Monday, April 27, 2015

Sermon on Acts 4:1-12, for the 4th Sunday of Easter, "No other Name"

In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. Amen. What was life like for the apostles in the early days after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? After the miracle of speaking in tongues at Pentecost, the apostles continued to boldly witness to Jesus Christ. In Acts 3, Peter and John meet a crippled beggar at the gate of the Temple—and having no money to offer him, they instead heal him in the name of Jesus Christ, to the amazement of all who were present. It opened a door for many to hear, listen to God’s Word, and believe. Today’s passage tells us the number of believers quickly grew to about 5,000 men, plus women and children.
But along with the phenomenal number of followers turning to Jesus Christ, and awakening of faith by the Holy Spirit, there was also intense opposition. And the most forceful opposition came from the religious leaders themselves. The captain of the Temple, the commander of the Temple police, placed Peter and John under arrest, lest disorder break out. And a slew of religious leaders, from the chief priests, elders, scribes, the high priest, the Sadducees and others, gathered for this hearing. Noticeably, one significant religious group—the Pharisees—are not named. Probably because the leaders were chiefly upset that the apostles were teaching the resurrection of the dead. Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed in a big way over this point. The Sadducees believed there was no resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees did believe it according to the Old Testament Scriptures.
So all the trouble really centered on this question—is Jesus Christ of Nazareth—the One who had been crucified, just a short while ago—was He alive again? Peter and John were under arrest, not for any crime, not for any violation of the Temple laws—but as they testified, for doing the good deed of healing a man in the Name of Jesus Christ, and for teaching in the Name of Jesus Christ. The healing was widely witnessed by the people, and could not be denied, and the religious leaders demanded to know by what authority Peter and John did this. They were ready to strip Peter and John of their freedom and place them under arrest for an act of kindness and for proclaiming the power of Jesus, by whom this man had been healed.
Today things aren’t much different. The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel—the news of His death on the cross for our sin and His resurrection from the dead—this is perceived as threatening and unwanted by many today. It may be the religious guardians of one or another religion that reject that Jesus is the One and Only Way to God, or who realize that Jesus contradicts their own preconceived ideas about God. Or it may be those who are so heavily invested in some other religion or search for God, that they would stand to lose power, status, or their pride, if it meant turning to Jesus Christ and confessing Him as Lord and Savior. Or perhaps the leaders and politicians of our nation, who see Christian values as threatening a politically correct society that believes that man determines his own truth.
Who else might feel “threatened” by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if not the powers-that-be? It may just be the ordinary person—even you and I—who trips and stumbles and crashes over the claim that we are rebellious sinners, who have gone astray from God, and whose sins put Jesus there on the cross. No one likes to “face the music” and admit that we stand among the crowd of sinners worldwide, who bear the responsibility for nailing Jesus to the cross. No one likes to hear that our own sins, which we constantly try to write small against the background of what we think others do—no one likes to see our own sins magnified and hung on display on the cross. There we see that only the very hand of God, only the very death of God in Jesus Christ, was sufficient to wipe away that guilt. But that we need this salvation is a hard truth to face. Instead of “owning up” we want to “pass the buck.”
But what Peter and John’s accusers, and all others who resist this Gospel miss—is that the encounter with Jesus Christ—the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead—this is not an “ugly encounter” that leaves us humiliated, broken, and forsaken. Rather it is an encounter with Jesus, our Good Shepherd—who knew the cost, knew the pain, knew the sacrifice—and paid it all willingly, for the sake of turning sinners to Himself. Jesus experienced the humiliation, the brokenness, and forsakenness of the cross, so that our debt was cleared. He welcomes even those enemies who persecuted Him, to turn from sin and believe in Him. To receive from His nail-marked hands, a welcoming embrace. Jesus took all the ugliness of sin upon Himself, so that our encounter with Him would be to meet and know God’s love.
Life after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead won’t be easy. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. There are pains and crosses and sufferings and losses. But there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. Whatever troubles line our path—there is only One Name in whom we must trust, to carry us safely through the valley of the shadow of death. The Name of Jesus Christ. That Name is powerful because even death could not defeat Jesus. That Name is powerful because God has made Jesus the Shepherd of His flock, to lay down His life for them, and to call them each by name. That Name is powerful because in Jesus’ Name, we are promised the forgiveness of our sins. That Name brought healing to a lame man in the Temple. That Name covers you, because you are baptized into Christ Jesus, and all who have been baptized into Him are baptized into His death and resurrection, and clothed with Jesus’ innocence. You wear the innocence of Jesus as a spiritual garment, through your baptism. You are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus, and have God’s approval because you trust in Him—not from anything you’ve earned or done.
Jesus, His apostles, and you and I today, experience and see people using Jesus’ name in vain, slandering it, and attempting to defame both Jesus and His followers. Jesus is risen from His grave, but the Bible tells us not to be surprised that we share in His sufferings. But in whatever ways the Name of Jesus is used dishonorably—we as Christians live to give honor and glory to His Name by confessing His Name before others, by calling on His name for our forgiveness and salvation, and by giving thanks and praise to His Name in our words and actions. Peter writes: 1 Peter 4:16 “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Whatever the world may say of Jesus or us, we give glory to God’s Name, and rejoice when we suffer dishonor for His Name’s sake (Acts 5:41). Or as we sing after communion, in the liturgy: “Thank the Lord and sing his praise; tell everyone what he has done. Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear his name. He recalls his promises and leads his people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia. Alleluia.” We proudly bear the Name of Jesus, because it is the Name above all Names, and because there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
This Bible teaching is wildly unpopular in the world, because it smacks of exclusivity in the Name of Jesus, while our world is always pushing toward inclusivity. But in a wonderful paradox, the Christian faith is at the same time, completely inclusive of all people, and yet the most exclusive of all faiths.  That requires some explanation. It’s the most inclusive, because as we heard two weeks ago in 1 John 2—Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for all, and the debt of all sins worldwide is truly paid. There is absolutely no reason, your sins, your race, your gender, your status, your wealth or poverty, your intelligence, or anything else that should prevent you or anyone else from being saved. All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved—Acts 2:21. And there is the exclusivity. There is salvation in no one else. God has opened the Way to all, and that Way is Jesus. But those who reject Jesus, as the Name given to us, by which we must be saved—they reject the gift. They reject the salvation that could freely be theirs.
Again, there is the stumbling block for our world today. To see our need for a Savior. To see our own sin and its deadly cost. And to willingly receive that free gift of Jesus Christ, who paid the cost in full. It puts us in a place of humility, of need, and of dependence. And if you’ve already given up on your own efforts to please God or achieve His favor—it’s marvelous good news to know that it all comes free of charge, without cost, without regard to your sins and failures—but only with regard to God’s awesome, incredible, saving love for you. A love that stops at nothing to call you and reach you. The love that held Jesus to that cross for you. But if you’re still clinging to your efforts, or trying to please God on your own—you and your pride face an impossible task. So lay aside your pride, cast down your sins before the cross of Jesus, and believe that its already fully won and freely done for you. In the Name of Jesus! In the Name of that powerful, redeeming, and Only Name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. What healing had Peter and John done in the Temple, in Acts 3, and how? How had people responded to this miracle?
    2. How did the question of Jesus’ resurrection become so central to Peter and John’s defense? Acts 4:8-12. Why couldn’t the Sadducees and leaders deny it? Acts 4:13-22.
    3. Who feels threatened today by the Good News of Jesus Christ—the Christian Gospel? Among the “powers that be”? Among everyday people? Why is the Gospel rejected? 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:14. What is the feeling when sinners finally own up to their responsibility before God? Acts 2:37; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
    4. Describe the encounter of repentant sinners, with the free and full grace and mercy of Christ Jesus. Luke 15:11-32.
    5. Life in Jesus Christ is not easy, and comes with its crosses, persecutions, and trials. Who is powerful to carry us through them all? How certain can our confidence in Him be? Psalm 23; John 10. How do we bear our suffering as Christians? 1 Peter 4:16. How do we honor and glorify Jesus’ Name? Colossians 3:12-17; Hebrews 13:15-16
    6. How is the Christian Gospel inclusive? 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4. How is it exclusive? Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Acts 2:21.
    7. What must be overcome by God’s Word, to break down the barrier to us receiving the Gospel? Describe how incredible God’s gift of salvation is to you. Why do you treasure it? With whom can you share it?

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