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Jesus — The message of Pentecost

By Randy Hurst

Immediately before His ascension to heaven, Jesus promised His disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to be His witnesses. He said, “You shall 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).

On the Day of Pentecost, the multitude was amazed because they heard those who had been filled with the Holy Spirit speaking in the languages of the nonbelievers who were gathered. When they asked, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, stood and explained that what had just happened was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then he clearly and boldly preached about Jesus, and about 3,000 people were added to the Church that day.

Soon after, Peter and John were going to the temple to pray, and a man lame from birth was healed at the temple gate. Peter again used the opportunity to proclaim Jesus, and about 5,000 believed the message.

The priests, captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees were so disturbed at their preaching they put Peter and John in jail. The next day the rulers, elders, scribes and high priests challenged them, asking, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (Acts 4:7). Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke boldly about Jesus: “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).

Beginning at the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost and during the days following, the early Christians’ message was simple and clear. They proclaimed Jesus. Today this same message — Jesus — must be clearly communicated to the spiritually lost.

Be ready to respond

Jesus used only three metaphors — salt, light and branches — to reveal the nature of what His followers were to be. These three things share one primary quality. All have an effect beyond themselves. Salt affects whatever it touches. Light shines upon everything within its reach. Branches extend the life of the vine to the fruit that is produced. As salt, light and branches have an effect beyond themselves, followers of Jesus are to make an impact on people within our sphere of influence.

The Bible clearly teaches that personal witnessing is not the responsibility of just a few people in the church who are especially gifted for evangelism. Being a witness is our Lord’s plan for every one of His followers. Evangelism is not listed in the New Testament as a spiritual gift for only certain people. We are all responsible to share our faith with those outside the body of Christ.

The apostles Peter and Paul taught the early Christians to be effective witnesses by being responsive to nonbelievers. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5,6).

The Holy Spirit is working in nonbelievers’ lives, and He allows us the privilege of entering into that work. Because the Spirit is at work in the circumstances, minds and hearts of people, we should be ready to respond to them when He gives us opportunities. An essential part of effective witnessing is listening — being alert for opportunities to bring Jesus Christ into the conversation.

What constitutes an adequate witness that enables a nonbeliever to make a decision concerning our Lord’s offer of salvation? The most effective approach I have found is to share two simple truths the apostle Peter always included in his preaching.

In the Book of Acts, Peter’s preaching always focused on Jesus’ identity and the purpose of His mission on earth. He always answered these two basic questions: Who was Jesus? and Why did He give His life?

Being prepared to discuss these two questions will equip any Christian to share Christ simply and clearly with nonbelievers.

Who was Jesus?

In recent years, cover stories highlighting Jesus’ role in history have appeared in almost all major national news magazines. Television programs and miniseries have focused on His life. But accounts of Christ’s life by secular media invariably question or outright deny the historical reliability and accuracy of the four Gospels. Jesus is sometimes presented as merely a mythical figure. If He is depicted as a historical person, He is portrayed as a great teacher or even a prophet — but only human.

Jesus was much more than a teacher and prophet. He is God the Son — He always existed, but became God in human form. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died to pay the penalty for our sins and conquered death by rising again to offer us the gift of everlasting life.

If Jesus Christ was not who He claimed to be, if He is not the crucified and risen Son of God, then as Paul declared, our faith is useless. Paul wrote, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, NIV).

Why did He give His life?

John the Baptist announced the purpose of Jesus’ mission on earth when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

The Jews and Romans cannot be blamed for Jesus’ death. His life was not taken from Him. He gave it. He said, “The Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17,18).

The cross stands as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for a lost world. He gave His life for two essential reasons. First, because we are all sinners. Second, because we could do nothing to remedy our sinful state. We could not save ourselves — so He became our Savior!

Jesus was born as a Man, but He lived His life without sin. When He died, death had no power over Him. That is why Peter could say, “God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). Now He gives everlasting life to anyone who calls upon His name and receives Him as Savior and Lord.

More than words

Many Christians believe if they know the right words, offer the right arguments and are persuasive enough, they will be effective witnesses. But reaching people for Christ involves more than just saying the right things. The right words should not be shared with a wrong attitude, such as a proud, judgmental or condemning spirit. A contradiction between what we say and how we say it sends mixed signals that hinder the effectiveness of our message.

Peter and Paul both taught that proclaiming the message of Christ effectively requires more than words. They also emphasized the importance of the way in which we should communicate.

Peter wrote, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15,16, NIV). Concerning unbelieving husbands he wrote, “If any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1,2, NIV).

Paul wrote to the Colossian believers: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace … so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5,6).

The Holy Spirit enables us to be our Lord’s witnesses not just through what we say, but also by how we say it and who we are.

People don’t separate the message from the messenger. Our lives should illustrate the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our love should reflect the love of our Savior. Reaching the lost should be preceded by loving the lost. Genuine, tangible, Christian love will open the door for the message.

Witnessing is not a matter of merely acquainting people with the Christian religion. It is introducing them personally to a relationship with Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised enables us to be His witnesses in the world. The message of Pentecost — Jesus — is still the message we must proclaim today. Every person must be confronted with the reality of who Jesus truly is and why He gave His life for us. They must be given an adequate witness and the opportunity to accept His offer of forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. But our witness must go beyond words.

The Holy Spirit’s empowerment gives us more than the boldness to speak about Him. It also provides whatever we need to make us the kind of Christians whose lives bring credibility to our message — to honor Him with our lives!

All Scriptures NASB, unless otherwise noted. Italics added by the author.

RANDY HURST is commissioner on evangelism for the Assemblies of God and director of AG World Missions Communications.

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