“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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)
No other name! This is an assertion which is tough to take. Why does God have to be so exclusive? It seems unreasonable to us who are so used to having so many choices – so many, perhaps, that most of the time we don’t know how to make up our minds about anything. It seems unreasonable that here, where it matters most, there should be “no other name,” and only one choice. Just look a little closer to see how radical this exclusiveness really is. Peter doesn’t say, for instance, that this is the “highest” name, perhaps the “highest type of religion known to man,” so that we could line up the different types and compare them and classify them; and then if we’re convinced that this is the highest, take it. Peter doesn’t even say that it’s necessarily the best for us – so that we could go shopping for what we like best and then choose it.
No, for Peter, it isn’t even a matter of lining up the alternatives, as if one could go shopping for a God the way one shops for new clothes. For Peter, the simple truth is that there’s salvation in no one else. There’s no other name. And this is what’s tough for us to take. It seems to be a rather undemocratic way for God to proceed. It seems to be oppressive and arbitrary. And yet, if we take another look at the passage, it becomes apparent that if God is trying to oppress us, he has taken up a pretty strange means of doing so. As Peter says, it was the stone which the builders rejected which has become the head of the corner. In other words, it wasn’t God who oppressed us. It was we who oppressed him! It wasn’t God who forced himself upon us. Rather, it was us who forced ourselves upon God. And the strangest part is that he let us do it – he let us reject him, get rid of him, push him out of our world.
I think that we’ll all agree that this would be a pretty strange procedure for someone who was out to oppress us. Yet it is to this strange turn of events that we must look to find the answer to God's exclusiveness. There’s no other name because only in Jesus Christ has God taken upon himself the full burden of our rejection. Only in Christ has God taken upon himself the worst that could ever happen between God and man: he has allowed himself to be rejected. And somewhere in this fact lies the mystery of God’s exclusiveness.
Today we live in a world where we frequently hear the language of rejection. We hear a lot of talk about the absence of God and the loss of spiritual and moral values. We read often in the literature of our time about the emptiness and arid meaninglessness of human existence. And all of this is no doubt true and serious enough. And I suppose that all of us – if we’re being truthful – feel this in our own lives, whether we like to admit it or not. But the meaninglessness is there, waiting for us.
But the question is: what shall we do about it? Shall we start a crusade, perhaps in order to force God back into modern life? Shall we develop another tiresome method for browbeating people into being good? Or shall we start a new religion – one which fits the modern temperament? If so, how shall we go about it? What is there left to believe in? All this talk about meaninglessness, emptiness, and the absence of moral value should show us that our plans and schemes to find meaning for ourselves – even our attempts at self-help – are a spent force. It’s too late for phony reforms and moral rearmament.
So what shall we do about it? Perhaps, at long last, we should listen to the words of Peter. Perhaps, precisely because of the meaninglessness that surrounds us, we’re in a better position to understand what he meant when he said that there was no other name whereby the must be saved. For what does the meaninglessness and emptiness add up to, but yet another form of our rejection of God? It’s nothing new – just another chapter in the story of one of our favorite occupations: getting rid of God. We’ve been at it since the beginning of time, and will be until the end.
Now, the question isn’t what we’re going to do about it. The question is, what did God do about it? Did he attempt to force himself upon us? Did he come bustling into our world with another tiresome plan for moral improvement? Did he come armed with just one more religious do-it-yourself kit? No! Wonder-of-wonders, he did nothing. Rather, it’s as if he arrives and says, “If you want to get rid of me, go ahead – and see where it gets you!”
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, Christ lets us push him out of our world and onto the cross. And why? Because he knows that’s the only way he can help us. This is the only way he can melt our hardened hearts. It’s the only way he can create this thing called faith. It’s the only way he can give us meaning in a meaningless world. This is God’s solution to our problem. This is the fulfillment of his plan and the last act of the divine drama. It’s the final thing that God has to say to us in his attempt to get through to us and heal us. This is his great risk: for if the cross doesn’t work, nothing else will. And then it doesn’t really matter anyway.
This, then, is the mystery of God’s exclusiveness: that in Jesus Christ, God takes upon himself the full weight of our rejection once and for all time. He bears it and overcomes it. He doesn’t force himself upon us, but takes this last great gamble for our life because he knows that there’s no other way we can be helped. By his resurrection, he turns the worst into the best. So then God’s exclusiveness becomes the answer to the threat of meaninglessness in our lives. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner – and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Amen.
This series of sermons by Gerhard Forde has been kindly submitted by Lutheran Quarterly journal. To learn more about the Forde legacy, visit them at lutheranquarterly.com
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