The book of Acts starts out with Christ’s final words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) This key verse lays out the main theme of our study – witness. We see this command being carried out by various followers of Christ throughout Acts.
Giving All for Christ
After Christ ascended into heaven, we see the emergence of the early church. The day of Pentecost occurred, in which the promise of the Holy Spirit came to pass. After this, sermons were preached, Jesus was proclaimed, and many came to know Christ as their Savior. As believers increased in number, the persecution also increased. Those who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and that salvation was only through Him, sought to harm, imprison, and even kill those that believed. Stephen, a follower of Jesus Christ, was falsely accused and put on trial before the chief priest and the council. With boldness, Stephen put forth a powerful defense in which he proclaimed truths from God’s Word as he referenced passages in the Old Testament, all the while pointing to Christ. Stephen was faithful to the end, glorifying God both in his life, and as he was dying. Just before his last breath, Stephen cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” followed by, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:59-60). What Stephen prayed for those who wronged him, did not contain words one would naturally think when being stoned to death, but here we see the Holy Spirit strengthened him.
The Christian life is about denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him (Matt. 16:24). This surrender is costly, but Christ gives the promise that, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (verse 25). He also says in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This understanding of Christ’s words allowed the apostles in Acts 5 to rejoice that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name, after they had been imprisoned and then released (verse 41).
Unlikely Convert and the Gospel
Saul was a devout Jew, raised in a prestigious home, who sought to annihilate all who claimed to be disciples of the Jesus. He was right there during the stoning of Stephen, heartily agreeing that he was deserving of death (Acts 7:58, 8:1). While travelling to Damascus one day, a bright light from heaven struck him, and a voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). This was Jesus speaking, and through the working of the Holy Spirit in his heart, Saul (or Paul) had a complete transformation in his life. Previously a loud protestor of Christianity, Paul became the loudest proclaimer of it. Once a hater of all who followed Jesus, Paul was now completely and utterly devoted to the cause of the gospel. We see this evidenced not only in a large portion of Acts, but also throughout the letters written by Paul to various believers and churches. We read about Paul’s ministry in Scripture, and it’s important to remember where this man of God was before he surrendered all to Christ – broken, sinful, and messed up. Regardless of your past, God can bring beauty out of ashes, and He has called all believers to be His witnesses and to spread His glory among the nations. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). What a privilege we have to spread His most holy name, and we must not take this lightly.
“Facing a task unfinished, that drives us to our knees, a need that, undiminished, rebukes our slothful ease. We, who rejoice to know Thee, renew before Thy throne the solemn pledge we owe Thee – to go and make Thee known.” (Frank Houghton, hymn “Facing a Task Unfinished”)
Live it Out
Christ’s command to witness to those near and far is not just for first-century apostles, but is a call to all believers. In what ways can you be a witness for Christ, whether in your own home and neighborhood, workplace and social settings, or abroad? How can you live in constant surrender to the will of God in your life?
Written by NBB Alumna: Ruth Derby