BY THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

Acts 4:4-12

Jeff Davidson

One of my part-time jobs in high school was as a grill cook at Clancy’s Restaurant in Tipp City. It was kind of similar to Wendy’s, with a little bit more on the menu. That’s where I learned the secrets of successful cooking: when in doubt fry it, too much grease is better than not enough, and don’t forget the salt.

I remember one day that I had worked an extra shift, so it had been a long day in front of the grill. I’d been on my feet the whole time, I reeked of grease, I was sweating from the heat of the grill, and it was 90 degrees outside. When I got off work, I needed to rest.

I hoped in my car and drove downtown to Roberta’s Restaurant. Roberta’s was a Tipp City landmark that had been there under various names for over 30 years, and it had a genuine old time soda fountain where they mixed and stirred Cokes by hand and you could order a vanilla Coke or a cherry Coke with an extra shot of syrup. I went in to Roberta’s, had a vanilla coke, and relaxed.

The next day my manager at Clancy’s asked me how I’d enjoyed Roberta’s. I said fine and asked how he knew I’d been there – I hadn’t seen him. He said that he wasn’t there, but someone else had seen me and thought he might like to know about the guy relaxing in Roberta’s while wearing a Clancy’s uniform. He said if you’re wearing a shirt that says Clancy’s all over it, it’s probably not a good idea to eat anywhere else besides Clancy’s.

In our scripture reading, Peter and John are wearing a name too. Peter and John are identified with a particular movement. They are wearing the name of Jesus.

This is a big change from a few weeks earlier. Just before Jesus died on the cross, Peter denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was. John didn’t deny Jesus that we know of, but he didn’t go around defending him either. He kept quiet. When Jesus died neither of these guys were wearing the name of Jesus Christ very prominently.

But things have changed since then. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus gave the disciples the Holy Spirit to be their comforter, their guide, their supporter, and their strength. Now that their faith has been renewed, now that they have new confidence, now that they have seen with their own eyes the truth of Jesus’ claims, Peter and John are proud to wear the name of Jesus.

Our scripture reading begins, “But many who heard the message believed.” Let me set the stage a little about this message. At the beginning of chapter 3, Peter and John went to the temple in Jerusalem. Outside the temple was a beggar who had been there for years and who couldn’t walk. On their way in to the temple, Peter and John healed the beggar in the name of Christ.

Then the three of them go on in to the temple, with the newly-healed beggar leaping and jumping and praising God. Peter proclaims what has happened, how the beggar was healed by the power of the name of Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ that the Jewish leaders had had crucified and who had been resurrected. That’s the message that our reading refers to today, and in our reading Peter is defending Christ before the Jewish leaders.

What happens in today’s scripture reading is what happens when we really decide to believe in and follow Jesus. The changes that occur in Peter and John are exactly the same changes that come to Christians when they take the name of Jesus Christ and try to live the way Jesus would want them to live.

What’s the first thing that happens for Peter and John?  Courage. Originally they were lying low, denying they knew Christ. Now they’re not scared any more. The Spirit has filled them, and so now they are standing here in front of the Sanhedrin, in front of the ruling council of the Jews. This is like speaking before a joint session of Congress – all of the most powerful men in the Jewish nation are there.

In verses 8 through 10 Peter stands up and says, “Leaders of the people and elders: if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, then you all should know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – who you crucified and whom God raised from death.”

Earlier it was, “Jesus?  Who’s that?” Now Peter stands and says this all happened in Jesus’ name, the Jesus “whom you (and you can picture him pointing his finger, can’t you) whom you crucified and whom God raised from death.” That is courage.

Sometimes I talk to people who say, “Jeff I could never stand up and talk on Sunday morning like you do. I’d be too scared in front of a group like that.” You know what? I’m kind of scared too sometimes.

I’m not scared about talking in front of a group. I’ve been doing that since I was in high school. When I get scared it’s about how I am interpreting the message of the scripture reading. I’m scared that I’m going to get something really wrong, that I’m going to lead someone into some kind of sin or something because I misunderstood the text or didn’t think it through.

But I deal with it. I deal with it by remembering that at this point in my life this is one of the things I have been called to do. God has allowed me to have training and talent and experience that let me do this. God wants me to be here. When I remember that I am doing what God wants me to do then I have the courage to do it. When I do it in the name of Christ I have the courage to do it.

It’s the same for you. If God ever calls you to enter pastoral ministry, if God ever calls you to come up here and preach, you’ll have the courage to do it. It might still be scary or hard, but if you’re doing it in the power of Jesus’ name you’ll have what you need to make it. Whether it’s preaching or standing up for what’s right at your job or among your friends, whether it’s moving to a new job or telling someone else about Christ’s love or inviting someone to church or making a public witness of some kind, the things that we think are scary are things we can handle through the name of Jesus Christ. The name of Christ gives us courage.

Something else we see from John and Peter is compassion. This beggar had been begging in front of the temple for years. He’d become part of the scenery. The people who lived in Jerusalem had gotten so used to him being there that they didn’t really notice him anymore.

Probably Peter and John had been like that too. Probably they had walked right by this same beggar before, maybe even given him a coin now and then, but not really connecting with him, not really caring about him. But that was before.

That was before Jesus’ spirit and power had filled them. That was before they had the courage to do what they were called to do. That was before they were acting in the name of Christ.

But because John and Peter now choose to act in that name, because they now have the courage to do what God calls them to do, they also have compassion for this beggar. Through God’s power, they healed him. No one can miss the fact that this beggar, who up until now had just been part of the landscape, was now the center of God’s compassionate concern. In fact, the healed man comes with Peter and John to their little trial. He is there as evidence of Christ’s power.

There’s one more change we see in Peter and John. They have the courage to do what God wants. They have the compassion to share God’s love with others. But how do they get these things? Because of faith. Because of belief. Because of conviction.

We know that Peter and John were frightened before, but why were they frightened? Because they thought Jesus might have been wrong. They thought that maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. They were worried because Jesus was going to be put to death, and the Messiah, the son of God surely would not, could not, die on the cross. When Peter and John saw what was going to happen, their faith failed.

But then they saw the empty tomb. They saw the stone rolled away. Peter even stood where Christ had been lying.  Peter and John saw, they heard the words of the other witnesses, and they believed. From the uncertainty and doubt that had been theirs, they come to where Peter can say in verse 12, “Salvation is to be found through (Jesus Christ) alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.” Salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone. This is a new belief, a new conviction for Peter and John, and it is this conviction that leads to their new courage and new compassion.

When I worked at Clancy’s, people could tell because I wore a uniform with their name all over it. When you wear the name of Christ, people should be able to tell. When your core conviction is that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world then compassion and courage follow.

Whose name is on your uniform?  Does it say “Christ”, or does it say “Money” or “Country” or “Family” or “Self?” There’s nothing wrong with those other things, but you can’t build your life around them. For a Christian, the name on the uniform has got to be the name of Jesus Christ. That conviction leads to a life listening to the Holy Spirit, a life filled with courage to do what’s right and compassion to share the good news of Christ – the good news of release to the captives, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, clothes to the naked, and healing to the sick.

This week try to look at yourself as others see you. I know that’s hard, but try to look at what your life says about your convictions, what your life says about your faith. Know who it is that you believe, and know that he is able to give you the conviction and the courage and the compassion to walk in Christ’s way, to wear the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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