What's In The Name? ~ Acts 4: 1-12
The miraculous healing and preaching of The Holy Spirit (through Peter and John) in chapter 3 has not gone unnoticed. The apostles are bold – preaching with unction – pleading with the people "repent and receive Jesus!"
Such forthrightness and urgency are a marker of the Acts church – and Holy Spirit anointing. None of what the Apostles said was buried in confusing philosophy, boring personal stories, insider jargon, or ivory tower gobbledygook. Peter spoke with clarity – straightforward – consistent – from the heart.
We need preaching and courage like this today! The great 1600's puritan pastor Richard Baxtor described such preaching this way, "To preach as never sure to preach again, as dying men to dying men!"
Now, of course, history tells the tale – this kind of preaching is sure to stir the waters. It didn't take long before the words of Jesus come ringing back. John 15: 20-21, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me."
Why does the name of Jesus carry so much weight? What does speaking this name and gospel mean for believers?
1.) The name of Jesus means: Persecution/Stumbling
The same group that rejected and persecuted Jesus is now attacking His disciples. Remember the 'Sadducees'? These were the Jewish theological liberals who denied any existence of the supernatural – particularly the idea of a bodily resurrection. (This is why they were sad – you see?)
They found the Apostle's preaching and healings unacceptable – dangerous – disruptive - and threatening to their business, authority, and reputation. Therefore, they must be silenced! Peter and John were thrown in jail.
The next day they are visited by our old buddies from the Sanhedrin. Notice Luke is careful to point out names. Annas, the former high priest from 6 A.D. – 15, and His son in law Caiaphas, the current high priest (from 18 A.D. – 36). John and Alexander were other family members in the high priest business (I use that word intentionally). The role of High Priest had long been corrupted, in bed with Rome, and Godless. Luke wants us to know the players – the continued opposition – the very faces and authorities that condemned Jesus.
"By what 'power' did you heal the lame man?" (They all knew this lame man – it was undeniable that something happened). The ideas behind 'by what power' and 'by what name' are virtually the same. In their thinking, the power resided in the name, because the name represented the person's character.
“Filled with the Spirit”, Peter proclaims again, the gospel message – in hilarious Peter style. "You guys are seriously upset at the fact that a man is healed? Where is the rejoicing? You all know very well who healed this man. It is the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – whom you crucified!"
You can almost hear the eyes rolling in Annas and Caiaphas' heads. "I thought we were done with that guy! Move on! Didn't you learn?"
Beloved, mark this passage well. The promise of Jesus - that we will be hated on account of His name - is continually true. There is no other name on this earth that is so contentious as "Jesus Christ." You can go anywhere in the world, any place, and if you start throwing around the name of Jesus – it will get attention.
Time and time again, I am told, "Luke, you can come over, meet my family, be a part of this organization, speak at this event, but please… do not… if you can help it… speak about Jesus." Jesus is a stumbling block – you can't get past Him – His name confronts us – it requires something of us.
More and more, we are living in a post-Christian society in America. The name of Jesus will certainly get you attention, eye rolls, and even persecution.
Not to mention beloved saints across the globe – the name of Jesus is still a death/prison sentence. We are very insulated from this reality. Any time you get an opportunity to speak His name – DO IT!
2.) The name of Jesus means: A Firm Foundation
Peter goes on (as is His nature) to quote from popular Psalm 118, known by all Jews. This Psalm was Messianic – the final Hallel Psalm was sung at Passover to beckon in the Savior of Israel!
Psalm 118: 19-26, "Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate (I am the gate) of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the (You – Peter edits) builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Palm Sunday - Hosanna)."
Peter is saying, Jesus, is our Messiah, prophesied in Scripture. You have acted as the builders who rejected Him – But God has made Him the foundation of a new temple and kingdom. This is what Jesus meant when He spoke of the temple being torn down but 'rebuilt' in three days – by Himself. Your precious temple that Herod (the murder) built you - will be destroyed – but God's temple – build on/and by Jesus, the rock, will prosper, grow and overcome.
The image of a conquering 'stone' comes straight from the prophecy in Daniel 2. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a stone that grows and grows - destroying all the mighty kingdoms of this world. Daniel interrupts this and claims that this 'stone' – is a new kingdom –made by God – unlike the rest - that will never perish from the earth.
The cornerstone of this kingdom is Jesus Christ – who was seen (and is seen) as 'unfit' (flawed – not who they wanted) by the builders – and rejected. Yet – God is the better builder, and He has established this stone as the foundation – and it will not be moved – either you stand upon it – or trip, trip, fall, and be crushed.
Peter elaborates on this very message in His letter, written years later. Beloved, Scripture interrupts Scripture.
1 Peter 2: 4-10: Come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture, it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," (Isaiah 28:16) and,
"A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." (Isaiah 8:14)
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
The Apostle Paul reveals this to us in Ephesians 2: 19-22, "Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
This is the message: You cannot get around Jesus. You tried to reject and do away with Him but that only reinforced His position! Peter clearly shows the crossroads. You either submit to His rule and become part of this living temple – or stumble and fall – but you can't ignore (be ignorant) any longer. This new kingdom will not be stopped.
3.) The name of Jesus means: Salvation
Not only this – but there is no other person, no other name, no other stone – by which we can be saved! Salvation is found in no one else! This is an utter claim to exclusivity.
Some may say – 'Aren't all religions the same? Aren't there many ways to be saved? Aren't we all serving the same God anyway?' Peter answers this with a resounding 'No!'
It is only the name of Jesus – the person of Jesus – the work of Jesus – that salvation is found. Not Buddha, not Muhammad, not Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva, Not Zeus, Thor, Caesar, Joseph Smith, Eric Clapton, David Koresh, or Shirley MacLaine! Not even any 'god' on any planet in the infinite universe on some distant alien star or mighty angel! No other name under heaven in all eternity – past and future! It is only Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and breathed in 1st century Palestine, suffered, died, and was resurrected by the power of God!
Everyone must deal with Jesus. Everyone will meet Him and be judged by Him. Everything goes through Him. He alone is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
Beloved, are you prepared to preach and proclaim as the Apostles did? As the faithful church triumphant has preached down the centuries? It will cost you. We have lived in a very comfortable bubble in the scheme of Christian history. Yet – even when the cost is low, we still struggle to speak the name of Jesus. If we can't share Jesus with our own kids and neighbors – what makes you think you will share with your persecutor?
The winds of change are blowing, beloved. Our country is not the same. More and more believers are being persecuted for the name of Jesus. What kind of legacy do you want to share in this church body? What kind of courageous church do you want to live on into the future? We best come to grip with this Jesus of Nazareth! We best really ask ourselves – do I believe in this name? Do I know Jesus personally? Have I felt and seen His Holy Spirit? Have I submitted to His kingdom? What foundational stone have I been building my life on? Will it hold?
It is evident to me persecution is the very means for the church's expansion! Even while Peter and John were being thrown in jail – the church grew 2,000 more converts. The kingdom of Christ has withstood every attack and scheme of the evil one for 2,000 years! Every time the prince of this world tries to stomp Christians out, it has only caused them to grow! God has likely ordained persecution for us – so that His kingdom may expand all the more – but do not worry – it is an undefeated kingdom, and Jesus Christ is the cornerstone!
“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus' name
On Christ the solid rock I stand All other ground is sinking sand”