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Easter 3, “The Name Above All Names”

Pastor Gary Wong, April 18, 2021

Acts 4:8-12

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel, 9 if we are being questioned today for a kind act that was done for the lame man, as to how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead! By him this man stands before you healed. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.

Have you ever thought about how useful names are? Our names help identify us. If your last name happens to be Trump, everyone knows a lot about the family to which you belong. However, if your last name is Schmidt, you’d probably need to use your first and middle name. Even then, you might have to supply more information to avoid confusion. I’m guessing that the John H. Schmidt living in Janesville probably gets letters and an occasional phone call from people who are looking for the John H. Schmidt who lives in New Ulm, and vice versa. Yet, as useful as names are, a name is really just a name—unless we are talking about the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As we meditate upon this portion of Scripture, we are reminded that Jesus’ name is above all names. His name has the power to save; and we have the privilege of proclaiming his holy name to those who do not know that Jesus is their Savior.

When it comes to our own names, we obviously didn’t pick them. Our parents gave us a name that we will carry for the rest of our lives. Some of us thank them for our moniker; a few might be tempted to ask, “What were you thinking?!” Now, God took all of the guess work away from Mary and Joseph as to what name they were to give to their first born. That was a good thing, because they were too busy reeling from the news that Mary was going to have a child to even think about possible names!

Knowing the one question that would immediately pop into their minds—namely, how could Mary, a virgin, become pregnant—God sent the angel Gabriel to explain to both Mary and Joseph that the child who would be conceived in her womb was from the Holy Spirit. Gabriel further revealed that they were to give him the name, Jesus. About their son he said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and … his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32, 33). So, how did Mary and Joseph react to this astounding news? Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” The Bible tells us that Joseph also did as the Lord had commanded.

By faith, Mary and Joseph accepted everything the angel had said. So, when their son was born, they dutifully named him Jesus. But do you think that Mary and Joseph ever wondered what they would have named their baby boy if they had been given the choice? Would Joseph have followed a popular custom and named his stepson after himself? Or would they have chosen the name, Jesus? They might very well have. In those days, Jesus was a very common name among the descendants of Abraham. Jesus is the Greek name for Joshua, which means “The LORD saves.” Many God-fearing Jews probably gave their sons that name in remembrance and hope of God’s promise of a Savior. However, what was absolutely unique and only true of Mary and Joseph’s son was that their Jesus was that Savior.

Yet, as Jesus was growing up, there really was nothing that set him apart from all of the other Joshuas running through the streets of Nazareth. Other than the one incident of a twelve-year-old Jesus amazing the teachers in the temple courts with his answers and understanding about the Scriptures, Jesus didn’t draw any attention to himself. In fact, Jesus was so normal that no one, other than his immediate family, had a clue that besides being Mary and Joseph’s son, Jesus was also the Son of God. So, when Jesus began teaching about God’s kingdom in his hometown synagogue, the people asked, “Where did [he] get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t [he] the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?” (Matt. 13:54-56). Because they didn’t believe, the people took offense at Jesus.

Jesus was rejected by the people in his own hometown. Even his half-brothers thought that he was way off track. But what did his disciples think? Surely, they would stand by Jesus. After all, when they had returned from their first mission trip and joyfully told Jesus, “Even the demons submit to us in your name” one would have thought that nothing would have moved them from their firm belief that Jesus is Lord. Yet, all of them would abandon Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even Peter, who had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” denied his Lord three times. As Peter heard the cock crow a second time and saw the look in his Savior’s face, he remembered Jesus’ words and was filled with remorse. Yet Jesus knew Peter’s heart. Perhaps that was why Jesus chose Peter as the first disciple to see him after his resurrection. When Peter returned to his hometown and went back to work as a fisherman, Jesus appeared to him by the Sea of Galilee. This time Jesus came to test Peter. Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “Lord you know that I love you.” Three times Jesus’ responded with the command, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus’ final directive was, “Follow me.”

And follow he did. From the moment of his reinstatement, Peter was on fire for the Lord. He relished every opportunity to be a witness for his Savior whether he was talking one on one or preaching to a crowd of thousands as he had done at Pentecost. On one occasion, when Peter and John were about to enter the temple courts, God provided another opportunity to witness. Peter healed a beggar at the temple gate who had been crippled at birth. Even as the crowd was amazed at that miracle, Peter was quick to give credit where credit was due. Peter gave all glory to God: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man … was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given complete healing to him” (Acts 3:16).

Peter then went on to share the gospel in the temple courts. That, however, did not end the matter. Peter and John were put under arrest and thrown in jail by the captain of the temple guard. Why? A group of religious leaders called the Sadducees were upset that these disciples were teaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead! So, how did Peter react to this gross miscarriage of justice? Rather than worrying about what was going to happen to him, Peter looked upon his arrest as another heaven-sent opportunity to testify—this time before the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. His accusers wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter. They asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter didn’t mince any words. Even though Peter was being grilled by men who had already demonstrated that they would do anything to get rid of anyone who was a threat to their authority, Peter actually put his accusers on the defensive! In so many words, Peter said, “I can’t believe that I’m here because of what I’ve done. I know that you’re not really bothered by my simple act of kindness. What’s really bugging you is that I was talking about Jesus. Well, even though you aren’t going to like what I have to say, I’m going to tell you the exact same thing I told the crowd: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that this man was healed; but you already knew that, didn’t you? As experts in the law, you know that the Scriptures testify that Jesus is the One whom God had promised to send to save us from the consequences of sin. Yet, you crucified him. God, however, raised Jesus from the dead. So, to answer your question, this man was healed by faith in the name of Jesus.” Peter then declared, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Friends, there is much that we can learn from this lesson. While it’s easy to criticize the people in this account who rejected Jesus as Lord, we need to realize that Peter was also pointing his finger at every man, woman, and child in this church and saying, “You crucified Jesus!” It was our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. Our sins caused Jesus to suffer and die. And while I’m pretty sure that all of us would agree with what I just said, I’m not so sure that everyone believes that he or she has denied or rejected Jesus. Please understand, we’ve all denied Jesus countless times and in countless ways. Basically, we deny Jesus whenever we break one of the commandments. We deny Jesus when we take all the credit and boast about our wealth and accomplishments. We deny him whenever we misuse his name. We reject him when we show hatred rather than love toward our neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family members.

We also need to realize that denying Jesus includes the times when we do nothing. We deny Jesus when we remain silent, not pointing out sin to our erring brothers and sisters privately, or when we don’t take advantage of our opportunities to tell others about Jesus. We can talk about peer pressure or being afraid of saying the wrong thing; but in the end, we deny Jesus whenever we fail to give a clear witness to the truth. The good news is that God forgives that and every other sin through faith in Christ. All who believe that Jesus lived a perfect life in their place and gave up his life to pay for their sins have the gifts of forgiveness, peace, eternal life, and a perfect home in heaven.

How, then, do we respond to God’s amazing grace? Just as Peter joyfully heeded his Savior’s call, we follow the path that Jesus has laid out for us in his Word. We strive to keep the commandments, knowing that we are blessed as we do so. Like Peter, we can boldly proclaim the name of our Savior. We have been given the same Holy Spirit who gives us the courage to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks and be faithful witnesses of all that Jesus has done. If we suffer ridicule, persecution, or even lose our lives for Jesus, we can endure all, knowing that our names are written in the Book of Life. Therefore, whatever we do, let’s do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Truly, Jesus’ name is above all names. To him be all honor, praise and glory forever and ever. Amen.

“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (CW 370)

Text: Edward Perronet, 1726-92, st.1-3, abr., alt.; A Selection of Hymns, London, 1787, st.4-5, alt.

All hail the power of Jesus’ name!

Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem

And crown him Lord of all.

Bring forth the royal diadem

And crown him Lord of all.

Hail him, ye heirs of David’s line,

Whom David Lord did call,

The God incarnate, Man divine,

And crown him Lord of all.

The God incarnate, Man divine,

And crown him Lord of all.

Let ev’ry kindred, ev’ry tribe

On this terrestrial ball

To him all majesty ascribe

And crown him Lord of all.

To him all majesty ascribe

And crown him Lord of all.

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