Sermon for Sunday Evening, September 26th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 4:1-12 ESV] 1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 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.”
I have in my hands two sermons – one I wrote approximately Thursday of this week and another which was written approximately January of 1864 by the Henry Frost Wadsworth. Rev. Wadsworth was pastor here at Unionville from 1858-1884, our longest-serving pastor. This sermon of his—one of seven of his extant here in our church papers—dates from 7 years before Unionville incorporated as a village. Our church in fact was here for multiple generations before the village came to be. And our church played a significant role in the formation of the village, with our elder Isaac Swift being the first president of Unionville.
I’m quite a fan of history. And local history here is quite interesting.
There is much history also in the Bible. In fact, more of the Bible is in that genre than in any other other. That is, there is more history in the Bible than there is poetry or wisdom literature or epistles to the churches. Most of the Old Testament is in the genre of history, and arguably the Gospels of the New Testament are in that genre and certainly the book of Acts from which we read today is an historical book. These historical books record events that happened in history and were witnessed by those chosen of God for the task.
In history itself we can see something of God’s purpose. We can see the unfolding of His decretive will; the divine drama, God’s grand story through the events of the world. In Biblical history we hear of God’s creation and we hear of His covenant with His people throughout the ages. Also in Biblical history we learn of Jesus of Nazareth, the very Son of God—God of God, light of light—who came to earth in actual history, who truly lived amongst man and who died and who rose again.
I. The Challenge of the Leaders
A great moment of history is recorded also in our text today in the book of Acts. This is THE book of the history of the early church following the death and resurrection of Christ.
In this book we’ve seen on previous Sunday evenings how God worked in His church in those early years to spread the Gospel. We’ve heard two of Peter sermons so far in this book. And we come now the place where the rulers (the priests, elders, and scribes) are upset about what is going on. But though they persecuted the disciples, the disciples yet use the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the preceding chapter of Acts, Peter—in the name of Jesus Christ—told a lame beggar to “Rise up and Walk.” And he did so! The man not only stood up, he jumped for joy and praised God for what the Lord had done for him. And the people were utterly astounded.
Then Peter said to the people, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
The people heard this speech of Peter (and many believed), but the rulers were not then present. The rulers only heard secondhand. And they became annoyed when they heard the disciples were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead in Jesus.
So they arrested the disciples for their preaching. But this did not stop the work of God. At this point 5,000 people were believers in Jesus Christ. We think, “What quick expansion of the faith!” From just a dozen disciples to now vast crowds, primarily of Jews who knew of the expectation of the coming messiah, but also of some gentiles living there in the land.
The rulers who arrested Peter and the disciples were men who had earthly power.
There was Caiaphas the high priest who had religious authority over all of the Jews, and Annas his son-in-law who was a high priest himself at another time. And there was John and Alexander of their family, the powerful ruling religious family of the era. These were the men in control, never mind the Roman invaders who the Jews only listened to when they absolutely had to. The priests had the power.
And they were not welcoming of rivals. And so they ask the disciples, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
They probably already knew that Peter was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. But perhaps they wanted to hear this clearly so as to find him guilty; guilty of not listening to them!
II. The Response of Peter.
Peter responds, not with any diversion or reticence. He speaks plainly of the truth without fear of man.
And Peter’s response to question of the priests is, in my estimation, one of the greatest things ever said by man. Though we should not give him the credit, as it says that in this speaking he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
So how did Peter respond to the priests?
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 it be known!
The only Lord Jesus. There is no other name. Never in history has there been a person capable of doing what Christ has done. And there is no other savior.
The Bible often speaks of THE messiah, but never of the messiahs (plural). There is only one, and it is Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself preached the same message that Peter here relays to the priests of Israel. Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is indeed no other name. There is no other way. In all of history there is no other hope for salvation but in Jesus Christ.
This was truth then and it is true now.
III. The Response Today
We live also in the unfolding drama of history. Most moments no doubt come and go unrecorded and unremembered. But there are historic moments in each of our lives. Weddings are remembered, as are the births of children. These are remembered yearly on their days. And many of us know even the day when the Lord brought us to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit; that day of our second birth. While for many Christians that precise moment is not known, for others it may be written down in the front of a Bible or in large enthusiastic letters in their personal journal.
Throughout history, the call of the Gospel issues forth, being preached each Sunday as regularly as our bell does chime. This call of the Gospel is a call to forsake the ways of sin and to believe in Jesus Christ who alone forgives us from all our sin and imputes to us the righteousness of God.
You might say – “this cannot be done, for I am too great of a sinner. I cannot choose the Lord.” And you’d be right. No man dead in sin can escape the grave he has dug for himself. He needs the living God to intervene. We alone are as unable to believe as the lame beggar was unable to walk. So we depend on God.
And the living God both has intervened in history and does intervene in the present day. We see in the Bible a record of God’s working amongst His people, giving them faith through the Holy Spirit.
But this is not merely history. God’s work of faith continues in our day. I have had the privilege as a pastor to be there on multiple occasions when a person professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time and to see the change in their countenance, and to see the face of a person who knows forgiveness and so can forgive others.
And this change has come about only by the power of the Holy Spirit giving faith in the Jesus Christ.
It was by the name of Jesus Christ that the lame beggar was standing before them.
And with a slight change of wording to apply to us here today, as we praise God for the faith He has given us and know that we would not be where we are but because of the Lord who has saved us, let us then say
“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 (in your sins), whom God raised from the dead–by him we—each of us who believe in him—by him we are standing here today in one moment in His history.
And so we praise God for what he has done in our lives; for what we were unable to do. And we thank he saying, “Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer.” Amen.