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“No Other Name Under Heaven”
Acts 4:12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday of Easter—April 22, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, the Apostle Peter declares: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

In the ancient world, gods and religions were looked upon mostly as a localized phenomenon.  Your country has your god, my country has another god, or maybe it’s the same god that we just happen to call by different names.  The main purpose of these supposed gods was to fight on behalf of your country and make it superior to the other countries of other gods.

Since the first disciples of Christ were Hebrews brought up in the Old Testament faith, they did not have that kind of crass attitude.  They believed that their God Yahweh is the only true God, as the Lord says in Isaiah, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”  But, the prevailing pagan attitude of the world around them did rub off on them.

We see this at the beginning of the book of Acts, when the #1, burning question the disciples have to ask Jesus just before he ascends into heaven is, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Even after they have witnessed Jesus suffer and die and rise from the dead, they still think of his mission as a localized one, to fight an earthly war on behalf of their nation, to defeat the Roman army, and Roman gods, and drive out the occupying Roman Empire from their land.

Jesus redirects them to the true meaning of his life and mission in this world, and the true meaning from now on of their life and mission in this world: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Christian faith of which they are the first ambassadors is NOT just a localized phenomenon!  They will be his witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, not only in Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth!  In those first few chapters of Acts you can see the transformation of the disciples’ understanding about Jesus and the Christian faith, and the amazing transformation of the disciples themselves.  This transformation comes to a dramatic climax in today’s text.  For the same Peter, who just a few months before timidly and fearfully denied Jesus three times and said, “I am not one of his disciples, I don’t even know the man,” that same Peter now boldly and fearlessly proclaims, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 

Peter and the other disciples finally get it, they finally understand what Jesus and Christianity are really all about.  Jesus is not just a little, local god, limited to their people.  Christianity is not just one more splinter group within the Hebrew religion.  As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  “For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only-begotten Son.”  “You will be my witnesses . . .  to the ends of the earth.” 

Peter and the other disciples now understand that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, the Savior of the whole world.  And Christianity is the only true faith for the whole world.  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Only one true God for the whole world; only one Savior for all people; only one way to get to heaven.  That was a radical concept back in 33 A.D.  And it’s still a radical concept today.

It’s radical to say that we are all sinners, in need of a Savior.  But the book of Romans says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. . .  There is no one righteous, not even one.”  That means not even you, not even me.

It’s radical to say that you cannot earn your way into heaven by being a good person.  But, the book of James says “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  That is why the book of Isaiah says that in God’s eyes, as far as earning salvation is concerned, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” and the Apostle Paul concludes in Romans, “There is no one who does good, not even one.”

But, even more radical than saying that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, even more radical than saying that you cannot earn your way into heaven, even more radical is the Christian Gospel, the Good News that you don’t have to earn your way into heaven, because your Savior earned it all for you.  The Good News that your sins are completely forgiven, because of his life, death and resurrection.  Peter later put it this way in his First Epistle: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross . . .  by his wounds you have been healed. . .  You were redeemed . . .  with the precious blood of Christ.”

That is the radical Good News of your Christian faith.  The sins of the whole world are forgiven, your sins are all forgiven.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”  As Peter says later in Acts, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name.”

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Only one true God for the whole world; only one Savior for all people; only one way to get to heaven.  That was a radical concept back in 33 A.D.  And it’s still a radical concept today.

A decade ago following the events of September 11th, some people in our country concluded that the problem was certain religious fanatics who claim exclusive truth for their religion.  No, not the religious fanatics who committed the atrocity.  Believe it or not, some people think the problem is Christians, who believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.

As a writer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said: “. . . the basic problem is that religious intolerance is built into many religions, including Christianity . . .  Denying the validity of another’s religious views is a first step toward violence.”

A nationally syndicated columnist wrote in the New York Times that Christians who believe Jesus is the only way to heaven are guilty of “religious totalitarianism.”  He says that September 11th was the beginning of World War III, but it is a war not against terrorism, but against anyone who claims exclusive religious truth, a war which, he actually says, “has to be fought in . . . churches.”

Another writer picked up this theme in Newsweek:  “Mere tolerance of other religions is not enough . . .  even the acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient. . . .  What committed Christians . . . must do is . . .  ask how the Holy Spirit might be at work within non-Christian religions. . .  Clearly, this will be the most important theological agenda of the new millennium.”

There is increasing pressure upon Christian churches and individual believers to give in to the world’s anti-Christian agenda, and abandon the Biblical teaching that Jesus is the only way of salvation.  For, nearly 2,000 years after Peter boldly proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” that radical message is still despised by the world.  Paul put it this way in 1st Corinthians: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” and in Romans he declares, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . .  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  They will treat you this way because of my name.”  “In fact,” Paul tells Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 

Last month I told the story of Yousof Nadarkhani a brave, 34-year-old Christian pastor in Iran, with a wife and two young boys.  Pastor Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death by hanging, because at age 19 he converted from Islam.  He has now been on death row in an Iranian jail for over 2 1/2 years.  His death sentence was upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court, but his case has been appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council.  They met last month in Geneva, Switzerland, and Iran’s representative actually told the U.N. Human Rights Council that Pastor Nadarkhani’s crime worthy of death was that he “offended Islam” by saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  In our country we do not face outright persecution like Pastor Nadarkhani.  But, in our society also the pressure to give in, and the attitude against this Biblical teaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven, is very strong and pervasive and growing.

Jesus promises in the book of Revelation, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Just as the Lord transformed those first disciples into faithful, bold witnesses, we pray that he by his grace he would give power to us and our church to remain faithful, bold witnesses for him.

About 30 years after the speech which he gave in today’s reading, Peter put it this way in his First Epistle: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed . . .  if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Amen.

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