Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon: Acts 4: 1-22 No Other Name

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been following the progress of the early church in the opening chapters of Acts. And so far, it’s all been plain sailing, a walk in the park. And perhaps, like me, you’re wishing that you were living there and then, experiencing these things as they happened; or maybe you’re wondering why things aren’t like this now. Just think of what we’ve seen up to now.

The risen Jesus has trained his apostles, getting them ready for their mission to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The believers have been praying and preparing together, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. When he was poured out, he gave power to proclaim the prophesied Saviour and three thousand became believers. Then we had the picture of the bliss of the early church - devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. And they were ‘enjoying the favour of all the people.’ (2:47). Every day there were new people being saved. Amazingly wonderful days. And last week we watched the beautiful miracle pointing to the beautiful Saviour who promises a beautiful future.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time? It would, but it’s not. Church life is wonderful, but with it comes problems, and disagreements, and opposition. And Luke, as he writes this book, presents these things as they happened, warts and all. So even though it appears that everything has been plain sailing up to this point, there may be trouble ahead.

You see, many people hear and receive and believe the message of Jesus. But not everybody does. And often, it’s the very religious who are the strongest opponents to the message of Jesus. That’s what we’ll see today as we focus in on this dispute over the name of Jesus. And as you’ll see on page 1095, it follows on immediately from the passage we looked at last week.

Peter and John had healed a crippled man who was begging at the temple gate called Beautiful; and then used it as a way to proclaim the Beautiful Saviour, Jesus, who promises a Beautiful future. A crowd had gathered to listen, people who recognised the man who used to beg, who was now walking and leaping and praising God. And some others were drawn to the crowd as well. We see who they are in the first verse of chapter 4:

‘The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.’ (1)

What did they think of Peter’s teaching? Were they pleased to see this miracle and hear about God’s beautiful Saviour? Hmm, not quite: ‘They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’ (2) They didn’t like it at all! The Sadducees were sad, you see, because they didn’t believe in resurrection at all. This life is all there is. Yet the apostles were proclaiming, not just resurrection in general, but ‘in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’ They didn’t like the doctrine, and they definitely didn’t like hearing the name of that troublemaker again. The one that they had made sure was crucified a few weeks before.

So they seize Peter and John, and put them in jail for the night. Yet even the sight of the apostles being led away in handcuffs doesn’t stop people believing - and there are now five thousand men who believe. (Women and children above and beyond that, perhaps).

The next day, the ‘rulers, elders and teachers of the law’ assemble. We hear some of those who are present - names familiar from the trial that condemned Jesus - Annas the high priest, Caiaphas; all their family, and the other leaders. And when Peter and John are brought in, here’s the question asked of them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ (7)

How did you do it? What was the source of your power? In whose name did you do it? And once again, Peter doesn’t hold back. Remember, this is the group of men who condemned Jesus to death a couple of months back. These are the most powerful religious people in the land. And notice that Luke tells us that Peter was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (8)

‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.’ (8-10)

He doesn’t miss them and hit the wall! It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Remember him? You crucified him; you put him to death. But God raised him from the dead. And then Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, except he applies it personally to these religious leaders. The original text says, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.’ But do you see how he has personalised it? ‘He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”’

It’s a picture from a building site. Don’t think of uniform bricks, but more the rough stones in a dry stone wall in the Mournes. This particular stone is rejected by the builders, they can’t see a use for it, and so they throw it aside. But actually, it turns out to be just the right size to finish the whole building, the capstone to fit everything together. And that’s what the leaders thought of Jesus. They carefully examined him, and rejected him. Crucified him. But actually, Jesus is the one who completes God’s plans and purposes in the world. He is the one who is the capstone. Why?

‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’ (12)

Jesus is the capstone, because he is the only Saviour. No one else will save you. Nothing else will save you. Only Jesus. No other name. No other saviour. Jesus alone.

Are you convinced of that? Are you sure of that? It means that other religions will not save. Only Jesus. Are you trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? And if not, why not?

Now, so far, every time Peter has proclaimed a similar message in Acts, we’ve seen people come to repentance and faith. But this time is different. This time there is no revival. No repentance. Just opposition. Notice what Luke tells us about what happened next:

‘When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.’ (13-14)

Do you see how they describe Peter and John? ‘Unschooled, ordinary men.’ They weren’t highly educated; they hadn’t been to theological college; they were rough fishermen from Galilee. And yet they had courage. How brave it was to stand in the council that condemned Jesus, and tell them that Jesus is their only hope of salvation! But what made the difference? ‘They had been with Jesus.’

The leaders are in a bit of a pickle. They don’t want to accept Peter’s message. But the man who was healed is standing in front of them. ‘There was nothing they could say.’ (14) So they order Peter and John out, while they confer together on their response.

‘What are we going to do with these men?’ Everyone knows they’ve done an outstanding miracle. We can’t deny that. But neither do they want to believe. And they don’t want it going any further. So here’s their plan: ‘But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’ (17)

They want to nip it in the bud. Speak no longer in this name! That will stop it from spreading. And so they bring in Peter and John and ‘commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.’ (18).

Stop talking about Jesus. Stop insisting that Jesus is the only Saviour. Stop sharing the good news. Doesn’t that sound very much like our society new? It’s not very politically correct to insist that Jesus is the only Saviour. It goes against the prevailing mood of pluralism, where every opinion and every outlook is equally valid and equally true. To stop speaking in the name of Jesus is to stop people from being saved.

That’s what Peter and John say as well: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ (19-20)

Following Jesus and engaging in his mission to the ends of the earth will sometimes mean that we face opposition. People will try to silence us. They don’t want to hear themselves, and they don’t want others to hear. But it is right to obey God, rather than people. And the good news just comes out; we can’t help it!

There was nothing special about Peter and John. They were unschooled, ordinary men - who had been with Jesus, and filled with his Spirit, and given courage to speak out to share the good news of Jesus, and the power of his name.

What about us? Are we convinced that there is no other name by which we must be saved? Are we convinced that people need to hear the name of Jesus? Will we speak up?

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 14th July 2019.

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