"They no longer knew God!"
That's the tragic sentiment, the awful reality we find with God's people after Joshua and his generation died. It had catastrophic implications for the dark period of the Bible we call the Judges:
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).
No one was left among God's people to be witnesses to others of his mighty acts of deliverance, guidance, and grace. What was the result? The people did what they wanted and turned away from God because they did not know him. They then became prey to the nations around them. In their religion and daily lives, they devolved into a people less and less recognizable as the people of God.
How important is it to experience the work of God for us in Jesus today?
Experiencing God through the work of Jesus is just as vital for us in our lives today as it was for those first believers so long ago.
When Jesus first sent his disciples out on his mission, he sent them as witnesses of the great things God had done through him and in them:
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 — Bold added for emphasis.)
Like the man delivered from thousands of demons, we are to "Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on" us (Mark 5:18).
However, our work as witnesses must not stop with testifying just to our "own people"! Jesus' commissioned us to share it with everyone from all nations and people groups (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8-10; 1 Peter 3:15-16). We must commit to sharing our testimony with all people the Lord places in our paths. We are to be Jesus' witnesses to everyone, to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8) and to "all nations" (Luke 24:47-48).
There are, of course, a couple of problems with this challenge.
- We must experience the work of God through Jesus in our lives.
- We must be committed to sharing effectively and respectfully what God has done in our lives.
Let's address these challenges, beginning with the second one.
The apostle Peter — who originally carried out the Lord's commission to share Jesus with the world — anchored the effective and respectful sharing of our Jesus in five committed actions (1 Peter 3:15-16):
- Willingness to share our faith to honor Jesus as our Lord.
- Preparing something we can share about what Jesus has done in our lives.
- Living based upon the hope we have discovered in Jesus.
- Treating others with gentleness and respect as Jesus treated others.
- Living good lives no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves as Jesus did.
But, what do we share? Ah, that's the witness part. We are to share what we've seen the Lord do in our own lives and the lives of those around us! We must NOT be like the people in Judges 2:10 — one generation after another didn't know the great things the Lord had done for them!
Of course, I can hear some objections from folks:
"But I'm not even sure what kind of great things I'm looking to find."
"But I'm not sure he still does those kinds of things today."
Living passionately for Jesus and giving thanks for his work in our lives is vitally important if we are going to have anything worthwhile something to share with others. Without intentionally obeying the Lord and giving thanks for what he is doing in us, we soon forget that he is at work in our lives. Our discipleship becomes the recitation of great things he used to do in the first century. There is no living witness to what he is doing now because we believe all that stopped a long, long time ago.
However, if we obey and give thanks intentionally for what the Lord is doing to bless us, we can witness the Lord's work in our lives. We can experience his presence and power as we obey him. And, we can have a powerful testimony to share with others! We can "live into" his answers to our prayers.
Both Luke and Paul emphasize the incredible work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we live for Jesus (Acts 2:38-47; Romans 8:1-39; Ephesians 3:14-21; 2 Corinthians 3:17). Consistent with the will of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is at work in us to:
- Leads us.
- Guide us.
- Intercede for us when we pray.
- Empower us as we serve.
- Close doors we don't need to open.
- Open doors we need to walk through.
- Provide us gifts to use for ministry.
- Give us words to say when we need to share our witness before those who are interested or hostile.
- Be at work in us constantly to transform us to become like Christ.
The Spirit's presence in us is our power to experience the great things God is doing through Jesus and our passion as Jesus' effective witnesses (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:48-49).
Matthew wrote his gospel to remind us that Jesus wasn't just another great teacher like Moses, who lived and ministered long ago and far away. He is also the Lord who does mighty acts through us, in us, and among us today. Jesus promises to be present, experience-able, and with us in four ways as Immanuel, God with us, today:
- As we read about him and join him in the long story of God's work through his people (Matthew 1:23).[NOTE]
- As we live together in genuine fellowship and radical community — "there I am with them" (Matthew 18:20).
- As we care for those who are in need — what you did for these, "you were doing it to me" (Matthew 28:40 NLT).
- As we go to share the great news about Jesus with the world — "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20).
As we experience Jesus' presence — his work in us, through us, and among us — we have something to share with people. We not only can share what Jesus did in his ministry; we can also share what he is doing now in our lives. We become witnesses of his work. We experience his acts of mercy and power in our daily lives. We get to be front-row witnesses of his mighty acts of deliverance, guidance, and grace in our lives and the lives of those we reach out to bless. We experience Jesus as Immanuel — God with us — as we live out the promise our Lord gave us:
"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:12-13).
We are witnesses!
We have something to share!
So, let's be witnesses with those here, near, and far (Acts 1:8) like the first followers of Jesus. Their lives were so tied to Jesus that their critics recognized their power came from him!
The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13 NLT).
Today's message is part five of an eight-part series called 8GHT — Eight Truths that Turned the World Upside Down!
- Jesus Isn't Finished with Us Yet!
- Its All About Jesus
- All Seekers Are Welcome Here
- What Time Is It?
- The Revolutionary Power of Witnesses
- A Family Without Borders
- Jesus' Power to Get It Done
- Don't Just Stand There!
[NOTE] The scripture references from Matthew are the direct uses of the name "Immanuel" or phrases that are synonymous with its meaning — "God with us." Notice the synonymous phrases: "I am in your midst," "you have done it unto me," and "I am with you always..." In addition, the contexts that surround these passages define and explain the four moves to experience Immanuel that Matthew is emphasizing. See the genealogy of chapter 1, the emphasis on the practices and values of the radical community Jesus describes in chapter 18, the parable of helping those in need in Matthew 25, and the Great Commission of Jesus in chapter 28.
Special thanks for the use of the Jesus related images in this series to Free Bible Images and The Lumo Project. Those pictures associated with the ministry of the apostle Paul are courtesy of Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc. © All rights reserved, from ToTheEndsofTheEarthMovie.com.