New Testament Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
No Other Name**
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
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.’”
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
“Salvation is literally inconceivable apart from Christ: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). […] Peter’s statement does represent what the church has always and everywhere believed about the name of Jesus. If Jesus is, as we believe him to be, as much of God as we ever hope to see, the one who uniquely brought about our at-one-ment with the Father, then we can’t also say that Jesus is only a way, one truth among man, and just another life. Jesus is not simply a great moral example; he is the salvation of God, God’s peculiar, unsubstitutable fullness. Jesus’ distinctive way of suffering, sacrificial love, outrageous invitation, and boundary-breaking, government-enraging, relentless-seeking—vindicated by surprising, unexpected resurrection—cannot be merged with other means or definitions of salvation.(William Willimon, Who Will be Saved?)
Everyone gathered—rulers, elders, teachers of the law; Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, others of the high priest’s family. They surrounded the disciples just as they had surrounded Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Perhaps there is strength in numbers; perhaps they could bully the disciples into submission; perhaps…just perhaps if they nip this in the bud now they could halt this ‘Jesus movement’ before it gains too much more steam.
There is strength in numbers. There is power in people. It is probably not insignificant that Luke uses the word ‘rulers’, which I don’t think is a technical term, but I do believe is at least metaphorical. Jacques Ellul counts six evil powers in the Bible: Mammon, the prince of this world, the prince of lies, Satan, the devil, and death. These may be too vague and overlapping, but they get at the point well enough—and there must be some intimately involved in their perpetuation. He further spells it out for his readers: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. And someone must perpetuate such things—I call the perpetuators, Rulers. What does Ellul say about these things:
They select as their primary target those whom God elects and sets apart (saints), those to whom God reveals his love in Jesus Christ (Christians), and the fellowship of such people (the church). The efforts of evil powers (I call them such for convenience, although I repeat that they are not powers in themselves nor evil as the antithesis of the good God) focus on the place where God’s grace and love are best expressed. They deploy their full strength on Jesus Christ. They concentrate all the forces of evil on Christians. […] [The Devil] brings all his efforts to bear against those who carry grace and love in the world. For his problem is not to bring people to eternal loss or to carry them off to hell, but to prevent God’s love from being present in the world. (Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, 176ff)
And they do well enough. Constantly destroying. Constantly baiting. Constantly threatening the church into complacency. Ellul continues:
What the vanquished powers can always do is dramatize the situation on earth, make human life intolerable, destroy faith and mutual trust, make people suffer, kill off love, and prevent the birth of hope. In other words, what seems to me to be biblically certain is that the evil powers make earth a hell, and that there is no hell but this earth of ours that is said to be a delightful garden. What they do is precisely this: they destroy all that Jesus came to bring. In so doing, they disrupt our relations with God and others, especially the relation created by Jesus Christ. Misery, no perdition, is the issue. Their grand work is to produced in those who have received the mark of the Lord the opposite of what God expects. We should not be surprised, then, at what has happened in the church. It is the normal outcome of this ongoing revolt.”
I believe we see such powers at work in the lesson for today from Acts. This issue, of course, is the exclusivity of Jesus. Ellul is right: The enemy deploys his full strength against Jesus Christ. That is what the ‘rulers’ did that day when they arrested the apostles. Look what Luke tells us:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
I love how Luke continues to point out how all the rulers just piled on and on and on the apostles for ‘teaching’ and for ‘acts of kindness.’ Sadducees, Priests, guards, and others—all of them ganging up on the apostles for teaching. Peter turns it on them, ‘If we are being called to account for an act of kindness…’ And I think this is Peter’s way of saying something like this: What’s the real reason you are calling us to account today? How can you possibly find fault with the healing of a crippled man? Show your cards! What’s the real motivation here? Well, we already know what the real reason was: They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching people, and ‘proclaiming in Jesus’ the resurrection from the dead.
That was the problem. The world’s problem is not with you and me per se but with Jesus and this is why when Peter mounts his ‘defense’ to their charges, he doesn’t defend himself. Did you get that? Their problem was with Jesus—the very one they had killed, but whom God had vindicated. So, Mark Driscoll notes:
“Jesus’ exclusivity as the only possible means of salvation. Oprah Winfrey expressed the thoughts of many in our age of spiritual pluralism, saying, ‘One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.’ While the view seems kind and generously open to all faiths, the belief is as foolish as saying that every road one might travel in this life ultimately leads to the same destination.
“Because the superiority, glory, exclusivity, preeminence, and singularity of Jesus as both God and Savior are at stake, we must contend for Jesus as the only God and the only possible means of salvation, as both Jesus [John 14:6] and the early church [Acts 4:12] did.” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 137-138)
So Peter contends for Jesus—not for himself. He knows they have a problem with Jesus because no one in their right mind has a problem with someone healing a crippled man. I sense in Peter not a little sarcasm: Well, OK. If we are being called to account because of kindness, then know this, even the very kindness we are doing is done because of Jesus. We do nothing apart from Jesus. Not teaching. Not preaching. Not kindness. Not anything. The Person of Jesus motivates and amplifies our actions.
But why is Peter so intent on proclaiming Jesus? Why is Peter so intent on not defending himself and on only pointing to Jesus? I think there are a couple of important reasons.
The first is this: Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. The rulers gave Peter the opportunity for defense and Peter took it upon himself to instead utter proclamation. His defense is the Gospel. He frames his answer inside the confines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected. But Peter doesn’t say these things of his own accord either.
Sometimes we are confronted and we defend, but Peter here doesn’t defend; he contends. And not for himself, but for Jesus. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and then he spoke. It indicates that Peter was did not speak on his own, but as the prophets of old he spoke as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. I love what William Willimon says about preaching, “The Risen Christ is always a more fit subject for conversation in the church than us. To be a preacher is to relinquish all homiletical assistance other than that give, or not given, by the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit must empower the preaching. Interestingly enough, after this short sermon, Luke notes, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” Perhaps being with Jesus and empowered by the Spirit is of far more consequence when preaching than is any other consideration. But the Holy Spirit, we can see, inspires far more than mere courage, he also inspires content. Peter simply got up and declared what they asked: “It was the name of Jesus.” So this is not merely about courage to talk. This is about confidence to say only what is given at the moment.
I don’t think we preachers, and by that I mean every person who has been given the testimony of Christ, rely enough on this Holy Spirit. “What are we attempting with which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What is there about our lives which demands an explanation? We will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ when we dare to do what could never be accomplished on our own strength and insight” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Acts Communicator’s Commentary, 1983 as quoted by William J Larkin Junior, Acts IVP NT Commentary Series, 73).
Seriously, if all we do can be explained away as the mere byproducts of human ingenuity—eh, where is the Spirit of God in all that?
But look what the Holy Spirit filled Peter did. Look where the Holy Spirit pointed Peter to: Jesus.
A second consideration is that Peter proclaimed the Word of God: “The stone you builders rejected, which has become the Cornerstone.” Peter didn’t have to look far or point far to show the people he preached to that nothing that was happening should surprise them because it is what God had been saying all along. If they had only paid closer attention to the Word they would have noticed, they would have seen.
We can try all day to outwit the rulers of the world using all sorts of worldly weapons and powers and reasons, but there is only one answer for all the world’s accusations. One writer noted, “Today as well the Spirit’s witness to the truth through Christ’s messengers will be unanswerable, though still unacceptable, for many people” (Larkin). Preach the word, Paul wrote, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Preach the Word. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Isaiah said it is the Word of God that will not return to God void. And Jesus said the sower went out to sow and the seed he sowed was the Word of God.
Another noted a similar point, “Luke is thus describing effective ministry in the New Testament era: speaking out of the fullness of the Spirit and out of a knowledge of Scripture. The apostles have a boldness that comes from confidence about their message and empowerment by the Spirit” (Aijith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary). Too easy is it to follow the way of the world and preach out of the fullness of ourselves or out of the wisdom of the world. We learned during our Lenten sermons that what we preach is foolishness, but it is God’s foolishness we preach and in that foolishness is power.
I think there is a time and a place for what we call testimony. But testimony is not necessarily Gospel. Testimony is our history—what happened in the past. Witness is the telling of what God has done and is doing and will do in Jesus. What Peter quoted that day is—simply, nothing short of what Jesus himself had said in Luke 20:17: “Then what is the meaning of that which is written, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” This is yet another reason why it is imperative that we, as a people, continue to involve ourselves together in the Scripture.
Peter had listened to Jesus, Peter was listening to the Spirit thus it follows that Peter would preach the Word of God and let the Word of God be his defense and witness. Later Luke says that they ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, and were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” We learned last week that after Jesus resurrected and met his disciples on Emmaus and in the locked room, he redirected all their attention to all of the Scripture. So John and Peter do the same. They redirect the people’s attention to the Scripture.
Look where the Word of God pointed: To Jesus. Just as the Holy Spirit directed Peter’s words to Jesus; so too the Holy Scripture directed Peter witness to Jesus.
Look where the Holy Spirit and the Word of God pointed: To Jesus.
And so we must continue to talk about Jesus. He must continue to be the subject of our conversations, the pillar of all our preaching. Why? Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.”
How can we possibly preach anything or anyone else? Peter earlier said that ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Now he says that ‘salvation is found only in Jesus.’ But I don’t want to talk about salvation because even Peter did not talk about it. He mentions it merely to talk about Jesus. Jesus is the subject. Peter starts working into some terribly exclusive language here. He says, ‘no-one else,’ and ‘no other name,’ and it is at this point that the rulers just lose it.
Remember, the rulers and the powers and the principalities can get along well enough in this world so long as the church is just another social services office or another psychologist’s couch or another soup kitchen. Seriously: those places are never attacked by the rulers and powers. In fact, it is the rulers and powers who set up such places in the first place. And if that is all the church is—fine, but let the church start talking about Jesus and watch the rulers and powers kick it into a different gear altogether.
Do you think our church has suffered the way it has suffered merely because of personality differences among us? But there is something about that Name! There is something about Jesus that irks the powers and the rulers of this world. So look what the rulers say and don’t say to Peter and John before letting them go: They don’t say: Don’t go around healing people or feeding them or clothing them. That’s all fine and good and the implication is that these are harmless things. The powers of this world couldn’t care less if I stand here on Sunday mornings and tell you all about the things I refuse to tell you. But let us dare to stand and preach that Jesus alone is the exclusive way of salvation that God has given us—and what them boil over with rage and hate.
What they do say is this: “But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone is this name. Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach all in the name of Jesus.” Ah-ha!! There it is. It’s the Name that the World fears. Think about it. When God called Moses out in the desert and told him to go back to Pharaoh and preach he armed him with what? The Name: God said to Moses, “I am Who I am. This is what you are to tell the Israelites. I AM has sent me to you.”
Do you hear this? And this is what the Holy Spirit is attempting to wake up in you and me. The rulers of this world are not stupid. The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started to preach in Jesus’ name. We can be safely ignored until we start making exclusive claims about this person Named Jesus. The church is a faithful ally in the world’s attempt at Utopian dreams until the church starts talking about Jesus as superior to the gods the world loves. The church can talk all day long about whatever the church wants until the church wants to talk about Jesus. The church is beside the point until the church starts talking about Jesus.
It’s that pesky Jesus every time. You see the world pronounced it’s verdict on Jesus: They crucified him. They nailed him to the tree.. They buried him. They ‘conspired against God and against his anointed one.’
But God also had a verdict on Jesus. The one enthroned in heaven scoffs. He laughs at the world’s attempt to rule and control and overthrow Him and to throw off their fetters. God’s verdict on Jesus: He resurrected Him!!! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!
There is no place in this world for two gods, and Jesus is the competition for every other god that has been erected on this planet: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. These gods rule; but these are the very gods over which Christ has triumphed in the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Peter and John were bold and courageous that day precisely because they preached in the Spirit of God, from the Word of God, and about the Son of God. They were bold because they had been with Jesus. They were courageous because they were empty vessels whom the Holy Spirit could fill. They were full of wisdom because they relied on the Word of God and not their own theological prowess.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is no other Name given by which men must be saved. What else on earth could possibly be of interest to the church but the Name of Jesus? Have we lost our nerve? Have we grown weary of the Name? Have we lost interest in the Name above all Names? Have we tired of the Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Do we think that people will be more interested in us if we preach something different or something softer or something more compelling or something more interesting?
But I also wonder what power we give up, what significance we lose, what authority we surrender when we, in fact, speak in names that are other than the Name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to preach only in the Name of Jesus because that is the only Name given by which men must be saved.
You see a fine example in these verses of a church that refused to cooperate or compromise with the world’s powers and rulers and authorities. They threaten the church and hope that they can silence the church with violence and accusations and threats and bully tactics. Not the church, though! “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges. As for us, we cannot help but speaking of what we have seen and heard.”
Those are the words of a church convinced that the world is no ally. Those are the words of a church convinced that being obedience to God renders obedience to any earthly ruler a moot point. Those are the words of a church that will not allow the Name of Jesus to be rendered impotent in this world through compromise with the defeated powers of the world. Those are the words of a church that is sure and certain of God’s verdict on Jesus. Those are the words of a church empowered by the Holy Spirit, convicted by the Word of God, and saved by the One and Only Jesus. And it seems to me that it is far, far better for the world to fear us because we refuse to preach in any other name than it is for them to fear us for any other reason.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is only one answer the true church of Christ can give.
He is our King.
He is our Love.
He is our God whose come,
To bring us back to Him.
He is the one.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
**(All of the references in this sermon manuscript can be found by accessing the sermon notes here.)