Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Acts 4:5-12

What's In a Name?
Lutheran Church of Guam
30 April 2009

Well, as you’re aware by now my name is Brad. Although, that is not the whole truth. Brad is actually a shortened form of Bradley. That’s what my parents named me -- Bradley. Bradley is a name from the British Isles that means broad meadow -- perhaps a commentary on girth.

Now, I wish that I could tell you that there is great significance in my name. But the fact is that the only significance of my name is that my parents liked it.

Sometimes Americans name their children because of a great meaning -- sometimes there is no great meaning.

However, in the ancient world names almost always seemed to have great significance. So it is important to take note in Luke 1:31 that the angel Gabriel tells the very surprised Virgin Mary -- “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (NLT)

It’s not just the virgin conception that leaps out in this passage but the name Jesus -- for Jesus means “the Lord saves”. And everyone knew it. It was not a new name. It was actually an updated version the name Joshua.

Gabriel is giving Mary, the mother of Jesus, a clue regarding what Jesus was going to be all about -- salvation -- the meaning of his name and his life. He is coming from the Lord to save -- a fact which the gospel writers unpack in their descriptions of his kingdom activity, the cross, and the great resurrection. JESUS SAVES.

In Luke’s second volume or book -- what we call the Book of Acts -- we are not surprised then when the Apostles invoke or call on the name of Jesus as they are acting on his behalf -- as they become agents of his salvation.

In Acts 3:5-6 Peter and John are about to enter the Jewish Temple for the afternoon prayer service and they come across a crippled man -- someone who could not walk. And he was begging -- asking for a donation.

Perhaps you’ve seen similar people in big cities. Last weekend we were in Seoul and we saw a man without legs lying across the sidewalk begging. We saw the same thing in the streets of Bangkok in February.

So, what do Peter and John do as the crippled man confronts them. Do they tell him to stop bothering them? No!

Do they give him money? Apparently not. They didn’t have any money for in Acts 3:6 Peter says to him, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Which, of course is what he does. Verse 7 -- “Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.”

Notice that this all centers around the name of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus the Nazarene get up and walk...”

This activity does not escape the eyes and ears of the religious leaders -- who had thought that they had gotten rid of Jesus and his movement. So, they send the police out to arrest Peter and John -- locking them up overnight in jail.

The next day the Apostles are taken into the Jewish council -- the Sanhedrin. In that meeting the religious leaders demand to know by what “power or name” (4:7) they had been operating. “Who has given you the official license to practice medicine? To heal this man?”

That the man was helped is immaterial in their minds. Their interest is in authority -- even authority to do good.

Last Friday Cheryl, our son Kent, and I were in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. We actually crossed over into North Korea by a few steps. And even though my experience of North Korea is very limited I can tell you that I don’t think I’d want to live there. The North Korean government wants to regulate everything that happens there.

You would have to get a government license to do good there -- to give food to the poor or the heal someone or to share good news with them. It’s a very controlling place.

Now, we were not afraid because we had a group of South Korean and American soldiers guarding us as we stood on the border. But it is amazing to think that there are governments who feel threatened by the good deeds of some.

And this was the case in Acts 4. The government leaders wanted to know under whose name the Apostles were authorized to act. 4:8 -- “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.’”

The Apostles say that they are operating through the authority of Jesus’ name -- a name so powerful that God raised him from the dead. Jesus’ name is their license or permission to do such things. And notice verse 12, which is the passage that I really want us to focus on this morning. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

There is good reason, say the apostles, to act in the name of Jesus. There is something totally unique and exclusive about his name. “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

There is no higher authority. Jesus has no peers. No one in the world is on the same level.

Buddha -- although some of what he said is true, maybe even helpful -- Buddha is not a peer. Brahama, Vishnu, and Shiva are not peers. Mohammad is not a peer. The Bab is not a peer. Not even Obama is a peer -- even though some people talk like he is some kind of savior. “There is no other name given by which we may be saved for only in Jesus do we fully encounter salvation.”

You can’t even save yourself -- even if you try your best and keep all the rules and act as a pretty good person -- your name is never going to be powerful enough to save yourself.

I like my name. It’s a good name -- but there is no power for salvation in my name. My authority is very very limited.

Now, of course, we need to ask what this salvation is that the Apostles are talking about.

And we might be tempted to say that it means we get to go to heaven when we die -- which is correct. But it is not the whole truth -- maybe not even the most important part of the truth.

You see, we don’t have to wait for heaven to begin experiencing salvation. Here and now as we trust in the name of Jesus we become participants in God’s salvation and his mission to save the whole world. And this is what Peter and John were doing when they encountered the crippled man and acted on the authority of Jesus’ name to demonstrate the wholeness or completeness that happens when Jesus’ salvation is implemented.

Salvation makes the world right. Salvation is healing.

Well, you ask, why then don’t I see crippled men healed and walking? People healed from other diseases?

I don’t know. Maybe you could -- if you acted in the name of Jesus. No, not maybe but definitely you could. If Jesus is calling you to heal a lame or sick person and you act in his name -- under the authority of his name -- it will happen.

Now, it may not happen in the way that you think it should -- or want it to -- or even in the way that it has happened in the past. For the name of Jesus is not a magic formula and God rarely acts in exactly the same way twice. He seems to enjoy variety and surprises. But if you are faithfully acting in the name of Jesus -- in accordance with his name -- you will begin to see the fruit of that salvation around you. And the ruling council definitely understood exactly what the apostles were saying when they said that it was all about the name of Jesus.

They understood that there were subversive and revolutionary implications in this name -- and that this name could turn the world upside down.

Verse. 18 says, “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

Yeah right -- like that’s gonna’ happen. If they told you that you couldn’t act in the name of Jesus would you just lower your eyes and say, “Yes, sir.”? No way! -- especially after you’ve just seen how powerful -- how wonderful the salvation of Jesus at work is.

It’s like tooth paste. Once it is out of the tube you can’t put it back in -- although there are always some willing to waste their time trying.

Once the name of Jesus is released in the world, the world is going to change. And this is still true whenever and wherever people act in accordance with that name -- “...the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord...” (Philippians 2)

Jesus is the ultimate name -- the only name through which there is salvation. This is my key point this morning. Jesus is the ultimate name -- the only name through which there is salvation -- release from sin -- restoration -- peace -- healing -- salvation. And this is true for each individual, each society/culture, and even the whole world.

So, I have three quick questions for you this morning -- although you may not be able to fully answer them quickly.

The first is, are you personally trusting in the name of Jesus? Don’t answer too quickly. Think it through. Are you personally trusting in the name of Jesus (or is your experience of life limited to your given name or names?). If not, I want to invite you to begin to trust the name of Jesus -- right here and now. It doesn’t matter who you are -- how old you are -- or how good you’ve been or not been.

When it comes to salvation such things don’t matter -- for salvation is only in the name of Jesus.

Secondly, do you need restoration and healing for something in your life? Are you the crippled man in the story?

God isn’t into formulas but he is into restoration -- fixing -- healing. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes it is instantaneous. Sometimes it is only completed in the future.

The good news is that in the name of Jesus there is healing from addictions -- from brokenness -- from poor relational choices. Ask -- allow the name of Jesus the to intervene in your situation -- to start the process of salvation.

Then, thirdly, I want to ask if you are an authorized name of Jesus representative? That’s what Peter and John were.

They had no money -- not really even much of a title -- certainly no status in the eyes of the world -- but they could move out to implement God’s plan to set his salvation loose on the world. And they could do so because they were authorized name of Jesus representatives.

We sometimes call them “apostles” -- and the word apostle simply means “sent one.” Apostles are people sent out to represent the name of Jesus. And when we become followers of Jesus we become apostles, too. Every Christian is an apostle on some level.

You see, the fact is that there are people who need salvation -- healing -- physical -- emotional -- spiritual -- literal -- metaphorical. And “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

You don’t have to be rich or influential to represent the name of Jesus in the world. You do need to be willing to be used by God -- willing to take risks and to operate in his name rather than your own.

And the good news is that we get to participate in the name of Jesus enterprise. God has generously invited us to become partners in his “name of Jesus” business.

I like my name. Brad suits me well. But the fact is that I’m pretty much a nobody. There is no power or authority in my name -- at least not of the kind that will change the world. Even if I were to become influential or famous there is nothing in my name which would turn the world upside down -- which would make a real difference. There is no salvation in the name of Brad.

But the good news is that there is salvation in the name of Jesus – exclusively so. And by the grace and power of God we get to have a part in it all. Praise the name of Jesus!

Let’s pray --

Gracious Heavenly Father –
We come to you as handicapped and broken people in need of salvation. We also come as grateful people -- grateful for the name of Jesus through which we receive salvation.

There are some this morning who at this very moment are beginning to trust you -- who are crying out from their hearts -- “You are the Savior -- save me -- I have faith in you. I want to follow you and serve you. That’s what I want my life to be about.”

There are some this morning who need saving from problems -- addictions or maybe poor choices. Some of us have been abused through no fault of our own and we’re struggling to come to grips with the related issues. We’re hurting and we need salvation in the name of Jesus. Free us from the past -- in the name of Jesus.

Finally, gracious Heavenly Father, we ask that you would empower us with your Holy Spirit and send us out as duly authorized name of Jesus representatives. Send us out to the dark places and the hard circumstances so that the kingdom of God might be more fully realized. And we pray all of this in the -- name of Jesus -- the only name under heaven by which we must be saved.

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