From the Pastor's Desk 

Can I Have a Witness?



            Let's pray.


            Of course this past week we celebrated Halloween.  Other than doing our annual trunk or treat (which was a big success and I thank everyone who helped out or participated in any way, we obviously couldn't do it without you) I really don't like Halloween.  There are a lot of images and ideas associated with this so-called holiday, most of which I don't like.  Skeletons, witches, blood and gore are all unpleasant images. 

            Something that seems to go hand in hand with this time of year is horror movies.  This genre of movie is hugely popular and very successful.  From movies like Poltergeist, to Halloween, to Friday the 13th and including lighter fare like Ghostbusters, horror movies are all the rage.  I don't like them.  I don't think they're very godly or glorifying to God.

            One of the more obvious images of Halloween is ghosts.  A ghost can also be called an apparition, phantom, poltergeist, spirit or spook.  In folklore, a ghost is "the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear to the living."  Descriptions of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent to barely visible wispy shapes, to realistic lifelike visions.

            A lot of people believe in ghosts.  Haunted houses around Halloween obviously aren't meant to depict some sort of actual ghostly haunting.  But there are folks out there and maybe you're one of them and you don't like what I'm saying, who actually believe that disembodied spirits inhabit certain dwellings and try to spook and scare people who live there.

            I am not one of those folks.  I do not believe that ghosts are real.  That's because biblically, there is no such thing as a ghost.  If a ghost is the spirit of a person who has died that is allowed to dwell in this earthly dimension while waiting for its final eternal resting place, then no, they absolutely do not exist because that is not Biblical.

            Scripture is very clear what happens to us when we die.  When those who are born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ die, their soul goes immediately into the presence of Christ.  That's why Jesus could tell the thief on the cross that he would be with the Lord in paradise that very day.  Paul said that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord.  That's a pretty straightforward teaching about what happens to our spirit the moment we die. 

            It would therefore also be true that those who don't belong to Jesus would be absent from the body and in hell for eternity.  When those who are not saved die, they go immediately to hell to be separated from God forever.  This is highlighted in the story in Luke about the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man died and was immediately in his eternal state of torment.  That's it.  Upon death our spirit lives on immediately one place or another. 

            There is no waiting period.  There is no purgatory where people wait in spiritual limbo for decisions to be made about where they will spend eternity.  We can't pray our dead relatives into heaven if they weren't destined to go there when they died.  Once we are dead our eternal destination is forever determined.  There are no ghosts.  But, biblically, there is the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit, but that is a totally different topic, and one that we're going to look at again this morning.


            The Holy Spirit is hugely important to us as Christians and Jesus made that clear in His final hours with the disciples.  As Jesus gathered with them on the night before His death, He knew they were filled with sorrow and fear.  Their love for Him was so intense that they were convinced that they would rather die with Him than live without Him.  Jesus knew better than that.  In fact, He predicted that they would all abandon Him.  It was then that Peter promised that he would never fall away and that he was willing to die with Him.  He wasn't the only one who said that.  All of the other disciples said the exact same thing.

            With His closest followers overcome by fear and sorrow and overwhelmed by a sense of impending loss, Jesus spent that final night comforting them.  He provided them comfort even though He Himself was about to endure unimaginable suffering.  With the cross just hours away, Jesus selflessly concerned Himself with the anxious apprehensions of His frightened followers.

            He did that by offering them some much needed reassurance.  He also made them some promises which further assured them that they would not lack the resources they needed after He was gone.  He reassured them of His continuing and never ending love.  He promised them peace, answered prayer and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus also knew that these men were going to face the world's hostility.  So He balanced His promises of blessing and comfort with warnings about the persecution they would face in His name. 


            All of the promises and reassurances that Jesus made would be fulfilled in the person of God's Holy Spirit.  For example, He promised to return and take His own to be with Him in heaven.  We, therefore as His followers, can confidently look forward to eternal life with Christ in resurrected glory.  As a guarantee that He will do as He promised, God sent the Holy Spirit as a pledge.

            Jesus also promised that His followers would do greater works than He did.  Before He ascended to be with the Father, He revealed the source of the power that would enable believers to do those works.  Acts 1:8 says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you."  It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that enables believers to do far more than we can even imagine.

            Another promise Jesus made was that He and the Father would reside in believers.  He promised that our saving relationship with God would be safe and secure and that nothing would separate us from God.  In addition, He promised His followers a legacy of peace, love and joy.  All of those promises are fulfilled in and through the Holy Spirit's dwelling in us and empowering us to live the kind of life Jesus wants us to live. 

            The legacy Jesus gave the church also includes the power to evangelize the world.  That power also comes from the Holy Spirit.  There can be no Christian witness apart from the Spirit.  He convicts the world of sin.  No one can be saved without confessing Jesus as Lord; no one can do that without the Spirit's work in their lives. 

            We're going to continue our look at the gospel of John this morning by examining a short passage where Jesus reiterates His earlier promise to send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower His followers.  The emphasis this time is on the Spirit's enabling us to be an effective witness for the Lord.  Let's now read John 15:26-27


            Jesus had just explained to the disciples that they were going to be hated and persecuted because of Him.  But here He gives these men and us another wonderful promise that would help them deal with whatever difficulties lay ahead for them.  He promises that the cause of Christ and the witness of the Lord will continue in the world, regardless of whatever opposition it receives.  It is the person of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who will keep the cause of Christ powerfully and triumphantly proclaimed.

            Our initial human reaction to any sort of negativity is withdrawal.  Nobody wants conflict, well most people don't like conflict, so we do all that we can to avoid it.  If preaching the gospel and witnessing to people is going to cause conflict; if people aren't going to like us because we live for the Lord, then we'd just as soon not preach the gospel and not witness to people.  Even though we know Christ wants us to be an effective witness, we justify it in our minds that it's OK we don't because we want to keep the peace and avoid any aspect of negativity in our lives.

            We have to overcome that tendency to withdraw from the world when conflict seems inevitable.  I'm the worst of the bunch.  I am the poster child for conflict avoidance.  I will do just about anything to avoid having problems with someone else.  That's not good; that's not healthy; that is not how God wants us to live. 

            That's why He sent the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promises here that His followers, by the Spirit's assistance and enablement, will be His witnesses.  Our witness and our testimony for the Lord isn't unlike our modern court proceedings.  We are to testify to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning Christ.  That is our job; that's what he's called us to do.  We haven't been called and set apart to run and hide; to only engage in feel good activities and conversations; to avoid conflict.

            The disciples tended to have a flight mentality as well.  After Jesus was arrested in the Garden, He was illegally tried before the High Priest and before Pilate.  During that time when Jesus needed His closest friends there for support, they all ran and hid for their lives.  Yet, after the Spirit was poured out upon them on the Day of Pentecost, they courageously witnessed for the Lord to the point that they all faced persecution and death because of their testimony.


            It wasn't too long ago that we took a long, close look at the Holy Spirit.  He is the least studied and least understood of the three persons of the Trinity.  Partly because His working is so mysterious, we tend to maybe shy away from studying Him like we should.  But it's important that we do know about the Spirit, so we're going to take a closer look at Him now.

            One of the most important aspects of the Holy Spirit is that He is a distinct person.  He is not a quality; He is not a property; He is not some transcendent aura that is beyond our ability to understand.  The Holy Spirit is a divine person.  One of the proofs of that is found right here in verse 26 where it says that He "proceeds from the Father."  One author put it this way:  He is the emanation of divine light and the energy of divine power.

            The Spirit also has a specific mission.  He was sent to all of Christ's followers.  Everyone who is a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.  But His role is more specific than that.  One of the things that He does is to instruct us how to teach and preach2 Peter 1:21.  Our teaching and instruction doesn't come from us, it comes from the Holy Spirit's working in our lives. 

            He enables us for the work Christ calls us to do.  We know well what the Great Commission says.  "And I am with you always."  That promise from Jesus is fulfilled by the person of the Holy Spirit living in us.  We can do what He wants because the Spirit enables us to do it.  The Holy Spirit also carries us through our sufferingsPs. 23:4.  Even when we go through the toughest, most difficult times of life, Jesus, through the Spirit, is with us.  He comforts us and gives us strength. 

            The Spirit is our Counselor.  Other names related to that title include Comforter and Advocate.  He is our advocate for Christ.  He maintains His cause against the world's opposition.  He comforts us against the world's hatred.  He inspired Scripture; He qualifies ministers and He sanctifies Christians. 


            We need to make note of a few things from this passage.  For one, our witness as believers is to the world.  That fact is not specifically highlighted in these two verses, but it's certainly implied that one of the objectives of our lives is the world of lost sinners.

            That may seem rather obvious, and I hope that it comes across to you all as rather obvious, yet we don't tend to live like its overly obvious to us.  We don't tend to have a true world view when it comes to spreading the gospel.  Yet, Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations; that is what we need to do.

            We need to come to the point where we realize that the world is in desperate need of a clear presentation of the gospel.  We live in a modern age of relativism and ambiguity.  Because of that, the world needs God's absolute truth.  The world needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus warned His disciples and He warns us that His message of love, hope and salvation will incredibly be met with hostility and opposition.  If we're going to be faithful, we must speak boldly and with conviction.  2 Cor. 4:13-14.  We are able to do that through the Spirit working in our lives.

            It's also true that to be effective, we need to make sure that we are not a part of the world system.  We are in the world; we are not of the world.  If the gospel is going to be preached with power and authority we need to make sure that we don't compromise with the satanic world system that is irrevocably opposed to the kingdom of God.  We must confront the lost with compassion and gospel love.  2 Tim. 2:24-26.


            Another truth that we find in these verses is that our witness is from the Father(v. 26a).  The first and greatest form of testimony about Jesus Christ and who He is comes from the Father.  He testifies to the Son in several ways.

            For one, He spoke in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The theme of God's revelation from the very beginning was Jesus Christ.  John 5:39.  The Father testified to the Son through the divine works Jesus did.  John 5:36.  The Father's direct statements also testify to the son.  Matt. 3:17.  God also testified to the Son by sending the Helper1 John 5:6.  


            Our Christian witness is about the Son.  (v. 26b).  The Holy Spirit's primary ministry to the lost world is to testify about Jesus.  Likewise, the message of the church is not political activism, social reform or psychological self-fulfillment, although those can be by-products of what Jesus is doing in the world and what He is doing in people's lives.  Our message is Jesus Christ.  1 Cor. 2:2.  The preaching of Christ and the cross is still the power of God for salvation.

            Jesus is the message and one of what we could call the sub-messages is repentance.  As you read through the pages of the NT it is hard to miss the message of repentance.  Yet, that message gets lost in today's modern world.  I was at a meeting with some area pastors a couple of weeks ago, and one of them said that evangelism for him is pretty easy.  Jesus said you just need to believe, so he is busy spreading the message of believing in Jesus and you will be saved.

            We do need to believe, but we also need to be careful.  Even the demons believe in Jesus, and there's no salvation there.  After Christ saves us, we do need to believe in Him; we need to trust in Him and in Him alone for our salvation; but we also must repent.  If you're preaching belief without repentance, you're not preaching a Biblical salvation message.  John the Baptist preached it; Jesus preached it; the early church preached it; we should be preaching it.

            Furthermore, the Bible demands that sinners be broken over their sin and that they forsake all to come to Christ.  Too many make it sound easy to believe and follow Jesus.  Jesus, however, taught that it was hard for sinners to believe; He even went so far as to say that, humanly speaking, salvation is impossible.  Luke 18:27.  People are sinners facing God's eternal judgment unless they repent and believe solely and submissively in Jesus Christ for salvation.  We can't water down that truth; the stumbling block of the cross cannot be removed.


            The last point we need to make this morning is that our witness is through believers(v. 27).  Believers are the final link in the chain of witness that God has established.  It is the Spirit who enables believers to effectively testify to the world about Jesus Christ.  So vital was the Spirit's empowering that Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until He came.

            We should consider it an honor to be called as witnesses for the Lord.  The disciples had the distinct advantage of having been with Jesus from the beginning.  They had heard His public sermons; they had spent time in private conversations with Him; they saw all of the miracles and good works that He performed. 

            We don't have that same eyewitness testimony that those men had.  But we are called to point people to the truths about Him revealed in the Bible.  We can also demonstrate the power of His resurrection life in our lives.  Let's end with an important Scripture verse.  Phil. 3:10 says, "My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."


            Is your goal in life to know Jesus Christ and make Him known?  He has called us to be a witness.  Who can you be praying for right now?  Who can you seek to share the message of salvation with in the coming week?  Identify that person or persons and do what you can to be a witness for the Lord.

            As our singers and musicians come now we invite you to respond publicly to God's working in your life.  Believe in the Lord Jesus; repent of your sins; submit to His Lordship; start now to live for Him.  Come now as we stand and sing.