Salvation By No Other Name

March 2, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 4:1-22 was preached on 11/2/2008. The audio is available here.)

Can a person be saved apart from calling on the Name of Jesus?

Last week we looked at Acts 3. Peter and John go to the temple to pray. There they encounter a lame man, a beggar asking for money. God heals him through Peter. This man is more than 40 years old; he has been begging for a long time, and  thus is well known at the temple.  The people are astonished.

Peter takes the occasion to proclaim the Gospel, saying,

And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man- whom you see and know- strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16 NET

Peter makes four things clear:

1) Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises

2) His listeners are in the covenant!

3) They are murderers: They deserve to be cut off from God’s covenant people

4) They have a choice: If they call on the Name of Jesus, they will be saved.

So Peter is saying that this man was healed by the Name of Jesus, that this healing is a picture of spiritual salvation, and that there is spiritual salvation in that Name.

But could there be salvation through any other name or in any other way?

While Peter doesn’t directly answer that question in chapter 3, he does provide us with hints:

  • He calls Jesus the author of life in verse 15. Could there be another author?
  • He calls Jesus the promised Christ, the promised Messiah.
  • He says Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom all nations are to be blessed
  • He says Jesus is the prophesied Prophet like Moses – and that those who don’t listen to Him must be cut off from God’s people.

All these hints suggest that there is salvation through Jesus alone. But the question remains: Could there be some alternative way, some means perhaps for those who are not descendants of Abraham, who aren’t part of God’s covenant people?

In our day, as in the time of Peter, there are many who believe there is no existence past death, and thus no salvation. But the majority of people then and now believe in an existence after death; they even believe that there will be rewards and punishment meted out for what we do in this life. Many believe in a coming judgment (though most reserve that judgment for terrible people unlike themselves), and a coming salvation for all who are sincere, who try, who are regular participants in religious activities of any kind.

In this country today, a large number believe in this salvation by sincerity. They reject as repulsive the idea of a God who would condemn sincere adherents of any religion. They say, “I could never worship a God who would condemn such people!”

But the question is not: what you are willing or unwilling to believe. You are not the judge. You are not the authority.

The question is: Who is God? What has He revealed about Himself? Who are you? Where do you stand before Him? Is there any way you can be put right with Him?

In this passage, Peter gives one of Scriptures’ most powerful statements about the exclusive nature of salvation in Christ. There is one way of salvation, and one only. Salvation comes through believing in Jesus. That’s it. Those who don’t believe in Jesus are lost. But anyone may believe. And all who believe are saved.

We will go through the text in order, seeing the overall thrust of the passage, then circle back and look more closely at Peter’s claims about the exclusivity of salvation through Christ.

The Story

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4)

Remember, Peter and John arrived at the temple at about three in the afternoon. They healed the lame man, and he began leaping and praising God, while sticking close to Peter and John. A large crowd gathers and Peter preaches. The authorities hear the commotion. Always concerned about Roman reaction to events in Jerusalem, they send the guards to deal with the situation.

Remember the pretense for the crucifixion: Jesus was accused of setting Himself up as a king, as a political Messiah, and thus as a threat to Rome’s rule. Perhaps particularly because of this Messianic claim, the Jewish authorities worry that if this claim of His resurrection is widely circulated, the Romans will clamp down and they will lose their power, their position, their privileges.

So they are concerned. And they are annoyed: They thought they were done with this man when they arranged for His execution, but now they face more problems. And this is happening in their temple, on their grounds, where they have more authority than anywhere else in Judea. (Remember, the events at Pentecost took place elsewhere in Jerusalem).

The guards arrest Peter and John, and hold them for trial the next day since by this time it is almost evening. But the church continues to expand, despite the authorities’ best efforts. Many believe. While the meaning of verse 4 is not completely clear, at a minimum there are now 5000 believers. The church has grown by at least 2000 in the short time since Pentecost.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:5-7)

Morning comes. Caiaphas is the High Priest, John is his brother (and a few years later will serve as High Priest himself). Annas, their father, is a former High Priest and most likely still wields the greatest authority. Alexander is unknown.

They ask Peter and John a similar question to the one they asked Jesus after he had cleansed the temple:

“Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”

(Luke 20:2)

The main idea is: “This is our temple. We are in charge. God gave us this charge. You can’t act this way, you can’t speak this way in our temple apart from our permission.”

The question they ask is rhetorical. They are not asking for information. They are not curious. In their view, they represent God. They are the only persons who could grant authority for speaking this way in the temple. So they are trying to cow Peter and John, to impress them with their own authority. They don’t expect and answer. After a pregnant silence, they plan to pronounce their punishment.

But they don’t reckon on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you 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. (Acts 4:8-10)

The Holy Spirit fills Peter with special power for this task, just as at Pentecost. The Spirit prompts Peter to answer them as if they had asked a genuine question about how they accomplished the healing.

But Peter does more than answer the question. Note that the Greek verb for “save” is ambiguous. It can mean “save from eternal punishment” or, alternately,  “save from disease.” So in verse 9, when Peter says, “If you are asking by what means this man has been saved,” he uses the ambiguity of the term to move from a discussion of physical healing to a discussion of spiritual salvation.

Peter used this word in a spiritual sense twice at Pentecost: when quoting Joel in Acts 2:21, and then in his exhortation in Acts 2:40: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” So Peter, empowered by the Spirit, wisely takes the occasion of their asking about physical healing to discuss their need for spiritual salvation through Jesus.

Verse 10 in today’s text is not strong enough in our English translations. The verb is an imperative, meaning something like this: “It must be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel . . .”

What must be known?

That the name of Jesus saved this man physically! That He is the source of life! That He is the source of salvation! That these very authorities crucified Him, yet God raised Him from the dead!

So notice that the Jewish authorities, while trying to use their authority to silence the message about Jesus, are hearing the same message applied forcefully to them.

Peter goes on:

11 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  12 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.” (Acts 4:11-12)

Peter alludes to Psalm 118, saying their rejection of Jesus was prophesied. He then completes the transition to a discussion of salvation by saying that Jesus alone provides salvation. This is Peter’s main point; we’ll come back to verse 12 after looking at the rest of the text.

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.  14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (Acts 4:13-14)

They thought these poor, uneducated fishermen would be overwhelmed by their presence. They surely had heard something about what happened at Pentecost, how these men proclaimed that Jesus was alive. But they also knew that when they had sent soldiers to arrest Jesus a few weeks ago, all these guys fled. They suppose that when these ignorant men stand in their presence, they will be cowering and silent.

So they are amazed and astonished at Peter’s bold witness to the name of Jesus, and at his forthright accusation, calling them murderers.

Sometimes preachers make a big deal of the priests’ statement, “They recognized that they had been with Jesus,” drawing the implication that we too should spend time with Jesus and we too will be bold. But remember: Judas was with Jesus. And after three years with Jesus, Peter ran away and denied knowing Him. Three years with Jesus did not make Peter bold.

What made the difference? The power of the Holy Spirit! The baptism and subsequent filling of the third Person of the Trinity! The Jewish authorities can’t see this. They don’t understand that the point is not the time they spent with Jesus in the past, but that Jesus is an indwelling presence now!

At this point the council goes into private session:

15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another,  16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.  17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”  18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:15-18)

Notice the willing blindness of the council. They acknowledge that the miraculous healing is a sign. But they have no desire to see the truth behind the sign! Instead they are thinking, “We have authority from God. We are in charge of the temple. This teaching might upset that authority. So we will stop them.” They close their eyes to the truth right in front of them.

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,  20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.  22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. (Acts 4:19-22)

Peter cuts right to the root of their command. The authorities assume that they, as leaders of the Jewish people, as priests of the temple, are speaking for God. But Peter distinguishes between God’s commands and their commands, saying, “This truth must be known to all the people of Israel – All must know the one way of salvation. This message of salvation is from God. He has given it to us, and we must proclaim it, by His authority. So judge: Should we obey God, or you all – you who have rejected and killed God’s Messiah!”

At this point all the Sanhedrin can do is threaten. The healed man is standing right there. Everyone knows him. The miracle is obvious. The authorities certainly can’t put Peter to death for healing his man. So they let them go.

That’s the narrative. Next week we’ll look at the prayer Peter and John offer after being released.

Let’s now return to the main point of the passage, asking, What does this text tell us about salvation? Is Jesus the only way?

No Other Name

Consider verses 9-12 again. Follow the flow of Peter’s argument. At the end of verse 9, he asks, “Do you want to know by what means this man is healed/saved?

This must be known to you and to all the people of Israel!”

Why must this be known? He answers that in the rest of his speech. Peter says, “By the Name of Jesus this man is standing before you well. You must know this – because you crucified Him! You rejected Him! You need salvation!”

Verse 11 alludes to Psalm 118:22. The way Peter changes the wording is interesting. Let’s put the verses side by side so you can see the change:

Psalm 118:22  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Acts 4:11  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

Consider the image. Clearly Jesus is the stone. Who are the builders? Peter makes clear that the builders are the Jewish council – along with all who reject Jesus as Savior.

What is the importance of the cornerstone? The cornerstone is the foundation were two walls come together. That stone must be exactly square and completely stable. Otherwise the walls will separate, crack, and ultimately the entire building will fall. Builders must choose the cornerstone carefully.

So in the image of Psalm 118, the builders look at, consider, and reject a particular stone. They say, “That stone could never serve our purposes.” But as it turns out, the builders are wrong. And furthermore, no other stone will do. That’s the right stone. The perfect stone. The builders tried to use a substitute. But the resulting house fell.

That’s what happened to these Jewish leaders. They tried to substitute their tradition, their personal righteousness, for Jesus Himself. But there is no hope in those substitute cornerstones. Their house fell. All such houses fall.

Peter is explicit in verse 12:

“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.” Acts 4:12

That is, “There is no hope for salvation apart from this Jesus, this cornerstone you have rejected. You yourselves are the builders who rejected the one and only cornerstone.”

Then Peter explains why there is salvation in no one else. He begins by saying, “There is no other name . . .” Surely this means, in part, that there is no other saving power.

But it means more than this. For today some try to say, “There are those saved by power of Jesus who don’t explicitly believe in Him.” Peter rules that out. He says, “You can’t call on any other name and be saved through the back door. You can’t call on Buddha and in effect call on Jesus. You can’t call on Vishnu and be saved by Jesus. Salvation comes from calling on the Name of Jesus!”

At Pentecost, Peter had said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Jesus is the LORD. There is no one else to call on. There is no one else to depend on. There is no other power.

Peter goes on to say there is no other power under heaven. He thus makes clear that Jesus is not unique solely in Jerusalem. He is not unique solely in Judea and its surroundings. He is not unique solely in the Roman Empire. There is no other name under heaven. There is no other name throughout the earth.

He also says that there is no other name given among men. “Men” clearly includes Jews. If there was any other way to be saved, it would be available to these Jewish leaders. Theirs is the Law, theirs is the temple, theirs are the sacrifices. God has been working among them for centuries. But there is no other name than Jesus for these Jews.

But he is speaking not only to Jews. He is speaking not only to Israelites and to those who live nearby. He is speaking to all men. And he says there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Or, more awkwardly but more literally, “by which it is necessary us to be saved.” That is, “If anyone is to be saved, it is necessary to be saved by THIS NAME.”

If there were any other way for these people to be saved, Peter and John would have been fools. There would be no reason for them to risk imprisonment, to risk their very lives, in order to give their listeners another option.

But Peter knows that the only hope for these builders who rejected the chief cornerstone is to repent, to acknowledge that Jesus is that cornerstone, and to come to Him.

Conclusion

Two questions in conclusion:

First: Do you share Peter’s urgency to proclaim the Name of Jesus?

Everyone you meet who does not call upon the name of Jesus is not saved. Now, many of these are nice people, pleasant people. They are your friends. They are your colleagues. Many are excellent employees and good neighbors. But apart from calling on the name of Jesus, they have no hope.

At least these folks live in a society where the Gospel is available through radio, through books, and through believers. But consider: Everyone worldwide who does not call upon the name of Jesus is not saved – even those isolated from such sources.

As John writes,

God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

Do you believe that?

If so, you must share Peter’s urgency. You must long for Peter’s boldness. You must be willing to make similar sacrifices.

For people do not call upon the name of the Lord apart from the proclamation of the Gospel. As Paul says,

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 ¶ How then will they call on 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 someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15)

Brothers and sisters: We must send. We must go. We must proclaim the Gospel cross-culturally, to those who have no witness in their culture – that’s missions – and we must proclaim the Gospel within our own culture, to those who have not yet called on His Name – that’s evangelism.

Do you share Peter’s urgency?

Second question: Have you called upon the Name of Jesus?

Apart from calling upon Him, you have no hope

For you were created by God in His image to display that image, to show what He is like. Yet you have rejected that purpose. You have chosen to pursue other purposes:

  • Perhaps exalting your own reputation
  • Perhaps pursuing pleasure
  • Perhaps pursuing comfort
  • Perhaps pursuing the reputation, pleasure, or comfort of another person: A friend, a husband/wife, a child.
  • Perhaps pursuing some goal: Political accomplishment, a social good            .

Some of these pursuits are fine in and of themselves. But none of these is the purpose of our creation. God made you to display His character, His glory. Every one of us has failed to do that. We thus deserve His wrath and judgment.

But God sent Jesus as the fulfillment of all His prophecies, as the one in whom He would fulfill all His covenant promises. Jesus WAS the perfect Israelite, the one who lived up to Israel’s covenant obligations. He lived to fulfill those obligations and He died on the cross to pay the penalty we deserve for failing to fulfill those obligations.

And If you call on HIS NAME – if you acknowledge your sinfulness, your need for Him – if you say, “I have no hope apart from your death and resurrection,” then you will be saved. You will be united with Him. All the promises of God will be YES to you in Christ.

And this is true no matter what you have done. No matter how terribly you have sinned. No matter what you have thought. No matter what you have considered.

You can have full forgiveness in Christ. You can have HIS perfect righteousness credited to your account.

If you call on His Name.

So call on Him! And then proclaim His Gospel, proclaim His Name to the ends of the earth.

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