Primary Witness

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought those who were ill into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people all about this new life’ … 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.  (Acts 5:12-20&42)
26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)
So far this week we have looked at what it means for us to be a church without walls that communicates God’s message of new life to the nonbelievers all around us. But let’s be honest with one another. We can find this pretty hard. We often feel discouraged and alone and as though we aren’t making much progress. That’s why I’m so grateful for what God teaches us in Acts 5 and in two little verses in John 15:26-27.

For many of us, sharing our faith with nonbelievers feels like what happened to the US soldiers who landed on Omaho Beach on D-Day, 6th June 1944. That was the beach where soldiers landed without any of the big artillery support that aided the soldiers on the other four D-Day beaches. Their naval support was insufficient, their bomber support failed altogether, and over half of their tanks were sunk before they ever reached the shore. The American G.I.s who attacked the German defences at Omaha were forced to do so without the artillery support which proved so decisive elsewhere. As a result, fifteen times as many men fell taking Omaha as any other beach on D-Day.

We saw in Acts 1 that Jesus told the Early Church not to attempt their mission to proclaim the Good News to the world until they were baptised in the Holy Spirit. He didn’t want Jerusalem to become their Omaha, so he warned them to wait for the artillery to arrive. The Holy Spirit would fill them and turn them into Jesus’ witnesses, but he would also go one vital step further. The Holy Spirit would also be the Primary Witness himself.

Most of our problems in evangelism stem from the mistaken assumption that we need to persuade God to join us in our mission. Joshua made this mistake when he entered the Promised Land, and was reminded by an angel he was fighting in God’s mission and not the other way round (Joshua 5:13-15). Jesus issued the same warning to the disciples in John 15:26-27 when he promised that, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father … he will bear witness about me. And you also must bear witness.” Unless you understand that the Holy Spirit is the Primary Witness and that we merely play the role of secondary witnesses, then you will find the Great Commission rather like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. The Holy Spirit destroys Satan’s defences with his miraculous covering fire, so that we can march forward to lead people to repentance through the Gospel.

Whichever way you read the book of Acts, one constant fact should be clear: The Church grew rapidly in its early years because the Holy Spirit empowered God’s People to perform amazing miracles of healing and deliverance. In Jerusalem, the non-Christian crowds lined the streets to be healed by Peter and the other apostles. We cannot hope to see such mighty advance for the Gospel by merely proclaiming to people that Jesus is King. We need to make room for the Holy Spirit to open up his bombardment and prove that the message we are preaching is true.

The promise in John 15 and Acts 5 that the Holy Spirit wants to play the role of Primary Witness is enormously encouraging, yet it is all too tempting to continue to assault the beaches by ourselves. Few of us deny the Holy Spirit’s role altogether, but we can often relegate him to a supervisory role. We argue that that was then and this is now, and assume that such miracles of healing belong to a bygone generation. We forget that Jesus himself was accredited to the world by his miracles through the Spirit, and that he promised to accredit anyone who followed him by doing “greater things than these” when he filled them with his Spirit (John 14:12). We forget that such miracles were a vital factor in all four of Paul’s missionary journeys, and that we mustn’t embark on any ventures of our own without working with the Spirit in exactly the same way.

Perhaps we find it easier to leave miracles to the history-books because we are profoundly aware of our own inadequacies. We reel from past disappointments and persuade ourselves that such healings belong to a superior class of Christian, like the apostles. But those apostles disagree! Peter asks us incredulously in Acts 3:12&16, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? … By faith in the name of Jesus, this man … was made strong.” Paul asks similarly, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard?” (Galatians 3:5) Acts 14:3 tells us literally that the Lord bore witness alongside Paul and Barnabas, by performing great miracles which proved that their message was true. God agrees with you that you are inadequate, but he insists this means you need the Holy Spirit’s artillery more, not less, than they did.

I was once very sceptical about all this. I had read the book of Acts but assumed it was a hero-story for my admiration, not imitation. Then, through the goading of a mature Christian mentor, I began to take risks and to ask God to heal people whenever I preached the Gospel. When the Holy Spirit – to my complete surprise and amazement – started healing a few of those I prayed for, I saw a sudden increase in the number of people who responded for salvation. I’m still a very ordinary infantryman, but I’m not sceptical any more. I’ve started making room for the Holy Spirit to be the Primary Witness, and discovering that he makes us very fruitful when we do.

I still feel dry-mouthed with fear every time I pray for healing, like Tom Hanks at the start of Saving Private Ryan. I still make mistakes and get embarrassed, and I still get confused and disappointed. But I’m through with Omaha Beach and asking the Holy Spirit to play a backseat role. I’m following the teaching of Acts to let the Holy Spirit be the Primary Witness as I work with him to heal and to deliver. Whatever your own background and whatever your current experience, I encourage you to leave Omaha Beach behind today. The Holy Spirit has his artillery ready and is looking for modern-day secondary witnesses. Speak to him today and ask him to be your Primary Witness.
1)   Do you generally find sharing your faith with nonbelievers easy or difficult?

2)   How many of your difficulties stem from the fact that you are trying to persuade people with your words alone?

3)   What difference does it make for you to know that the Holy Spirit is the Primary Witness and that he is calling you to witness with him?
Lord Jesus, you warned your followers that witnessing to others would feel impossible unless they did it in partnership with the Holy Spirit as the Primary Witness. I confess by my own experience that you were right! I have felt at many times as if I am fighting on Omaha Beach, without the firepower of heaven fighting with me. Please, Lord Jesus, fill me with the Holy Spirit and empower me to prove the Gospel through my works, not just proclaim the Gospel through my words. Help me to perform miracles like the Christians in Jerusalem, for your glory and for the advance of your Kingdom all around me. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.

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