April 20, 2014 (Easter 11 AM) - Acts 4:1-12
"No Other Name" - Rev. Andrew Scott, Pastor (printable version)
Ray Stedman once called Easter the only Sunday of the year that you can go to church without anyone accusing you of being religious. He was probably right, but even if that’s the case, it only proves that we’re doing it wrong.
Nobody should be casual or comfortable with the Resurrection. There is no more radical, utterly life-transforming, and in the end, more divisive news the world will ever hear than the message we proclaim this morning, as we do every Lord’s Day: that Jesus is not dead. He is risen. He is alive. That claim, taken seriously, either makes converts or enemies. It results in utterly changed lives… or persecution. The fact that among us it mostly results in covered dish dinners and chocolate bunnies… only goes to show that we don’t take it nearly as seriously as we ought.
And you know what? Even if we want to be casual about the Gospel message, the world isn’t going to let us. Once upon a time, not that long ago, showing up in church on Easter morning was a kind of social expectation, a way of saying, look, I’m a good person, I don’t hate my mom. Not so long ago it was taken for granted that life as a follower of Jesus Christ and life as a decent, law-abiding citizen would look more or less the same.
Now, that was never actually true. But the world – at least in middle America – was happy enough to let you think so. But a lot has happened since then, and continues to happen. I don’t want to dwell on the bad stuff this morning. Suffice it to say that the world is changing, it’s changing quickly, and it’s changing in such a way that the Gospel, or even the public expression of faith in Christ, is going to be a much more radical thing. As it should be. As it was, in the beginning.
Look at the earliest days of the Church, here in Acts. You see two things happening at the same time: the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, spread out into the streets of Jerusalem and the porticoes of the Temple, proclaiming the incredible news that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had risen three days later, that he was, in fact, now alive, and more than that, was seated on the right hand of God, and would come again to judge the living and the dead. Furthermore, they promised that those who put their trust in Jesus and followed him would be forgiven their sins and granted eternal life with God.
It was an incredible message, in the most literal sense. It was hard to believe. Experience dictated that dead men don’t get up and go to Galilee, in the first century as well as the twenty-first. And yet many of these people had seen what Jesus had done. They recognized, in his words, authority and love and holiness and power. And they believed. On the day of Pentecost, only seven weeks after Jesus’ Resurrection, 3,000 people were added to the number of the believers. And day by day afterwards, according to Acts 2:47, people were being saved.
But not everyone. The Gospel message, proclaimed with power and authority, results in conversions, but also persecution. And it wasn’t very long before Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin, the same court that had condemned Jesus. It all began with one man, a beggar, lame from birth, who was sitting at a gateway in the Temple. He asked Peter and John for some money; Peter said that he had none, but added, “what I do have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Which the man, to his own amazement, promptly did. He began running wildly around the Temple, leaping and shouting and praising God.
That kind of thing tends to gather a crowd. They wanted to know how this had happened, so Peter told them. And he makes it clear that this is bigger than one man. The Jesus who healed this man, he said, is the “author of life” (3:15), who was killed, but who “God raised from the dead.” He called them to repent, promised them forgiveness through Jesus, and told them that he was now in heaven “until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets.” (3:21) And it was through Jesus, Peter said, that the prophecy made to Abraham would be fulfilled, that “all the families of the earth would be blessed” – not just families in Jerusalem, or in Judea, but from every tribe and tongue and nation. In verse four of chapter four, we’re told that by that evening, the number of believers had increased to 5,000, not counting women and children. Not bad for a grand total of two sermons.
This one, however, caught the ear of the priests and the captain of the Temple, second-in-command to the high priest. They were angry because they had gone to the trouble of putting Jesus to death, only to have Peter and John tell everyone that he was alive. A bunch of Sadduccees showed up as well, “greatly annoyed” not so much about Jesus, but because Peter and John were teaching about the Resurrection, in which the Sadduccees didn’t believe. The Gospel was not then, nor is it now, a partisan message. It offends equally, on the right and the left, the rich and the poor.
The next morning, Peter and John were interrogated before the Sanhedrin: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (They were talking about the lame man who had been healed.) Two months earlier, Peter would have denied knowing anything about it. But now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he stood up and declared, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man” – which they couldn’t have appreciated since it made them look stupid – “let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.” (John 4:8-10) By now they must have been seething with indignation. This Jesus was from Nazareth – what good can come from Nazareth? – a no-account dusty backwater of a place, not Jersualem! Peter reminded them that they had killed him. Executed him, like a common criminal. What right did he have to show up again and cause trouble? And now he’s alive, and telling them what to do?
It got even worse, from the perspective of the Sanhedrin. “This Jesus is the stone who was rejected by you, the builders,” Peter said, “which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (v.11-12)
The logic is simple, but breathtaking, and the conclusion is the sharp edge of the Gospel: if Jesus is the author of life, who was killed, the true Lord of all, and if God raised him from the dead and made him the cornerstone of his kingdom, as Peter said – if, as it says in the second chapter of Philippians, God highly exalted him and gave him a name above every name – then “there is salvation in no one else.” Jesus isn’t just a way, he’s the only way. He said so: “no one comes to the Father except through me” – and the fact that God raised him from the dead vindicated his claim. Confession of his name is our only hope of salvation from sin and judgment and hell.
Do you squirm in your seat a little bit at that? You should. Because the Gospel that Peter proclaimed isn’t a comfortable word, let alone a fashionable one. We want to ask, “really?” Do you mean everyone, Peter, or are you just talking about the Jews? Or maybe Jesus is for the Greeks and Romans, and Moses is for the Jews, and you know, Mohammed is for the Muslims, and so on? I mean, we’re saved through Jesus, of course, but… you know, the others…
Peter is unsparing: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Notice the emphasis on the name of Jesus. It’s not enough to say that if someone is saved another way, it’ll be through Jesus. It has to be through his name. Later, in Acts 10:43, Peter says “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” It’s by the name of Jesus – trusting in him, and him alone, or not – that we rise and fall. All of us. That cuts deep. It really does. The Gospel of the risen Jesus – the good news that God has raised him from the dead, and placed him above all others – isn’t something to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the arrival of spring, or about new birth, or anything like that. It’s a challenge – if indeed God has raised Jesus from the dead, this is the most important news anyone has ever heard, and how we respond is of eternal significance. If he hasn’t, it’s one of the most monstrous lies in the history of the world.
This is something we have to come to grips with if we’re going to be Biblical Christians in a pluralistic, relativistic, secular world: the truth cuts deep. The truth of the Gospel, the truth of the empty tomb, the risen Christ, the truth of Easter morning – it’s a truth that either makes converts to Christ, gripping the heart and never letting go… or enemies of him. And not much in between.
Here’s the good news: he’s worth it. Worth every trial and every tribulation. He lives, and because he lives, he promises that we also, who trust in his name, will live, with him – not just in the abstract sense, but really and truly with him. He promises never to leave or forsake his own, to be with them – with us – even to the end of the age. And yes, while the Gospel of the risen Savior divides, and may even incur the enmity of the world, he reassures us: “I have overcome the world.”
Faced with the Gospel – with the insistence that Jesus is alive, how do you respond? Do you follow him? Do you seek him and love him, or do you spurn him? There is no middle ground. Amen.