Bible Passage: Acts 4:1-12 Pastor: Pastor Schlicht Sermon Date: November 19, 2017
There’s a new swear word in American English and it starts with an E. It’s those big red letters on the advertisement urging us to buy impulsively; it’s the snooty nose of a prideful country club member; it’s the reason for the teen’s tears who finds herself on the outside of the clique. The word is “Exclusive.” And the E-word is never more offensive than when it modifies a religion. In America’s current landscape, exclusive beliefs are increasingly viewed as offensive and narrow-minded. In a society where disagreement equals bigotry, any distinctive belief is seen as evil. For Christians that poses a problem, and especially for confessional Lutherans. At the risk of stating the obvious, the Solas of the Reformation are, by definition, exclusive claims. Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. While those three seem to be relatively harmless, it’s the one I haven’t mentioned that offends people: Christ alone. The Bible teaches that Christ alone is our salvation. Any other way, any other religion, any other name leads to eternal damnation. As Jesus said himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” There is no salvation apart from Christ alone.
“Pastor, would you stop it? That’s not a politically correct. way to start your sermon!” Yeah, I realize what it sounds like. The exclusive claims of Christ alone are totally offensive to many people. I bet they make you squirm a little bit too. I know they do me. Yet, they are there in the Bible, plain as can be. And one of the biggest is right at the end of our text today. Acts 4:12 reads, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Up front, I can tell you it means exactly what it sounds like. There’s no hidden meaning, no clearer understanding if you look at the original Greek; nothing’s been lost in translation. It says that Jesus is an exclusive Savior. And I hope that by the end of this sermon you’ll thank God it does.
But to get there, let’s go back to when those words were first spoken. It was on one of those bright days after Pentecost when “the Lord [was adding] to their number daily those who were being saved” (Ac 2:47). The Apostle Peter healed a crippled beggar in Jerusalem at the temple gate during rush hour. A crowd gathered and Peter told them how he did it, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing…” (Ac 3:16). Peter then continued by offering eternal life to anyone in the crowd who would repent and turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of all their sins.
But not everyone was impressed. The temple guard came up to Peter and John mid-sermon, arrested them, and threw them in jail for the night. The next day they were dragged in front the ruling council and angrily asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?” You’d think this ruling body made up of the religious leaders of Israel would have been thrilled to see a miracle take place in their Temple. You’d think they would have been happy for the healed man, who for all forty years of his life had never taken a step but now was “walking and jumping and praising God” (Ac 3:8). But they weren’t. They resented it. Why? All because it was done in the name of Jesus.
And the resentment over God’s gracious healing continues to this day. You’d think that the average person would be thrilled that there’s a religion out there offering salvation for free–no strings attached, no pilgrimages required, no eat this but not that. You’d think that they be even more happy to learn in this religion anyone can qualify for salvation. You’d think they’d be absolutely ecstatic over the prospect of going to heaven and living forever with God. But they aren’t. And sadly, we aren’t always either. When the conversation comes up at work, and someone says, “Well, as long as you have faith in something, you’ll be ok.” Instead of stepping forward like Peter, too often our mouths stay shut. When that close relative admits they don’t really go to church anymore, because “Who’s to say that Christianity is the only way?” Instead of saying, “Salvation is found in no one else!” we so often just change the subject. Why do we hesitate? Why do we hold back? Because of the E-word; because Christ Alone is exclusive. I don’t want to be called a bigot; I don’t want to be thought as narrow-minded; I don’t want to disagree with somebody! But sadly, through our cowardice and love of social ease, the gracious offer of God to save sinners is believed with embarrassment by those who should champion its truth. Jesus’ blood soaks the ground and we try not to notice. God forgive us for the times we have let his name become one in a list of options, especially because in doing so we have put souls at risk.
You see, the exclusive nature of Christ alone is also the reason we should be so bold to tell others about him. If it’s true that salvation is found in no one else, if it is true that there is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved,then people need to know that name! The Devil would love to take Jesus’ name, that one name which God has exalted above all others, and bring it down to the same level as any other manmade name. He would love to let Christ coexist right next to Allah, Buddha, Mary, or any other name. But we cannot let him take away the exclusive nature of Christ. It is too important, Jesus is the only name we have that saves.
And that’s just it, those who see Christ alone as negative do not see him as their Savior. If they really did, they wouldn’t mind at all that he is exclusive. Imagine a plane goes down in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Do you think the survivors treading water would complain about the lack of options when the rescue boat arrives? As if the boat would pull up and someone would turn away offended, “Are you saying I can’t swim?” No, of course not! If you see something as your salvation, you are nothing but thankful. And if you see Christ alone as your only hope, you won’t be bothered by the E-word, you’ll simply rejoice! That’s kind of what Peter was getting at in his incredulous reply to those who had arrested him for healing a crippled man. (Talk about a weird reason to get in trouble.) “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then 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 healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’” Peter states so clearly that Jesus is that stone which should have been received with honor and joy as the capstone but instead was rejected.
And that’s what Jesus still is today: the vital, missing piece of every human life, yet so often rejected. A recent study conducted by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge shows that Americans are increasingly depressed, more now than they have been in decades. Analyzing data from almost 7 million adolescents and adults from all over the country, Twenge found that Americans now report more symptoms of depression than their counterparts from the 1980s. Comparatively, teens in the 2010s are 38 percent more likely to have trouble remembering, 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental health issues. College students surveyed were 50 percent more likely to say they feel overwhelmed, and adults were more likely to say their sleep was restless, they had poor appetite and everything was an effort—all classic symptoms of depression. Twenge says of her study, “This study shows an increase in symptoms most people don’t even know are connected to depression, which suggests adolescents and adults really are suffering more.”
I will never promise that Jesus will take all of your problems away or make you happy all the time. He never promised that either. But Christ alone will save you from despair, both here on earth and in heaven someday. His unconditional love is what people need to save themselves from comparison and vanity. His guidance is the missing piece of the family that is tearing each other apart. His selfless sacrifice is the missing bond for the 4 out of 10 marriages that end in divorce. His constant presence is the companion of the lonely. His everlasting peace is the anchor that sustains even during depression’s temptations. If there was ever a time for us to speak up about Christ alone. It’s right now. He’s the only one, true God and true man, whose blood takes away sin and, finally, he’s the only one who could rise from the dead as the first fruits of your own resurrection to eternal life. Christ alone is our capstone, the one and only Savior of the world.
Did you catch that? Christ is the Savior of the whole world. That sounds pretty inclusive to me! You know it’s funny, but many outside of Christianity try to make a false correlation, that if Christ is the exclusive Savior then all Christians and Christianity itself must be exclusive. But that’s not the case. Just think about the Reformation!
When Martin Luther rediscovered the truth of Christ alone and the other exclusive terms of Scripture, the reaction wasn’t narrow-minded exclusion, but rather an inclusive revival of faith that swept across all of Europe. When he translated the Bible into common German he wasn’t excluding others, he was working tirelessly so that milkmaids and stable boys could read for themselves about a Savior who died for them as much as any bishop in Rome. You see for Luther one of the most striking revelations of Scripture was the inclusive nature of the Christian faith. Against the background of medieval piety, with holy orders, penances, and pilgrimages, Luther presented a Christianity for everyone. And against the backdrop of his own guilt-ridden conscience, he discovered free peace in a personal, loving, and inclusive God, the incarnate capstone himself, Jesus Christ. A life rooted in Christ alone does not lead to exclusive bigotry, but to inclusive communion with a gracious God.
That’s what you can remember the next time the conversation comes up. Remember that bold confidence in Christ alone may rub against a world defined by tolerance and liberality, but it nonetheless rises out of one of the most powerfully inclusive aspects of salvation: God is no respecter of persons (As the old KJV would say, Acts 10:34). God regards people on no other basis than their relationship with Christ. He doesn’t have any requirements for us. He simply views people as either outside of Christ and subject to the penalties of his Law or in Christ and therefore saved, regardless of any other fact. No one who hopes in Christ will be excluded! Remember that the Christian life is distinguished not by exclusivity, but by a beautiful, simple, accessible Christ. And there’s nothing unloving, narrow-minded, or distasteful about that. There’s nothing exclusionary about anyone, no matter what size, shape, color, or status, being saved freely in Jesus’ name.
Brothers and Sisters, at the end of the day Christianity is still about a bloody cross and an empty tomb and the one man who occupied both. That fact is what gives us boldness to testify to the necessarily exclusive, yet overwhelmingly inclusive truth of Christianity: In Christ alone salvation is offered to all people. Jesus is an exclusive Savior with enough love and forgiveness to welcome anyone. He is Christ alone. Thank God for that.