Sunday, July 27, 2014

Generosity and Community (Acts 4.32-37)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 20, 201
Text: Acts 4:23-31

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Ode to Joy" (John Palmer Smith)
Hymn of Praise: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" (ODE TO JOY)
Hymn of Praise: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" (DENNIS)
Offering of Music: "How Firm a Foundation" (arr. Dan Forrest)
Hymn of Sending: "The Church's One Foundation" (AURELIA)
Postlude: "Choral Song in C" (Samuel F. Wesley)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
Last week we wrapped up the extended story in Acts 3-4 that started with the healing of the lame man. Today we are finishing out Acts 4, which moves on from there. It is still connected in the sense that it describes the believing community that had gathered around Peter and John – the one that prayed that very intentional and attentive prayer of praise and petition we looked at last week. Now it is as if Luke, the story-teller here in Acts, wants to say, “Let me tell you a little bit more about that group of attentive pray-ers!”

Today we are looking at a short passage that describes that community, and particularly the GENEROSITY of that community. We’ve had a preview in Acts 2:42, which Kathy Larson preached on a number of weeks ago. There we had a one-sentence description of the early believers: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Now at the end of chapter four, Luke gives us a little more detail – some names and some narrative to describe what that community was like. We’ll look at that as instruction and inspiration for our own life together as a community of believers.

One Heart and Soul (v. 32)


Verse 32 tells us that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” That’s pretty intimate language. It calls to mind that language about loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the one I like to sum up by saying “with all you are, all you have, and with everything you’ve got!” In fact, that “Great Commandment” is the only other place in the New Testament that uses that kind of language. Clearly, these early believers understood what it meant to love God and to do it together in community. This was church at its best!

What comes next in the rest of verse 32 is an example of how that love of God and neighbor manifested itself in that early community: “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Now this sounds more than a little strange to our ears… maybe even like socialism or communism. But we’ll see in a moment that this unusual behavior was something completely different.

First, let’s notice the context for this community and their unusual behavior.

Apostles’ Teaching (v. 33)


Verse 33 gives that context, underscoring the short summary we noted earlier in Acts 2:42. Here we read, “…with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” In 2:42 we read that the first believers gathered around fellowship, prayer, the breaking of bread, and the apostles’ teaching. Here it is again – the message, the testimony, the news about Jesus and his resurrection are at the center of this community. They weren’t “of one heart and soul” because they had the warm fuzzies; they were of one heart and soul because they were united around the Word. They were united around – AND stirred by – testimony about God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus. And the testimony was of what God had done through Jesus, including especially his resurrection. Remember our emphasis in past weeks? Our talking about Jesus – underscored by the truth of God’s Word – is so important!

But that’s not all! We also read in verse 33 that “abundant grace was upon them all.” What does that mean exactly? In the context of the apostles talking about the resurrection of Jesus, I’ve got to think that they were overwhelmed with the goodness of God in the person of Jesus – his teaching, his sacrificial death, and the hope-filled news of his resurrection. It was an overwhelming, personal, and community sense that God is good to me… God is good to us! It also can and probably did refer to the power and presence of God’s Spirit, experienced so recently at Pentecost and in the healing of the lame man, and perhaps alluded to in this verse in the description of the apostles’ teaching “with great power.” There was a sense that God is here! Together with God’s goodness, the sense of this abundant grace was that GOD IS GOOD TO US AND GOD IS HERE WITH US!

Generosity is Voluntary and a Witness to Grace (v. 34-37)


That should definitely give context to the sharing of resources Luke describes. There are different kinds of giving.

OBLIGATORY GIVING: There is the kind that is compulsory, like that mandated by socialist or communist governments. There is no more joy to be found in that kind of sharing or giving than there is in paying taxes. That there are versions of Christianity that oblige giving through legalism, guilt, or scare tactics, is just another kind of mandated or obligatory giving.

CONDITIONAL GIVING: There is the kind of giving that expects something in return: “I’ll help you out, but you’ll owe me one.” This is really more of an exchange or ‘loan’ of resources than actual kindness, though there can be some kindness if the timing is right, helps someone out, and doesn’t make an unequal exchange like an exorbitant interest rate.

In verses 34-37, we get some more detail about the giving and sharing going on in this early community of believers. Though everyone was sharing, it does not sound compulsory. For one, Joseph (aka Barnabas) would not have been singled out for his extra gift if everyone was expected to give everything. It sounds like even in an extraordinary setting of sharing, he went above and beyond. And then in the next chapter, an interesting one to be sure, Peter speaks of land remaining under the ownership and control of the original donor, leaving them free to decide what to do with it. (The unusual fate of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5 did not have to do with not giving their land, but in lying to Peter’s face.)

VOLUNTARY GENEROSITY: No, what I think is going on – certainly in extraordinary measure – is voluntary generosity. The community was responding to need, so that no one was not taken care of. And isn’t this the most enjoyable kind of giving, expecting nothing in return? It reminds me of… GRACE. And think about it; that’s exactly what this community was basking in. Remember verse 33? They were hearing the apostles’ talk about Jesus’ resurrection, experiencing the power and presence of God, and themselves being reminded of and experiencing abundant grace: God is good to us and God is here with us! It makes sense that their own generosity would be marked by a similar grace.

Heart and Soul


It makes sense, if a community is convinced that God is good to us and God is here with us, for that community to respond to God with that all I have and all I am kind of love – united in heart and soul. And it makes sense for that community’s giving and sharing to be marked by a gracious generosity, a “love your neighbor as yourself” kind of perspective.

This is a message I hope is familiar to you here in this place, but I declare it to you again this morning: God is good to us and God is here with us. May we be found to believe with one heart and soul. Amen.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Do the Nations Rage? (Acts 4.23-31)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 20, 201
Text: Acts 4:23-31

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Hosanna" (Brooke Ligertwood)
Song of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love" (David Crowder)
Song of Praise: "Hosanna" (Brooke Ligertwood)
Offering of Music: "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" (Hopson)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah" (LOBE DEN HERREN; Nockels/Passion)
Postlude: "Praise to the Lord!" (Craig Phillips)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? 26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:13-22)
For several weeks we have been tracking a scene that began in Acts 3, with the healing of a lame man in the area outside the Temple in Jerusalem. Peter and John, two of Jesus' disciples, encountered the man and offered him all they had: Jesus. Essentially praying for him in Jesus' name, he was healed and began following them around the Temple courts as they talked about Jesus and all he had said and done. That got them in trouble with the religious leaders of the Temple and they were put in prison overnight, then put on trial. Though the religious court did not find anything worthy of their conviction (or feared the large crowd's response if they did), they did threaten and warn them to stop their teaching and move on. By that point, we read, 5000 men had heard and believed Peter's preaching.

Today's text continues that story, with Peter and John set free and reporting back to their friends. That report led to celebration, specifically praise to God. And that praise led into specific petition for the future. I want to look with you at the content of both the praise and the petition, but more broadly at the spiritual tools that informed both of those responses.

And I won't keep that a secret. It connects with what we talked about last week in terms of "talking about Jesus." Talking about Jesus, as demonstrated by Peter, is talking about what we have seen and heard God do and say. To do that requires a kind of "spiritual attention" to what is going on around us. It is the necessary complement to the prayer, "God, what are you doing in and around me and how can I be a part?" To hear and participate in God's answer to that prayer, we must be spiritually attentive. It is only then that we will "see and hear" and be able to personally talk about Jesus.

So, let's look at today's praise and petition, offered by Peter and John's friends following their release from the religious authorities. But also know that these responses were fueled by the kind of spiritual attentiveness that looks for God's activity in this world.

Praise (vv. 24-26)


When they had been released, Peter and John went back to their friends and “reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” (v. 23) That report prompted what sounds like a spontaneous exclamation of praise to God, specifically for God’s power in this world. First, the friends declare, “O Lord, it is you who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.” (v. 24) Having praised God’s work in creation, they quote from Psalm 2, “Why did the Gentiles rage…?” (vv. 25-26), which describes the sovereignty and power of God, even over the so-called powers of this world.

I am challenged and instructed by these words of praise. This is not just generic “God is good; God is great” praise, but is specific to the situation at hand. Peter and John have run up against the earthly powers of their time and place – the religious leaders in the Jerusalem Temple. They have been imprisoned and put on trial, threatened and told to stop talking about Jesus. And God has brought them through all of that. Rather than view this as a lucky break they were emboldened all the more to trust in God to talk about Jesus.

I am also reminded of how ably scripture teaches us what God is like, giving us words and thoughts with which to pray and praise our God!

Open Eyes (vv. 27-28)


These next verses relate specifically to what we talked about last week in talking about Jesus. We noted that Peter simply shared what he had seen and heard and I challenged you to do the same. In order to do that, we have to have our eyes and ears open to what God is doing in and around us. That’s just what is demonstrated here in verses 27-28. In fact, this is just the kind of paying attention that enabled Peter, John, and friends to offer the specific praises we just looked at.  They knew just what had happened:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur. (vv. 27-28)
Why did Psalm 2 come to mind? Why were the praises about the sovereignty and power of God over earthly powers? It is precisely because these same people had seen the earthly power that had set itself against Jesus and now was set against them. Specific names and scenes came to mind: Jesus before Herod and Pilate; the crowds shouting, ‘Crucify!’

One of the critical pieces to being able to talk about Jesus is to pay attention to what is happening around you. I reminded you last week of this important question/prayer: God, what are you doing in and around me and how can I be a part? Open eyes and ears not only help us see God at work, but also fuels our prayers of praise as well as petition.

Petition (vv. 29-30)


And that’s just what happens next in verse 29. John and Peter’s friends continue in prayer, now moving from praise to petition, asking God to CONTINUE the kind of sovereign protection God described in Psalm 2 and that God has already shown to Peter and John. So they pray:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (vv. 29-30)
Again, this is not a generic prayer, “Lord, help my friends out”; it is specific, mentioning the threats, the preaching, and the healing that were all a part of Peter and John’s experience over the past few days. And it rests on the assurance of God’s sovereignty and power, already named through praise and also seen in the past few days.

Already present as they prayed, the Holy Spirit filled the whole group and they all began to talk about Jesus with boldness. So the ministry and message of Peter and John spread among the followers of Jesus in this very manner.

Talk, Pray, Ask


Last week we talked about talking about Jesus. And one of the key pieces of that was paying spiritual attention day by day so that we would be able to talk about what we have seen and heard.

Today we see that spiritual discipline of paying spiritual attention as essential not only to our witness or testimony, but also to our prayer life. As we see what God is doing in and around us, we become more and more at ease declaring God’s worth through praise and seeking God’s help through petition.

And what we see at the very end of this passage is also the important connection of paying spiritual attention with mission – not only do we see and hear what God is doing in and around us, but like the group that began to participate in God’s work in v. 31, God invites us to participate in what He is doing near us.

How important, then, it is to pay spiritual attention: to look and listen for what God is doing in the world and to read and study scripture to be reminded of what God has done and promises to do. That spiritual attention then fuels our witness, our prayer, and our mission.

Would you be willing to commit to praying this prayer with me this week: God, what are you doing in and around me, and how can I be a part?

Several of you have let me know you would be willing to share what you have seen and heard. You’ll be hearing from them in the weeks to come. I’m still looking for others who might be willing to share in the newsletter, on video, or in worship. You know where to find me! I’d love to also hear how God’s answer to that prayer influences your own prayers or work. May the Spirit give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to follow! Amen.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

We Cannot Stop Speaking (Acts 4.13-22)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 13, 201
Text: Acts 4:13-22

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music/Song of Praise: "How Can I Keep from SInging" (Tomlin, Redman, Cash)
Song of Praise: "All I Have is Christ" (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "No Time" (Susan Brumfield)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Lord, Thy Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Postlude: "Exalt Him, Everyone" (Richard Lloyd)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 “But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. (Acts 4:13-22)

I want to talk about talking about God. Actually, that’s not specific enough. I want to talk about talking about Jesus. It’s scary, right? You may have visions of crazy people, shouting people, obnoxious people. And we don’t want to offend. On top of that, I think many or most of us feel like we don’t know enough to talk about Jesus. So we just keep it to ourselves… personal… private.

And yet I’ve titled this sermon “We Cannot Stop Speaking,” after Peter and John’s words in Acts 4:20. And this morning we sang a song entitled, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” Is it possible to have that kind of freedom to talk about Jesus, to talk about faith? Is there a natural, easy, joy-filled kind of speaking and sharing by which we might share the story of Christ? I think so.

I would note that today’s text is not a “how to” manual for this. Instead, it is narrative – one account of two Jesus-followers and what prompted them to share the story of Jesus with confidence and boldness. So while it does not provide step by step directions, I do think it gives us something to think about. It might even offer us some inspiration in our own witness; maybe even a little boldness as we think about the differences between excuses and obstacles and God’s power in the midst of all that.

Noting that this text follows and is a part of the trial of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (religious ruling council), I want to divide verses 13-22 into two sections, two broad dynamics I think Christians experience and face in modern times when it comes to talking about God. The first has to do with KNOWLEDGE and the second with FEAR.

Knowledge (vv. 13-16, 20b)

One of the most common hindrances to talking about Jesus is thinking you don’t know enough. What if someone asks me a question I can’t answer? What if I leave out something important?

Notice that Peter and John did not engage in a philosophical or theological debate. This was not advanced apologetics or Bible trivia. That they were “uneducated and untrained” is explicitly known and noted in verse 13. And they were, in fact, speaking to the most educated and highly trained religious leaders of their day, so they would have been right to be concerned about tough questions. You may even remember that they were first approached by those religious leaders and asked a tough theological question about resurrection.

But also look at how they responded. They talked about Jesus and what they knew about him. They had traveled with him and had witnessed the things they talked about: the miracles, the arrest and crucifixion, and the resurrection. They did not engage the debate, but just talked about the Jesus they knew. They didn’t even claim credit for the healed lame man, but attributed the miracle and the power to Jesus.

Their approach is summed up in verse 20 when they said, “…we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Think about it. If there is anything you are the foremost expert on, it is what you have seen and heard. Someone might think you are lying or mis-led, but that is more of a character judgment than a knowledge problem. And in most cases, in today’s culture, you are granted the right to tell and claim your own story.

And look at the description of how the religious leaders responded to Peter and John sharing what they had seen and heard. The religious leaders observed their confidence; they understood their lack of training and education; and they recognized their personal connection with Jesus. And though they would continue to disapprove and resist them, we read that they were amazed by them. In fact, verses 14-16 tells us that they could not reply to or deny Peter’s testimony and the miracle before them.

All this is to say that intellectual knowledge is not the foremost requirement to talk meaningfully about Jesus. If Peter is any example (and I think he is!), one of the most effective ways to talk about Jesus is to simply share your own story – to share what YOU have seen and heard of Jesus. That may be as simple as an experience as a teenager at church camp or the answer to an earnest prayer. It may be a sense of God’s presence during a very difficult time in life or the hand of a caring friend in Christian love. It’s the kind of thing that is not easily refutable, and really refuting is beside the point. Sharing what you have seen and heard invites the same from others and it engages in the kinds of conversation where God shows up.

If there is a simple application question from this part of the story it is to ask you: What have you seen and heard?

Can you verbalize it? Would you try? Would you be willing to share it with a friend or with me in written form or with the church? I love it when people share those simple stories with the church because I think it reminds us how significantly God shows up in ordinary circumstances of life. I’d love for some of you to take me up on the invitation of sharing here. This is a safe place; we want to hear your stories and be encouraged! Let me know if you are willing!

Fear (vv. 17-22)

Well, that invitation may lead to the second part of today’s story, and that is fear. Sometimes the reason for fear is explicit. In today’s text, the religious leaders openly threatened Peter and John, commanding them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (v. 18)

That kind of open threat does still go on in our world today, especially in some parts of the world, but even perhaps sometimes for some of us. What is more common for us, I think, is fear of what others might think of us or of potential repercussions, socially and otherwise.

In any event, it is worth noting Peter’s response. It was not fear, though he and John were being openly threatened by people with real power. It’s there in verse 19 in their answer to the religious leaders: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge…” In one sense, Peter and John put the question back to the religious leaders; but you can see their underlying assumption: God is the one to heed, to listen to and obey. God has more power, more authority, more wisdom, and more truth. Though fear is a real thing that we experience, it is utter foolishness to listen to any earthly power or any abstract fear more than we would listen to the God of all.

I’m not suggesting that you “don’t fear” – I know that’s not something one can easily do. But Peter’s question is most helpful when you are experiencing fear. I’d ask it this way: Should you listen to this fear or listen to God? You decide.

While it may be hard, the clear answer for a believer is “I should listen to God.” So the next step is to figure out how to do that. What does God’s Word have to say? What is the Holy Spirit prompting you to do? Will you let fear rule you or a loving and powerful God rule you?

It’s a helpful set of questions, I think. And it takes a more positive turn when we see Peter and John’s reaction… they decided to let the religious leaders sort their question out. They were too busy sharing what they had seen and heard to spend much time dwelling on the fear!

Takeaways

So, two takeaways for today: the first is a way of thinking about fears that reminds us of God’s ultimate authority and power over all things. It can provide a helpful re-set to get us out from under fear, tangible or intangible.

And then a question: What have you seen and heard? And would you be willing to take a next step of sharing a piece of your story with someone else? I’d be interested in knowing and hearing about it.

I think you’ll be amazed how much God shows up and uses conversations like that, and how easy it can be. Amen.







Sunday, July 6, 2014

When Jesus Gets You in Trouble (Acts 4.1-16)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 6, 201
Text: Acts 4:1-16

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "A Mighty Fortress" (Pachelbel)
Hymn of Praise: "A Mighty Fortress" (EIN FESTE BURG)
Song of Praise: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (arr. Austell)
Offering of Music: "IV, Hope (from "Songs of Faith") (McChesney)
Song of Sending: "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: "Exultation" (Cassler)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-16)
Has being a believer in or follower of Jesus Christ ever landed you in trouble? Have you ever taken heat for it? I’d like you to ponder that… or what that might look like as we spend some time in Acts 4 this week and next week. Peter and John were doing good – they had healed a man in Jesus’ name and were not trying to stir up trouble, but trouble found them for a number of reasons. Though they had a message of hope and help, their words and actions were questioned and opposed.

Today I want to look with you at three ways following Jesus got these first followers in trouble. I think you will see some points of connection with our own lives and testimonies along the way.

Claim #1: More than this life


We read in verses 1-2 that “the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to [Peter and John]” as they were speaking to the people. This is in reference to Peter’s sermon that we looked at last week. We heard last week that Peter told the story of Jesus several times during the course of that sermon. In doing so, he named Jesus as “the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15) The Sadducees were the priests of the Temple and distinctly did not believe in resurrection, and this gave them reason to be “greatly disturbed” when they realized Peter and John were teaching this in the Temple area. Not only were they disturbed, they took action and put Peter and John in jail overnight (v. 3) until they could stand trial.

Think about what resurrection means. In its most basic form, it claims that there is more THAN this life. Jesus made this claim, himself in response to the challenges of the Sadducees. In Mark 12, he answered them by quoting the Law of Moses: when God spoke His great name, He said, “I AM the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus’s point? God spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (long passed from the earth by Moses’ day) in the present tense, as those who were still alive. (Mark 12:26-27) Even more directly, when Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha to find Lazarus four days dead, he said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23) and “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (v. 25) Jesus also spoke to his disciples in John 14 of going to prepare a home for them, that where he was they would also one day be. (vv. 1-3)

That claim is beyond human reason, scientific validation, and full comprehension! It is a claim that skeptics are quick to challenge and one that is sometimes mocked. Yet Jesus taught about resurrection in the context of an eternal God and a hope in the face of sickness and death. What an amazing and hope-filled claim! What a source of encouragement and perseverance, especially in the midst of suffering or injustice! If one also looks at the way scripture talks about what is to come, we also see promises like that of Revelation 21:4, where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain….”

For speaking of it, Peter and John were thrown in jail.

Claim #2: More to this life


The next day, a trial is held for Peter and John. A significant group of religious leaders were gathered, including the high priest, Annas. Other notables among the priests are also named. Interestingly enough, once the questions start, resurrection is not on the front burner. Perhaps that is because the Pharisees did believe in it and the high priest knew he’d have to find something else to use against the disciples. One additional dynamic at play: in the meantime and in a matter of days, some 5,000 men had come to believe in the message Peter was preaching. This was no small number and the high priest had to be aware of the way people were responding to Peter.

So the question is asked: “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Presumably they meant the healing of the lame man, though perhaps the gathering of 5,000 believers was also in view. And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, gave a three-sentence version of the message he had already spoken several times before. Here’s the whole thing again:
Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. (vv. 8b-11)
He explains that the healing was through the name and power of Jesus. He again points out that the people present were those who had put Jesus to death. He declares again the resurrection by the power of God. He quotes Psalm 118:22, which speaks of a stone rejected by the builders, yet become the chief corner stone, understood her to be the Messiah, rejected by God’s people and yet chosen and proven by God.

There is so much packed into this mini-sermon! But in a phrase, let me sum up this second claim. The first claim was that there is more THAN this life. This second claim, made in Peter’s words is that there is more TO this life.

That Jesus taught this is already demonstrated, because Peter is telling Jesus’ story. Jesus came and healed many. Jesus suffered, was crucified, and died. God raised Jesus from the dead. And all of this was in fulfillment of the scriptures – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. And in all that, Jesus made it clear that God’s Kingdom was breaking in to this world and this life; it is available and it is here NOW, for all with eyes to see and ears to hear.

This claim is just as real and present for us as it was for Peter. It is that God is involved in this world and in our lives. Whether it is hearing and answering prayer, delivering those enslaved to sin, or providing a savior who was at once the perfect representative and sacrifice for us before God, one of the great claims of Christ is that there is more to this world and life than the daily grind, the human senses, and our limited perspectives.

We will see the response to this next week when we look at the end of Acts 4. But it is plain enough to see today that not everyone appreciates or welcomes talk of the invisible, the miraculous, or even the value of prayer.

Claim #3: No other name


Peter is not done; he concludes with a declaration of the utter uniqueness and singularity of Jesus Christ as God’s salvation, saying, “There is salvation in no one else… no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (v. 12)

In the New Testament there is plenty of evidence that Jesus was understood as the only way. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all….” He wrote in Romans 5:14-15 about the one man, Jesus, corresponding to the one man, Adam. One brought sin into the world through disobedience; the other brought God’s grace through obedience. And Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

The third claim is no other name – only Jesus. This declaration can get a modern day follower in trouble real quick because it cuts against our values of individuality and fairness.
“Surely I should be able to believe what I want!”
“Surely there are many paths to God!”
“You believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want.”
The reasons we struggle with the claim of particularity – that salvation is only through Jesus – are many and sometimes complex. But I think one reason is that many people think God is something we created. There is nothing more than this life and nothing more to this life than what we create. If that were true, everyone’s beliefs would be equally valid; or at least matched to the amount of benefit they created in life. But that is contrary to the very first claim of scripture: “In the beginning, God created…”  If that is true, then God is the one with the right to create reality, make claims on us, and stand in judgment of us. We can believe or not; and we can cry ‘unfair,’ but if God has made us, provided for us, stayed involved with us, and made a specific way for us, then it cannot be a matter of individual belief or fairness. But I understand; it can make people confused, angry, and frustrated. It can even do that to believing Christians!

Words of Life


In today’s text Peter points us toward three significant claims of and about Jesus Christ. These are not new to Peter, but echo in the pages of scripture as well as in the teaching of Jesus. They are the following:
There is more THAN this life
There is more TO this life
No other name – only Jesus
Peter no doubt understands how challenging those claims can be to hear and to believe. In fact, on another occasion when many were turning away from Jesus and some of his difficult teachings, Jesus asked Peter, “Are you also going to go away?”

Peter answered with words that have encouraged me, even when I struggle to believe and follow some of the teachings of scripture:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
May God give you ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to believe in this one – Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God and our Savior and Lord. Amen.