By the Name of Jesus
Text: Acts 4:5-12
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
There's a story going around about a college student who stayed up all night preparing for his zoology test. He entered the classroom and saw ten stands each with a bird on it, each bird covered with a sack with only the legs showing. The professor instructed the students to use the legs to identify each bird by name, habitat, genus, and species. The perplexed student, sitting in the first row, was consumed by despair. All legs looked alike. Enraged, he approached the desk of the professor and exclaimed, "What a stupid test! How could anyone identify birds by looking at their legs?" He threw the unmarked test on the teacher's desk and headed for the door. The professor was taken by surprise. He didn't know the names of all of his students so he called after the young man, "Mister, what's your name?" The enraged student pulled up his pant legs and said, "You guess, buddy! You guess!"
Birds are named. So are students. Salvation, also, has a name. The name is Jesus.
It is a name that involves risk. Acts 4 continues the story of Peter and John who healed a lame man one afternoon at the temple in Jerusalem. The healing of the man, handicapped since birth, caused quite a stir. In fact, in a short time, according to Luke's account, about 5,000 people were positively impressed by the incident. That's when the Sanhedrin, the ruling legislature of the Jews, decided to take action. They thought that they had taken care of the Jesus question. They coerced Pilate into executing the man responsible for arousing the passions of the people and jeopardizing the status quo. The followers of Jesus were going around healing people in the name of the man, a man branded as a criminal, whom they thought they had removed from the scene. The Sanhedrin had the authority to arrest Peter and John but they had no authority to put anyone to death. It appears that the court wanted to intimidate Peter and John; usually a stay overnight in jail is sufficient.
Peter and John were not only guilty of healing a lame man. (It could always be claimed that it was a trick.) They were pushing the envelope further by claiming that Jesus wasn't really dead. In fact, he was raised from the dead, and his post-death new life had the power to turn nature's laws upside down. The Sadducees were upset because they didn't believe in the resurrection and the rest of the lot were upset because Peter and John were taking the idea too far! Jesus was alleged not only to have been raised from the dead; he was in the position to confront people, to force people to make a decision for or against him, and lead people into a new kingdom!
Peter and John's "gospel" was threatening. Only the high and mighty leaders of the nation had the right to make religious proclamations! Peter and John were lowly fishermen, ignorant people "of the land." How dare they turn the heads of 5,000 people!
Peter and John were in trouble. They were standing before the most powerful men in the nation of Jews. They had assumed more than a little risk in such a bold proclamation supported by the miraculous healing of a lame man. Jesus had warned them: "... they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name" (Luke 21:12).
Forewarned and forearmed, they found themselves in front of the supreme court. Would this prove too intimidating for them? Would they crack under the pressure now? Would they rescind their claim in a resurrected Lord and “back-peddle” on their testimony in the healing of the lame man?
Imagine being in their place. The sights, the sounds, and the complete animosity of the group staring at you and making accusations against you as if you’d done something horrific. “Oh my word! We healed a lame person…forgive us…we won’t do that again!”
Those ready to judge you, looking at you, and asking, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” “We want an answer! We want to know who authorized the work you’re doing because we know it wasn’t us!” “Where does the authority come from?” Hmmm. Seems to me this question has been asked before. This question was asked of someone else concerning what they were doing. Does anyone know who? It was asked of Jesus.
In Luke 20 we find Jesus is in the temple teaching and preaching new life in relationship to God. The chief priests and the scribes came together and confronted Jesus about what he was doing. Luke 20:2, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave you this authority?”
Jesus was rocking the boat! His teaching was changing people’s lives. His healing was restoring people to wholeness and transforming their hearts. Now, this transformational message and power was increasing exponentially since his resurrection, his ascension, and his pouring out the Holy Spirit on his followers. Peter and John, following in the footsteps of Jesus, have been doing what Jesus said they would do, and now they were being asked, “by what power or by what name have you done this?”
If these religious authorities thought they were intimidating Peter and John, they had another thing coming. Yes, Peter had at one time denied knowing Jesus, but now he has been restored to the fold and is empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. He speaks right up and says, “If you are judging us for a good deed done in healing a helpless man, and you want to know by what means he was made well, I’ll tell you! You’re not going to like the answer.” “…by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
“By the name of Jesus…” Peter and John stood firm in this testimony and we find, in the verses following this, that the leaders were impressed with their boldness. They also admitted they could not dismiss that a miracle had happened, it was obvious because the man who was healed was over forty years old. But, what should they do? They came to the conclusion that they would forbid Peter and John from doing any other preaching or teaching in this man, Jesus’, name.
So we find, Peter, John, and the other disciples never said another word or did another miracle in the name of Jesus and the early church faded quickly into the background never to be heard from again. Did that happen? No, of course not! We know this because we are here today. We are here speaking about and teaching in the name of Jesus. We are praying for other people to be healed and their lives restored, and we are praying in the name of Jesus. We are praying for revival in the church, and we are praying in the name of Jesus.
We are also living in a time when the authority of the church is being questioned. In some ways I think this is due to the church trying to modify its message so as to make the culture more comfortable. We don’t want to ruffle any feathers and we want everyone to be happy. Yet, this is not the purpose of the church. The church is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ which will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Let me repeat that. The church is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ which will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Our task is not to change the message in order to make it more palatable. Our task is to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus in love and grace and watch as he changes lives through the power of His Spirit.
Peter and John are our example in this. They did not hold back or try to make the message sound less “threatening” to the status quo. They did not waffle and say, “well, the name of Jesus is one way to talk about what happened, but other ways to understand miracles and get to heaven are equally valid.” No, it is in “the name of Jesus.”
As we stand firm in the name of Jesus, we can expect that we, too, will be called on the carpet to answer for our faith, and for the message we proclaim. Like Peter and John, we will not be standing on our own. The Holy Spirit will be present with us and we will not have to be afraid.
Yes, the name of Jesus involves risk. We will risk being accepted by others. We will risk being criticized for our beliefs. We will risk being ostracized by family and friends. As was true for those who followed Jesus in the early church, so it is true for us today. There is a price to be paid for following Jesus. Our life-style as Christians is a threat to those who do not know Him. People will want to know what makes us different. People will want to know how and why we live like we do. We need to be prepared to answer: “We live like we do because we have chosen to follow Jesus and live in the power of His name through the Holy Spirit.” As Christians we live in the name of Jesus. No apologies necessary. By the name of Jesus. Amen.