Baptism services at JPC are always an encouragement to me and no doubt to very many of us and tonight we thank God for Yong, Alex and Fiona, for their faith in the only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, for their willingness to publicly declare their faith in Jesus in this service and their desire to serve him as their King. Not that following Jesus as Lord and King will always be easy. Jesus never promised that it would be. In fact Jesus bids us come and die. Look on the screen at what he says in Luke 9:23-26:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
In politically correct and pluralistic Britain it’s not always easy to stick your neck out for Jesus Christ but that’s what he calls you and me to do. Today someone who takes a stand for Christ at school, university or work, saying Jesus is the only way to God can be thought weird at the very least, arrogant or even stupid. In some countries saying so can mean being rejected by your family, jail or even death. Hostility can also come to those who stand up for Christian ethics. Here in the UK Christian teachers, lecturers and groups like Lovewise who stand up for Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sex in schools and colleges face criticism and active opposition. Just this past week the University and College Union, which is the biggest lecturers’ union, said that schools should be banned from promoting heterosexual marriage.
And here in Acts 4 Luke is telling us about the growth of the early church and the beginnings of persecution. And the reason was that the apostles were standing up publicly and talking about the uniqueness of the name of Jesus. So far it’s been plain sailing for the early church, but now troubled waters lie ahead. How will the apostles cope? How will they react to this first sign of trouble? It would be all too easy for them to be swamped by the pressure to conform, to succumb to the temptation to give up. And it would be very easy for us to do the same- maybe to water down the gospel, to take out the tough bits about judgment and sin and to start saying that there are other ways to God. When the trouble begins it’s easy to give in. But the apostles stood up and took the flak. The apostles were people who preached the gospel without compromise. And we can learn a great deal from them about going forth in the name of Christ and standing up for him.
Peter’s preaching of the truth of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in chapter 3, as the author and giver of life, physically to the healed cripple and spiritually to those who believe, certainly aroused the indignation and antagonism of the religious authorities. You see the devil cannot endure the exaltation of Jesus Christ. So he stirred up the Sanhedrin to persecute the apostles, which brings us to the start of chapter 4 and my first main point:
Firstly, PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST WILL BRING OPPOSITION
Preaching the gospel will sometimes lead to very direct opposition – even to our face and even to prison. Look at v1-3 of chapter 4 and imagine the scene:
1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
Let me recap the story so far. In chapter three of Acts, Peter and John went up to the Temple to pray. And as they were going in they met a man who had been lame from birth. Instead of giving him some loose change, Peter healed him on the spot in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, not by power of his own but by the authority of the Messiah. This caused utter astonishment to those around as the lame man suddenly got up and leapt around the Temple courts. So Peter takes the opportunity to give an evangelistic talk to those around. He talks about Jesus and tells the people to repent and accept God’s gift of a new life. Now at that point the authorities step in. They close down the make shift meeting and cart Peter and John off to prison. Now why were the authorities so upset? Surely no-one could quibble with the healing of the man. That as Peter says in verse 9 was an act of kindness. No it’s not that they are worried about. Have a look at verse 2. Luke tells us the reason: "The authorities were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead." It was the fact that they were talking about Jesus that really riled the authorities. And even more than that. It was the resurrection that really got to them. You see Luke tells us who was upset- it was the Sadduccees among others. And they were a religious and political group who did not believe in the resurrection. They were living for this world and they collaborated with the hated Romans to make their lives easier and to get themselves into positions of power in the country. So Peter and John are hauled off to prison. But, and this is my second point
Secondly, BUT THE OPPOSITION OF MEN DOES NOT HINDER THE WORD OF GOD
Look at v4:
4But many who heard the message believed and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
The Word of the Lord does not return to him empty. It achieves its purpose and bears fruit. (Isaiah 55:11) And we learn here that that is true even when there’s opposition from the authorities. Many who heard Peter’s message believed and the number of men grew to about 5000. And that figure didn’t include the women and children as the word for men here in the original is the word for males. So the number would have been more like 15-20,000. The church grew from over 3000 to 15- 20,000 in what some consider to have been about three months. That’s 200 converts a day. If that was to happen in Gateshead – the new church would be at capacity with three services in 3-4 days! The Lord had been adding to their number daily those who were being saved, as we were told back in Acts 2. Now after Peter’s second recorded sermon there was another growth spurt in spite of the opposition. The Sadducees could arrest the apostles, but not the gospel.
That’s what’s been happening in China for the last 70 years. In the 1930’s all the missionaries had to leave and persecution followed under Communism. But in spite of all that the church in China grew from half a million in the thirties to between 30 and 100 million today. Many Chinese church leaders have become bolder in spreading the gospel after experiencing persecution. Three years ago in a US News magazine a number laid out there plans for reaching China and the Middle East with the gospel. They would build factories and convert and disciple the workers in those factories. They said they weren’t worried anymore about persecution because they’d already experienced jail for the sake of Christ. Peter wasn’t going to be deterred by the authorities either, which brings us to my next point. So thirdly
Thirdly, Peter speaks up for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit
Look at v5-7:
5The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family. 7They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?"
Now let me ask. What would we do in that situation? What answer would we give? You see we might be tempted to say, "Well your honour, I think there has been a terrible mistake. Actually I don't really believe the resurrection and as for Jesus, well nice teacher, but not the Messiah. Why don’t we just forget this ever happened and I’ll go back to fishing and you can brush up your robes." Is that what Peter does? No not a bit of it. He’s made the mistake of betraying Jesus once already, and when he’s up against it a second time, he doesn’t flinch a muscle. Now he’s filled with the Holy Spirit. Have a look at verses 8&10. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says:
Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you completely healed. He is the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.
You see not only does he positively affirm his belief in the resurrection but he also says that the leaders of the nation have made the biggest mistake of their lives. They’ve gone and crucified the very Messiah they’ve been looking for, for hundreds of years. That’s why Peter quotes that verse from Psalm 118 about the capstone. Jesus was rejected by the chief priests and elders, but God has raised him from the dead. It was the resurrection that proved that Jesus really was the true Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. That’s why the speeches of Acts are full of the resurrection- because the fact that Jesus defeated death shows he’s the King and Saviour of the world. So verse 12, Peter concludes:
"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 was absolutely convinced that Jesus was the only Saviour. He had conviction. He had no doubts at all. That’s why he said what he did. He was a man of conviction. If you reject Jesus you reject God. And notice that this isn’t a matter of personal opinion. Peter says Jesus is the Saviour who must save us. If he doesn’t then we’re heading for hell. It’s as stark as that. Peter doesn’t pander to the atmosphere of the day. He says what he knows to be true. He is a man of conviction. He is a man filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now let me ask, how does this understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ go down today? It’s not at all politically correct is it? But the different faiths are not the same. Fundamentally the other faiths send people the wrong way because Jesus is the only way. Now that’s not to say that we speak ungraciously. We can commend the gospel by our manner and the words we use. But in the final analysis, Christians must hold out the uniqueness of Christ as the only way. We must be people of conviction. The brilliant news of Christianity is that we have the Truth to offer. We don’t want people to go the wrong way or to not know the way. How loving would that be? Yet when an opportunity comes it’s very easy to hide behind politeness isn’t it? You know that conversation with a neighbour or friend when they’re talking away about something and you talk about church and they say well of course they’re all the same aren’t they? And we can so easily mumble some sort of reply or even a yesish. Peter has none of it. He’s clear in his convictions and he’s filled with the Spirit. There is no other way. Jesus is unique. So how about next time the topic comes up at work, why not swallow hard and say, actually Jesus claims to be the only way to God and see where that gets you. In my experience people are generally happier to be told the truth than for us to pussy foot around. Conviction is what we need. And Peter was not short of it. He was absolutely convinced of the gospel and it showed in the way he spoke. What would happen do you think if that conviction was ours as earnestly as it was for Peter? I suggest great strides could be made for the gospel if Christians were convinced in their minds of the truth and stood by it through thick and thin. Peter knew the truth and spoke the truth in the power of the Spirit. So finally let’s have a closer look at the truth he spoke.
Fourthly, SALVATION IS FOUND IN NO-ONE ELSE
Look at v12. Peter states very clearly:
Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved
Salvation is found in no-one else. Note - absolutely no-one else. “For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” No other name. Jesus himself said it too. John 14:6:
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Why? Why is salvation found in no-one else? Why is there no other name by which we must be saved? Because of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Peter’s two negatives – no-one else and no other name – proclaim the positive uniqueness of the name of Jesus. Because of who he is, what he’s done and the authority he’s been given. Jesus came into the world to take on himself the death and judgement that we deserve so we could be forgiven. That's what happened when he died on the cross. Because he was God, he'd never sinned. Because he'd become man, he could take our place, face our judgement. So that sins have been punished. He has paid. And sinners, such as you and me, can be forgiven if we believe in him. His death on the cross in our place and resurrection from the dead, his exaltation and authority constitute him the one and only Saviour, since nobody else possesses his qualifications. He is the only way to God the Father and therefore to heaven in that he is the truth and the life.
There’s a legend about a man caught in quicksand. As the man struggled, sinking nearer to suffocation and death Confucius saw him and remarked: "There is evidence that men should stay out of such places". The Buddha came & said: "Let that life be a lesson to the rest of the world". A secularist came by and said: "You're not really sinking in quicksand you're simply being influenced by out dated religious superstitions think positively & overcome your neurosis." Mohammed commented: "Alas! It is the will of Allah!" A vicar arrived saying "say these prayers & do your best to perform these rituals and God might have mercy on you". A Hindu priest walked by and said: "Never mind you will return to earth in another form". Shirley MacLaine the high priestess of New Age appeared & offered her verdict: "You will soon truly be one with the universe". But then Jesus of Nazareth arrived and said to the man: "Give me your hand my friend and I will pull you out for I am the way". We are all caught in the quicksand of sin & death. We cannot escape it. All religions don't lead in the same direction. None of the other people mentioned can help or rescue us. Only Jesus is God come to earth to seek us out. Only Jesus died a death that deals with our fundamental problem of being cut off from God. Only Jesus has been through death himself & can therefore overcome it for us. Only Jesus can stretch out a hand & take us into the presence of the living God. Only he is the way the truth & the life who can give us a secure future, a secure way to God & a secure partnership joining in his work as we wait to join him in the Father's house forever. No-one comes to the Father except through him.
Who here this evening needs to trust him with your life and with your death just as Yong, Alex and Fiona have done? Who tonight needs to call on the name of the Lord and be saved? Only he can rescue you from your sin and its consequences. “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Salvation is found in no-one else. As Romans 10:9-13 puts it:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified [or declared not guilty], and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And in response to God’s mercy we are to then offer our bodies as living sacrifices and go in the name of Christ and share that message with others – salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name by which we must be saved - making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands, whatever the cost. For many of us that will be at JPC, for some of you it may be at the new church in Gateshead and for others of you it may be further a field. Wherever God calls us, Jesus promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) – note always - as we go in his name and the Holy Spirit will give us the words we need. Like those Chinese Christians I mentioned earlier and like Peter and John we are to be Christians of true conviction and of courage. We are not to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus (4:18) whatever the authorities may say.