April 26, 2015 - Acts 4.5-12

“Jesus…What’s in a Name?”

Acts 4:5-12

April 26, 2015

 

5The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

 

At a retirement dinner for an esteemed pastor, the speaker stood and held up a glass.  “Thank you for each time that you have said the name of Jesus.  You have served in many places, for many years, and have used the gifts God gave you, but under one Lord and Master.  Thank you for each time you uttered the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior.”  There was no mention of the hundreds of sermons prepared and delivered; there was no mention of the hundreds of hospital visits, or the weddings, or the funerals or the baptisms.  Just saying the name of Jesus.  Actually, just saying the name of Jesus can make all the difference.

 

Peter and John are in a predicament familiar to persons in public life—teachers, preachers, and government officials. These persons often have to defend their actions that produce change.

 

Peter and John had previously healed a man lame from birth—in fact, they had dramatically changed his life. The crowd was amazed by what they had seen and wanted to know how all this had happened. Peter recounts the many and various things God had done for the people by the teachers of the law and the prophets, who had urged the people to change their relationship with God.

 

In the midst of the sermon, Peter and John are interrupted by a group of religious authorities who are annoyed by what they believe is false teaching. What may be more at stake was their perception that these two were urging a change in the status quo. These religious authorities had the two arrested and put into custody of the civil authorities. In spite of the religious and civil authorities, however, “many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand”  ( Acts 4:4) .

 

The obvious question, therefore, is the one addressed to Peter and John in 4:7: "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Peter's response must be interpreted as heresy in the larger context of Judaism because he names God, and in so doing he provides an answer to what should remain a question: HE IS what? Peter's response is that HE IS Jesus. Peter's response goes to the heart of Christianity—which is that in Christ, God has done the unthinkable by providing a name that gives worshipers power and access into the divine.

 

The Holy Spirit fills Peter and he begins to address those in authority in what looks to us like a courtroom scene. Peter tells those assembled that it was not his power that restored the lame man, but rather the life-giving power found in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Peter is determined not to take the credit for the healing, but rather credit the power of God at work in the one whom the people had crucified. It is God and God’s Christ that has the power to heal, make whole, and give salvation. And only in God can these blessings be acquired by mortals. In a sense, Peter shares deeply the gospel’s conviction that only God can raise up what people have struck down.

 

The name of Jesus is a powerful thing.  Tony Campolo has said that one of his favorite ways to pray is to just meditate on the name of Jesus, to just say it over and over again.  It is by the name of Jesus that we are changed from our sinful self into the sanctified saints that God wants us to be.  The name of Jesus brings change for the better to everyone.  There is LIFE in the name of Jesus.

 

Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), an English philosopher, once said: “A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes at any moment taking place in it.” Change for the sake of change is not a worthy goal, but change that improves our effectiveness is what we seek.

 

This is true of the church as well. It is naive to believe that today’s church can be just like the church depicted in Acts, though there is much to learn from the earliest church. In each generation, we as the church of Jesus Christ must learn how to take the gospel to a new group of persons who need to hear the good news. Our task is “to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

 

Three people had adjacent businesses in the same building. At one end of the building the businessperson put up a sign that read: “Year-End Clearance Sale.” At the other end of the building, another merchant followed suit with a sign that read: “Closing-Out Sale.” The store owner in the middle of the building knew he had to do something to keep his business from being hurt, so he put up a sign that read: “Main Entrance.”

 

I’m not suggesting that Christians change their signage, but I am suggesting that we as the church must be alert to a new generation of pagans, who have yet to hear the life-giving word of the gospel. This is because, as Peter told us all long ago, in verse 12 “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

 

There is power in the name of Jesus.  Do you remember the attacks being waged against the Southern Baptists for their efforts in the Chicago area back in the summer of 2000?  Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the SBC did make some mistakes that they should have known better about.  They were not responsible in their evangelistic organization for their blitz.  There was so much uproar that even 20/20 did an episode on it in May of 2000.  A Jewish boy that attended a Baptist church ended up giving his life to Christ.  He had been preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, and they called it off.  His parents were outraged, they are suing the church, and his Hebrew school principal talked him out of his conversion.  The 20/20 reporter questioned two SBC leaders about their understanding of being saved, and they said “no one can be saved except by the name of Jesus.”  There were several people on the program that derided the SBC’s theology, including a Hindu leader that stated “in today’s enlightened and pluralistic society, there simply isn’t room for that type of thinking.”  As a former Southern Baptist, I have many differences with the SBC, but they got it right this time.  The name of Jesus is the only name that saves, and we must proclaim that name and do so unapologetically.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor told a group of preachers “It is enough to say the words of God, and to believe that the world is changed as a result, even if the world doesn’t know it yet.”  She is right.  It is enough for us to simply say the name of Jesus and to believe that the world is changed as a result, even if we do not know it yet.

 

I ran across an interesting quote about Jesus.  I think it speaks to the power of His name.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His Divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a Cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying and that was His coat. When He was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Such was His human life.  He rises from the dead. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the Centerpiece of the human race and the Leader of the column of progress. I am within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life[1].

 

Such a belief in the power of names may strike us as primitive, but we access this power every time we end prayer with the words "In Jesus' name, Amen."

 

Say the name of Jesus.  Say it often.  Praise be the name of Jesus.

 

 

[1] --James C. Hefley, origin unknown.

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