21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 29, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Acts 4:1–12 (NIV84)
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. 5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Dear friends in Christ,
The October edition of Forward in Christ includes the story of Monika. She was born in Germany two weeks after WWII ended. She lived in what soon became East Germany, under communist control. The tradition was for everyone in her community to be baptized in the Lutheran church and she was. However, by the time she was old enough to go through confirmation in the Lutheran church, the communist government had already removed Christ as much as possible from the lives of people. The devised a substitute confirmation ceremony for young men and women, a youth dedication. Monika and others dressed up in formal clothing and made promises to be true to...the state as long as they lived.”
Instead of being seen as the Savior of the world, Christ was seen as a threat to their worldview and the power of the state rulers. This is not something that happened only in the Soviet Union. Christ and those who confess that Christ is the only Savior have been seen as a threat by many throughout history. We will consider one of these occasions in the account from Acts 4 today. Jesus continues to be seen as a threat even today even though the Bible presents Jesus as the only Savior. May the Reformation principle of Christ Alone give us great comfort and courage as we live in a world opposed to Christ.
A Threat to the World
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
This all happens shortly after Pentecost. The disciples have been proclaiming that Jesus Christ died and rose again as the Savior God had promised. People believed this gospel message and were saved. The Christian church began as these believers met together to hear the Word, pray, receive Communion and encourage each other. One day, Peter and John heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. This draws a big crowd to the temple courts where they were. Peter and John use this opportunity to tell the people about Christ’s death and resurrection, a recent event in Jerusalem.
This preaching of Christ was a threat to the leaders of the Jews. The priests and Sadduccees thought they had gotten rid of Jesus when they handed him over to Pilate and had Jesus crucified. They thought they had quashed the story of Christ’s resurrection by paying the soldiers to lie about what they saw at Christ’s tomb. Now, Peter and John were going against the powers that be by saying that Christ really rose from the dead and will raise those who believe in him to eternal life too.
Why would the people have any use of the priests if Jesus was the perfect and complete sacrifice for sins? The priest would be out of a job. No one would need to sacrifice at the temple. No one would need to buy the sacrificial animals at the temple. Their way of life and control over people was threatened.
The Sadduccees didn’t even believe in the resurrection of the dead. For them, this life is what mattered most. They were very practical. Obey God and your life on earth will go better. They were also the powerful and influential in Jewish society. If Peter and John tell people to believe in Jesus and all this stuff about resurrection to eternal life, people won’t look to the Sadduccees so much in this life. Their power over people was threatened by Christ.
We can see how the powerful in society may be threatened by the preaching of salvation in Christ alone. The priests, Sadduccees and Pharisees were. Dictators past and present have been. What about us? Are we ever threatened by the fact that Christ is the only Savior of the world? Of course not, we say. We love Christ because he is our Savior.
If Christ is the only way to heaven, then there are implications for our lives. Since Christ alone saves us our first priority in life is Christ. He is the only Savior, our only way to eternal life instead of eternal death. Does this show in the way we live or does Christ get in the way of “real life”? Christ is the most important person in our life until something better comes along, something more entertaining, something that earns us more money or more praise from people. I don’t have time to listen to look at Jesus’ words to me in the Bible now, my show is on, we have to go to practice, I have homework and housework and it just isn’t a good time. Sometimes these things that are not sinful in themselves get in the way of learning from Christ.
Our sinful nature is always threatened by Christ. Our new self loves Jesus and wants to listen to him. Our sinful nature turns that good desire into a demand by God that forces us to do something against our very self (according to the sinful nature). Do I have to go to church every week? Do I have to go to Sunday School? Do I have to give an offering? “Do I have to?” is the question of the sinful nature. Our old self wants to do what it wants and wants no one to rule over it. It wants to push Christ to the edge of our lives and eventually all the way out just as the priests and Sadduccees were trying to do with Jesus.
The Savior of the World
Peter and John were arrested and spent the night in jail because they dared to preach Christ’s resurrection. Do you remember what the disciples were like on the night Jesus was arrested? They all ran in fear. Peter was so scared that he denied even knowing Jesus. Even after Jesus rose on Easter morning the disciples were hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Jesus appeared to them and yet the next Sunday night they were hiding in the locked room again. That was only months ago. Now the same people who had Jesus arrested have arrested them. They are standing before Annas and Caiaphas just as Jesus had done not long before. Annas and Caiaphas managed to get Jesus executed. How would Peter and John avoid the same result? But now they are not scared. They do not beg for their lives. They are not silent. Peter boldly speaks:
Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
Peter claims no power or glory for himself. It was only Jesus who healed the crippled man. And it is only Jesus Christ who saves for eternity. This is what gives Peter confidence when he had been scared, confidence in the presence of those would could easily arrange his execution. Peter has a Savior in Jesus Christ who forgave his denials and every other sin. Christ’s death paid everything Peter owed for his sins. Peter had a Savior in Christ who was not defeated by the great earthly powers of the Jewish leaders and Roman Empire or the spiritual forces of evil. Christ rose from death, never to die again. So what if Annas and others ended Peter’s life. Peter would rise to eternal life because of Christ alone. Christ is Peter’s Savior.
Christ is the world’s Savior. Peter holds out Jesus to the very men who were, humanly speaking, most responsible for Jesus’ death. The death of Christ paid for the sin of the world, including the sin of hating the Son of God and condemning him to death. Peter wants the Jewish leaders at this hearing to repent and believe in Christ. He is the only Savior God has or will send. We are not told whether any of the prominent men named repent and believe. However we are told of many Jews who do just that and are saved.
When Peter talked to the crowds who gathered after the healing of the crippled man, he told them that disowned Jesus and handed him over to Pilate to be killed. Perhaps some of these Jews had been in the crowd that shouted “Crucify! Crucify!” Maybe others heard about what was happening with Jesus of Nazareth but had other things to do in Jerusalem. They had to fulfill their religious obligation for the Passover and then they could get back to real life at home. This Jesus was a distraction. Others ignored him, not wanting to get involved. Let the theologians deal with it. Peter holds out the only Savior to them and urges them to repent and believe in Christ.
Then Peter and John are arrested. Would anyone repent and believe in Christ when it is likely to get you in trouble with the religious authorities? Yes! Luke records in our text, “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” From three thousand on Pentecost to five thousand at this time. Those who had gone through the religious motions, those who had ignored Jesus and those who had actively opposed him were saved by Christ alone.
Christ does not condemn those who turn to him in faith. There is no other Savior except Christ, no one else to trust for forgiveness and eternal life. When we passively let life in this world push Jesus to the side, turn to Jesus. He is still your Savior. When we go through the motions at church, in our Bible reading or prayers, turn to Jesus for forgiveness. He is still your Savior. When we turn from his Word and actively go against him, return to Jesus. He has not turned from you. He died and rose to pay for the sins of Annas and Caiaphas, of Peter and John, of the Jews in Jerusalem and of the whole world. He is and always will be your Savior. We are saved by Christ alone because there is no other Savior and we need no other Savior.
I urge you to read the October edition of Forward in Christ and see how the Holy Spirit brought Monika back to faith in her only Savior. While you are reading, find the article on Katie Luther, Martin’s wife. We close today with a wonderful quote attributed to her that shows her trust in the only name under heaven by which we must be saved. It is reported that she said near the end of her life, “I will stick to Christ like a burr on cloth.”
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