Preached by Jason Abbott
Martin Luther was nearly struck by lightning. He was traveling to law school when a storm moved in and lightning crashed near him, prompting him to cry out: “Saint Anne! Help me! I will become a monk!” He meant what he exclaimed too, for he later turned from a career in law and became a dedicated Augustinian monk. And there is irony in this history, since his gratefulness to Saint Anne for salvation from the lightning eventually taught him that Saint Anne had no power to save him from lightning or anything else for that matter. This short prayer to his patron saint, in the end, would lead him to pray in the name of Christ alone. (Don’t you think God has a sense of humor?!)
Last week Benjamin rightly explained that the “alone” in “Scripture alone” doesn’t mean the Bible is our only source of authority but, instead, our final source of authority—the source by which the authority of creeds and statements of faith and Bible teachers is ultimately judged. So, when you come to church on Sundays and listen to sermons, what’s being said only has authority if it rightly represents what Scripture says.
The “alone” in “Christ alone” means, however, something rather different than that. Here we’re talking about salvation. And the “alone” means that salvation from sin and death is exclusively Christ’s domain. There are no smaller salvations under the authority of the salvation of Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone. (Period!) Let’s consider what this means by looking at…
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.”
Let’s ask some questions to help open-up the text. (1st) What’s our context or what’s going on here? (2nd) What do these leaders want Peter and John to do? And, (3rd) what do Peter and John intend to do? If we answer these three questions, we’ll begin, I hope, to see the exclusivity of Christ more clearly.
1. What’s going on here?
Here’s our context.
Peter and John are both on trial in this passage. But why? What did they do? Well, they have come into the temple and, in the power of the resurrected Christ, healed a man who had been lame from birth. In response, this once-lame man jumps to his feet and runs throughout the temple praising God. Quite naturally this attracts attention, and a large crowd gathers around the apostles. So, Peter preaches to them and about 5,000—we’re told—trust in Christ.
All this gets the attention of the religious authorities, and they come to see what’s happening. And, because it’s getting late, they have Peter and John thrown in jail until they can question them the following day. The leaders seem to be angry because Peter and John are telling everybody that Jesus has risen from the grave and that they are also able to experience resurrection life through faith in Christ. This teaching contradicts the religious authorities’ public position concerning Jesus and his resurrection. In short, proclaiming Jesus challenges their power.
So, here’s the takeaway. Peter and John aren’t on trial for healing this man; are they?! No, these religious authorities are cool with people who do good works. They’re okay with people who feed the hungry or heal the sick or house the poor. But, what they aren’t okay with and won’t stand for is people doing it in the name of Jesus Christ. For these leaders, even the most merciful and beautiful miracle—like a man who is 40-years-old walking for the first time—becomes objectionable and repugnant because it’s performed in the name of Jesus. And, this sets the stage for our second question.
2. What do these leaders want Peter and John to do?
In a nutshell, the religious authorities pressure Peter and John to keep Christ to themselves. They command this just after today’s text ends. Luke writes:
…they [the religious authorities] called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18).
Notice two things here. First, the leaders don’t tell them to stop speaking and teaching altogether. They just tell them to stop doing it in the name of Christ. And, second, they don’t tell Peter and John what they should believe, here, either. They can apparently believe whatever they want to about Jesus and his resurrection as long as they keep it to themselves—as long as the things Peter and John believe about Christ remain purely personal and private.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound contemporary?
I have a friend who works at a big company which encourages its employees to organize and support charitable works by offering to match whatever is raised during an event. So, if you have a softball tournament to raise money for a charity and get $500, the company will donate an additional $500 to that specific charity. This is a really great thing. I think companies should be commended for doing this in their local communities.
For 8 years, my friend organized an event to benefit a local Christian charity which provides food and clothing and shelter for the homeless. Yet, this past year, after he had organized and run the fundraiser, they told him they would not match because the organization’s statement of faith was far too controversial. In short, they wouldn’t support an organization which was unapologetically doing its work for the glory of Jesus. You see, they (like the religious leaders in today’s passage) didn’t have a problem with what this organization was doing to help the homeless; they had a problem with it being done in the name of Christ. This became obvious when, rather than giving their match to a Christian charity, they donated the money to an organization which is often aggressively anti-Christian.
Friends, I’m not telling you this to be alarmist. This shouldn’t surprise you. It’s precisely what Jesus told us to expect whenever we serve him in a fallen world. He says his name will draw opposition because he makes vastly exclusive claims. And, whenever you make such claims, you’ll inevitably step on people’s authority; you’ll trample on their personal sovereignty.
And, Jesus stomps on human dominion throughout his ministry. He says:
– I alone am—One with the Father (John 10:30)
– I alone am—the future Judge of mankind (John 5:22-23)
– I alone am—the One who can forgive sins (Mark 2:10-11)
– I alone am—the Savior of this fallen world (John 3:14-16)
– I alone am—the One who grants eternal life (John 10:28)
And this is a mere sampling. The authority Jesus claimed, for himself alone, offended many during his life. Some picked up stones to kill him. Others looked for ways to embarrass him. The religious authorities plotted to have him crucified. His name, which is to say his person, brought and still brings opposition.
For us, the opposition says: Keep Jesus to yourself. Keep Christ localized. Don’t make a fuss over him. Don’t make exclusive claims about him and his work. If you want to follow him, join a church. They have walls. Use the walls! Coexist! Have you heard this before? Aren’t these the commands of our day?
In our secular society, they seem to make good sense. All things being equal, this is excellent advice. If Christ is really just a savior among many other saviors—if the spiritual buffet-line is open for business and it’s simply a matter of taste—then why should Jesus dominate the menu? Why not try Mohammed for salvation? Or Buddha? Or Saint Anne? All things being equal, there are many options for us, so why not have it your way? The answer is because Jesus won’t tolerate equals. Christ says, in no uncertain terms:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
Friends, Jesus doesn’t play at localized salvation. Jesus won’t simply coexist alongside other saviors. He’ll not be quietly personalized and domesticated by us, like some family idol. He’s God! And, he’s jealous for our adoration and worship. He won’t stand for rivals.
This, consequently, brings us to our final question.
3. What do Peter and John intend to do?
The religious leaders say: Keep Jesus to yourself. But, Peter and John won’t and can’t because they know only Christ offers salvation. Look how Peter responds to the authorities’ questions about the miracle. Luke records his answer; just listen as Peter explains the scope of Christ and his work:
“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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” (vv. 8-12).
Did you see the scope grow? Peter starts with his audience—“let it be known to all of you”; then, Peter widens it to the nation—“and to all the people of Israel”; finally, Peter extends it to the whole world—“there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” He begins by discussing a specific miracle of Jesus—the healing of a lame man; then, expands the power of that work to the spiritual—the healing of a world full of sinners. Peter won’t and can’t keep Jesus to himself. Christ’s work is too unique and too important for that.
Friends, there is a warning for us in this passage. To find it, just ask yourself who all these authorities—wanting to marginalize or localize Christ’s work—are. The answer is they are the leaders of God’s people; these are the pastors of Israel. So, the very men, tasked with leading people to God’s Messiah, his chosen Savior, are the same ones attempting to dissuade the apostles from speaking and preaching about him—they’re the very ones telling the disciples to keep Christ to themselves. The is an ironic warning.
Today, many churches have ceased to be churches. They have become clubs for mobilizing people to do good works. They offer a domesticated kind of Christ, which is no Christ at all. They say keep him personal. They say go heal the lame, feed the hungry, and comfort the grieving; but, don’t offer those people salvation in Christ alone. That’s too offensive. That’s too narrow minded.
Brothers and sisters, if you find yourself in a congregation like this, leave it! You’re not in a church. The church is the body of Christ. The church is composed of sinners who’ve been saved by God’s grace through faith in the person of Christ. And, as Peter rightly asserts here: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (v. 12). So, while all people are welcome in the church, there’s only one Way in—Christ Jesus…alone.
The reformers resurrected this great truth nearly 500 years ago. They looked at what the medieval church was teaching—how it was offering the people myriads of personal mediators in the form of patron saints to whom one could pray for help. The listings are endless—Are you a butcher? Then pray to Saint Adrian for help. Are you a musician? Then pray to Saint Cecilia. A teacher? There’s Saint Gregory. Any beekeepers here? Pray to Saint Valentine. In the middle of all this confusion, the reformers realized that Christ’s unique person and work were being obscured. Therefore, they cried, “Christ alone!” Here’s how The London Baptist Confession of 1689 states it:
This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ, who is the prophet, priest, and king of the church of God; and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from him to any other. 1
Of course, this confession only echoes what Scripture clearly says. Namely:
[That God the Father] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… (1 Timothy 2:4-6).
Friends, the battle, to keep our salvation anchored in Christ and Christ alone, is not far off in history but near. The fight, to remember that we can approach God by the work of Christ alone, isn’t merely a medieval struggle but a modern one too. Some (even in the church) argue that being in nature can draw you closer to God. But, nature didn’t die for sin. Nature is no mediator. Some (in the church) argue that being a member of a specific spiritual community can help you to know God. Yet, unless the group directs you to Christ alone, they have no power to bring you into relationship with God. We must look only to Christ for this!
Allow me to close by sharing a quote about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ from Martin Luther. We began with his idolatrous cry: “Saint Anne! Help me!” But, because of the grace of God, we’ll end with another, more joyous confession. Here’s what Luther proclaimed in a sermon years after the lightning strike:
St. Ann was my idol, and St. Thomas my apostle. I patterned myself substantially after them. Others ran to St. James and strongly believed and firmly trusted that, if they conformed, they would receive all they wished and hoped for. Prayers were said to St. Barbara and St. Christopher in order to avert an early and sudden death…. For this reason, it is necessary constantly to persevere and adhere to John’s testimony concerning Christ. For it requires toil and effort to continue with word and testimony, for a person at death to be able to say, I must die, but I have a Savior…[and] on him and on no other creature, either in heaven or on earth, do I rely. 2
Amen! Praise be to God for Christ the Savior. Let’s pray.