The exclusivity of the Son - Acts 4:1-22

This is a sermon by Graham Sayer from the evening service on 13th November 2005.

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"I want to sincerely apologise for the huge offence I have caused… I fully understand people's disgust at what I wrote. ...I cannot take back - no matter how I wish I could - this terrible error of judgment.”  So wrote the government spin doctor Jo Moore soon after her infamous e-mail stating that 11 September 2001 was ‘a good day to bury bad news’. A huge error of judgement that eventually cost her job.

I guess we’ve all done similar, haven’t we? Put our foot in it - blurted out something that, in hindsight, makes us grimace with amazement that we actually said such a thing? Sure, we might not have lost our job over such indiscretions… but the embarrassment is there isn’t it? Tangible, indelible, and etched into history… and you wish you could turn back time, but you can’t!

Well here’s another statement… that for many people today falls into a similar category…
 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."

That is Acts 4v12 and the name in question is of course Jesus Christ of Nazareth v10.

The statement belongs to the apostle Peter… but the stinging question from 21st century western society goes  something like ‘What do you think you’re playing at, Peter? You can’t say that! It’s an embarrassment! It’s too narrow Peter! It’s …EXCLUSIVE!  So speaks our society. But what about the church today? Surely they endorse it? But listen to what this writer says:

 ‘It is a sign of the times that Acts 4v12 which was originally intended to exert pressure on the unbelieving, seems today to put pressure on the church. Nearly everything in it is objectionable to so much of the contemporary church.’

Wow! So is it possible that we, Christian’s here tonight are embarrassed at what Peter said? The answer is ‘Yes, it is possible…!’ because many are. But one thing is absolutely certain. Peter wasn’t embarrassed at all – even though, amongst the disciples he stands out with an impressive knack for putting his foot in it!  He was to the disciples what Prince Phillip is to the Royal family!

But this wasn’t the hot-headed Peter we see from the gospel accounts blurting out some ridiculous, impetuous gaffe… This was Peter filled with the Holy Spirit v8 and thinking clearly and speaking even more so with a courage and conviction that sets before us tonight, whether we are Christian’s or not – an unavoidable challenge. That challenge comes to us all in one name – Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is this name that is the climax of the entire Bible, and it is this name that confronts us all head on in Acts 4. What we can see here shows why the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is so controversial, why that same name is so essential, and therefore why and how people, including you and me today, are provoked to respond to it…

The name that profoundly disturbs v1-3

 You can see the disturbance there in v1-3.  The authorities are greatly disturbed, because of what Jesus followers – the apostles – were teaching about him. They were proclaiming in him the resurrection of the dead v2.

 We might ask why that should be so disturbing. Particularly if, as here, it is connected with the healing of a poor beggar who had never been able to walk… that was a great thing wasn’t it? Everyone thought so back in 3v9-10. And since when was life after death a bad thing either? On the face of it, it seems irrational! But we can see the same irrationality today! Jamie Oliver may well have sorted out those school dinners but that issue is completely dwarfed by the far bigger issue of ‘citizenship’. The role of schools is under intense scrutiny as social issues continue to spiral out of control and schools are seen to be the frontline for government interventions to check that decline.

After a moments thought I came up with a summary of the sort of behaviour the authorities are after. Now I may be wrong… but if I said to Ruth Kelly, the Education minister, ‘Is this what you want?’ I reckon she’d sign up to it quicker than you could say… ASBO! You want children who love, who are joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled!

What do you reckon? I think that’s what most of us in the grumpy older generations in this country would love to see isn’t it? But how does it happen? Well it’s simple. People need to accept Jesus Christ – BANG and as soon as you say those 2 words you’ve blown it – the screen goes blank - in go the fingers.. Nah! Nah! Nah! Nah! No-one wants to listen. They are convinced that it can’t be right. Even when the end often justifies the means in today’s policy making, the brick wall goes up anyway.  

Now why does this sort of thing happen? Why is there such a disturbance? It surely can’t be the astonishingly positive outcomes that occur when Christians are around… whether it is this healing of a beggar, life after death or a future generation with at least a moral conscience!

The answer can be found back in Acts 4. Christ’s death and alleged resurrection are still very fresh in the memory of these authorities, and it’s this resurrection in v2, that is the problem… You see, it amounted to one of those ‘egg on the face’ issues! Following the professional execution of Jesus Christ of Nazareth… his followers were claiming that he had come back to life – Now on its own such a claim would give grounds for an accusation of insanity… except that the claim wasn’t on its own at all. Then, as now, the claim was supported by overwhelming evidence. According to the facts Jesus Christ did rise to new life from stone cold death!

So no doubt there would be a bit of a stir. No doubt there was embarrassment for the authorities. But that would eventually die down… No. It doesn’t explain why the same effect has been seen in every age since. No. There’s something far more profound going on here… and what that something is shows us why Jesus name will always disturb… You see, it’s not so much the believability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ – people could take that or leave it, whether they thought it to be true or not. But it is everything to do with what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means. It disturbs society and disturbs individuals because if it is true, it demands something from them… ‘He’ demands something from you!

 His resurrection is not merely a matter of fact in time and space history. Its implications reverberate throughout history like seismic shockwaves – THIS changes everything! Jesus Christ is not merely a name blinking momentarily on the timeline of history… Jesus is God. He is Lord. He is life after death. And there is nothing you can do about it… except the only thing you should do… Come to him. Come to him for mercy. Come to him for God’s forgiveness. Come to him for that life which really is life… resurrection life that will never end!

The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is so disturbing because he is Lord. He is in charge. And that means you and I can’t be. In the end it comes down to one thing. Pride. Self-sufficiency. Autonomy from God. Sin. The way we are.  And also the way these authorities were, and consequently Peter and John are seized and imprisoned. People want to make society better. People want to make themselves better… but they absolutely do not want Jesus Christ, who by the transforming power of his resurrection life, is the only one able to change people from the inside… change their heart and mind and motivation… everything.

 But Jesus Christ of Nazareth is also…

 The name that powerfully saves v4-14

 So Peter and John spend their night in the cells. It’s been an astonishing night outside – thousands have believed… but in the dungeon it’s the scary prospect of interrogation that faces these 2 apostles.

We know already that the authorities are trying to put to bed the resurrection issue, but that has been dangerously complicated by this astonishing miracle of the healing of the lame beggar back in chapter 3! It wasn’t just that he couldn’t physically walk… but that he had never walked – never even learned to walk! And yet there he was back in 3v8 walking and jumping and praising God! And there he is standing there in v14, leaving these interrogators, if you’ll excuse the awful pun, without a leg to stand on! This healing serves as irrefutable testimony to the power of what Peter was proclaiming!

 You can see that this is how Peter sees it,  because of the answer he gives to their question. They want to know ‘by what power’ v7 this has happened, and the answer they get is one that you’d have wanted to hear isn’t it?

Peter puts his finger on the irrational nature of being put on trial for ‘an act of kindness to a cripple, v9, but then proceeds to jump from this specific event to the universal claims of Jesus Christ… investing that name with its full power and glory… elevating the issue effortlessly from the lame-ness of one poor beggar to the salvation of all of mankind! And the question arises ‘Can you do that Peter? That’s a huge leap of reasoning to make isn’t it? But that’s exactly what he does!

But Peter is merely doing what Jesus had done when he encountered that paralysed man back in Mark 2… Jesus performs the healing there to authenticate his claim to be ‘God, who alone can forgive sins’.  And so here, the healing is not merely a stand alone phenomenon – but a stunning and powerful proof that people should take seriously not just the power of this name to heal… but also the power of the message that goes with it.

 It is God’s power that is on display here. That is what Peter is focussing on. That is why he seems to be so recklessly provocative in v10 

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.

 It’s why he can blame these specific people for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ… when our theology demands us to see ourselves there too hammering the nails through Jesus wrists – as Mel Gibson hands did when he directed his film ‘the Passion of the Christ’.

 But Peter is not saying that he isn’t a sinner, but he is saying look at the power of God… Just look at what he has done to your most powerful act – execution.

And he doesn’t leave it there. He shows this power even more amazingly at work… he quotes their own scriptures to them in v11, quoting from Ps 118v22 (again, Jesus used this of himself too)

 A funny shaped stone is rejected by the builders. The building they are trying to complete is the temple – the place which symbolised God’s dwelling. The Jews (including these authorities) understood this stone to refer to God’s chosen King – the Messiah…

so the claim Peter makes is that Jesus is this stone the builders rejected …and the problem for the builders is that their building can then never be completed… because that funny shaped stone they rejected was the ‘capstone’… the most important stone. And who has made it most important? In Ps118 it goes on to say ‘The LORD has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes!’

… so do you see the parallel? Acts 4v10 Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.

And ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes!

 This is what was intended. This is what was planned. This is God’s sovereign power in spite of maximum human rebellion at the cross This is God’s sovereign power transforming the ultimate miscarriage of justice, into the very basis of divine justice… the basis on which rebel sinners can be forgiven by God. This is God’s sovereign power raising Jesus into new resurrection life!

 God’s sovereign power is found in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Yes power to catch people’s eyes and ears with an amazing miracle… but power to do so much more! And so do you see why v12 says what it says? 

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."

 To say that there is another plan, another way to be saved is a heady mix of ignorance and arrogance. God’s way is undeniably exclusive. You will not find salvation in Buddha, or Mohammed or Allah, or anyone else or anything else apart from Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

I shared at the last central meeting something that Lee experienced at C of E post ordination training. They listened to a representative from the Muslim Council of Great Britain and split up into groups to discuss. Lee asked the question ‘Who here believes that the god Muslims worship is the same god that Christians worship?’ Out of 10 newly ordained Anglican clergy 7 put their hands up. That is the very essence of sin. No Jesus! No Peter! You’ve got it wrong… we know better! We know better than God Almighty, the sovereign of the universe! We’ve got another way! …And what do you think God Almighty, the sovereign of the universe will make of that. Personally I don’t think he’ll be convinced… do you? 

So God’s way is exclusive… but isn’t it also so very inclusive? Why are we shocked that there is only one way to be saved, it’s being saved we’re talking about! Shouldn’t we be utterly and thankfully amazed that there is a way to be saved at all?… and do you see the jurisdiction here? - ‘under heaven’! That means everywhere! Salvation is found in no-one else… That is why we must proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…  

And don’t forget - The LORD has done this… Is it marvellous in your eyes?

Who are you counting on? Yourself? What on earth do you think you will say when you meet your maker? Can I plead with you, tonight to remember that there is only one way to be saved from eternal punishment… and if you are going to be saved at all you must be saved by Jesus Christ.

It was certainly marvellous in the eyes of Peter and John… it would be, they knew they were saved! …And they were certainly marvellous in the eyes of the authorities… weren’t they? Did you notice that in v13? But then they would be, because they knew the power of God Almighty, and they knew that it is contained in the name f Jesus Christ!

And today, no less than in any other age, it is this intense integrity that is needed. Fearless courage and conviction to stand for the truth that Jesus Christ is the only name that saves.

Let’s just finish then by recognising lastly that Jesus Christ is…

The name that personally challenges v15-22

Marmite is an interesting product. It is one of very few, if any, products that has used people’s intense dislike of it as part of its marketing plan. You either love it or you hate it! There is no middle ground.

Now that is exactly the position with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. You cannot be neutral about Jesus. He is either Lord of All – or not at all. That is what we see here in Acts 4. Let’s just briefly look at the responses made here…

In v16 there’s rejection isn’t there? And notice that it is rejection in spite of the widely known supporting evidence v16 ‘Everyone knows they have done an outstanding miracle’. That is irrational… but that is to be expected wherever proud humans vastly overestimate their own power. That may be you tonight? You don’t want to see. And so you utterly reject the facts… But your position is even worse, because just like in Acts 4 here, even if you reject them, you can’t deny them!

But the rejection here has turned into outright and active  opposition v17. They can’t deny it so they have to suppress it! Suppress what? Well it’s not actually the miracle is it? It is speaking in the name of Jesus, surprise, surprise.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when people oppose us because of Jesus name… we should expect it and we should prepare for it.

It’s very easy just now to wheel out the Incitement to Religious hatred legislation as the biggest threat to our freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of all. But friends, that is the sort of opposition that we are to expect. That is the bread and butter of the Christian life in a fallen world… so can we make sure, whatever happens, that we are prepared for it.

But the biggest threat is a much sadder affair. The biggest threat and the greatest opposition to Jesus name, is from the church itself.

It is precisely at this point, around the person and completed work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that the very Christian-ness of Christianity is at stake. And the challenge for us as an expression of the one church of Jesus Christ is clear…

Picture the courtroom…if we were sitting there right now as Peter gave his defence with such courage and conviction… Ask yourself what you would be thinking and doing. Would you be standing shoulder to shoulder with him as John was? Or would you be shuffling backwards into the shadows? Would you be on your feet in active encouragement… or would you prefer to see the essential truth of Christianity drained of its power?

And v19 is an absolute gem for us. It’s so simple isn’t it? But it’s an acid test of where you believe the power lies. Having been commanded not to speak any longer in this name…. 

19 … Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

 It’s not so hard to see similar situations coming soon is it? I wonder if your answer would be like theirs?

 And brothers and sisters, it is only when we stand shoulder to shoulder with Peter and John, behind the almighty power of God that is contained within the name of Jesus Christ, and we proclaim him as the only Lord and Saviour… it is only then, that the other response will be seen…. And that is praise and acceptance – it’s there at the end Praising God v21 … and it’s there back in v4… as thousands believed the truth of the message and were saved by the only name that can save them. The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

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