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Sermon for April 26, 2015, Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:1-12 (Fourth Sunday after Easter—Series B)

“Salvation in No One Else”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 26, 2015

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 Our text is the First Lesson recorded in Acts 4:

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

          The trial and martyrdom of Polycarp provides an example of a person emboldened by the might and mercy of Christ. Around the year AD 155, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (in present-day Turkey), was arrested and placed in an arena of bloodthirsty spectators, and asked to renounce his Christian faith and burn incense in worship of the Lord Caesar. Instead, in similar fashion to Peter’s response to the Jewish Council in our text, Polycarp called all there to repentance and testified to Jesus with these remarkable words: “Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” With those words fresh from his lips, Polycarp was promptly executed.

          Here was a man for whom even the threat of death had ceased to be a factor. With due respect for those whom God had allowed to stand in power, Polycarp refused to swerve in his highest allegiance. Polycarp’s ultimate lord was the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who alone is merciful enough to die for the sins of His servants and mighty enough to rise and rescue all who call on His powerful name.

          February, AD 2015, seven Christian families in Pakistan were told they had to convert to Islam or have their homes destroyed. These families stood firm in their faith and as a consequence had their homes bulldozed.

          March, AD 2015, A Christian in Turkmenistan had his home raided by police while he had other believers over. The police ordered them to recant their faith, directing one man to recant his faith openly in a mosque. A New Testament was discovered in the raid the believers were concerned that the owner of the book would face two weeks in prison.

          April, AD 2015, Christians from India’s Telangana state are facing escalating persecution following Easter. Hindu extremists in the area have continued to harass the Christian community and on April 8, attacked an open-air gospel event. Many Christians were left bruised and bloody, but some of the pastors were beaten so badly that they continue to require hospital attention. Following the attack, the local police initially refused to file the Christians’ complaint against their assailants. Under direct orders from their superiors, the local police finally opened an investigation.

          April, AD 2015, Islamic terror group ISIS releases another video depicting the murder of Ethiopian Christians in Libya on April 19. The video bears striking resemblance to one the group released in mid-February showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.

          “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun,” wrote Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV) Since the very beginning of the Church, God’s people in Christ have been hauled before councils, beaten in synagogues, standing before governors and kings for Jesus’ sake, to bear witness before them.” (Mark 13:9 ESV) Peter and John before the Jewish rulers in our text is just the tip of the iceberg. Why were they there, standing in the middle of the whole ruling council of the people of Israel? Because a lame man had been healed in the name of and by the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who had been crucified and who is now living and continuing His miraculous work of salvation in both body and soul. Peter and John stood before the rulers and elders because this council wanted to hush up this whole resurrection of Jesus thing. This Jesus who, as Peter said, “you all crucified, God raised from the dead, and it is in this name, the very name of Jesus, that this lame man is presented before you all healthy and well.” Here the Jewish Council is faced with even stronger evidence of Jesus’ resurrection than that which the Roman guards brought from the tomb. No dead Jesus could work a miracle such as this. Only a risen Jesus could do that. So Jesus had healed when He was alive; so He had healed now even after this Council had crucified Him!

          The apostles, technically on the defensive in this inquiry by the Jewish Council, actually go on the offense. They go on the “attack.” Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preaches the Gospel to his judges based on Psalm 118:22, “The stone which was rejected by you, the builders, has become the head of the corner.” The Jewish nation and rulers who failed to acknowledge Jesus as the divinely sent Deliverer but the Stone which they disregarded as useless, He has now received from God the place of highest distinction. “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11 ESV)

          Peter’s wonderful defense is not to be credited to his keen powers and his great courage. It is the Holy Spirit who put this telling defense into Peter’s mouth. It is the Holy Spirit who put Polycarp’s words and defense into his mouth. And it is the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers those Christians facing ISIS and other horrible persecution to remain faithful and continue to confess “Jesus Christ is Lord and in Him alone there is salvation. For there is no other name under heaven than the one which stands given among people by which we must be saved—Jesus.”

          Let me ask the unfair question. If you were standing where Peter and John stood, or Polycarp, or the families in Pakistan whose homes were about to be destroyed, or those Christians who faced the blade of ISIS, what would you do? The best answer to this unfair question, I believe, is to say, I don’t know what I would do. That’s an honest answer. But let’s ask it differently. If you were in that situation, if you were in the terrible moment where you were ordered to recant and denounce the name of Jesus Christ and your faith in Him or die, what would you pray that you would do?

          Certainly, I am not up for dying. Not really crazy about the destruction of my home and possessions, nor do I relish the thought of rotting in some jail cell all the while being mistreated. And yet, my prayer today and every day should be that, if I ought to face persecution, imprisonment, or death, that God the Holy Spirit would fill me in that hour with His Words and keep me in faith, trusting wholly in the powerful name of Jesus Christ that I bear in my baptism to grant me salvation from my sins and from eternal death just as He promised. I have no idea what a moment like that would bring, but I do know that Jesus promised that in that hour the Holy Spirit will teach us in that hour what to say. (Luke 12:12)

          What I also know by grace through faith is what His Word of Promise guarantees. That isn’t lack of suffering, lack of trouble, lack of pain, or lack of persecution or death. We all face these things in this world of sin and death, sorrow and trouble. Christians, none-the-less than anyone else, and sometimes more, when these troubles and persecutions and sufferings come upon us because we bear the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to what Christ has told us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Mat 10:28-34 ESV)

          Why is it that we do not need to be afraid in such an hour of persecution and execution? You and I are of more value than many sparrows to our Father in heaven. We are of so much value that our Father in heaven gave His one-of-a-kind Son to face persecution, suffering, and death in order to save us from our sins and win for us everlasting life. In Jesus, and in Jesus alone we have salvation. We are rescued from the threatening circumstance of our sins and the destruction of eternal death because Jesus placed Himself in harm’s way. He went to the most dangerous place in the world—to the cross of death—for the sins of the world so that He could restore us to the safe haven of God’s fortress. Jesus endured the hatred of the world, the chaos of sin, and a violent death to save us from death and hell. He stood there for us so that we might stand secure in His name should we ever face persecution and death because of His name.

          Jesus, the fearless one, underwent great agony in His passion so we might be strong, so we might be founded on the rock and stand courageous as we face the trials of life. Through Christ’s weakness we are strengthened. Through Jesus’ death we are brought to life. That is why as Christians, you and I are able, in the day of trial and persecution, to stand before the rulers and authorities and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, my Lord. ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom 8:38-39 NET) For there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven than the one which stands given among people by which we must be saved, the name of Jesus Christ.”

          It is into this faith in which we were baptized. It is this faith that we confessed when we became communicant members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It is this faith in which we stand by the grace of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, until He should call us into His nearer presence or should come again in glory. And it is this faith and confession in which we will stand in the day of persecution and, by the power of the Spirit, will acknowledge before people even to death: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” As Luther so wondrously penned, “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” (LSB 656) God grant you all, by the power of the Spirit, to continue steadfast in this confession and Church, ready to suffer all, even death, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Amen.


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