No other name.
A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter
April 23, 2023 at Holy Communion
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
A perplexing little passage of scripture has been stealing the show for the past several weeks. Psalm 118, verse 22, says that “the same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” This was the Gradual Psalm for Easter Day and for the First Sunday after Easter. Today it makes a stealthy appearance in our Lesson from Acts chapter 4. Peter, preaching to the “rulers of the people and elders,” says that Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.”
The psalm is a prophecy that the Messiah would be rejected by those in charge of maintaining the house of Israel (this happens at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion), but would ultimately be vindicated as the true cornerstone of that house nonetheless (and this happens at the resurrection).
For Peter to use the Psalm verse to accuse the rulers of rejecting the Messiah is part of a pattern. In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, Peter accuses his own people of colluding with the Romans to kill Jesus (Acts 2:23). In his sermon to the crowd in the temple immediately before our reading from Acts, Peter repeats this accusation (Acts 3:13–15), and then in our reading today he aims it specifically at the people’s rulers (Acts 4:10–11).
Peter’s argument is that the authority of the Jewish and Roman rulers who condemned Jesus to death is overturned by the resurrection. The people need to stop trusting the false builders, and start leaning on the true cornerstone.
The themes of Easter season are surprisingly political—but not in the sense of “the left” arguing with “the right.” Easter is political because the readings constantly ask us to think about what real authority is, and what a good society is. The authorities of the world demonstrated that they fundamentally operate by violence when they crucified the Lord God. But then God demonstrated his superior authority by leaping up unscathed from the grave. The risen Christ is the cornerstone of a new building, the leader of a new society which operates on the basis of his self-emptying generosity and irrepressible life. We heard about that society last week: “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44).
Peter concludes his sermon by saying that, other than Jesus, “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). To modern ears this sounds like a claim that Christianity is the only true religion. That may be implied, but it’s not what Peter is going for.
Earlier in the reading, when the rulers saw that Peter was preaching in the temple, they challenged him by asking who authorized and empowered the healing of a lame man which started the whole ruckus. They ask, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter doesn’t answer by saying, “I did this in the high priest’s name,” or even something more spiritual like, “I did this in Moses’ name,” but “I did it by the only name that counts: the name of Jesus.“ Peter tells the crowd that, despite all the authorities which claim to hold power over the temple, or the city, or the empire, only one authority is able to save their souls: the authority of Jesus, risen from the grave.
On Easter Day we heard from St Paul that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). The rest of Easter is about explaining what this means. And today it means that, just as we have died to the vices which Paul goes on to list in that passage, we have also died to our habit of trusting in any other name than the name of Jesus.
Christ, risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God, holds authority over every power in heaven and earth, “visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:16). The powers that claim our loyalty have lost it. Now we live and act in the name of Jesus, and can recognize no power which would ask us to be unfaithful to him.
The reason why this needs to be preached every Easter is that we are utterly submerged by the claims of worldly authorities and powers. We can hardly take a breath, we can hardly set foot outside our door or turn on our phones, without the powers of the world trying to set the agenda for what we desire, what we buy, what we believe, whom we trust, whom we hate, what we consider acceptable, and what we consider unacceptable. And we buy it. We trust in all sorts of names other than the name of Jesus.
But it need not be so with you; you are risen with Christ, and “now you have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.“ The task of this Easter is to realize our freedom, and to learn to follow our Good Shepherd. So cut out the noise. The voices of power which would persuade you to trust in anyone or anything else are lying. But as Christians you know this. Jesus says, “My sheep know my voice, but they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4–5).