GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON
AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
“The only religion in the world which I ever heard of that people that people were ashamed of,” wrote Dwight L. Moody, the great Chicago evangelist, “is the religion of Jesus Christ. I preached in Salt Lake City, and I did not find a Mormon who was not proud of their religion, I never met a Mohammedan who wasn’t proud to be a follower of Mohammed. But many, many time I have found people ashamed of their religion of Jesus Christ, the only religion which gives power over affections, lusts and sins.”
The way of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. This sounds offensive to our ears. We may say, “it is the way for me,” or “it is a way to worship God.” We may have been conditioned to privatize our religion, to think there are many ways to heaven. We all know good Jews or nonbelievers, we may know good Muslims or Buddhists. Yet the claim that we are saved by Jesus only, does not come from the Church or theology but from the Bible itself. It is the testimony of St. Peter speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit that proclaims, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Peter is not only saying that Jesus saves but he is saying clearly that only Jesus saves.
The setting for our text is the Temple in Jerusalem shortly after the resurrection of Jesus. Peter and John are hauled before the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews. Before them are seated the rulers of Israel – learned, important officials. Peter and John are untutored, humble, ordinary fishermen. Luke contrasts the high with the humble. The priests and captain of the Temple and elders are annoyed because of the teaching of these two Christians so they have them arrested and brought before them. It is the rulers and elders and scribes gathered together with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and Alexander and all of the high-priestly family.
Luke writes all this to overwhelm us in reading the account. It must have overwhelmed poor John and Peter too. The charge was under what authority they had healed the crippled man. A strange thing happens: Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. He does not quake in his boots or turn tail and run. He does not deny his Lord as he had just done three times before the cockcrow – no, this day Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and confesses boldly. The lame man had been healed by the power of Jesus Christ. The one whom the authorities had crucified was risen. The powerless have power, the lame are healed, those in sin find forgiveness and salvation. All this is through the power of Jesus’ Name. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, Jesus was rejected, persecuted and killed, but now is the cornerstone of a new Temple. It is only through Jesus that men and women can be saved.
Peter’s speech is the fulfillment of prophecy. It hearkens back to Joel, who long before had foretold that God would pour His Spirit upon all flesh so that sons and daughters would prophesy, that all who call upon the Name of the Lord should be delivered. Peter is filled with the power of God’s Spirit to testify to the power of the Name of the Lord Jesus. Peter shocked his hearers. As the Scriptures say, Peter and John were “uneducated, common men.” They were unskilled lay people who had been trained neither in theology nor public speaking. But John and Peter had what the authorities lacked – the power that came from the Holy Spirit and confidence that came from knowing the risen Christ.
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The Name of Jesus still has the power to help and save. It is still the only way by which we attain the Lord’s salvation. Father Dimitrii Dudko in his book, Our Hope, written in the last days of the Soviet, atheist regime in Russia quotes a letter from a young man:
When I finished technical school they made me a supervisor.
They made me enter the Communist Party and I did.
I forgot the Church.
I removed my neck cross.
I began catching all sorts of diseases.
I became irritable.
I went to a health resort, but to no avail.
I did not know why.
Previously I had been healthy
and did not even know what disease meant.
Ten years of my life passed in diseases.
I was depressed.
Nothing was pleasant for me,
even though I had all I needed.
I ate and drank all I wanted.
The only thing I lacked was faith in Christ.
But the Lord stopped me.
He brought me to the truth.
I put my cross back on.
I believed in the Lord God
and suddenly my superiors began to put me to shame
saying, ‘You’ve sunk in the mire; and you’re young.’
I was defeated.
I had a dream.
Someone brought me a postcard
and on it was printed, ‘Don’t believe in false prophets.’
The point came where they excluded me from the party,
discussed me at meetings,
I answered all their questions fearlessly.
Finally I left that factory since it was impossible to work there.
I am now employed as a common laborer.
Thanks to God, my soul feels light and happy.
What happened to the diseases?
The Lord helped me get rid of them.
With the Lord God the rejection of others holds no terror.
I can’t describe everything.
Whoever believes will understand me.
This is the letter of a young man transformed by the power of Christ. And who would know that in the next years the Soviet Union would implode and that the president of Russia just a few days ago at Russian Christmas talked of the power and importance of the Christian faith for the Russian people.
Friends, what we see here is the power of the time of Acts in our own age. The power of the Risen Christ transformed the Peter who denied his Lord into one who courageously confessed Him before the assembled authorities of Israel. These men were the ones who sent Jesus to be crucified and Peter knew that his fate could very well be the same. But Peter could not, would not, stop confessing Jesus as the only way to salvation. Under no other name could women and men find salvation.
Father Dudko was imprisoned repeatedly by the Soviet authorities. One time he was asked why he kept speaking out when it meant certain imprisonment. He answered,
“I must! Woe to me if I don’t proclaim the Good News.
I am a priest, you know.
I’ve got to proclaim the Good News.
I believe that anyone who believes and is baptized,
as it says in the Gospel, will be saved.
But if I see that people don’t believe and aren’t being baptized,
I know they are perishing.
Don’t I have a right to offer a helping hand
to those who are perishing?
I must! If I don’t, I am not a priest.
There is nothing special in my activities –
I am doing absolutely normal Christian work.”
I would add that we are all priests of the risen Christ. It was the risen Lord who told his followers to
“Go therefore to all nations
and make disciples,
baptizing in the Triune Name
and teaching all that Jesus had commanded.”
It is normal Christian work to see those who are perishing and offer the helping hand. They are still many who have not heard or understood the power of Jesus to help and heal and save. As Bob George has written in a good little book called Classical Christianity,
“Knowing we are going to heaven when we die
is better than uncertainly and the fear or judgment.
But we have to expect very little from Christian life down on earth.
We settle for being sort of second class Christians.”
Our Christian life can be so much more than just waiting to go to heaven. Peter healed the lame man. He had courage under adversity, he had power in Jesus’ Name and confidence and strength. The power of God to save is available now in our everyday life too. Do not be ashamed of your religion. The Holy Spirit has been given to you, God’s love in Christ can not be taken away from you. There is no other name under heaven among mortals by which we must be saved. No one but Jesus. Amen.
–– Copyright 2004, James Kegel. Used by permission.