Scripture: Acts 4:1-22
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Recall from last week that Peter and John, common fishermen, have boldly claimed healing in the name of Jesus alone, and a lamed man is healed, leaping and praising God in the Temple. You do remember that it wasn’t Peter and John who actually healed, it was Jesus; more specifically, it was the name of Jesus alone that caused complete transformation to a praising, leaping man of health.
Peter, now a prisoner with the others, is summoned for trial. They are asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The book of Acts, chapter 4 tells us,
“8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”
Rev. Dr. Tom Long writes,
“Notice how the issue has shifted. Originally the issue was healing, resurrection, and the mercy of God; now the issue was power. The inquisitors did not ask, “What is the meaning of these things?” or “How did they happen?” They asked, “Where do you get the power to do this? Who authorized you to do and say these things?”
Long goes on to say,
“There are two main reasons why power was suddenly introduced into the equation. The first of these is control. The author of Acts presents the religious authorities as jealously protective of their franchise on religion. They wanted people to be prayerful and faithful, but to do so under the exclusive banner of the temple and its protocols. The early Christian movement, however, was an outbreak of the Holy Spirit, spreading like wildfire. It could not be contained in the normal channels or regulated by rules and structures.”
I wonder, if we were to look through Dr. Long’s lens at our own church and time, would we find the same issues at stake? Have we begun to feel anxious that people of the Spirit are walking away from Religion? If so, why are we anxious? Are we too keen on control? “By what power do [we] do…” what we do? Luckily, we have every license to let go of control. The Holy Spirit blows where it will, to whom it will; who are we to try and quell it, control it, box it up and only allow our own little piece of God’s vast Kingdom to access it? Not that Presbyterians are well known for that in the first place!
I can see how some might be tempted to interpret today’s passage, especially the line “there is salvation in no one else” to mean there are only two options: Jesus followers and non-Jesus followers. Thankfully, that is not the intent of this pericope, when taken in full context. In full conversation with the surrounding texts, it is a critique of those who are attempting to control Spiritual freedom and power, i.e. the institution of the Temple. Instead, it is quite clear that,
“The purpose of this passage is to announce that no human being or human authority can erect a religious tent—a temple or a church or a movement—and say, “Unless you come into my tent, you cannot have God.” God has acted on behalf of the whole of humanity in Jesus Christ, and there is “no other name,” no human channel, that can make exclusive claim to religious power—no denomination, no one theology, no sect, no franchise on the power of the Spirit.”
Now I’d like to add another layer of exegetical depth to that. New Testament scholar Paul Walaskay says,
“The final sentence of Peter’s speech elevates the conversation to a higher plane. “There is salvation (soteria) in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given [note the divine passive] among mortals by which we must (dei) be saved (soœzoœ).” The term “salvation” (and its cognate “saved”) has a wide range of meanings, including physical healing (the context of this passage), rescue from bondage, and spiritual wholeness. For Peter and the early church, the human name “Jesus” contained power beyond any other name one could utter. By declaring that by this name we “must be saved” Peter is alluding to the real power behind this name. “Must” (dei) is a theologically loaded term frequently used in the Gospels to speak of God’s will. This little verb refers to unwavering divine necessity.”
Now let me backpedal a little bit and unpack that. Commentator Barbara Brown Taylor writes that it is crucial we hear Peter’s sermon and specifically verse 12 with first-century ears. It is only in contemporary times that scriptural interpretation has been hung-up on Christian exclusivity. Peter is not speaking to Christians engaged in interfaith dialog; he is not addressing faiths outside Judaism, even. He “is addressing the authorities in his own religious tradition. He is defending himself within his own family of faith.”
Peter’s defense, or at least Luke’s retelling of Peter’s defense, makes three incredibly brilliant moves. So brilliant one would never take Peter to be a fisherman, but would think he was as rigorously trained as a Scribe, a Sadducee or a Pharisee himself; which is all the more indication that indeed, the Holy Spirit is with him and speaking through him.
First, he re-frames the charge against John and himself. A good deed has been done to a lame man, which is then framed as an act of kindness. In an Honor/Shame society, acts of kindness are one way of building honor. The second thing he does is redefine the charge. Peter, as noted above, doesn’t ever say he and John did the deed. He used the passive voice of a good deed having been done, and the man has been healed…implying the outside force of divine intervention. Third, Peter appropriately appropriates, within a Rabbinical sense, sacred scripture in his and John’s defense when he deliberately mis-quotes Psalm 118:22: “The stone that was rejected by you, the builders, it has become the cornerstone.”
Strong words indeed from a fisherman. I wonder, what might it look like if we all spoke truth to power as he did? I would be remiss if I did not also add especially when it comes to the current political climate on this Earth Day, of all days, in our contemporary times. May the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth strengthen us to say what needs to be said! The health and well-being of all humanity is at stake.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
What does it mean to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16)? Think about people who have been “good shepherds” for you, sharing the love and showing the way of Jesus Christ. Who has helped to lead you in right paths or walked with you in dark valleys? Who has given you comfort and calmed your fears? Who has shown you hospitality and grace, making a place at the table for you, even when you felt surrounded by enemies? How have you done these things for others?
Household Prayer: Morning
Good shepherd, walk beside me
through the joy and trouble of this day,
and lead me in right paths
for your name’s sake. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Good shepherd, remain with me
in the dark and stillness of this night,
and let me lie down in safety
to restore my soul. Amen.
 Tom Long, “Pastoral Perspective, Acts 4:5-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Paul W. Walaskay, “Exegetical Perspective, Acts 4:5-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective, Acts 4:5-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0