Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we long to hear your voice. In the midst of all the noise, all the shouting, all the scrambling sounds of our days and weeks, we gather this morning to hear your voice. Speak to us in and through your Word. Speak gently and truthfully, may it be like a refining fire and a balm for our weary souls. May you speak life where there is death, hope where there is despair, truth where there is falsehood, and peace where there is war. Open our ears to hear you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
At Bethel Reformed Church, our mission is to “Share Christ in Community.” Last week, we began a series examining this mission statement by looking at how the name ‘Bethel’ already gives us an identity and calling. We heard how Bethel was where Christ was proclaimed as Lord and Savior, as the only way to the Father. Jacob saw this prefigured in a dream of a ladder stretching from earth up to heaven. We also heard how Bethel is where we hear the promises of God spoken to us. Lastly, we heard that when Jacob realized that God had acted in that place, he stood up a stone as a witness to what God had done. We remembered those who had been witnesses to us and heard the call to be standing stones, to be witnesses of Christ, to others.
This morning we will begin launching forward into the mission God has given us to “Share Christ in Community.” When the consistory and congregation discerned this vision, it was not for the sake of growing our brand, filling the seats, or boosting the offering. Our mission is fundamentally about faithfulness to the calling of God as revealed in the Bible. Sharing Christ takes different forms in the Bible – parables, songs, creeds, letters, conversations, sermons, discussions, speeches, apocalypse, miracles. There are more ways to share Christ than we will get a chance to explore in the next few weeks. But our goal will be gain clarity and conviction by looking at three stories from the book of Acts as the early church worked to “Share Christ in Community.”
The first story begins a few days after Pentecost, just after the Holy Spirit had been given to this rag-tag group of believers to transform them into the church. It goes like this. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.
After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
and the rulers have gathered together
against the Lord and against his Messiah.’
For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is what it looks like to “Share Christ in Community.” What does that tell us?
This whole story begins with Peter and John on their way to the temple to pray. They were not out looking for an opportunity to share about Christ. The opportunity came to them and when it happened, they were ready. Also, it began with an act of mercy done in the name of Jesus to a man in need. His physical healing became the occasion for a greater conversation about Jesus.
When Peter and John head into the temple, they are stopped by a man lame from birth who is asking for alms – asking for money. When he sees Peter and John, he thinks they are just like everyone else he has ever asked for a few coins. But Peter fixes his eyes upon him and demands his attention. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”
Peter gives the name of Jesus Christ. At the name of Jesus, this man stands up and walks. Immediately his legs, which have never born his weight, are strengthened and he can walk. Immediately he begins not only walking, but leaping and praising God. All who saw him knew him and were amazed at what happened.
The man came asking for silver or gold, but Peter gave him the name of Jesus. There is a time for the meeting of physical needs – the man is healed after all. However, Peter gives what only the church can give. The church joins many people of goodwill in caring for those in need, and we should. But there is something only the church can give – the name of Jesus Christ.
What do we share? The name of Jesus Christ.
At the name of Jesus, this man is raised up. At the name of Jesus, his weak feet and ankles are made strong. At the name of Jesus, he leaps and praises God. There is power in the name of Jesus and it is this name that Peter and John and the whole church is called to share.
When the people gather in wonder at what was done in healing this man, Peter proclaims, “And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”
Sharing the name of Jesus is not the way to win friends and influence people. When the authorities get wind of what has happened, they arrest Peter and John and question them, asking, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Because acting in someone’s name is to act in their power, it is to act on their authority. The one who comes in the name of the king has the power and authority of the king behind them. So when Peter and John come to a man lame from birth, a man bound his entire life in physical bondage, and they set him free and make him strong in the name of Jesus, they are proclaiming the power and authority of Jesus. They are proclaiming the power of the King.
This healing was performed in the name of Jesus Christ. At the climax of Peter’s testimony to the authorities is one of the most crucial and controversial claims of the Christian faith. There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.
There is no other name. Peter and John proclaim the power of Jesus’ name, the God-anointed authority of Jesus’ name, and they proclaim there is no other name.
In our contemporary world, this exclusivity of Christianity is unpopular. The claim that there is no other name but Jesus that we can call upon to be saved seems unfair and unkind when there are Sikhs down the street and muslims in the marketplace. When people believe so many different things and still seem decent enough people, it is rude, offensive, and off-putting to claim that there is no other name than Jesus. Doesn’t talk like that start wars, spark conflict, and create violence? Isn’t this claim to the one way, the narrow gate into heaven about power and control for the church? Have you heard people talk like this?
There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. Honestly, this claim is exclusive. It does say that it is only Jesus, that there is no other way to be saved. And it is a claim about power, but not on the way that most people think.
Peter proclaims there is no other name we can call upon to save us, because no other name is powerful enough to saver us, none but Jesus. There is no other name, because no other name is strong enough to save us.
Imagine for a moment that you are drowning. As you struggle to keep from going under, you call out for help. In that moment, it matters who you call out to. If you don’t call someone qualified and capable, you will drown and the person trying to help may drown too. You need someone who can save you. You need someone to dive in to where you are and pull you out to safety, because you cannot do it yourself.
There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. Peter makes that claim because no other name is strong enough. No other is strong enough to save us, but Jesus. To call out to anyone else, to look to Allah or Vishnu or Buddha or even your stellar resume or reputation is not going to work, not because there are a bunch of options you could go with, but God only wants people who check the right box. No, no other name will do, because none by Jesus is powerful enough to reach down and raise you up, none but Jesus can reach deep enough to lift us up, none but Jesus has a grip strong enough to never let us go.
So why does Peter share Christ? I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk. He shares what only the church can give, but he shares because there is no other name but Jesus. Not to share would be uncaring and unloving. There is no other name that can save us. “Sharing Christ in Community” means sharing Christ – sharing the only name that can save. When people ask us if we are out to convert them, we have to be honest, ‘Yes.’ I care about you, so of course I want you to know and trust the only one powerful enough to save you. I love you, so of course I want to share the name of Jesus. There is no other name.
Peter and John proclaim all this with boldness. After healing the man and speaking before the crowd, Peter and John are arrested. They get interrogated by the most powerful religious leaders of their day, the same people who conspired to have Jesus killed not long before.
How do Peter and John respond? Boldness, it says. When they are threatened for speaking in the name of Jesus, they don’t back down. Peter looks them in the eye and says, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” When the church gets together and hears what has happened, they pray. Listen to their prayer:
And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Give boldness, that is the prayer of the church. When Peter sees a man in need, he address his most pressing need with the only name that will save him. Peter shares Christ. When the name of Jesus transforms the body of this man, Peter uses it as an occasion to share Christ to the whole gathered people. When the authorities arrest them and interrogate them, Peter shares Christ. Whatever happens, wherever they finds themselves, Peter and John share Christ. When told to stop, they say they can’t. There is only one name that saves, only one name strong enough to raise us up. They cannot stop sharing it, but only pray that they might share it with more boldness. May that be our prayer as well.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.