Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2009)
“No Other Name” (Acts 4:1-12)

Today we continue our series using the readings from the Book of Acts assigned for these Sundays of Easter. In Acts, St. Luke describes for us the way in which the Church lived in the days and months and years immediately following the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. And here we are, his holy Church gathered together, still basking in the glory of our resurrection celebration. As we hear God's Word from the pen of St. Luke, we've been considering the question, “How does the Church live in the light of the resurrection of Jesus?”

Our world is not all that different than it was in the first century. Oh, sure, back then they rode on chariots, horses, mules, and camels. Today we ride in Fords, Chevys, Toyotas, and Nissans. They wore togas and robes. We wear Levi's, and … well, some of us still wear robes.
Names that Make Claims

Competing Claims: But both the first century and the 21st century have this in common: Then and now there exist a host of competing truth claims. And in the face of competing truth claims, the Church continues to preach that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) And that name is Jesus Christ. Our Lord said of himself, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

There are many names that make claims to having a corner on truth. We hear names from assorted world religions, such as Muhammad and Buddha. We hear names from the recent past such as Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy. We hear contemporary names such as Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. Each of them have their own version of what they claim to be the “truth.” But the truth is, the claims they each make are in competition with one another, in particular with Christianity.

Today, it's not popular to make exclusive truth claims. Truth is seen, not as exclusive, but rather elusive. It's not something you relate to others, but rather something that is relative. In other words, it's as if someone says, “It's true for you that Jesus is God. It's just not true for me.” But how can that be? Jesus is either God or he is not. One statement excludes the other. It's just not fashionable in our world today to claim that there are any authoritative sources to know the truth, like the Bible. And so people ask the same question that Pontius Pilate asked Jesus at his trial, “What is truth?”

Look what happened to the Peter and John in our text today. In the previous chapter, we heard how they had healed a lame beggar who used to sit at one of the gates of the temple complex. The man jumped up and danced and praised God. As a crowd gathered, Peter preached to them. He told them that it is really Jesus who healed this man. Peter called the crowd to repent of their rejection of Jesus, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life, the crucified and risen Lord.

After Peter's sermon, a group of priests and Sadducees approached and were “greatly annoyed because [Peter and John] were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” They were annoyed because Peter and John were usurping their authority. Moreover, they were annoyed that they were teaching about resurrection, since the Sadducees denied that there was such a thing. Since it was evening, they locked Peter and John up in order to shut them up and question them the following day.

People get greatly annoyed at us when we make exclusive truth claims. Just look at what happened to Miss California in the Miss USA beauty pageant a couple of weeks ago. A judge asked her a question about gay marriage. In her answer, she said that although we live in a free country where people can do what they choose, in her opinion marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. She was met by a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd. The judge, who happens to be homosexual, was visibly perturbed by her answer. He later made a video and posted it on YouTube where he lambasted her, called her a less-than complimentary name, and said that her answer cost her the crown. I commend Miss California for boldly speaking her opinion, an opinion not based on subjective feelings, but on her Biblical, Christian values. But it's obvious that in our society today, if you give an answer such as hers, an answer based on objective, exclusive truth, you will be labeled unloving, intolerant, hateful, and ignorant.

Clamming up: Now, our issue here is not gay marriage. And Peter and John certainly were not competing in a beauty contest. Their answers to the Sanhedrin's questions could very well cost them much more than a crown. But in a world of competing truth claims, the temptation is to clam up. We become concerned with “offending” people. That's become the byword of the day. “Don't offend.” And so we clam up. We are silent. Or we hem and haw and do not give a clear confession that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Closed heaven: And in so doing, we close heaven to those who ask us about our beliefs. If we leave them thinking that salvation, forgiveness, eternal life, entrance into heaven is possible by any other means than through the life of Jesus that was laid down for us, then we have sinned. And Paul says that “if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Anathema the Greek says. Banished forever. Eternally condemned. And heaven is closed to us, too.

Only One Name

Cornerstone/Capstone: Peter and John did not clam up. Instead, they boldly proclaimed Jesus as the cornerstone who was rejected by the builders. The Jewish leaders were like men that tried to build a house. However, they foolishly rejected the only stone which was suitable as the true cornerstone. This stone is the only one suitable as the corner of the foundation and upon which the whole building was to rest. Jesus was the Stone ordained by God as the foundation of His Church. Everything lines up with him. Everything holds together in him. Those who reject this stone have no place in the building. But those who trust in this stone and who cling to him alone are placed as living stones in this building called the Holy Christian Church. (some thoughts here taken from Kretzmann on Acts 4:8-12)

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved.” It was only by the name of Jesus, the Cornerstone of the Church, that the lame man stood before them well. It is only by the name of Jesus that you and I stand well. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for you and for me, his lost sheep. He knows our name, and he calls us to faith when we hear the message of the cross. Although we were lost sheep, he found us and brought us home in the still waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us to the green pastures of his Holy Word. He prepares a table before us and restores our souls with his Body and Blood. Through Jesus, the Cornerstone of the Church and our compassionate Good Shepherd, we are healed and forgiven. We are healed of our sin-sickness and forgiven for the times when we have clammed up, forgiven for the times when we have given lame answers and left people without a clear picture of who Jesus really is.

I can remember plenty of times when I have left a conversation with someone and I kick myself for not saying enough or not being clear enough about who Jesus is. That's when I have to remember that God's Word is more powerful than we give it credit for, and our Almighty God will accomplish his will in the lives of people in spite of my sin, in spite of my fear, in spite of my hesitancy to speak, in spite of the ways in which I get tongue-tied. It's not up to you and me to save people. That's the Holy Spirit's job.

Competent by the Holy Spirit: And God makes us competent through the Holy Spirit to tell others that Jesus is the only name by which we are saved. You and I have the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter on that day when he testified before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8; 1 John 3:24). We may not be as bold as the Apostle Peter. Some of us are quite shy, and that's okay if that's your personality. Being filled with the Spirit doesn't mean you get a new personality. But it does mean that you are a new person, one who has been given a new, clean heart, and a new, renewed will that listens to the voice of the Good Shepherd and follows where he leads.

How does the Church live in the light of the resurrection of Jesus? With so many names making claims to having the truth, we believe and proclaim that the Holy Name of Jesus is the only name by which we are saved. We repent of the times we have clammed up and failed to proclaim the name of Jesus. We receive the comforting forgiveness and mercy of our Good Shepherd, the Cornerstone and Foundation of His Church. And we place our confidence in the power of God's Word in spite of opposition.

After all, look what happened to those who heard the Word in our text today. Five thousand men came to faith in Jesus as their Savior (Acts 4:4). Now, I'm sure none of us will ever see the day when five thousand new Christians join our congregation on the same day. Then again, maybe God has a surprise in store for us. Either way, “there is joy before the angels of God” when even one sinner repents. (Luke 15:10)


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