Friday, February 15, 2013

No Other Name: A Sermon

You can listen to this in an audio format here

We continue our Tangible Kingdom series and study of the book of Acts this morning, so please open your bibles to our text for today, which can be found in the book Acts 4:7-12. Last week, Pastor Michael shared from Acts 3:1-10 the story of how Peter and John who were on their way to afternoon prayer had space in their lives to stop, to be interrupted, and address a man crippled from birth who was begging in one of the gates. As we read and listened last week Peter said in 3:6 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” After healing this man and speaking to the crowds that had gathered, Peter and John are arrested. This morning, we find ourselves in Acts 4 with Peter and John being brought before the authorities, the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin council, in the first persecution of Christians in the book of Acts as they ask “by what name did you do this?” Please follow along in your bibles as we read God’s Word for us today:

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 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. 11 He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

The question that the authorities ask is “By what power or name did you do this?” And really the meaning behind their question, is not how was this done, but rather under whose authority were Peter and John going out and preforming these actions, these acts of kindness, and then subsequently proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Under the authority of whose name did they do these things?  In other words, they, this Jewish council, was the religious authority. They were those in complete authority over the Temple and especially religious matters. When they say by what name did you do this, their question is:  who authorized you to do this, what gives these baseborn men, these fishermen, the right to come into Jerusalem, and at one of the very gates to the Temple of God do these actions and proclaim this teaching of resurrection. These country bumpkins, and no offense to any fishermen with us today, are performing a public ministry without any permission or authorization.  Could you imagine, if after this service was over you went back to Oasis, on our campus, to meet with your life group and there was a gathering of people, you can’t even get to the life group room, and they are around two guys from Palm Bay who you’ve never seen and they are doing a healing service and preaching, not only that but preaching a theology you’ve never heard before? If that’s happening after the services, please let us know. You would want to know and I would want to know, by whose authorization are you doing this? Who said you could do this ministry here? By what power or what name did you do this?

Whose authority, whose authorization, whose name, does Peter give? Jesus.  Back in Matthew 28, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples.” Peter and John claim authority to do and say these things in the name of Jesus. And guess what, as disciples of Jesus, as members of the body of Christ, with Jesus as the Head, as sons and daughters of the King, you have authority. You are authorized to change the world! If Christ is your Lord, your authority, then He has authorized you to go and preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) To bring healing both physically and spiritually into the lives of others. You are authorized! Don’t wait for authorization from anyone else. God’s will  and his work in our communities is too broad, too big, too encompassing, for any church or any programs to encompass. Some of the best ministry done from Trinity Presbyterian Church never began as an official authorized ministry of Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Now, there are two sides to this coin. On the positive side, we are authorized as Christ followers to go and preach the gospel in the fullest sense, both physically and spiritually with our whole lives and lifestyles, in the name of Jesus. On the negative side of the coin there are those who go inappropriately and claim what they do in the name of Jesus. Use your God-given authority lest others use it for you! If we who are Christ followers refuse to go out and serve and minister in the name of Jesus, then we really run the risk of never giving our communities a positive and authentic image of who Jesus really is because there are so many who act in his name inappropriately. Here’s a recent example, one of which you might have heard as it has gone viral online, and I mentioned this last Monday at our Oasis service. Have you seen this receipt? A waitress at Applebees, who makes $3.50 an hour and with tips bumps up to somewhere under $9 an hour, found this receipt at her table. The tip, already included because the group was 10 people, is scratched out and then a personal note is written there that says: “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” and its signed Pastor Alois Bell. It gets better. After this was posted on facebook, the pastor called up that Applebees and demanded that everyone involved – from servers to managers – be fired. Not everyone was fired but they did fire the waitress. By whose authority did this pastor refuse to pay the mandatory 18% tip because her group was greater than 6 people? By what power or what name did you do this? Clearly she claims a pastoral, divine authority here. In the name of God she acted this way. One of the top reasons that many in our community are already inoculated against a relationship with God, against the name of Jesus, is because of experiences like this one. When we refuse to participate in our communities in real and tangible ways, healing physically and spiritually, our act of omission results in scores of people hearing a false message about what it means to be a Christ follower in the name of Jesus.

Now I don’t mean to say that our church is the perfect church so we are the ones that need to get out there. If you’ve been here long at all you know that mistakes, repentance, and forgiveness are all deeply a part of the way of life to which we’ve been called as Christ followers. We know that we are imperfect people, we recognize that it is not by our own power, or in our own names, but in the power and in the name of Jesus that we go. Earlier when Peter healed the man he said in Acts 3:12 "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  and then he proceeds to name the resurrection of Jesus as the power source. Verse 8 in our passage says “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people!”.  The key phrase there, filled with the Holy Spirit, indicates once again that Peter, in this intense moment, is not relying on himself.  And this is an intense moment, much more intense than most of us will ever encounter. This council that Peter and John are standing before are the wealthiest, the most intellectual, and the most powerful people in all the region. Think of the wealthiest, most intellectual, powerful people in our nation, and that you and one of your buddies are called before them for the things you’ve been doing and saying. This is the same council that Jesus was brought before and was condemned to death. This death council of the Jewish elite probably formed a semi-circle as they sat and questioned these two uneducated fishermen. And one of the many promises that Jesus makes to those who are his is kept. Back in Luke 12:11 Jesus had said “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Here we read Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. Now certainly he already had the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and the Holy Spirit being poured out on the disciples already took place back in chapter 2 of Acts, but here we have the intense presence, an abnormally strong working of the Spirit in this moment as Peter not only answers the question, but really turns the tables on this council. They’ve brought Peter and John in to be judged for what they’ve done and Peter flips the situation around on them and says “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Jesus, who you judged and put to death, the same way you are trying to judge us now, was resurrected, he lives and through his life this man has been healed and you and your council stand opposed to God’s redemptive work. He blows them out of the water.  Later in verse 13 the text says “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished.”

This is great news for us! If these unschooled, ordinary men can prevail with God’s Spirit under such an intense moment, so also can you and I, broken people who make mistakes, who have no idea what to say, can be used by God. The key is that we have to swallow our fear and step out in faith into conversations and situations that require being filled with His Spirit. Of course, as those in Christ we all have the Holy Spirit, but to experience this intense presence, an abnormally strong working of the Spirit we have to ask what are we attempting in our communities and in our lives which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What about the way in which we live our lives, the way we demonstrate the gospel, requires God’s power? Are we living our lives in such a way that demands a gospel explanation and requires gospel power? When we take those risks, when we step out in faith, we too in His name, not our own, will be filled with the Holy Spirit and find an amazing power that changes and saves lives.

Now when I say “save” and when Peter speaks about salvation, it’s important to realize that this is not only a physical healing and not only a spiritual salvation but both! There is both spiritual and physical power in the name of Jesus, in the gospel. In fact, in the original language the word for “healed” in verse 9 and “saved” in verse 12 are the same word.

 In verse 9, the saving is referencing the physical healing that took place when Peter healed the beggar at the gate in the name of Jesus. In verse 11, Peter is speaking more spiritually as he is talking about the eternal salvation that comes under the name of Jesus. The end of verse 10 that says “this man stands before you healed” could also be translated “this man stands before you made whole.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is a holistic message of good news. Sometimes we emphasize one of these aspects to the neglect of the other and reduce the wholeness of the gospel. Some of you are reading about this Incredibly Shrinking Gospel in the Tangible Kingdom study. When we focus completely on the spiritual we tend to become moralistic, self-righteous, and disengaged from our communities. The Gospel proclaimed without demonstration is not the whole Gospel. When we focus completely on the physical and social change we tend to become no different than any other secular organization that while they do well to help others, they’ve lost the central hope and anchor we have in the name of Jesus Christ. The Gospel demonstrated without proclamation of the truth is not the whole Gospel. The Gospel isn’t just good news for our afterlife, it isn’t just good news for this life - the Gospel is the beginning, middle, and end of our entire journey as a Christian. The name of Jesus saves, spiritually and physically as we are made whole.

And “Salvation is found in no one else”, there is no other name by which we are saved. The final two verses of our passage say “He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Verse 11 quotes Psalm 118, which is one of the more frequently cited Old Testament texts. This is a neat play on words in the original Hebrew, because stone is “eben” in Hebrew which is built on the root word “ben” which means son. So in this quote Jesus, God’s son, God’s ben, is like a stone, an eben, that was rejected and tossed out. He died a real death at the hands of the builders, the leaders whom Peter is addressing. And yet God chose to raise this stone, his Son, to be the capstone. Jesus was vindicated by God in His resurrection and this is the basis for why salvation is found in no one else. Now we don’t have to demonize, threaten, or hate those who believe differently that we do. When Peter addresses this council that literally killed Jesus, he treats them respectfully and calls them “Rulers and Elders” and when we address others who don’t believe Jesus is the only way, we do so with gentleness and respect. For those of us who know the Gospel well, who have experienced being made whole, physically and spiritually, we understand why Jesus is the only name and there is no other name. For some of you here today who may be spiritually interested in God and yet who might not fully grasp and ask why? Why isn’t Jesus just one of many ways? The answer lies in the resurrection and here’s a short visual portrayal of the gospel message: 

God has raised up this stone, this plate, His Son and in this name no other, the name of Jesus of Nazareth salvation wholly and completely is found.

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