of the book of Acts of course, the book is kind of living out this instruction.

Again, the Old Testament can help us with Isaiah 49:6 (Italics mine)

He says:
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

The disciples were concerned about restoring Israel – Jesus is concerned about salvation reaching the ends of the earth.

So where are the ends of the earth? Are they Rome, Spain, Ethiopia?  (1 Clement 5:7 would give weight to Spain, the extremity of the West)

Alternatively, perhaps the end of the earth is universal, not geographical; so this is a phrase that indicates the gospel being preached everywhere, to cover the whole earth.

Or perhaps the phrase is more ethnic and religious, cultural & social and should not just be thought of physically.

Whatever the correct interpretation of the verse, it seems fair to suggest that this is mission to all peoples, whoever they are and wherever they are. And we have a part to play, telling what God has done.

To ponder:

  • In what ways is my life a witness? How do I tell people of what God has done and of my experience of Jesus?
  • In what ways do I help spread this good news, in my locality and more broadly?
  • How aware am I of the Holy Spirit’s empowering me so that I can live and speak boldly?
  • What’s the difference between being a witness, and being an ‘influencer’? Are there lessons we can learn from Social Media influencers that can help us in mission?
Photo by nappy from Pexels

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