Beliefs about Jesus vary across generational groups in our culture. The Barna Group takes the pulse of Christianity from time to time and here’s what the survey says… Where do you fit in? Internet Generation or Gen-Zers were born 2001 to the present. Millennials or Gen-Yers were the generation born between 1984 and 2002. Gen-Xers were born between 1965 and 1983. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Elders were born between 1945 or earlier. The church is made up people who espouse all sorts of values that range across the spectrum, but the following five concepts are particularly interesting for us as we compare the beliefs of the early church to what we believe today.
Jesus is a real person. The Barna Group says, “More than nine out of 10 adults say Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived (92%). While the percentages dip slightly among younger generations—only 87 percent of Millennials agree Jesus actually lived—Americans are still very likely to believe the man, Jesus Christ, once walked the earth.”
Jesus is God. The Barna Group says, “The historicity of Jesus may not be in question for most Americans, but people are much less confident in the divinity of Jesus. Most adults—not quite six in 10—believe Jesus was God (56%), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26%). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18%).”
Jesus is sinless. The Barna Group says, “Perhaps reflective of their questions about Jesus’ divinity, Americans are conflicted on whether Jesus committed sins during his earthly life. About half of Americans agree, either strongly or somewhat, that while he lived on earth, Jesus Christ was human and committed sins like other people (52%). Just less than half disagree, either strongly or somewhat, that Jesus committed sins while on earth (46%), and 2 percent aren’t sure.”
I have made a commitment to Jesus. The Barna Group says, “On the whole, America is still committed to Jesus. The act of making a personal commitment to Jesus—often seen as the “first step” in becoming a Christian—is a step that more than six in 10 Americans say they have taken and, moreover, that commitment is still important in their life today.”
I have sinned. The Barna Group says, “Only 2 of 5 Americans believe they have personal sin.”
I will go to heaven because I believe in Jesus. The Barna Group says, “20% of people believe they will go to heaven because they have tried to obey the Ten Commandments (5%), as a result of being basically a good person (8%), or on the grounds that God loves all people and will not let them perish (7%).”
I am born again. The Barna Group says, “Overall, roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as “born again Christians”).” This concept of being “born again” is foreign to many Christians as the concept is primarily the flagship phrase of the Southern Baptist Church. Christians shy away from the language as it has religious cultural bias.
Acts of the Apostles teaches us that we become born again when we accept Jesus and are filled with his Spirit.
Our Acts 3 passage for today has several key people – the lame man, Peter and John, the religious leaders, and the crowd. But the most important player in this passage is the One who is not seen – the Spirit of Jesus. Whenever we speak the name of Jesus we are pointing to a reality just beyond the senses. We are drawing our attention to the unseen reality of the Kingdom of God breaking into our world.
Jesus had instructed them to wait until they were filled with the Holy Spirit before they went out into the communities. Peter and John had experienced the fire of the Holy Spirit upon their personal lives before they were able to share the Good News to others. Jesus instructed them to begin with their inner-circle of friends – in Jerusalem. Then they were to stretch outward to the next level of people – in Judea. Then outward to Samaria – and onward to the end of the earth. These instructions can help us as well. We are to pay attention to those who are sitting at the gateway to worship.
This man was seated at the doorway to salvation but was never able to enter into the place of worship. Peter’s preaching was about Jesus being the Messiah, and the fulfillment of all the prophecies. The preaching of the Good News is past, present, and future! Peter doesn’t have any money. But he does have the name of Jesus and the faith that goes with it within him to share with others that will get the lame walking.
The key ingredient to salvation is the name of Jesus. Believers are to be baptized in the name of Jesus (2.38, 8.16, 10.48, 19.5). Believers are to be healed and delivered from evil through the name of Jesus (3.6, 16.18, 4.30, 19.13). Believers are to preach and speak in Jesus’ name (4.18, 5.40, 9.27-28). The name of Jesus carries authority and power. When we are baptized, we submit to Jesus’ authority. When we experience healing and the deliverance from evil, the believer appeals to the power of Jesus to perform the cure. When we preach the Good News, we are under the authorized sanction of Jesus.
Jesus is not a magic formula. The name of Jesus does not hold a kind of magic formula like the non-believing sons of Sceva illustrate (19.13). The Sons of Sceva invoked the “name of Jesus” over those who were demon-possessed to cast out the evil inside the person (Acts 19.13). But when the demonic resisted, the Sons of Sceva did not have the authority to invoke the “name of Jesus.” The Sons of Sceva created quite a scandal when the demon talked back, and beat them up.
Believers cannot decide what their need or want is then say the name of Jesus and expect Jesus to submit to their request or plead. Peter insists that the healing was accomplished through the name of Jesus and faith in his name (16). Here, “name of Jesus” refers to something done under the power and authority of the His name. Those acting “in the name of ” are conduits of the real source of power. But Peter also speaks of “faith in and through his name.” The source of all power is in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. Yet it is a power only made effective in the context of human faith.
Names are very important. When we reflect on this text, the essential ingredient in the man’s healing was the power in the name – Jesus! When we think about the use and purpose of a name, the first thing that comes to mind is how a name helps us to know others. We use a name to indentify and call a person. A name helps us to sort out one person from another in our thoughts. In our culture we use names in a conversational kind of way that does not appear on the surface to hold any power at all. However, in the Judeo-Christian culture names have always been important.
When we gaze across the pages of the Bible, we read about how important naming newborn babies were to the Hebrew people. The first naming we see in the bible happens when Adam names the animals. We read all sorts of babies being given special names across the pages of the Old Testament. The Hebrew community chose names that were meaningful to that person’s existence. For instance Moses was named from being drawn from the Nile waters.
We can read how God renames people who follow him like Abraham and Sarah. For instance Abram was named Abraham so that he would be recognized as the father of nations and Sarai was named Sarah. And, people gave God a new name when they encountered him. For instance the servant Haggar encountered Yahweh in the desert as she ran away from camp during her pregnancy with Ishmael. She declared that God was the One who sees her.
As a result of this show of power and authority in our passage in Acts 3, Peter and John come under scrutiny. The religious leaders wanted to make a political scene of the situation, but Peter and John were bound by their spirituality to point to the power and faith in the name of Jesus. The religious leaders did not want Peter and John to speak in Jesus’ name at all. To be sure there’s something special about that name. Before our Savior was born he was given his name from on high – Jesus. An angel told Mary that she would conceive a son and name him Jesus (Luke 1.31). Then Joseph encountered an angel in a dream who delivered the message that the child’s name shall be Jesus (Matt. 1.21). Even thought we see other nicknames for Jesus in the New Testament his given name is especially powerful.
In the Old Testament people have acted in the name of God as both true and false prophets. When we think of false prophets, we can remember Balaam who cursed Israel for money or the false prophets like the prophets of Egypt who could reproduce the same kinds of miracles that Moses performed. When we think of true prophets, we can remember Elijah and Elisha who performed life-giving miracles. In the New Testament believers all held the same kind of miraculous power as the true prophets of old. The same Spirit of God that empowered the prophets of Jewish history, empowered Jesus, empowered the acts of the apostles, and empower us today.
In the Old Testament “the name of the Lord” was not called upon lightly. In fact the name Yahweh was not written or spoken completely. By the 3rd BCE the name of God was so revered that people called God Lord or God but never by his special name Yahweh. One way this has been integrated into the Christian culture is in the word Hallelujah. In fact one of the 10 commandments is not taking the name of the Lord in vain. (See current Jewish insights here http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-names-of-god/).
The third command is that “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20.7).
When the name was spoken, it was invoked to both bless (Deut. 21.5, 2 Sam. 6.18, 1 Chr. 16.2, Psalm 118.26) and curse (2 Kings 2.24). “The name of the Lord” invoked oaths (Gen. 31.53, Is. 48.1), truth-telling (1 Kings 22.16), swearing (2 Chr. 18.15), discernment of the truth (Deut. 21.5), and the writing of official historical records (2 Chr. 33.18). “The name of the Lord” held power in defending (1 Sam. 17.45, Psalm 118.10-12), trusting (Psalm 20.7, Is. 50.10, Zeph. 3.12), testifying (Jer. 26.16), speaking (Jer. 44.16), prophesying (Ezra 5.1, Jer. 11.21), obeying (1 Chr. 21.19, Micah 4.5), serving (Deut. 18.7), and praising (1 Kings 18.32, Psalm 20.5).
In the New Testament Jesus is named Immanuel (Mt. 1.22-23), Light of the World (John 8.12), Child (Luke 2.4-7), Bread of Life (John 6.48-51), Physician (Luke 4.23), Lamb of God (John 1.29), King of Kings (Rev. 19.16), Path of Peace (Luke 1.79), Christ/Messiah (Mt. 16.15-17, 21-23, Acts 2.36), Rabbi/Rabbouni/Teacher (Mt. 23.8), Word (John 1.14), Cornerstone/Capstone (Luke 20.17), Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22.16), Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5.4-5), Lord (Phil. 2.9-11), Friend (John 15.13), Alpha & Omega (Rev. 22.13), Jesus the Savior (Mt. 1.20-21), Bridegroom/Husband, Son of David (Luke 1.32-33), Priest (Heb. 4.14), Prophet (Heb. 1.1), Son of God (Mt. 16.15-17), Son of Man (Mt. 16.13-21), Good Shepherd (John 10.11), Servant of God (Mt. 20.28), Redeemer (Mk. 10.45), and I AM (John 8.57-58).
The most significant use of “in the name” is used in the New Testament Gospels when Jesus arrives at Jerusalem for the Passover Festival (Matt. 21.9, Matt. 23.39, Mk. 11.9, Luke 19.38, John 12.13). It was here at the Passover that Jesus was blessed with Hosannas – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. The power of the name of Jesus was used significantly in the development of the early church (Acts 2.38, 3.6, 3.16, 4.10, 4.18, 5.40, 8.12, 9.27, 10.48, 16.18, 26.9). In the early church the “name of Jesus” was invoked for the forgiveness of sin, giving to the poor, expressing faith, preaching, speaking, teaching, baptizing, fearless witnessing, evangelizing, deliverance, and facing opposition to the Gospel.
A number of the New Testament letters invoke the power of the “name of Jesus” to bring unity (1 Cor. 1.10), justice (1 Cor. 5.3), thanksgiving (Col. 3.17), patience in suffering (James 5.10), praying (James 5.14), healing and anointing the sick (James 5.14), believing (1 John 3.23, 5.13), loving (1 John 3.23), baptizing, justifying, and sanctifying believers (1 Cor. 6.11). The name of Jesus was also associated with the promise of eternal life (1 John 5.13). The most significant use of the “in name of Jesus” is when it is spoken to signify that every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2.10). The Philippians text points to the reign of Jesus both now and in the future.
Luke’s writings are aimed to edify Christians by recounting God’s plan, coming to fulfillment in Jesus, and the unfolding history of the early church community. One of the key ingredients in Luke’s writings is his prophetic fulfillments. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. Luke wants his hearers to know that the Christian faith is grounded on God’s acts in history. God has been active across history to bring God’s word to fulfillment. The message of salvation has been God’s plan from the foundation of the earth.
The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles combine to point to the past fulfillment of God’s word, the present experience of God, and the expectation of God’s continuing acts in the future. God is a God who engages in reality – past, present, and future. Luke makes sure the hearer understands that salvation comes by no other name only Jesus. And, salvation comes not only to the Jew but to the Gentile as well.
Bottomline this passage shows the difference between spiritual and political power. When we become believers, we must use the name of Jesus appropriately. We bringing healing in the name of Jesus, but we should not swear or curse others in that name. The power of the name of Jesus is the result of being filled with God’s Spirit when you believed. There is no other name that can weld such power in our lives. It is essential for us to know when we speak the name of Jesus, there is power and authority that goes forth to heal. And, the name of Jesus causes faith to rise up for others to believe.