In the days before Louis Pasteur discovered bacteria, surgeons didn’t wash their hands between procedures. One doctor in Vienna, Ignaz Semmelweis, realised that this practice was killing mothers in maternity wards. Doctors would come straight from doing an autopsy to delivering a baby. The mothers would get sepsis and die. Semmelwies knew nothing about bacteria, but figured that handwashing would help. It did; deaths plummeted when he forced the surgeons to wash their hands before delivering babies in 1846. But he wasn’t very popular, and most people stopped listening to him. He died a sad and angry man at the age of 46, probably from Sepsis. Sad, isn’t it? He was right, there was one sure way out of the problem of maternal mortality, yet very few people listened.
Friends, there is one way for all people everywhere to receive the gift of eternal life. That is, there is one way out of eternal death. That one way has one name: Jesus. Most people do not listen, yet our task is to keep telling them. For only when people start to listen will they be forgiven and a part in the new creation. Today we learn from Peter that we preach an Unpopular Gospel of a Rejected Lord because he is the only name by which people must be saved.
To most Jews, the gospel about Jesus was unpopular. Chapter 4 is the second episode in a two-part series. Last week, we saw a man who was lame from birth healed in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. A large crowd gathered outside the temple, and listen to Peter preach about Jesus. Peter was not part of the establishment and his teaching was not endorsed by the Jewish elite. In chapter 4, they respond with force. In verse 1, 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. The Sadducees were a political party within the Jewish religious establishment. Most of the priests were also Sadducees, and the Captain of the temple guard was a high-born Sadducee. These men are the nobility of Jerusalem.
The Sadducees, as Luke writes later, say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits (Acts 23:8). That is, they didn’t believe in life after death, or in any Spiritual world. You may remember Jesus debating them in the last week before he died. Their focus was on this world; they were concerned about what is happening now, not about judgment or eternal life. They taught that the Messianic age had already begun hundreds of years before, when their ancestors the Maccabeans had successfully revolted against their Greek rulers. That is, there was no need for a new Messiah, a new Christ.
As a result, verse 2, they were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. There is both a political problem – in that these unsanctioned apostles were teaching their people - and a theological problem - of resurrection - in the Sadducees’ eyes.
Friends, this is the climate we Christians face today. There is a theological problem, in the eyes of most Australians, with what we believe. In the eyes of many people today, salvation means being true to yourself. Identity is King, and to be saved is to discover your true identity. We Christians say that Jesus gives us our identity, and that human identity is defined by the Bible. That’s a theological problem for most people. Gender, they say, is a social construct. You can decide whether you are male, female, or non-binary. Jesus said that God made us male and female. He also said that he will judge all people at the end of time based upon whether they listened and obeyed him. The resurrection of the dead is to either eternal life or eternal punishment. We Christians teach problematic theology, in the eyes of most people.
This theological problem results in a political problem. Last week on the ABC program Q&A there was an evangelical Anglican minister on the panel, speaking about the religious freedom bill being debated in Federal Parliament. One of the audience members was a Sydney Anglican who has come out as Gay this year, and says she lost her job at a Christian school because of it. All of the panellists, apart from the minister, said how wrong that was. All of them affirmed her identity, and vilified the Christians. Anglican Christianity, like most brands of Christianity in Australia, is now unpopular.
Of course, you know this, don’t you. You know that your beliefs are scoffed at, ignored or opposed by your friends and family. You know you are theologically and politically unpopular. And sometimes that disfavour will meet with persecution. In verse 3, they seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. That’s rough justice, isn’t it? A night in jail for healing a man and then explaining how. The next day, Peter and John were brought before all the powerful people in Jerusalem, who had tried Jesus only a few years before. He had said to the Apostles, not long before he was arrested, “they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” (Luke 21:12).
Sisters and brothers, we believe and preach an unpopular gospel. We will be opposed, and that will hurt. It happened then, even though Peter and John had done a wonderful thing for this man. As Peter says in verse 9, “we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame”. No matter how much good we do, our unpopular gospel will bring opposition.
Praise the Lord, though, for not only are we forewarned, we are forearmed. Jesus had said to the Apostles, “make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. ” (Luke 21:14-15). Here in Acts, facing a powerful and skilled group of leaders, the Lord put Peter on the front foot, verse 8: ‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!”’ Jesus goes with us, friends, such that we don’t need to worry about what we will say. If we are walking with the Lord: reading his Word and praying continually and living as obedient servants; then our Lord will give us the words to say We too will be powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit, and able to speak to anyone.
In verses 8 to 11, Peter says to these rulers that they had rejected their Lord. When we are opposed, we too must teach that people have rejected their Lord. Peter says in verses 10 to 11, “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. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’”
For the first time in the chapter, we realise that it’s not only Peter and John standing before the leaders. The healed lame man is also there. Luke says in verse 14 that since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. The proof of the miracle was undeniable. When we speak with unbelievers, it is worth pointing to what Jesus has done in our lives and in the lives of others. The first public hospital was built and run by Christians in modern-day Turkey in the fourth century. The idea of individual rights is a Christian idea. Social welfare started in the Christian Church. These facts are undeniable and worth pointing out to people who think Christianity is evil.
Don’t stop at Christianity, though; point people to Jesus. It was by the name of Jesus Christ if Nazareth that the lame man’s life had been brilliantly changed. Jesus, says Peter, is the stone the leaders rejected, but who now was the cornerstone. Stonemasons have to choose which stones are going to best suited to which part of the building. Some, they will reject as being useless, not fit for any part of the building. These leaders had rejected Jesus as useless, and crucified him. God, says Peter had raised Jesus from the dead and made him the most important stone in the whole building – the cornerstone.
Jesus is the source of life, friends. As John wrote, In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. He is also the source of love and forgiveness and hope and joy. Our world holds together because of him. As people follow him, they themselves are forgiven and receive eternal life and the Holy Spirit. This results in people being full of love and compassion, and beginning hospitals and schools and welfare initiatives. The healed lame man was but an example of the miraculous changes that Jesus brings to the lives of human beings. He is our cornerstone, even though the leaders had rejected him.
Australia has by and large rejected Jesus. That doesn’t mean he is not their Lord, though, nor that God has not chosen him as the cornerstone of life. There is a way back. People can stop rejecting him and live with him as Lord. Just as he died and rose from the dead, people can come back from dead faith. Remember Peter Lin reminding us a couple of weeks ago that anyone can be saved.
That can only happen through Jesus. There is only one way, one name. We have learned already that believe an Unpopular Gospel of a Rejected Lord. We believe this and teach this because his is the only name by which people must be saved. Peter finishes his small sermon with these majestic words: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
This is a verse worth memorizing, friends, for it is a truth every person must come to grips with. Last year we all wanted salvation from Coronavirus, didn’t we? People who are sick, or estranged from their families, or under crippling debt all feel a need for salvation of sone kind. All of these trials, disappointments and sufferings are just symptoms, however, just as Sepsis in new mothers came from bacteria multiplying on the bloody hands of surgeons in Vienna.
The real source of our woes is being estranged from God. We are cut off from hope and eternal life, for we have rejected him as our ruler. The rejected Messiah was treated the same way as the rejected Creator. Therefore, friends, we get sick, we run into financial problems, we experience the heartache of broken relationships, and finally, we die. There is only one answer to this estrangement from God. And his name is Jesus.
Jesus was sent by God, and so his name is the one under heaven given to mankind. He is a gift. He died on the cross and rose from the dead so that God could forgive us, and welcome us back into his family.
This path back to God is narrow, as Jesus said, and only a few find it. It has only one gate, which leads to eternal life. Jesus is the gate, as he said in John 10:9. God made that way – that path and that gate – when he sent Jesus to us, who died and rose from the dead.
If this is true, then every other salvation must be false. Peter says there is no other name, that there is no one else, by which we must be saved. Everything and everyone else people might depend upon is the wrong way, the wrong path, the wrong gate.
People look for lots of other ways to be saved. There are other religions, as you well know. But Muhammed and Buddha and the Virgin Mary didn’t die for you, and they were not sent by God for you. There is identity, as I mentioned before. But what we call ourselves, or who we construct ourselves to be, doesn’t give us eternal life. There is also science and medicine. They can’t save us, though. Vaccines go some way towads getting us back to where we were at the beginning of 2020 … when we had floods and bushfires. Apart from other religions, identity and science, people depend upon money or education or real estate or green energy as types of salvation.
Salvation, friends, is found in no one else. God has told us how to be saved – through repentance from our sins and faith in the Lord Jesus. Only he gives eternal live. Only he brings forgiveness from God. Only he makes us God’s children. Only he will make everything new, where every tear will be wiped for good from our eyes.
Imagine you are in a very complicated maze. Wandering around the maze are scores of people, and no one can find their own way out. But there is one lady who walks around saying to people, “come this way … don’t go that way, it’s a dead end … don’t turn here; you’ll just end up going in a circle”. She alone knows the way out, and there is only one exit.
That’s what this life is like, friends. Everyone who doesn’t know Jesus is trapped in a maze of pain, suffering, confusion and death, and they keep making all the wrong turns, trusting in wrong religions, philosophies and promises. The only exit, the only way to hope and joy and love and peace, is the one who came into our maze and directed us to the way out: Jesus.
You, sisters and brothers, are his representatives. You know your way around the maze and the way out. All you have do to is point people to Jesus, and they can have forgiveness and eternal life. He is the only way. Friends we preach an Unpopular Gospel of a Rejected Lord because he is the only name by which people must be saved. Amen?