In the Name of Jesus Christ 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:5-12 ———– 1 John 3:16-24 ———- April 25, 2021 ———- John 10:11-18
A few weeks ago, it was Easter Sunday. We celebrated the resurrection, and were reminded that we are “Easter People.” William Willimon explains it this way: “Resurrection is not just something that happened to dead Jesus. Resurrection is also something that happens to the dead followers of Jesus! Easter keeps happening, as Jesus keeps talking to us, keeps revealing and showing himself to us.”
Our scriptures for today are about people who have resurrection power flowing through them, and about how followers of Jesus today can be full of that power as well.
The story I want to share with you today comes, again, from Leo Tolstoy. It is entitled, Two Old Men. It is about two longtime friends, Efim and Elisha, who lived in the same village. They had taken a vow to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem—considered a way to grow spiritually and to please God. They would be walking all the way (except for ship passage from Odessa to Jaffa), and the journey was intended to be as important as the actual destination in terms of spiritual growth.
They came to a village in The Ukraine where the previous year’s crop had failed. Hospitality for pilgrims was non-existent, and even food for purchase was scarce. Elisha needed to stop for a drink of water, while Efim walked ahead and waited. When Elisha went into the yard of a peasant hut, he saw a man who looked nearly dead. Inside the hut, things were no better. Everyone was weak and sick for lack of nutrition. He had gone there for a drink of water, but he ended up sharing his bread and helping to nurse the dying ones back to life. He had intended to catch up to his friend and continue their journey—but he could not leave these folks in such dire straits.
The family had sold their horse and their cart, along with most of their household possessions, just to stay alive—so Elisha bought them another horse and cart and cooking supplies and cookware. And then, since his travel money was mostly gone, he slipped away and returned to his village, telling everyone there that he had lost his money and had to come home.
Meanwhile, Efim had fallen asleep while waiting for Elisha, and when he awoke he thought his friend had passed him unseen on the side of the road. So he hurried along his way, expecting to catch up with him before they reached the seaport in Odessa. He ended up traveling all the way to Jerusalem without seeing his friend, but hoped to see him while there.
And, as it turns out, he DID see him in Jerusalem! While attending a Russian-language mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he saw an old man whose bald, shining head was just like Elisha’s. As he watched him, he saw that it WAS Elisha—and he was so pleased!
After the mass, he tried to find his friend in the crowd, but he could not. Two more times he went to this sacred site, and he saw his friend with his arms spread out and his bald head shining—but he could never get to him after the service. After six weeks of visiting all the special sites, Efim started for home again. As he passed through the village where the two of them had become separated, he saw the very hut that Elisha had gone into—and a little girl ran out to him and said, “Daddy! Daddy! Come to our house!” She grabbed his coat and said, “Come in, Grandfather! Have supper and spend the night with us!”
Efim was feasted like an honored guest, and he thanked the mother for her kindness to a pilgrim. “We have good reason to welcomed pilgrims,” she said. “It was a pilgrim who showed us what life is!” She explained all that had been done for her dying family, and said, “We don’t know whether it was a man or an angel from God.” The whole family joined in and told the story of this miraculous saint. Efim said to himself, “So that is how he got ahead of me. God may or may not have accepted my pilgrimage, but He has certainly accepted his!”
When he finally reached their village, Efim went straight to see Elisha to tell what he had seen and heard. Elisha was alarmed, and said, “God’s business, neighbor, God’s business!” And he changed the subject. Efim now understood that the best way to keep one’s vows to God and to do His will is for each one, while he lives, to show love and do good to others.
By What Name? (Acts 4)
In Acts, chapter 3, we read: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him!
Then Peter preached to the amazed crowd. He reminded them of Jesus (whom they had disowned—and crucified). “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” He went on to call them to repent and turn to Jesus. And the church grew by 5,000 believers that day!
The temple authorities were disturbed because of this preaching, and they arrested Peter and John. Today’s reading from Acts is the record of their TRIAL. Members of the high-priestly family questioned their authority to do what they were doing. They asked, “By what power or by what name did you heal this crippled man?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, turned the tables and put THEM on trial!
He said, “We have been arrested for a good deed done to a sick man. You ask how this man has been healed? This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED (he didn’t cut them any slack!) Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead!”
Then Peter quoted from Psalm 118: This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by the builders (you); it has become the chief cornerstone.’ Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who had run in fear when Jesus was on trial, denying that he even knew him.
He continued to preach to these powerful leaders: “There is salvation in no one else. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” The leaders were astonished, but they couldn’t do anything to Peter and John because the man who had been healed was standing there as living proof. They privately conferred: “What are we going to do with these men? Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an out-standing miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
So they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (They were powerful bullies, and accustomed to having people obey them!) But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Don’t forget: they were commissioned by Jesus as WITNESSES.)
The religious authorities threatened them, but did not punish them because all the people were praising God for what had happened! And they continued to spread the good news of Jesus.
Love in Truth and Action (1John 3)
The author of our Epistle reading from 1 John is the same man who was with Peter in the big adventure in Acts that we have just been looking at! And John has laid out a recipe for how you and I might experience Resurrection Power. The basic ingredient is Godly LOVE, combined with obedience to what God is telling us in love. William Willimon puts it this way: “Jesus doesn’t ask for hearers—he wants followers, disciples, folk who say what he says and do what he does in their daily lives.”
John says that, in God’s name (and by God’s power), you and I ought to lay down our lives for each other. This sounds very dramatic, but think about this humble example of laying down one’s life: Susan Boyle wanted to pursue a profession as a singer—but she cared for her sick mother until she passed on. Then Susan went on Britain’s Got Talent and simply wowed the crowd! While her mother needed her, Susan laid down her life for her.
Then, John asks: “How does God’s love live in us if we have everything we need, and we see a brother or sister in need, and yet refuse to help?” Then he goes on: “Let us LOVE (not in words or speech) but in ACTION.”
Over the years, I have counseled with a number of couples who were having problems. Sometimes, the problem was one of LOVE—where the phrase “I Love You” was used often enough, but the actions of one partner or another didn’t express that love. We know love when we SEE it! And we see God’s love in that Christ laid down his life for us. When we lay down our lives for one another, then the truth of LOVE will be known!
This is his commandment, that we should 1. Believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ, and 2. Love one another, just as God commanded us.
Let me finish with this thought: You and I can look for ways that followers of Christ demonstrate the Resurrection Power of the NAME. And we can use that power to love one another in the Name of Jesus Christ. Back in the 16th Century, there was a nun known as Teresa of Avila. She wrote this insightful line: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours…Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world; Yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”