And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the morrow, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Radically Contradictory Claims on Our Lives
The Star Tribune called attention Friday to a change in Saddam Hussein's rhetoric from a secular strategist to a Muslim zealot: "With the outbreak of war, some sense an almost messianic tone—particularly in his speech Thursday after the first wave of allied bombing raids, using images of President Bush as Satan and courageous Iraqis as 'descendants of prophets and believers.'"
What this does is make more and more clear that in this global village called earth, where we can follow minute by minute developments in a war half way around the world, there are powerful and radically contradictory claims being made on our lives. Is our president Satan? Are zealous and patriotic Muslim Iraqis the true sons of the prophets and the true believers? This is another way of saying: Is Allah, as he is known in Islam, the one true God, and is Mohammed a true prophet whose writings are the final decisive revelation for faith and life? Or another way to put it: Is the Muslim religion another valid pathway to salvation and heaven?
A Radically Pluralistic Age
Let's be clear, I am not saying that this war is a conflict between Christianity and Islam. I do not see America as a Christian nation. I do not see Christianity embodied in any nation or any ethnic group. One of the glories of our faith is that there is no geographic center. There is no holy shrine. There is no national identity. We are aliens and exiles on the earth out of step with every human authority and institution, even when we submit to them for Christ's sake. And we come from every race and all social strata and every nation. This is not a war of Christians against Muslims.
But it is a war with powerful religious impulses. President Bush did call Billy Graham. Hussein did kneel on his prayer rug. And he does want to cast this war in terms of a holy war. But all I am saying now is that this fact makes more plain than ever that our world is radically pluralistic. There are contradictory religions calling for absolute allegiance.
This pluralism is more and more manifest in our own land as well. The old consensus that enabled us to function with some coherency of moral expectation in our legal and social system is rapidly disappearing. And what we are finding is that the new atmosphere of pluralism is not a tolerance of all views, but rather a new secular orthodoxy. There is in its claim to tolerance an emphatic discrimination against old views that threaten the morally empty relativism of today. This is the atmosphere—a hostile atmosphere—in which we will more and more have to live as Christians and bear witness to Jesus—the absolute uniqueness of Jesus, the global uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus.
That is what today's text is about. And it is extremely relevant. Globally relevant! At this moment.
A Healing with Global Implications
Let's recap what is happening in Acts. In chapter 3 the risen Jesus heals a man through the faith and words of Peter and John. The man had been lame from birth, but he gets up and runs through the temple praising God. A crowd gathers and Peter preaches. As he preaches, you hear that what is at stake here is not a merely a local religious phenomenon. It has to do with everybody in the world.
For example, Peter says things like this: the Jesus who healed this man is "the Author of life" (3:15); he was raised from the dead by God (3:15); he is the fulfillment of 1,500-year-old prophecy (3:22); he is waiting now in heaven until the time when he will come and restore all things to what God meant them to be (3:21); and in the meantime "all the families of the earth are to be blessed" through him (3:25)—including families from Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Israel and America and the USSR. This little out of the way healing that took place in Jerusalem has global significance. Jesus is no tribal god. He is the Author of all life and the Lord of the universe.
Peter and John Arrested and Interrogated
At this point Acts 4:1 says that the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came and arrested Peter and John and put them into custody overnight. They were angry because Peter and John were telling everybody that Jesus was alive and that they could rise from the dead too if they believed in Jesus. In fact verse 4 says that the number of the disciples increased to 5,000—that's what can happen after two sermons when the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out in fullness.
From Local to Universal
The next morning the rulers and elders and scribes gather and interrogate Peter and John. Verse 7: "By what power or by what name did you do this [that is, heal this man]?" Now watch how Peter moves again from the local to the universal. Verse 10: "Be it known to you all," Peter says, "that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well." So Peter starts with the offensive fact that Jesus is from a particular, local village that nobody expected any good to come from—Nazareth. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Worse yet, this Jesus was less than a local nobody. He was such a menace you crucified as a criminal. He's got a common name, Jesus, (Josh for short!); he's from a no count town, Nazareth; he was executed like a common murderer. That's who healed this man. This very Jesus.
Because he is alive. And now the unheard of claim comes out: "God raised him from the dead." Now that is not so local anymore. Because God is not local. God is universal. God knows everything and is everywhere and runs the world. If God took note of this man and raised him from the dead, then there is something very non-local, non-provincial, something very global about who he is and what he does.
Then (in verse 11) Peter uses the words of Psalm 118:22 to say the same thing in a word picture: "This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner." If you compare the kingdom of God to a building, then the builders are the religious leaders. They examined the stone called Jesus of Nazareth to see if he could be a brick in the wall of truth. They said No and rejected him and threw him out as unusable. But God, the main architect, came along and saw the stone lying in the grave and picked him up and made him not only a brick in the wall, but the head of the corner—the chief stone in the building. Men rejected Jesus as a merely local menace with no significance beyond the killing hill of Golgotha. But God has made Jesus the universal head over all his house. As Acts 2:36 says: God has made him both Lord and Christ."
Jesus as the Only Way of Salvation
Peter draws out the implication of this universal lordship of Jesus in verse 12: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Since God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and since God has made him head over all his house—over all the kingdom and all the redeemed—therefore Jesus is now the only way to heaven, and the confession of his name is the only hope of salvation from sin and judgment.
We need to feel the force of this universal claim in our pluralistic age. "There is salvation in no one else!" Do you really mean no one, Peter? Or are you just speaking in a limited Jewish context—only among the Jews there is no other way to heaven than their true Messiah? No, he says, the reason there is salvation in no one else is that "there is no other name under heaven [not just no other name in Israel, but no other name under heaven, including the heaven over Iraq and the heaven over America] given among men [not just among Jews, but among humans] by which we must be saved."
No Other Name
But there is even more here that we need to see. Sometimes people will say, "Yes, Jesus is the only source of salvation, but you don't have to know him in order to benefit from the salvation he offers. In other words, if you are a faithful Muslim or Hindu or Jew or animist, you will be saved by Jesus. There is salvation in no one else, but you don't have to believe on him in order to be saved by him."
But that is not what Peter meant. Peter focused on the NAME of Jesus. "There is no other NAME under heaven by which we must be saved." He is saying something more than that there is no other source of saving power that you can be saved by under some OTHER name. The point of saying, "There is no other NAME," is that we are saved by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus. His name is our entrance into fellowship with God. The way of salvation by faith is a way that brings glory to the name of Jesus. Peter says in Acts 10:43, "Every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." The name of Jesus is the focus of faith and repentance. In order to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you must believe on his name. That is, you must have heard of him and know who he is as a particular man who did a particular saving work and rose from the dead.
Paul put it this way in Romans 10:13–15: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?" There is salvation in no one else—and that means there must be missionaries, who make him known by name so that people can believe and call on his name for salvation. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, apart from him no one comes to the Father (John 14:6).
A Truth That Either Makes Converts or Enemies
Peter pushed the universality of Jesus from the no-count town of Nazareth as far as it could be pushed. Jesus is absolutely unique. He is absolutely supreme among all the gods and lords of the world religions. Knowing him and believing on his name is absolutely necessary for salvation. For since the cross and resurrection there is no other way to God and to heaven. Therefore, as Paul says in Acts 17:30–31, "God commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead."
This is a fundamental biblical fact that we have to come to terms with if we aim to be biblical Christians in a pluralistic nation and a pluralistic world. It's the kind of truth that either makes converts or makes enemies. It is not a live-and-let-live truth.
What Does It Call for in Our Lives?
It calls for understanding—the understanding of our faith. If there are not many ways to God, but only one way, then the highest priority in life is to understand what that way is and to follow it. If all sincere roads lead to heaven, then understanding the road you are on to make sure it is the right one is not very important. The supremacy of Christ as the only way to God calls for understanding.
It calls for courage. The uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus Christ is the cause of all Christian martyrdom. There is no point in dying for one faith if another will lead you to God. What gets you killed is believing that reality is one way and not another way. So when the state says: "Confess that Caesar is Lord," or: "Confess that Allah is the one true God and Mohammed is his prophet," the Christian says, "I will not and I cannot." Why? Because Caesar is not Lord and Mohammed is not a true prophet. Jesus is Lord, and Jesus alone.
3. A Radical Interpretation of the War in the Middle East
This truth of the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus calls for a radical interpretation of war in the Middle East. Is there a war going on in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Israel? No, there are two wars.
One is being fought with cruise missiles and scud missiles and fighters and bombers. It is not a war between Christians and Muslims. The great majority of the American and allied troops are secular relativists who believe less in Jesus Christ than the Muslims believe in Mohammed. This war is between a Muslim state and secular states. It is a war about national boundaries, the rights of nations, the security of states, and the availability of natural resources. It is not a confrontation of Christianity and Islam.
But there is another war going on. A far more important one. A war for the hearts of men and women. The stakes are higher because they are eternal life or eternal judgment. The war is not being fought with missiles and bombers and tanks. Nor any other material weapon. It's being fought on the Christian side with the weapons of love: prayer, faith, spiritual wisdom, sacrifice, and the glorious good news of Jesus Christ. The Christian goal is salvation for Arab peoples. The war is being fought on the Muslim side in Iraq and Saudi Arabia with oppression and anti-Christian state sanctions.
In Iraq, Patrick Johnstone says (in Operation World, p. 242), "It is virtually impossible for a Muslim to confess Christ and live." No open Christian witness is allowed. Missionaries were expelled in 1969. 14,000 Christians fled the country between 1972 and 1977. There are 12 million Arabs, 2.8 million Kurds, and numerous minority groups in Iraq without Christ and without hope.
Saudi Arabia is one of the least evangelized nations of the world. There are no known Christian believers among the Saudis, no Christian workers are allowed to enter the country, and no Christian is even allowed to set foot in the city of Mecca. Christian literature and Bibles are banned. And expatriate Christians live under strict surveillance. Ten million Muslims in Saudi Arabia live without Christ and without the hope of eternal life.
Because Jesus Christ is the only hope of the world, and "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
There are two wars going on in the Middle East. The one threatens the earthly life of thousands. The other seeks the eternal life of millions. Does not God want to deal with us this morning about how utterly preoccupied we are with the one war, and how relatively ignorant and indifferent we are about the other?