The In-Between Years - Part 21

Series: The In-Between Years

October 18, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 21

I heard once of a pastor who preached a series of sermons so powerful and effective that his church had them transcribed into a book. They handed him a copy as a surprise gift. He wasn’t happy as you might expect because those sermons were not his. He was forced to confess his plagiarism to the church.

There is nothing wrong with a pastor getting insight and help from other pastors, but I learned a long time ago it’s wise and honest to give credit where credit is due. So I’m going to go ahead and let you know much of what I’m sharing with you today comes from a message preached by my all-time favorite pastor, Tim Keller, whom I quote often.

In my studies for this message I learned other preachers did the same. Some didn’t give him credit.

Okay, so we are well into our series The In-Between Years: A Look at the Church in the Book of Acts. We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at the account of the lame man’s healing in chapters three and four. I love this story. One minute a man crippled from birth is begging for alms in the temple complex and the next he’s arrested along with Peter and John, confidently standing before the Jewish leaders. He’s standing, ya’ll! Healed and whole both physically and spiritually.

In between it all Peter preaches another powerful message as well as gives a bold account before those same Jewish leaders of how the man was healed. 

The big moment of this whole affair is in Acts 4:13-14…

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 (ESV)

I get so fired up when I read that. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, if you’ve spent time with Jesus you are qualified to stand before councils and kings to give an account of what God’s done in your life. 

What really blows my mind here is that it was the beggar’s silent presence that shut the Jewish elders down! Because he fearlessly expressed his newfound faith by just boldly being there “they had nothing to say in opposition.” Man, I almost would like to preach that again.

But today, I want to home in on something from Peter’s defense we came across last time that really needs to be handled all by itself. Something Peter proclaimed that we need to unpack. Let’s go back and take a look…

5 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?” 8 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. 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 4:5–12 (ESV)

Peter’s last statement before the council is what we want to focus on this morning. Concerning Jesus, Peter said…

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 (ESV)

We hear that today as 21 century Western Christians coming out of a culture steeped in Judeo-Christian ideals sitting in a church on Sunday morning and we go, “AMEN! That’s right! Preach!” But back then, what Peter said about Jesus was highly offensive. It was offensive to the Jews, to the Romans, and pretty much everyone else. That’s why both groups did all they could to shut down such a radical message. 

Keller explains why the Jews were so offended….

Let’s notice right off the bat what’s going on with the Jewish leaders themselves. In [chapter] 4, we see them responding to a sermon that was actually preached in chapter 3. Now if you go over into chapter 3… you are going to find that Peter has said a number of things.

One of them is that Jesus Christ has gone to heaven and he’s going to come back, and when he comes back, he’s going to restore everything. That’s 3:21. He’s going to restore everything. Everything is going to be fine. No suffering, no death, no sorrows. He also says in verse 25 of chapter 3 that through Jesus Christ, the whole world will be blessed. So when he says in 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ,” that’s just a summary of what he had been saying in chapter 3.

The reason this was so appalling to the leaders was this: Many Jews did believe there was a messiah coming. They hoped in a messiah. But they hoped for a man who would be a great leader, who would help them throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. In other words, they believed in a private messiah. They believed in a messiah for the Jews.

But Peter is proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Messiah for the world. He’s the Savior for the whole world. He’s a universal Savior. Therefore, the Jewish leaders and their whole interpretation of the Old Testament and their understanding of the role of the Jewish nation are completely wrong, so they’re thrown into jail. Why? Because he made universal claims where people were expecting a savior just for a certain group of people. “No,” Peter says. “Jesus is the Savior for everyone.”[1]

Jesus wasn’t the Messiah the Jews had been looking for, so Peter’s making such a bold, absolute statement about him was more than they could handle. We’ll see how they responded next time.

We get why the Jews were so offended, but why were the Romans equally ticked off? You wouldn’t think they would be considering how pluralistic they were when it came to religion. Back then non-Jews had their gods but those deities were local and limited in a sense. They were associated with a region or a group or even a vocation but no one really claimed their god or gods were superior to all the others, at least they better not when it came to the Romans. The Romans conquered the civilized world by coming in with all their military might saying, “Hey, we won’t take all you have and enslave your people if you just surrender, accept our rule, and pay taxes. We’ll let you keep things pretty much the way they are, including your religion, as long as you leave the door open to worship the emperor as well.”

Few resisted such a deal. The Jews might be the only ones the Romans allowed to fudge a little. So the Romans of the early church’s day were very pluralistic, very open to and welcoming of other religions as long as they were down to include emperor worship. Keller explains why they too were still so offended by the gospel…

…the Romans said, “You can worship your god. Everybody has their own god. You have your god. Every town, every people, has a god. That’s fine. Worship your god. That’s great. But you must also worship the emperor. You must say, ‘Kaiser curios,‘” which means Caesar is Lord. “You can worship your god, as long as you also worship Caesar.”

Now what’s disingenuous about saying, “Oh, you can have your own religion, as long as you worship Caesar too” is if you worship your god and Caesar, that means by definition you can’t be claiming that your god is the supreme god over all. Of course, Christians couldn’t do that. They couldn’t say, “Kaiser curios.” They could only say, “Christos (Christ) is Lord.” That brought them into tremendous conflict with the Roman government.[2]

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 (ESV)

That statement was offensive 2,000 years ago and it still is today. Why? For the very same reasons. The Jews still don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, and the world as a whole — and certainly our modern Western culture — is even more pluralistic.

How dare we Christians make such a truth claim? That Jesus is the only way to heaven. A truth implying all other other faiths are wrong. How narrow. How dangerous. We are getting ready to colonize Mars, for goodness sake, so you can’t go around saying such backwards, old-fashioned, unenlightened things. “… Your neighbors are Hindus and Muslims and atheists and secular people. You have to get with the times. You can no longer make universal claims. You can no longer say your truth is the truth or that your religion is the one right religion. You need to adapt. If people are going to believe in Jesus and not be offended by Christianity, you have to adapt and you have to say that all religions are equally valid, that youre not the only right religion. Then we can live in peace.”[3]

We are fine to preach Jesus as long as we don’t preach Jesus as a supreme savior. We can believe in him, but we can’t say he’s the only way to God, that faith in him is superior to all others. That he’s better than and above Mohammed and Buddha and even Moses.

Yet Peter without a doubt is proclaiming Jesus as being superior to all others in Acts 4:12. Now, if the only ones saying that about Jesus were his disciples we might could say — as many do — that they made him into a supreme savior he was never meant to be. Jesus was nothing more than a good teacher and great example who never saw himself as better than anyone else. It was his followers many years later who turned him into the one name under heaven by which people must be saved.

Here’s the problem with that. Jesus himself made that claim…

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 (ESV) 

Keller says…

That may sound very arrogant, but the fact is that Jesus himself said that, and because he said that and no other religious founder said it … No other religious founder claimed to work at that level. Therefore, there’s no way to just believe in Jesus as if he’s the same as others.

A perfect example and a poignant example to me  [is]… Toyohiko Kagawa, a great Japanese Christian leader a couple of generations ago, [who] tells the story of his conversion … He says something like, “I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, for Confucianism. I owe much to these faiths. Yet they could not meet me at the moment of my heart’s deepest needs.

I was a pilgrim journeying on a long road that had no turning. I was weary. I was footsore. I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick. Buddhism teaches great compassion, but since the beginning of time, who has ever said, ‘This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sin’?”

Do you hear that? He says, “I learned a lot from Buddhism, but Buddha never said, ‘My blood has been poured out to cleanse you from sin, to put you right with God.’ ” Buddha didn’t say anything like that. Confucius never said anything like that. Muhammad never said anything like that. See, these other people never made claims like that. They could say, “Follow my teaching. Do this. Here’s the way to God,” but nobody came down to this level, Kagawa was saying. “Nobody met me at this level.”[4]

Here’s the thing about Jesus in comparison to all the other religious figures like Buddha and Mohammed, either he is who he says he is — the only way to God, making Peter’s statement correct — or he’s inferior to all others. There’s no middle ground.

CS Lewis very famously said… 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 

Everybody loves the Jesus who pets lambs and has the children come and sit in his lap. Everybody loves the Jesus who heals the blind and the lame, who cares for the poor and holds up the outcast. Everybody loves the Jesus who sticks it to the man by putting the religious hypocrites in their place.

But not very many today loves or even likes the Jesus who says, “No one goes to heaven, no one knows the way, no one knows the truth, no one has the life, except through me. These words are devastatingly exclusive.

There’s a popular bumper sticker I see often. It has the word COEXIST on it, with the letters representing all the major religions.

In one sense, I’m all for that. Christianity isn't about destroying the infidels. As Christians, we are all for coexisting with other faiths. But the message of this bumper sticker goes much deeper than all of us just getting along. It implies that no one faith has all the answers. They are all just one way of many to the same place. That no faith has the right to be exclusive. There’s a famous story some use illustrate this idea.

“Every religion is like six blind men grabbing an elephant. One blind man grabs the trunk and says, ‘God is like a hose.’ Another blind man grabs the elephant’s leg and says, ‘No, God is more like a tree stump.’ Another person grabs the elephant’s tail and says, ‘No, God is more like a string.’ So, you see, every religion has part of the truth, but nobody sees all the truth.”

That sounds mighty convincing. But think about this. The only way you could know this is true, is to be able to stand back and see the whole elephant at one time.

The only possible way to say all religions are relative and should just coexist, to say there can’t be just one way to God, to say all religions are like blind men feeling an elephant, to say “Nobody has superior knowledge,” is to assume you have the superior knowledge you just said nobody else is supposed to have.

Keller says…

How could all religions be equally valid? If they are, there are only two possible premises. It might be true that all religions are equally valid if there’s no God and everybody’s version of God is sort of a projection, an imagination or if there’s a God who’s so impersonal, such an impersonal force, that this God doesn’t care what you believe. So to say all religions are fine and equally valid, even though they have contradictory claims, would only be true if there’s no God or there’s a God who doesn’t care what you believe, who’s a very impersonal force.

If this is your view, friends, and you come to Christians and say, “You shouldn’t believe you have the one true religion; you should believe all religions are ways to God, all religions are equally valid, all religions can be helpful,” what you’re actually doing is saying, “I have a particular view of God (because to say all religions are equally valid assumes a particular view of God), and you must adopt it, Christians. You must adopt my view and abandon your view.”

Wait a minute. What are you doing? Are you being inclusive? No. What you’re saying is, “I have a take on God. I have a take on spiritual reality. The world ought to adopt mine. You should abandon yours.” What are you doing? You’re evangelizing me. You’re trying to convert me. You’re trying to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong. My take on spirituality is right and your take of spirituality reality is wrong.”

What is that? That’s exactly the thing you’re telling Christians they shouldn’t do. The only difference between what you’re doing and what we’re doing is that you won’t admit it. Therefore, it’s hypocritical. If it’s narrow and wrong to say there’s one true religion, then it would have to be narrow and wrong to say there’s one true way to think about religion. My way. In other words, what you’re really doing is being every bit as exclusive; you’re just not admitting it.[5]

That’s definitely a mic drop on the matter. But we have to be careful about being smug. About thinking that we are superior because we believe in and follow a supreme savior. When Peter made that statement in Acts 4:12 2,000 years ago there was no air of superiority about him. He wasn’t setting himself above the unbelieving Jews who arrested him. He was humbly proclaiming a truth he believed with all his heart because of what he had experienced: Jesus really had come back from the dead and transformed his life. 

That’s why the gospel prospered so even though it included such an offensive message. The early church was made up of men and women who had been transformed by a risen Lord, men and women who were so changed by their relationship with Jesus they humbly and lovingly and fearlessly convinced the world Jesus was who he said he was. This is how those first Christians were able to turn the world upside down. 

The church today, at least from what I see happening at the moment in our nation, seems to have an air of smugness. We preach Acts 4:12 alright, but we don’t do it with humble hearts. And we’re even mingling other things in with it like politics and such. 

Every time I take a certain road to a certain place I see a home with yard signs. One says, “It’s all about Jesus.” The other right beside it promotes their candidates for president and vice-president.

This is why the church isn’t turning the world upside down these days. 

Conclusion: Jesus didn’t say no one goes to heaven except through him to be mean. He didn't say it because he was jealous of other religions. He said it and Peter preached it because it was and is true. 

That’s very exclusive, yes. But here’s the other side of the coin. It’s also incredibly and unbelievably inclusive. Peter also preached this sometime earlier…

21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  Acts 2:21 (ESV)

Peter’s message is the good news that even bad people can go to heaven. Even bad people can have their sins forgiven and records wiped clean. His message is that the elephant actually talked, and here’s what he said…

35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  Luke 9:35 (ESV)

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[2] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[3] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[4] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[5] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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