‘What’s in a Name?’ Acts 4:1-22 Sermon

We praise God for the opportunity to share at our church this past Sunday.   
We hope you enjoy the message:

What does your name mean to you? What about other titles you’ve been given to describe you? How has your name or title influenced your life?

Names certainly can be quite meaningful and influential. They can speak to our identity. Parents often take months to think up names for their future children. Whether you hate or love your own name affects your life. Names are significant.

So when we read the Bible and characters are named or titled, it is good to notice these, to reflect on how these influence the story. Names and titles in the Bible can orient us to particular times and places. Some are loaded and carry lots of history with them.

In Acts chapter 4, there are a lot of characters mentioned, and they represent the bigger struggle around working out who Jesus was and what God was doing in the story. So as we look at Acts chapter 4 together this morning, I want us to consider what is in the names or titles of those mentioned in the story. What do these names or titles tell us? And how do they relate to the name of Jesus?

Acts 4:1-4 — Titles with the weight of recent history

As chapter 4 of the book of Acts opens, we are met with several characters at once – the priests, the captain of the temple guard, the Sadducees, and Peter and John speaking to a crowd.

These groups of people who confront Peter and John represent the religious elite of Jerusalem, and they carry the weight of recent history with them.

The title ‘priests’ in Jerusalem identify those who had condemned Jesus as a false king before the Roman authorities. The priests plotted Jesus’ death and advocated for his crucifixion. They also later bribed the soldiers who were stationed at Jesus’ tomb in order to silence them about Jesus’ resurrection. The priests have done everything in their power to stop Jesus and to silence stories about the resurrection of Jesus. So they are indeed greatly disturbed at what Peter and John are proclaiming about Jesus. The title ‘priests’ means they have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures. If Jesus is who Peter and John are claiming he is, then the priests have misread and misunderstood the Scriptures they are supposed to be the experts in.  

The title ‘captain of the temple guard’ is also mentioned in verse 1. This name has a backstory too, for the captain of temple guard arranged for Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, and he carried out Jesus’ arrest. The captain of the temple guard then oversaw the mocking and beatings of Jesus. The captain of the guard was given the responsibility of sealing Jesus’ tomb and posting someone to watch it. And he accepted a bribe to keep him out of trouble when his guards fainted at Jesus’ resurrection. So of course, he also is deeply disturbed that Peter and John are proclaiming that Jesus is alive. It makes the captain of the temple guard look incompetent because he failed to ensure that Jesus stayed in his grave, and this was an executable offense if the Roman governor pressed charges.

The Sadducees are also mentioned in verse 1. The Sadducees were the main ruling class of the elite priests, and they rejected the idea of resurrection and an afterlife. They had questioned Jesus to try to trap him into saying there was no afterlife, and Jesus had silenced them. So of course they are upset at claims that Jesus rose from the dead. Such claims invalidate their teaching.

These are people who confront Peter and John. Enemies of Jesus, who used their power to arrest and execute Jesus, and who have many reasons to want Peter and John silenced.  

Peter and John are fishermen. They know these religious rulers have crucified Jesus and may do the same to them.

When Peter was questioned about Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested, he denied even knowing him. John stood by Jesus’ mother Mary at the cross and watched Jesus die, and then went into hiding with the other disciples. These are not the kind of guys you’d expect to stand up to the authorities.

Something must have happened to make Peter and John, who were scared and in hiding, change into the kind of people who could stand before the enemies of Jesus and proclaim him in a way that caused thousands to believe their message.

In verse 3, the religious rulers use their power to have Peter and John imprisoned. And if the religious rulers present weren’t intimidating enough for Peter and John, the authorities call in the big guns next.

Acts 4:5-7 — Names = power, character, authority

Verse 5, the religious elite meet to plot against Peter and John. In verse 6, there are a couple more names that carry the weight of authority in this context.

Annas is the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. The Gospel of John records that when Jesus was arrested, they took him first to Annas. Annas was the high priest in power before Caiaphas, so the title given to him is honorific as he was the patriarch of the family, meaning that his family would honour his wishes.

Annas then sent Jesus to Caiaphas for questioning. Caiaphas was the current high priest in office under Pontius Pilate. Caiaphas had been part of the plot to kill Jesus at least from the time Jesus performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Caiaphas is among those concerned that everyone in the Jewish nation would start to believe in Jesus, and that this would place the Jewish nation under the direct threat of brutalisation by the Roman empire, who were occupying Jerusalem. So Caiaphas’ words that it was better that one man – Jesus – die for the people than the whole nation of Israel of perish were instrumental in the plot to kill Jesus.

In verse 7, they ask Peter and John a question that they often asked Jesus during his earthly ministry – ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ The ‘this’ refers to Peter and John miraculously healing a lame man and attracting a crowd to proclaim their message to.

In biblical times names are associated with power and character. So this is a question of authority. The religious elite would claim that theirs was the God-given authority on spiritual matters and scriptural messages. So they ask Peter and John this in order to undermine people’s ideas that the power to perform this healing miracle was given by God. And they do this to highlight the lack of power, character and authority on Peter and John’s part. If you can imagine a courtroom scene, they are calling into question the credibility of these witnesses and trying to cast doubt in the minds of the jurors, the people.

I think at this point in the story, it would be quite natural for Peter and John to be scared. Their judges are those who murdered Jesus, the same Jesus Peter and John are proclaiming and following. These judges are the very same people Peter and John hid from after Jesus’ death. And their judges have already demonstrated their authority to imprison them or worse.

I think it would also be quite natural and human for Peter and John to assert their own authority at this point. They might say – ‘God has chosen us to perform this miracle. We are not nobody’s. Look at the power we have – the power of healing, the power to make these people listen and believe. You should show some respect.’

And yet, this is not how Peter and John defend themselves.

Acts 4:8-10 — The name of Jesus is powerful

  Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. Whatever fear Peter had, whatever persecution he faces, these just melt away as the Holy Spirit empowers and emboldens him with confidence to speak.

In verse 8, Peter addresses the rulers and elders with respect to their title. In verse 9, he calls the miracle they performed an act of kindness, which I think shows some humility. And he gives Jesus all the credit. In verse 10, he says, ‘It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.’ The name of Jesus has the power. Peter and John have experienced a power far greater than the religious rulers they stand before.

Peter proclaims that Jesus has the power to save– even those who rejected and murdered Jesus – verse 10, Peter highlights that you and all Israel can know this. Jesus offers God’s salvation to them too. All who their trust in Jesus can experience resurrection from the dead and life eternal with Jesus in God’s family home forever.

The very name of Jesus has power and meaning.

Acts 4:12-14 — Jesus means ‘God saves’

The name Jesus means, ‘God saves’. This is why Peter says there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved in verse 12. The name of Jesus means God saves. And Jesus’ character demonstrated clearly God’s salvation. Jesus’ message and actions showed clearly that God saves from whatever oppresses – sin, poverty, demons, illness, natural disasters, powerful forces, even death – Jesus has authority over everything and everyone. And in Acts, Jesus pours out his Holy Spirit on his followers, giving them the power and authority to continue his work.

I love that in verse 13, the religious rulers are astonished by the courage of Peter and John. They can see that these men have been with Jesus, that they do really believe, and that there is a power there that they cannot explain away.

Acts 4:18-22Jesus -> people praising God

  Verse 18, the rulers use their authority to try to suppress the name of Jesus being used by Jesus’ followers. They threaten, but, verse 21, at the moment these authorities don’t know what to do. So for now, they release Peter and John, even with the knowledge that Peter and John have every intention of continuing to proclaim salvation in the name of Jesus. Because the people are praising God. The name of Jesus should have this effect – people praising God.

Taking it Home

As we seek to connect what Acts 4 teaches us to our own lives, I think the biggest take home message is that the name of Jesus is significant for us still today. Jesus’ name has authority and power – and so when we pray, the scriptures invite us to pray in the name of Jesus. This means we pray in his power and authority for those things that are consistent with his message, his character and his desires.

We also give thanks for the name of Jesus. Jesus means God saves us, the salvation of God means that in this life we are blessed with God’s presence whatever we are facing in life, we are empowered by his Spirit to do the good things he would have us do, we are blessed to know God more and more through his Word, and we are given authority to proclaim God’s salvation through Jesus to others. And through Jesus, we are promised that even after death, we will rise again to be with Jesus forever.

We are privileged to be named after Jesus Christ when we are called Christians. Unfortunately, many Christians and church leaders have brought dishonour to the name of Jesus. This makes it harder for us to share Jesus with others, and so we continually need to seek the Lord and find ways to honour the name of Jesus.

I invite you this week to reflect on what Jesus’ name means to you, I invite you to give thanks for Jesus and the salvation he offers, and I invite you to pray in the name of Jesus and consider how to share Jesus in ways that bring honour to God.

Making it Real

1. What does the name ‘Jesus’ mean to you personally? When do you use the name of Jesus (if ever)?
2. What are some reasons you personally give thanks for Jesus?
3. What are some ways that we as a church can share Jesus with those who don’t know him in a way that honours him?

Acts 4:1-22 (NIV)

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’[a]

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

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