"Repentance, Refreshing, Rehabilitation - in Jesus' Name"
April 13, 2008 Acts 3:11-26
The Name Changer
"Hi there, what's your name - officially or otherwise?"
Wednesday night at the Wingham Right to Life banquet, this year's president called the board of directors up to the front and introduced them to the crowd with a different twist. After he said each one's name, he added an adjective to describe their character. For example, one was confident; another, trustworthy; another, committed - and so on. He 'blessed' the board by attaching positive descriptors to their name. It was a k9ind, if unexpected, way to show how much he appreciated them individually.
When he'd finished and we'd applauded the whole board, one of them said to the president, "We've got words for you, too!" During the evening he'd called on a couple of them to give a short talk or make a presentation they hadn't been warned about. So they said, "Our word for you is - SNEAKY!" And everybody laughed.
Back in Olde England, occasionally descriptive adjectives were appended to a person's name that suited them; so we get historical names like - William the Conqueror, King Richard the Lion-Hearted, Leif the Lucky...OK, so I know Leif the Lucky was a Viking, but you get my point. If we still had that custom today, what would YOUR name be? Pete the Procrastinator? Sam the Speeder? Marilyn the Merciful?
According to Scripture, Jesus has a new name for everyone who receives Him and so gets to heaven. In Revelation 2(17) He promises, "To him who overcomes, I will give...a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." Jesus is the one person who is most suited to give us an accurate name, because He knows us inside out. John noted that Jesus "he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." (Joh 2:24f)
Jesus is the Name Changer. In Acts 3 we hear the apostle Peter imply what some of our old names might be; then he refers to the significance of Jesus' name; and what difference recognizing Christ for who He is can make for us.
Our Former Name
Sometimes people do get tagged by additional names in life - some they choose to keep, but others they'd like to lose. You can even see nicknames reflected in licence plates on vehicles around town - "Dutchy", "Lefty", and so on. Those are the sorts of names people don't mind adopting. But perhaps you can think of a painful name that you were tagged with earlier in life. Schoolyard nicknames can be demeaning - "Four eyes", "Slowpoke", "Fatso" - you can probably remember some others. Those types of names leave scars for years and can even give root to damaging disorders. But the Good News in Christ is that, with God's help, you don't need to be stuck there; as we acknowledge the truth about who we have been in our lostness, through turning to Jesus we find power to be transformed into the whole person He intended.
Acts 3 begins with Peter and John encountering a man crippled from birth who's left each day outside the temple gate called "Beautiful" in order to beg a few coins to subsist another day. In many ways, spiritually speaking, that's where we all start off - damaged, wounded, burdened by other generational baggage and some of our own faulty doing. We're stuck, helpless, incapacitated, outside the gate of God's realm. As the beggar formed a contrast to the beauty of the Temple gate, we're quite a contrast to the glorious creatures God intended when He created Adam and Eve. When it comes to God's power and holiness, in our human-ness we're lame ducks. No one is perfect in God's sight (Rom 3:10).
Following the miracle of the lame man's healing, as he enters the temple courts with Peter and John 'walking and leaping and praising God', he causes quite a commotion. People rush over to see who performed this remarkable miracle. Peter is quick to issue a disclaimer, that it's not by his or John's merit or ability. V12, "When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" The disciples were especially conscious that it wasn't their own power or godliness that the crippled man was healed. They were still smarting from their own sin, weakness, and shortcomings that became evident the night Jesus was arrested. They share a guilt, not ability but culp-ability with all the people - the fickle crowds that had cheered Jesus at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem then clamoured for His crucifixion before the week was out.
We have no health in us. Our names issue no recovery power. Listen carefully as Peter implies several dishonoured names as he declares the wrong actions of himself and his listeners. What name might we attach to v13 when he says, "You handed Him [Jesus] over to be killed"? The verb in the Greek original means to deliver over or betray. Who was Jesus' betrayer? Judas. The representative name for this type of action is JUDAS. Why did he betray Jesus? Perhaps political aspirations, hungry for power. Then there was the motive of 30 pieces of silver. Scripture hints that he had a greedy side, dipping into the treasury for his own selfish purposes. How about us - do we betray Jesus by our materialism? Does money or the attraction of wealth govern our decisions?
In the second part of v13, another name is alluded to. Peter says, "You disowned him before Pilate"; and the start of 14, "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One". Who disowned Jesus? All the disciples, including John, forsook Him when He was arrested; Mk 14:50, "Then everyone deserted him and fled." But who disowned Jesus in a most pronounced fashion? Simon Peter, who denied knowing Him three times before the rooster crowed (Mk 14:72). SIMON is the name for those who disown the Lord. When we're in a group of unbelievers, do we hide our faith? Do we give in to pressure to participate in activities or talk a certain way that we know the Lord wouldn't approve of? Are we at all inconsistent in our Christian walk, perhaps out of fear of others' opinions, or to save our own hide? Then our name would be Simon.
Vv14-15 reveal an even darker name. "You...asked that a murderer be released to you.You killed the author of life..." What murderer was preferred over Jesus? BARABBAS. When the crowds pressed successfully for capital punishment of an innocent man, their name became Barabbas - the one they asked to be released instead of Jesus when they had the opportunity. Are we ever Barabbas? Maybe we don't murder physically - but do we ever take part in character assassination? Proverbs 18(21) says the tongue has the power of life and death. James warns the untamed tongue is "full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8). Do our words cut and wound? A senstive person with low self-esteem may find demeaning words attack them so much they begin to wonder if there's anything good about them, if life is worth living. Do we slander others, run them down, kill them softly by our gossip? Then our name would be Barabbas.
V17 offers one more name for our sinfulness. Peter says, "I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders." Who was their leader, acting in ignorance? CAIAPHAS, the high priest. Remember he's the one responsible for initiating the deadly plot against Jesus. Back in John 11(49f), after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and many put their faith in him, the Sanhedrin or Jewish 'high council' met to consider what to do. Caiaphas is the one who spoke up and said, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." John notes Caiaphas was actually prophesying without knowing it; he's the ignorant one. How ironic, when he began by lambasting the others for 'knowing nothing at all' - while he, by his vote for death, unwittingly fulfills prophecies from centuries ago.
Caiaphas was consciously a pragmatist more than a prophet. He felt his leadership responsibility meant keeping a lid on things, keeping the peace at all costs, lest the Romans remove him and his council colleagues from their positions of power and influence. How about us - are we Caiaphas? Do we ever act in ignorance of Biblical teaching? Do we let pragmatic concerns prevail - for example, not wanting to cause a fuss; not going against the flow; how impractical it is to go on a mission trip, or leave a good-paying job to heed God's nudges and undertake some form of specifically Christian ministry? When we prefer to act ignorantly, our name becomes Caiaphas.
So there are 4 names that label our fallenness - traitorous Judas, disowning Simon, murderous Barabbas, ignorant Caiaphas. But there is a better name to which we can appeal.
Faith in the Name Above All Names
Paul wrote that "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth..." (Php 2:9f) Jesus is the best name there is! Somehow the Holy Spirit revealed this to Peter as the key to healing for the man crippled from birth. The actual command he used was simply, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." (Ac 3:16) So he explains to the crowd in v16, "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." Notice how he emphasizes the 'name' aspect? There is great privilege and power for believers in taking the name of Jesus on our lips.
In the financial realm, it's the signature, the name on the cheque, that makes it effective. In the material world, buying equipment with a recognized brand name of an established manufacturer with a good history rather than a bargain-basement clone may make the difference when it comes to needing service some months down the road. You might choose to do business with a certain organization in your field because they have a good 'name' when you check it out amongst your associates. In the spiritual realm, names are highly significant. Before Jesus casts out an evil spirit, in Mark 5(9) He asks, "What is your name?" (Legion)
Dr Lloyd Ogilvie comments that faith in the name "is the secret of unlocking all power in heaven and earth.The name...meant the authority and power of a person which could be called forth by another who was given that right. The phrase 'in the name of Caesar', when used by an official, meant that the power of the emperor and all his kingdom could be brought to bear on that particular situation. 'In the name of the king', in more recent history, implies by the authority and imperial power of that king."
Our security forces use badges and nametags to identify themselves as duly appointed and authorized. Easter Monday I was wakened by a phone call early in the morning; the name the caller used to identify themselves was the OPP Provincial Call Centre. Now there's a name to make you sit up and take notice! 'You think, this must be serious! Has there been an accident?' I steeled myself for some bad news. They went on to say there'd been a break-in at the church and could I meet them down there. I was puzzled and explained we met at the school; I asked for the name of the church that was broken into. They said it was the Christian Reformed Church. While feeling bad for the CRC, I explained to the call centre that they should be calling Pastor Kuperus, not me - they had been given the wrong name!
Peter quickly uses several titles of Jesus that give more meaning to His name. In vv13&26 He's called the "SERVANT" of God. This is more than just someone who serves another, doing their will. Several Messianic passages in Isaiah are called "Servant Songs", such as 42:1, "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations."
In v13 Peter says God has glorified His servant JESUS. As the angel explained in Matthew 1(21), Joseph and Mary were to give Him the name Jesus (short for "Yahweh-saves"), "because He will save His people from their sins." In a way, whenever we call on Him as Jesus, we're proclaiming He's God's perfect sacrifice so we won't perish but have eternal life. Like Joshua (another form of the same name), He leads us into full possession of God's deliverance (now) and heaven's inheritance (later).
V14, Peter says they disowned "the Holy and Righteous One". Jesus was holy, the only absolutely innocent individual who ever lived, a unique perfect spotless sacrifice. He is righteous - more than morally impeccable, the word can also mean 'just', fair, dispenser of equity.
In v18 Peter says God fulfilled what He'd foretold through the prophets, "that His Christ would suffer". There are two words that didn't belong together in the Jewish mindset - "Messiah (or Christ)" and "suffer". Jesus didn't dethrone Caesar but went after Satan instead, through His suffering in our human flesh and blood (Is 52:13ff).
And in v22, Peter brings in the significance of Jesus' earthly life as well as His death, calling Him the prophet Moses predicted; "You must listen to everything He tells you." Jesus had a marvelous teaching ministry about to live with God as our King - what a difference that makes in our hope, our goals, our interactions with others.
So Jesus' name encapsulates all these roles and more - God's servant, saviour/deliverer, holy, righteous, suffering Messiah, prophet with teachings worth living by.
Refreshing of Repentance
In proclaiming the power and authority of Jesus' name (rather than his own), Peter presents the crowd with an opportunity. He urges them to lay hold of God's promises made to Abraham, that his offspring would be a means of blessing. How? Basically three steps.
One - v19, "Repent then, and turn to God." This is an act of will, turning away from our own wicked ways, letting self govern so we can enjoy our own pleasures. As Jesus expressed the mission to Paul in Acts 26(18), it is "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." It's a definite TURN away / towards, a conscious action. Isaiah appealed, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." (Isa 55:7)
Two - repentance occurs, v19, "so that your sins may be wiped out..." The blotter-effect of the cross, erasing our wrongs. God said through Isaiah (43:25), ""I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Believer's baptism is a vivid picture of God washing away our wrongs.
Three - Peter uses a curious phrase, v19, "that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..." 'Refreshing' comes from a term meaning "cooling off" as if by a fresh breeze blowing on a hot sweaty face. The wind of the Holy Spirit was still sweeping through Jerusalem, from the chapter before at Pentecost. This seems connected with v20, "and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-- even Jesus." In some ways the Holy Spirit is the Helper who brings us awareness of Jesus' companionship in this present age - that He is in us who believe, and we are in Him (Jn 14:20).
Peter maintains in v26 that God raised up Jesus and sent Him first to the people of Israel "to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways". It is a blessing to repent, to turn back from destructive desires and habits, out of the ditch back onto God's highway. To share good news with those who don't know Jesus is to bring, not judgment, but blessing into their lives!
Is Your Name On?
Throughout life, those who choose to follow Jesus will be faced with the temptation to deny Him, to take His Name off or hide it at least, when it is really our most precious identity.
At the hospital governance council, we were discussing ways to follow up on the accreditors' recommendations. One involved making sure that patients are identifiable in at least two different ways. What's that entail? Usually patients are given wrist-bands, and their name is taped on the foot of the bed. But apparently some patients find the wrist-bands uncomfortable and take them off after a while. Or through room changes a name may not actually get taped to a bed. In a smaller hospital usually nursing staff know the patients fairly well so there's not much chance of confusion; but suppose patient "A" decides to use the washroom or sit in the lounge. You don't want a chronic patient "B" who wanders the hallways ending up in their bed by mistake, and being administered a wrong medication!
At governance council, the team leader asked one of the nurses to conduct an informal audit that evening just to see how many patients weren't wearing wristbands. An hour later, I was up on the patient floor making my chaplain rounds. I happened to overhear one of the staff who'd been at the meeting saying to a patient, "Now let's see if you're wearing your wrist-band...It's not there, is it? I guess I'd better make you up another one." When she came out to the hall, I mentioned I'd heard her checking up, and joked about the "pre-inspection inspection" she was carrying out. She replied that she wasn't waiting for the audit that was coming that night - she was doing her own audit now!
Peter reminded the crowd in v21 that Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything..." The audit is coming. Are you wearing your nametag? Are you living in a way that is recognizably identifiable for Jesus? Or are acting demented, trying to slip incognito into the world's bed? Get the Lord's nametag for you on!
There was a big PromiseKeepers event yesterday in St Thomas. Someone was mentioning that some time ago at one PromiseKeepers event at a big hotel, the manager couldn't help but notice that half the occupants of the rooms booked for the event used par-per-view adult movies. And these were supposed to be 'PromiseKeepers'! They weren't wearing the Lord's name very well. May Jesus help us daily to turn back from sinful ways and be thankful and honoured to show our faith in His great name. Let's pray.