While there are many words we might use to describe a follower of Jesus, Jesus himself really gave us just one. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
While many messages we hear all around us tell us to be selfish and look out for our own best interest, Jesus says we need to set aside what we want and think about God and others before ourselves. Jesus took up a cross to be faithful to God, it was God’s will, and he took up a cross to serve us, to take away our sin. He was thinking of God and others before his own self interest, so to follow Jesus means we have to shift from being selfish to selfless.
During the month of February we want to talk about how to become more selfless and what this might look like in four specific areas: our witness to God, our service, our giving and our gratitude. Being selfless means learning how to serve more, give more, and be more grateful in all situations, but today we are going to start by understanding how part of being selfless means allowing God to use us to reach more, to reach more people and share with them the good news of God’s grace and love. Being selfless means becoming Bold in Witness.
When we read the New Testament, we see that many of the disciples were bold in their witness to Jesus. They endured beatings, imprisonment, ridicule, and even death to proclaim their faith in Jesus, and to call others to trust in Christ too, but they weren’t always this bold. In fact, they started out in their witness where many of us start, and where many of us still are today, afraid.
So let’s consider the disciples for a moment. They had travelled with Jesus for three years and seen his power in a variety of ways. They had personally seen Jesus calm storms, walk on water, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and even raise the dead. The disciples had seen the power of Jesus do many things and they trusted Jesus to do what he said he would do.
One of the things Jesus said he was going to do was to be crucified. He was going to die, but then in three days he was going to rise from the dead. The disciples had seen Jesus crucified. They had watched him die, and so we might think that during the next three days they would have been filling the streets boldly proclaiming that Jesus was going to rise from the dead. At the very least we might have expected them to be among the crowds who followed Jesus encouraging them to have faith because the third day was coming.
Jesus always did what he said he would do, the disciples had seen Jesus do some pretty powerful things, so we might think they would have been boldly talking about what Jesus was going to do next, but during those three days, this is where we find them. John 20:19a. And here’s the thing… this is AFTER they had seen an empty tomb and AFTER Mary Magdalene told them that she had seen the risen Jesus.
There is no bold witness here. The disciples are hiding in fear. They are afraid of the Jewish leaders, afraid of the Romans who crucified Jesus, and afraid of being arrested, beaten, and crucified because they were followers of Jesus. Fear stopped them from telling others that Jesus said he was going to rise in three days. Fear stopped them from telling others that the tomb was empty. Fear stopped them from talking to others about Jesus.
And it is fear that often stops us from talking about Jesus. We are afraid that we don’t know enough about our faith to really be bold and talk about it. What if I say something and someone asks me a question that I’m not going to be able to answer.
We are afraid to talk about Jesus because talking about Jesus is not cool. Those who talk about Jesus often look foolish. If I let people know at school, or at work, that I believe in and trust in Jesus I’m going to be laughed at because no one really believes in Jesus anymore.
We are also afraid that we are going to be seen as being judgmental. When the world often defines Christians as being closed minded bigots who are always putting others down, we don’t want to be seen in that light so we simply stay quiet.
Almost every reason that keeps us from talking more about our faith comes back to being afraid, and we all experience this kind of fear. No one wants to be seen as being judgmental. No one wants to feel like an outcast, or appear stupid because we don’t have all the answers. I’ll let you in on a secret, pastors also feel this way.
I know, I talk about Jesus for a living, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also face some of the same fears that you do. Three years before I went to seminary, I worked at a movie theater. My friends all worked at the theater and we had a good time doing things together. After I left that job I kept in touch with them and told them I was going to seminary. One woman in particular wrote me a lengthy letter saying she had no idea I was that strong in my faith. She said how sad it was that we never talked about it because she was also very strong in her faith. We had so much in common, we could have supported and encouraged each other in so many ways, and yet fear kept us from being bold in our witness.
Fear kept the disciples behind locked doors, but then something happened, Jesus came and stood among them. John 20:19b-22. Two important things happened here. Frist Jesus appeared to his. He showed them that he was real, and his presence with them was proof them that he had overcome death, and by coming to be with them he was also letting them know that their sin had been forgiven.
The second thing we see here is that Jesus sent them out with the Holy Spirit. They don’t leave that room on their own – they leave with the power of the Holy Spirit going with them, a power that completely changed them and in time helped them proclaim the message of Jesus to everyone. So Bold Witness comes when we spend time with Jesus and when we receive the power of God’s Holy Spirit and know that we are not sent out into the world alone.
If we fast forward a few weeks for the disciples, we find on the day of Pentecost a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes upon them and Peter, who a few weeks earlier had been afraid to tell a servant girl that he was a follower of Jesus, was now boldly preaching about Jesus being the savior of the world. Peter is speaking in front of huge crowds and this bold witness was due to the power of the Holy Spirit.
A few weeks after that, Peter and John were again preaching and teaching in public, this time they called upon the name of Jesus to heal a man, and their bold witness got them thrown into prison. Clearly their fear seems to be gone and when they were called before the religious leaders to give an account of what they were doing and why they were doing it, this was their response:
This is a bold witness for people who a few weeks earlier were hiding in fear. What made the difference? #1 – they had spent time with Jesus, and #2 -they trusted in the power of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, to help them. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection he breathed on them. He gave his life and spirit and power to them and it was that power, fully poured out on the day of Pentecost that gave the disciples the boldness they needed to talk openly about Jesus.
Bold witness and the courage to talk openly with others about our faith comes when we spend time with Jesus and begin to feel his life and spirit and power rest upon us. Reading God’s word, spending time in prayer, sharing and encouraging one another in small groups, and time spent in worship, strengthens our faith and fills us with a passion about God that in time we find ourselves wanting to share. The more we know about God, the more we experience the joy and power of Jesus in our lives, the more we want to share this experience with others.
Bold witness comes from spending time with Jesus, but it also comes when we are specifically willing to ask God for boldness. This is what Peter and John did. Acts 4:29b. Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Sometimes the boldness we need comes when we simply put ourselves aside, put our fear aside, and selflessly ask God for boldness.
Instead of asking for what we want and need in life, instead of being selfish and self-centered in prayer, what if we were selfless and asked God for the boldness and courage to talk about him with others. Being selfless means asking God to use us for his purpose, and part of the purpose is to share the truth of Jesus with others. Jesus gave one clear mission to the church – go and make disciples. Go and teach people to believe in me. Go, share with others how my love and grace can change their lives. For so many reasons, we are afraid to do this and so to overcome fear we need to ask God for help. Enable us to speak with great boldness.
Perhaps the person who was the most bold when it came to talking about Jesus was the Apostle Paul. He didn’t shy away from any situation, any person, or any opportunity God gave him to talk about Jesus. Paul said whether he was in chains or free he would talk about Jesus. But even Paul asked for boldness, and he asked others to pray for him to be bold. Ephesians 6:19-20
Being selfless and therefore bold in our witness, and allowing God to use us to share his love and grace with others, comes when we spend time with God, allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, and ask God for the boldness we need to share his love and his grace with others. In a world filled with division and turmoil, in a society that so often wants to tear people down instead of building people up, in a world that needs the power of God’s love and grace at work in people’s hearts and lives and families, how can we not talk about a love that has changed us, and a power that has filled us, and a God who has saved us. Let’s be selfless, let’s overcome fear, and let’s be bold in our witness to the love of God given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Bold in Witness
1. How did you hear about Jesus? Who shared their faith with you? Give thanks for this person.
2. What fear keeps you from sharing your faith with others?
What experiences have you had, good or bad, in talking with others about your faith?
3. Read Acts 1-4 and trace how the disciples went from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord.
4. Boldness comes from spending time with Jesus. How can you spend more time with Jesus this week? In what ways can you commit to this new routine through the month of February?
5. What one thing about Jesus would you feel comfortable sharing with someone else? What one faith experience have you had that you could share with someone new? Practice sharing your faith and faith experiences with family, friends, your small group, or Sunday School class.
6. Who has God placed in your life, and on your heart, that needs to hear about the love and grace of Jesus? Begin to pray for an opportunity to share Jesus with them.
7. Pray for boldness to share your faith. Read Acts 4:29 and Ephesians 6:18-20. Create your own prayer and pray it every day this month. Like Paul, ask others to pray for you.