Sermon Options: April 29, 2012

March 23rd, 2012

No Other Name

Acts 4:5-12

Peter and John are in a predicament familiar to persons in public life—teachers, preachers, government officials. These persons often have to defend their actions that produce change.

Peter and John had previously healed a man lame from birth—in fact, they had dramatically changed his life. The crowd was amazed by what they had seen and wanted to know how all this had happened. Peter recounts the many and various things God had done for the people by the teachers of the law and the prophets, who had urged the people to change their relationship with God.

In the midst of the sermon, Peter and John are interrupted by a group of religious authorities who are annoyed by what they believe is false teaching. What may be more at stake was their perception that these two were urging a change in the status quo. These religious authorities had the two arrested and put into custody of the civil authorities. In spite of the religious and civil authorities, however, “many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand” ( Acts 4:4).

The leaders asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (v. 7). The Holy Spirit fills Peter and he begins to address those in authority in what looks to us like a courtroom scene. Peter tells those assembled that it was not his power that restored the lame man, but rather the life-giving power found in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Peter is determined not to take the credit for the healing, but rather credit the power of God at work in the one whom the people had crucified. It is God and God’s Christ that has the power to heal, make whole, and give salvation. And only in God can these blessings be acquired by mortals. In a sense, Peter shares deeply the gospel’s conviction that only God can raise up what people have struck down.

What is interesting about Peter’s speech is his connection of both the physical and the spiritual aspects of healing. Not only is the lame man healed of his affliction, but also those who are lame or sick in the spiritual sense can also be healed. This is the ultimate hope that God holds out for God’s people.

Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), an English philosopher, once said: “A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes at any moment taking place in it.” Change for the sake of change is not a worthy goal, but change that improves our effectiveness is what we seek.

This is true of the church as well. It is naive to believe that today’s church can be just like the church depicted in Acts, though there is much to learn from the earliest church. In each generation, we as the church of Jesus Christ must learn how to take the gospel to a new group of persons who need to hear the good news. Our task is “to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Three people had adjacent businesses in the same building. At one end of the building the businessperson put up a sign that read: “Year-End Clearance Sale.” At the other end of the building, another merchant followed suit with a sign that read: “Closing-Out Sale.” The store owner in the middle of the building knew he had to do something to keep his business from being hurt, so he put up a sign that read: “Main Entrance.”

I’m not suggesting that Christians change their signage, but I am suggesting that believers in Christ are alert to a new generation of pagans, who have yet to hear the life-giving word of the gospel. This is because, as Peter told us all long ago, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (David N. Mosser)

The Secret of Love

1 John 3:16-24

To his contemporaries, Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher of the law; such men were expected to spend their time interpreting the law. No wonder he frustrated the Pharisees so much, for instead of discussing the law, Jesus kept talking about love.

“Rabbi, is it okay to pull an ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath . . . or to pay taxes to Rome . . . and can we stone a woman caught in the act of adultery?” And each time, Jesus challenged them to quit focusing their mental microscopes on the letter of the Law, and to see the divine spirit of the Law. Jesus wants us to understand that you can keep the law in detail without loving, but you cannot love without being obedient to God’s law.

Jesus was motivated by love. It was the unifying principle of his earthly life. And the message of John’s letter is that Christ’s followers must also choose love as a life principle if we are to walk in his steps. If we are to share his life, we must share his love. What are the characteristics of such love?

I. Love Is of God

True love is not a human characteristic; its source is God. John talks about “God’s love” (v. 17)—he is talking about God’s kind of love. It is the love that has a divine author.

We use the word love too loosely in this culture. We love our wives, husbands, children; I love my cat, my dog, my new boat; I love my carpet, my new curtains, my furniture. What we refer to as love is often really infatuation, affection, lust, concern, or a bad case of heartburn!

Love is not something you learn in a seminar or from a book; it must be experienced in our own lives. That is why John says “we know love”—we know it because we have experienced it in Christ. The cross of Christ is the supreme expression of love; to know Christ’s sacrificial love, and to accept that cross as our own, is to open our lives to truly experience love for the first time.

If our culture knows so little real love, it is because we know so little of God. He is a God of love, and if we wish to know him we must be willing to be loved and to love.

II. Love Is Action

Love goes beyond words. It is very practical—it must be applied in daily life, sometimes with people who are not very loving or lovable. Real love requires us to take our eyes off ourselves and see the needs of others.

We Christians can be guilty of talking about love but showing very little. One Christian author recalls his first encounter with a Christian. He was walking down a high school corridor when a young woman stepped into his path, held up a Bible to his face, and exclaimed, “You’d better get right with the Lord or he’ll condemn you to hell!” For years, his impression of Christians was wild-eyed fanatics carrying thirty-pound Bibles in wheelbarrows and screaming at people. His impression of Christ wasn’t one of love, but of anger.

What impression of Christ do we give? Loving, caring, concerned for people and their needs? Or is our Christ moody, distant, legalistic, disconnected from daily life? And is our love given freely, or does it carry expectations that must be met before we show our love?

Just as the source of love is God, the reality of love is action. As I demonstrate love, God makes himself more and more real in my own life.

III. Love Is Costly

Love is not cheap. God’s love came at the expense of a cross—and we must also expect to pay a price if we are to show authentic love. There is risk—of vulnerability, of misunderstanding, of rejection. We must take a chance in order to love others. Some will reject it, others will misuse it, but there will be those who respond to it, and who experience Christ’s presence in our love. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger said, “Love cures. It cures those who give it and it cures those who receive it.”

The life of love is not an easy or a common one, but it is the road that leads to Christ, and to the abundance of fellowship with him. (Michael Duduit)

Our Leading and Loving Lord

John 10:11-18

The good news of Christianity is God’s unconditional love for us in Jesus. Regardless of who, what, where, or when, God loves us. He loves us no more and no less than he loves anybody else. He lived, died, rose, and reigns in Jesus for us no more and no less than he lived, died, rose, and reigns for anybody else. His love is inclusive. Or as he said, “God so loved the world.”

Even people who are not yet in relationship with God through faith in Jesus are wanted by him. Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (v. 16). Our Lord does not want anyone left out of the wholeness, happiness, joy, and eternal security of life in the kingdom.

That’s why he is the Good Shepherd. He leads and loves people into confident living and eternal life.

I. The Good Shepherd Leads

Shepherds don’t follow sheep. That’s especially true with our Lord. He knows who he is (sovereign God), who we are (people in need of his salvation), and what we need to be and do (exemplified in Jesus and explained in the Bible). He is Lord! We are his people. He is the Good Shepherd! We follow where he leads. He knows what we need and leads the way (John 10:14).

It’s like the old song, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” He leads. We follow.

Shepherd is a metaphor for king. Jesus is the Shepherd-King. Describing the decision to become a disciple, Peter wrote, “You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25 NIV).

Practically, it means our Lord doesn’t solicit suggestions on how to run the kingdom. He doesn’t ask if we’d like to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and all of the rest (Matt. 25). He directs us into the social responsibilities of the gospel. He leads as Lord.

II. The Good Shepherd Loves

He is the Good Shepherd. Unlike a hired hand, who is paid to do a job, our Lord willingly, sacrificially, and selflessly wants to help ( John 10:11, 14-18).

John Calvin wrote, “Christ declares that He is the Good Shepherd, who keeps His Church safe and sound, first, by Himself, and next, by His agents” (John, 1553).

He leads because he loves, and those who know him follow him. (Robert R. Kopp)

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