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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

April 29, 2018

 No Other Name

Acts 4:5-12; John 10:11-18

            “No good deed goes unpunished.”  This is a rather sarcastic take on an older English proverb, “No good deed goes unrewarded.”  “No good deed goes unpunished” is offered with a certain amount of cynicism, and in this case, this morning, it is true.  The “good deed” is the healing of a man “crippled from birth” at the beginning of Acts 3.  He is taken to the Temple gate every day to beg.  One day the beggar asks Peter and John for money.  Peter looks into his eyes, and says, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Peter helped him to his feet, and the man started walking.  We are even told that in his joy, he began “walking and leaping and praising God.”  Everyone recognized him as the beggar “crippled from birth,” and people were filled with “wonder and amazement” at what had happened.

            You would think that this was good news.  But instead, it soon gets Peter and John into big trouble.  First, many misunderstood what happened.  They assumed Peter caused the miraculous healing, and that Peter and John were miracle workers.  Peter has to set them straight.  In Acts 3:12-16, he says, “It wasn’t our power at all that caused this healing, but the power of God, and the power of faith in the name of Jesus.”  Peter keeps preaching about Jesus, as the fulfillment of all the Hebrew scriptures.

            The more Peter preaches, the more upset the leaders of his own Jewish people get – especially a group known as the Sadducees, who are offended by Peter’s insistence on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead being the basis of hope in our own.  It also is not helping these Jewish leaders that the number of Jesus’ followers is growing – the movement has grown to five thousand, Luke tells us, in a matter of weeks since Jesus’ death and reported resurrection.

            So I said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Peter and John are seized late in the day, and thrown into jail overnight, then brought before all the rulers of the Jewish people the next day – all the top guns are there – Annas the High Priest, Caiaphas, also regarded as High Priest.  Probably the whole Sanhedrin is present.

            Why all the fuss over a simple good deed?  Their first question tells it all: “By what power or what name did you do this?”  Note how the issue is no longer one about healing, or resurrection, or the kindness of God to heal.  The real issue is power.  “Where did you get the power to do these things?” and behind that, “Who authorized you uneducated Galileans to do and say these kinds of things?”

            They are worried, the Jewish leaders are, about control over the things of God.  Things are happening among the people in Jerusalem that have many people excited, amazed and full of wonder, and these leaders do not feel in control of them.  These are many of the same people who gathered to decide what to do with Jesus during the Passover.  You sense the fear in them that maybe their actions then were not the wisest or the best.  The thought they had “taken care” of the Jesus problem, but even with His death, Jesus does not seem to have “gone away” or disappeared.

            Part of the problem is that Peter and John and their followers are not against the religious practices of the Jewish leaders.  Indeed, Luke tells us that these early followers of Jesus are spending “much time together in the Temple” (Acts 2:40).  And it is while on their way into the Temple that they encounter the beggar and offer healing “in Jesus’ name.”  So these folks are not against Judaism – they want to be faithful Jews.

            What makes the authorities upset is that they are suddenly not in control of what God is doing.  Peter and John are doing things “in the name of Jesus,” and preaching a message of resurrection power, and no one is in control – the Holy Spirit is moving with power, and no one knows where all this might be leading.

            This is what Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus that fateful night.  Remember how this member of the Sanhedrin came to talk to Jesus?  Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wills.  You hear the sound of it, but you know not where it comes from, or where it goes.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  This same Spirit would take Peter to a cross, where he would choose to be crucified upside down.  He chose not to die exactly as Jesus did, not feeling worthy. It would take John to a life of ministry and service in Ephesus into his old age, according to tradition.

            “The Spirit blows where it wills” – but the Spirit is always the Spirit that proceeds “from the Father and the Son.”  Hence, the name of Jesus has Divine power – power to do good, power to forgive, power to redeem, power to heal and to make new.

            So Peter, filled with the kind of courage that would one day make him a martyr, answers their questions.  Peter hardly mounts a defense!  He is led by the Holy Spirit, and he answers them plainly: “The one whom you crucified is the one who healed the man standing before you.”

            Then Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 – “The stone that was rejected by the builders (by you – he adds!) it has become the cornerstone.”

            Then Peter adds these words: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  This is one of those verses some Christians use as a club.  When I was a little boy, one of my best friends told me that only Roman Catholics would be saved.  He truly believed this, as a good boy attending a Roman Catholic school, Saint Agatha’s, in a pre-Vatican II atmosphere, though it was years after that wonderful movement of the Holy Spirit in the Roman Catholic Church.  This is what he had been taught.  I cried – not because I thought I was going to hell, but because I was hurt by how narrow my friend’s vision of God was.  Donny, a kind, caring child, who has grown up to be a wonderful man, was repeating what the nuns taught.  “Protestants are going to hell.”  People do this all the time, and it never serves Jesus!

            Never use a passage like this to assume you know more about God than you do.  We really do not know the mind of God – who is saved, and who is not.  I love our PCUSA’s 1998 Catechism and how it speaks on this matter: “The limits of salvation, whatever they may be, are known only to God.”

            Luke’s purpose in sharing Peter’s preaching is not to limit or exclude or narrow the scope of God’s saving purposes.  Luke himself is not a Jew – more than anything, he wants to honor the Hebrew scriptures, but also make the point that God’s intention, from creation, to calling Abraham, to sending Jesus Christ, is “to bless all the families of the earth.”

            The purpose of this statement by Peter is to proclaim that no human authority can dictate who God intends to save.  Luke is sure that God has acted on behalf of the whole human family in Jesus Christ.  There is “no other name” we can erect other than what God has done in Jesus Christ to affirm the Divine intention for the human family.

            Luke is not here offering words against anyone – not against either Jews or Gentiles – his genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam.  Luke wants to say that the message of Jesus is for the whole human family.  God wants and wills human flourishing.  God is “for us” and “with us” in Jesus Christ.  And “if God is for us, who can be against us?”  This is the Good News of the Gospel.  This is the power of Jesus’ name.

                                                                                    Amen.

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