DavidMurray2One in ten people struggle with depression. Over the course of a lifetime, one in four will battle this condition. In the below sermon at Bethel Church, pastor, author, and professor Dr. David Murray preaches a sermon on Psalm 77 that surveys depression and offers a broad strategy for battling the blues. The audio for this sermon is available on Bethel’s web site.

If you battle depression, be assured that you are not alone. Many of history’s greatest leaders were attacked by their thoughts. Abraham Lincoln once said about his depression.

“I am now the most miserable man living,”  . . . “If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. . . Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell . . .  To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.”

Great pastors have been swamped by depression too.  Charles Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers ever.  But, his church leaders once informed his congregation:

“You are anxious to hear about our poor pastor – – he is very bad.  Very bad I say, not from any injuries or bruises he has received, but from the extreme tension on his nerves and his great anxiety.  So bad is he that we were fearful for his mind this morning.  . . .”

Spurgeon said that he could not think himself out of his depression.  He said that his thoughts were like knives shredding his heart into pieces.

And, King David wrote about depression.  In Psalm 69 David said it was like being in deep filthy mud where there is no foothold

. . . . . Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters. . . My eyes fail, looking for my God (Psalm 69:1-3).”

Even if you do not battle depression personally, it is very, very likely that someone you love often finds him or herself in the quicksand of being down. This is an important sermon for all of us to hear.

 

 

For more resources, see David’s web site and his series of films, Christians get depressed too.

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Baptism at the Red Brick Church in Stillman ValleySee if you can prayerfully fill in the blanks before Sunday’s sermon (6/19/16) at the Red Brick Church. For more on Sunday’s excitement, see this announcement

Update: Your can now listen to this sermon here.

The people at our church know that I am not generally a fan of “fill in the blank” sermon notes. However, given our baptism service on Sunday — and a crunch for time — I am providing more information than normal on our sermon notes including blanks to complete.

Here’s the challenge:

  1. Printout  (see below) or download the sermon notes.
  2. Study the text and collateral texts and see if you can anticipate where the sermon is going. Can you fill in the blanks?
  3. If you’re feeling really good – – send your notes to Chris is advance or bring them to church.
  4. Above all, pray! It’s going to be a great Sunday.

SERMON TITLE: The Story We are Living

Given the baptism service, our time is limited this morning. We will spend less time in pastoral prayer. Be sure and review the prayer requests on the back of the bulletin and be in an attitude of prayer for one another and throughout the service and week.

Our sermon text (Acts 8:26-40) makes each of the supporting points for the sermon. Notice I have also provided cross references which likewise teach these same truths. If you take the time this week to review these truths your faith will be strengthened as you are increasingly rooted in biblical thinking (Colossians 2:6-7).

Big Idea / Central Thought: As a local church, we are witnessing, l__________ & experiencing the s____________ of Acts 8:26-40.   

  1. Look up: a merciful God is s____________ s___________ (Acts 16:31, Ephesians 1:4-5)– [26] Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. [27] And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.
  1. Bow to the the e_______________ of Christ (Isaiah 45:22, John 4:22, Acts 4:12)- He had come to Jerusalem to worship (27b)
  1. Focus on the s_____________ of the W______________ of Christ (Romans 10:17)– [28] and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
  1. Humbly recognize the n____________ of pastors / evangelists (Luke 24:27, Ephesians 4:11-13, Romans 10:14-15) – [31] And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” . . . [35] Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
  1. Understand the a_______________ work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:21-25) (Hint: study “terms to know”) –

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5

  1. Picture the p___________ p______________of baptism (Matt 28:18-20, John 3:23, Acts 16:33, Romans 6:1-7) – (Hint: Nestea)

TERMS TO KNOW

Acts (The book of) – A New Testament book of the Bible written A.D. 70 by Dr. Luke. Luke also wrote the Gospel of Luke. The title of “Acts” references the “acts” or “deeds” of the Apostles of Christ. Acts begins with the resurrected Christ ascending to heaven having instructed his followers to wait for Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on the Church) and to go into all the world making the disciples. After Acts 2 and Pentecost, Acts tells the story of the Spirit empowered Word of Christ igniting the early Church as people believed from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, 28:30-31).

*Atonement – Broadly, the word “atonement” refers to reparation for an offense. In the context of the Christian faith the wrong in view is the rebellion of all image bearers against our Creator and the reparation is the reconciling of God and humanity through the work of God’s only unique Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus atoned for the sins of Christians.

But how did Jesus atone for the sins of his people? The Bible teaches that the atoning work of Christ involves both substitution and satisfaction. Christ was the substitute for his people and he satisfied the demands of God’s justice (1 John 4:10, Isaiah 53:4-5, 2 Cor 5:21).[1]

Said another way, the central aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that that he paid the penalty for his people on the cross. Theologians refer to this truth as penal substitutionary atonement. Michael Horton summarizes, “Christ died in our place, bearing God’s wrath, satisfying his justice, and reconciling us to the Father.”[2]

In order that we might grasp both the problem sin creates, and the solution for how sinners can be right with God, the Bible describes sin using different pictures including debt, enmity, and crime. R.C. Sproul helps us understand how Christ atones for our sin with the following table.[3]

Sin as . . . Man God Christ
Debt Debtor Creditor Surety
Enmity Enemy Violated One Mediator
Crime Criminal Judge Substitute

For more, see Kevin DeYoung’s important post, Substitution is Not a “Theory of the Atonement”[4]

Baptism – Along with the Lord’s Supper/Communion, one of two ordinances/sacraments given to believers. Christ commanded both. Baptism pictures death and resurrection in Christ and the cleansing of sins. Baptism is passive for the person being baptized. We do not baptize ourselves. This pictures the truth that God is the one who graciously saves.

Gospel – The word “gospel” means “good news” and the good news is that God offers salvation for those who turn in repentance from their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12, Acts 20:21, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5).[5]

Isaiah the Prophet  – Eighth century prophet (circa 700 B.C.) whose massive book supplies central prophecies of Christ. His prophecies include the virgin birth (7:14), the promise of a wonderful counselor, everlasting God, the prince of peace (9:6-7), and the Servant Songs that include Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is the passage the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in Acts 8.

Preacher / proclamation – The Holy Spirit empowers people to proclaim the good news / gospel so that people can understand salvation and believe in Jesus. Pastors are special gifts from Christ to his people given to equip God’s people (Ephesians 4:11).

Propitiation – The turning away of wrath or anger usually by an offering.[6] Propitiation appeases the wrath of God rightly brought about by our sin.[7] So 1 John 4:10 summarizes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10 ESV).”

Similarly, in arguably the most important paragraph ever written,[8] Paul wrote that Christ was “put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25a)

So, on the Cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying in the place of Christians.

Hence, the Gettys were right to refuse to remove from their song, “In Christ Alone,” the words, “till on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” See here.[9]

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God, see Can a God Without Wrath Be Good?[10]

Wrath of God –  The settled indignation of God against sin. God will punish those who sin with eternal condemnation (hell) unless there is atonement for their sins.

*******

[1] R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992), 172–73.

[2] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 208.

[3] R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 42.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, “Substitution Is Not a ‘Theory of the Atonement,’” The Gospel Coalition, March 22, 2016, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/03/22/substitution-is-not-a-theory-of-the-atonement/.

[5] See also Chris Brauns, “What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News?,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, June 13, 2013, http://chrisbrauns.com/2013/06/what-do-christians-mean-when-they-reference-the-gospel-or-good-news/.

[6] Leon Morris, The Cross of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 6.

[7] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 809.

[8] Chris Brauns, “The Most Important Paragraph Ever Written!,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, March 19, 2010, http://chrisbrauns.com/2010/03/the-most-important-paragraph-ever-written/.

[9] Collin Hansen, “Keith Getty on What Makes ‘In Christ Alone’ Accepted and Contested,” TGC – The Gospel Coalition, December 9, 2013, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/keith-getty-on-what-makes-in-christ-alone-beloved-and-contested.

[10] Sam Storms, “Can a God without Wrath Be Good?,” Enjoying God, February 14, 2014, http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/can-a-god-without-wrath-be-good.

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Protestants can use the term sacraments. What is important is to define the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in an ongoing way.

Regarding use of the term “sacraments,” Grudem writes:

There is disagreement among Protestants even over the general term that should be applied to [baptism and the Lord’s Supper]. Because the Romans Catholic Church calls those two ceremonies “sacraments,” and because the Catholic Church teaches that these sacraments in themselves actually convey grace to people (without requiring faith from the persons participating in them), some Protestants (especially Baptists) have refused to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments.” They have preferred the word ordinances instead. This is thought to be an appropriate term because baptism and the Lord’s Supper were ‘ordained’ by Christ. On the other hand, other Protestants such as those in the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions, have been willing to use the word “sacraments” to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, without thereby endorsing the Roman Catholic position.

It does not seem that any significant point is at issue in the question of whether to call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “ordinances” or “sacraments.” Since Protestants who use both words explain clearly what they mean by them, the argument is not really over doctrine but over the meaning of the English word.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 966.

Calvin (though wrong about when baptism is administered!) gave this helpful definition of “sacraments.”

It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that [a sacrament] is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men.  Here is another briefer definition; one may call it a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him.”  Calvin.  IV.14.1, page 1277.

Someone may counter, “Well, why not use the term ‘ordinance,’ so that there is never any confusion and the explanation is not needed.” But that is no solution. The centrality of the ordinances/sacraments, and the debates surrounding them, will always require an explanation when they are administered.

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In the context of Christian salvation, the word, “propitiation”  means the turning away of wrath or anger usually by an offering.[1] Propitiation appeases the wrath of God rightly brought about by our sin.[2] First John 4:10 summarizes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10 ESV).”

Similarly, in arguably the most important paragraph ever written,[3] Paul wrote that Christ was “put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25a)

On the Cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying in the place of Christians.

Hence, the Gettys were right to refuse to remove from their song, “In Christ Alone,” the words, “till on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” See here.[4]

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God, see Sam Storms’ Can a God Without Wrath Be Good?

*******

[1] Leon Morris, The Cross of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 6.

[2] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 809.

[3] Chris Brauns, “The Most Important Paragraph Ever Written!,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, March 19, 2010, http://chrisbrauns.com/2010/03/the-most-important-paragraph-ever-written/.

[4] Collin Hansen, “Keith Getty on What Makes ‘In Christ Alone’ Accepted and Contested,” TGC – The Gospel Coalition, December 9, 2013, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/keith-getty-on-what-makes-in-christ-alone-beloved-and-contested.

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Nehemiah 12:43 reads, “And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God has made them rejoice with great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. And the joy or Jerusalem was heard far away.” We are having one of those kinds of weekends — for reasons I explain below — and I am really looking forward to Sunday. You can read here more here.

For our church family: (1) Be there – preferably at 9:00AM. (2) Baptism at 10:00. (3) Second service at 10:30. (4) Enjoy being just a little crowded this weekend!

 

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Atonement is central to what Christians believe. Yet, many believers cannot define this important word. Michael Horton offers this explanation, “Christ died in our place, bearing God’s wrath, satisfying his justice, and reconciling us to the Father.”

Broadly, the word “atonement” refers to reparation for an offense. In the context of Christianity, the wrong in view is the rebellion of all image bearers against our Creator and the reparation is the reconciling of God and humanity through the work of God’s only unique Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). So Jesus atoned for the sins of Christians.

But how did Jesus atone for the sins of his people? The Bible teaches that the atoning work of Christ involves both substitution and satisfaction. Christ was the substitute for his people and he satisfied the demands of God’s justice (1 John 4:10, Isaiah 53, 2 Cor 5:21).[1]

Said another way, the central aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that that he paid the penalty for his people on the cross. Theologians refer to this truth as penal substitutionary atonement. Michael Horton summarizes, “Christ died in our place, bearing God’s wrath, satisfying his justice, and reconciling us to the Father.”[2]

In order that we might grasp both the problem sin creates, and the solution for how sinners can be right with God, the Bible describes sin using different pictures including debt, enmity, and crime. R.C. Sproul helps us understand how Christ atones for our sin with the following table.[3]

Sin as . . . Man God Christ
Debt Debtor Creditor Surety
Enmity Enemy Violated One Mediator
Crime Criminal Judge Substitute

For more, see Kevin DeYoung’s important post, Substitution is Not a “Theory of the Atonement”

[1] R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992), 172–173.

[2] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 208.

[3] R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 42.

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The untranslated Hebrew word “selah / סֶלָה” found 71 times in the Psalms, reminds us that the Psalms are poetry and were often accompanied by musical instruments.

This summer I am preaching from the Psalms. The Psalms are precious to Christians. They teach us to pray, how to lead our emotions, how to express ourselves to God. If you are looking for help understanding the Psalms, you cannot go wrong beginning with Derek Kidner’s wonderfully concise two volume commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Kidner Classic Commentaries). For a series of short devotions on the Psalms, Tim Keller’s recent, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, is wonderful.

I am preaching Psalm 3 tomorrow and that requires a short explanation of the term “selah.” “Selah” is used three times in Ps (vv 3, 5, and 9); in the Book of Psalms as a whole, it is used a total of seventy-one times and a further three times in the psalm of Habakkuk (Hab 3:3, 9, 13).

Craigie surveys the options for our understanding of “selah” in the Psalms:

  1. A pause or musical interlude or even “louder”
  2. It means “for ever” . . . The implication would be that a benediction or chorus was to be sung at this point in the psalm.
  3. Points at which the congregation prostrated itself

The final analysis is that we do not know for certain which option is best. However, it seems best to accept the traditional view that “selah” references a musical pause or rest. Craigie (Psalms 1-50, Volume 19: Second Edition (Word Biblical Commentary) writes:

With respect to the interpretation of psalms in which the word is used, it must be admitted that in the light of current knowledge no precise significance can be attributed . . . However, it may serve as a useful reminder to the modern reader of the Psalms that many psalms were initially sung with musical accompaniment. And in terms of probabilities, the tradition [of understanding “selah” to be a pause or musical interlude] should probably be considered as providing the most likely significance of the term. (Craigie, 76-77)

Kidner (36-37) agrees that the first option is the best.

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Parents grieving and concerned for their childrenConcerned and broken parents are some of the most tired people I know. Sunday’s sermon on Psalm 3 will consider how God sustains his people even when they are brokenhearted for their children and full of regret over their own mistakes that may have contributed to their children’s situation. Join us Sunday at either 9 or 10:30 at the Red Brick Church. You can now listen to the sermon here.

It is difficult to imagine a more heart wrenching context than that of Psalm 3. The heading reads, “A Psalm of David, When He Fled From Absalom.” Which is to say, that David’s son was trying to kill him and Psalm 3 is David’s inspired reflection on that terrible time.

The sequence of events that led up to Absalom’s attempt at a coup is full of sin and pain. The account can be picked up at 2 Samuel 11.

  • It includes David’s adultery and subsequent murder of Uriah (2 Sam 11).
  • The death of David and Bathsheba’s baby.
  • David’s son, Amnon’s rape of David’s daughter Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
  • Absalom’s murder of Amnon (2 Sam 13:23-39).
  • Absalom’s treachery (2 Sam 15).
  • Absalom’s defeat and death (2 Sam 18).
  • David’s unspeakable grief (2 Sam 18:33).

So Absalom’s rebellion followed David’s own horrific sin and culminated in Absalom’s execution.

Thankfully, I have never been the pastor for someone in a situation as devastating as King David’s. Yet, I have talked with so many parents who are leveled by their children’s rebellion. I published a post in 2008, “How Should Parents Unpack Forgiveness With Rebellious Adult Children?” As of today, it has 287 comments. The comments for that post are a catalog of pain.

Given the pain of hurting parents, I am deeply thankful for the presence of Psalm 3 in the Bible. If you are a hurting parents, I would strongly encourage you to:

But also meditate on Psalm 3! How was it that David was able to keep his sanity amid such a mess? Sunday I plan to preach on Psalm 3 on Sunday (6/12/16). The audio should be posted soon on our church web site.

Be assured, even for devastated parents, God’s word revives the soul (Psalm 19:7).

 

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Update: Listen to my sermon on Psalm 2 here.

north_korea_11Those of us disillusioned and discouraged about the moral and political landscape of the day would do well to meditate on Psalm 2. In savoring the second Psalm, we move from a place of disillusionment with the “kings” of our day to sweet reverence for the one true King.

As I’ve previously explained, Psalms are about being moved from one place to another. The Psalms combine rich theology, imagery, and verse.  Christians who prayerfully quote and mediate on the Psalter – – or better still sing the Psalms like my Covenantor ancestors – – find that they travel from places of noisy disillusionment to peace and rest in Christ.

Sunday I plan to preach on Psalm 2. I won’t get ahead of myself by giving the sermon outline in a blog post, but I hope that many of our people will prepare for the sermon by reading Psalm 2 aloud and reflecting on the imagery. Here are some suggestions for meditating on Psalm 2. You still have to come to church. But these tips will help you get ready.

  • The voices of Psalm 2Picture the rage of the vain plotting of our day.
    Whether it is the punk in North Korea and his goose stepping army on parade – – or boorish boasting we hear in the politics of the United States, we don’t have to work to hard to find reason to listen to Psalm 2 in our own day.
  • Read Psalm 2 aloud to your family. There is something about saying the words of Scripture. Read carefully. Interpret as you go. Consider reading it twice with two different people taking to a turn.
  • “Listen” to the sounds of Psalm 2. If the images of the Psalm were multi-media, what would you hear? Who would you hear boasting? Who would you hear laughing? Peter Craigie’s commentary prompted me to make the table to the right so I could consider who is “talking” at each point in the Psalm. But don’t just focus on speech. Listen also to the imagery of smashing pottery. What does wrath quickly kindled sound like?
  • Consider the kingdom boundaries proposed by Psalm 2. How large does the LORD say the domain of his kingdom is?
  • Reflect on the New Testament usage of Psalm 2. The New Testament leaves no doubt as to how the claims of Psalm 2 will be fulfilled. Our summer intern (the esteemed Ben W.) helped me prepare the table summarizing a sample of the quotation and echoes of Psalm 2 in the New Testament. If the table is hard to read, look up Acts 4:24-26, Revelation 2:27, Revelation 12:25, and Hebrews 1:5).

Quotations and Echoes of Psalm 2 in the New Testament

 

I know many in our church are discouraged about the state of American politics. I’m with you! But God has made provision for our disillusionment and discouragement. Psalm 2 is the refreshment we need to move from places of disillusionment to refreshment in Christ.

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Pastor Chris Brauns at Stillman Valley baccalaureate 2016This is not an exact transcript. I preached a slightly shorter version. My central point was that, even when facing those intolerant of Christianity, we should name the name of Christ. Salvation is found in no one else (Acts 4:12).

I am privileged to deliver the baccalaureate sermon to the 2016 Stillman Valley High School graduates: a group so loved by our community. After introductory remarks, my plan is to read the Bible text, pray, and share a few thoughts.

By way of introduction, if you have not previously attended one of these services, we want to stress that this is not an official school event. Rather, baccalaureate takes place as an explicitly Christian worship event organized and led by our students. The school graciously approves rental of the facilities for a non-school event.

I speak today at the invitation of those who organized baccalaureate. Which is to say that, though I am a parent, I stand here as a minister of the gospel of Jesus: that is, as a servant of the good news of eternal life in Christ.

Of course, we welcome people of all faith backgrounds to this service and we are thankful to reflect with you on truth at such a pivotal time. We live, it would seem, in an age of growing intolerance and we want nothing to do with an unwillingness to fairly engage with different points of view.

To the students, we are thankful for those of you who made this a priority. We know you are busy and I have prayed earnestly that you will be blessed for being here.

Our Bible text for today’s baccalaureate message is from the New Testament book of Acts. God the Holy Spirit wrote Acts nearly 2,000 years ago through a physician named “Luke.”

You may be interested to know: God used Luke to write more words of the New Testament than any other author. We find Luke’s writings in two parts:

  • Part 1 of Luke’s writings is the Gospel of Luke: his account of the Lord’s Jesus Christ’s entrance into history, of his journey to the Cross, and of his death, burial and resurrection.
  • Acts constitutes Part 2 of Dr. Luke’s writings. The title “Acts” is spelled “A-C-T-S”, not “a-x”! Acts is so named because this portion of Scripture references the acts or deeds of the apostles in beginning the church.

Where the timeline of this passage is concerned, it is helpful to see the beginning of Acts in the context of Christian holidays.

  • We recently remembered Good Friday when Christ was crucified for the sins of his people.
  • The Sunday after Good Friday we celebrated Easter: remembering the Lord’s bodily resurrection which demonstrates Christ’s victory over sin and Satan and promises that Christians who have given their lives to Christ will one day themselves be resurrected and share eternity together with Jesus on the new earth.
  • Tomorrow – – seven weeks after Easter – – the day you graduate – – is Pentecost Sunday which remembers how after Jesus ascended into heaven the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church and the church officially began. The account I will to you today takes place only a few days after Pentecost.

High level, the situation is that the intolerant religious establishment of the day confronted the Apostle Peter and John because they saw them as a threat. Peter and John had healed a man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:1-8). They were on their way to the temple for afternoon prayers when they saw a man well known to everyone because he was crippled. The only way this crippled man survived was to be placed at this gate that was the center of traffic so that he could beg for charity.

Now you know how it is. People who do not intend to give beggars anything ignore them when they walk past them. Peter and John, however, when they got to this beggar he called out to them and said, “Hey, look at us.  [5] …he looked at them expectantly… [6] Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [7] And he took him by the right hand and raised him up—as though he was getting up after a football play– and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. [8] And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

[9] And all the people saw him walking and praising God, [10] and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, [begging]. And they were [blown away] by what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10.

Having heard the ringing of cow bells after we win a football game, we can only imagine how quickly the crowd energy of a well know lame man leaping rippled through Jerusalem.

But the power of Christ – – which meant healing for this man – – threatened the power of others intolerant to the claims of Christianity. Soon enough the religious establishment arrived on the scene. The Bible tells what happened next and this is our text:

[1] And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, [2] greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. [3] And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. [4] But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

[5] On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, [6] with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. [7] And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” [8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,

“Rulers of the people and elders, [9] if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, [10] 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. [11] This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] 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 4:1-12.

Let me pray and then I will share a few thoughts.

Our Father, in heaven, my prayer today is that of the apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 6:19-20. I ask that you would enable me to speak the Good News of your Son with boldness – – that I may declare it boldly as I ought to speak.

I pray this in the name of Christ. Amen.

“Name the name”: this is my thought for you today. It is my thesis. My central aim is to encourage you to specifically remember people, events, and places by name. Pronounce their names. Say their names. Whether or not people are interested – – even when they are intolerant of your beliefs—name the name.

Now, hopefully, the idea of a thesis or main idea is a familiar one to high school graduates. Your teachers began pounding the concept of a main idea into your malleable minds in late elementary school. Do you remember the essay diagrams where there was a middle circle for the thesis and then surrounding circles for supporting points? So, in terms of those essay diagrams you learned in late elementary, “name the name,” would be the middle block of the diagram.

Maybe I should qualify the thesis by saying, “Where good memories are concerned, name names,” because doubtless there are things many of you have done that you prefer not be remembered. I’m not saying you need to remember every Saturday school.

You have repeatedly been taught that a good thesis deserves explanation. The best way I can support the thesis I have for you today is by way of examples.  Let me start with places. As you make your way in this world, many people will ask you where you are from. Name the name of your place.

Noah, for instance, will be privileged to cross the Mississippi river to the great state of Iowa. Now, when you’re at Iowa State, when someone asks where you are from, don’t answer generally. Don’t say – – “I’m from Illinois.” Say “Stillman Valley” in a way that implies they should know as much about Stillman Valley as they do about Cedar Rapids.

Makala, it should be the same thing in Colorado. Don’t say, I’m from Illinois – – or, I’m from near Chicago – – or worse yet, near Rockford – – say, “I’m from STILLMAN VALLEY, IL.”

It is fine to explain the location of where you are from relative to Chicago or Rockford or whatever works – – but come to the point where you say the name.

Say the specific name of events. Name the name. Say, for instance, “our musical my senior year was Hello Dolly starring Savannah Giddings as Dolly.” Or, when referencing football plays, say, “We ran the veer offense in the mud in Oregon, IL our last game.

Name the names of people. Find times to pronounce your grandma’s name the rest of your lives. Be specific.  Say Emily’s name. Say, “I lost a beautiful friend my senior year. Her name was Emily Flemming.” You remember her now and will continue to do so. Keep saying her name. Say your mom’s name. Talk to other people about your dads by name when you can.

Consider three important reasons to name names.

First, by referring to people and places specifically, you will make fun and exciting connections. You will be pleasantly surprised in London, England if you say you’re from Davis Junction and someone tells you they have been to Davis Junction. Better still – – tell someone your grandfather’s name and they will say, “Oh yes, I knew your grandpa. Did he ever tell you about the time . . . ?” A good story may follow.

Second, and more important, naming names demonstrates gratitude. Remembering someone by name is a way to be thankful the rest of your lives. For so many of you, your grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, organized their schedules around you. Specific people loved on you from the moment you were born. Now, the rest of your lives, you can be thankful for them by remembering their names. Your moms and dads did so much on your behalf.

Third, and most important, naming names shows love and loyalty. To specifically connect ourselves identifies our allegiance. It shows where we belong. In the next decade – – a large number of you will marry someone. Here is a little tip for you – – if you are in what you think is a serious relationship, but the other party is not willing to tell anyone your name – -well, that’s a really bad sign. People don’t get married in general, they get married in particular – – they say their vows publically and, in the vast majority of cases, share the same last name.

Now, this matter of naming the Name is precisely what is in view in Acts. The intolerant leaders who crucified Christ demanded that Peter explain his allegiance. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” They wanted to know where Peter was coming from in terms of his faith.

Those who were intolerant of early Christianity, would have been quite content if Peter had answered them with a general reference to “god” that aligned with their allegiances and did not threaten the influence of the power brokers.

But the apostle Peter was having nothing of it. Peter said – with laser like specificity – – “Rulers of the people and elders, [9] if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, [10] 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. [11] This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] 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 4:1-12.

Notice, Peter was specific about the place: Nazareth. The events: the crucifixion and resurrection; Most of all – -the person: Jesus. Regardless of their intolerance and threats – Peter was specific and clear. Peter named the name.

This confession of Christ was exactly what the religious authorities did not want to hear. And the Apostles understood for their part that a specific confession of Christ would likely mean death. Indeed, naming the name did mean death for many in the early church at the hands of those intolerant of Christianity. While Peter’s death is not recorded in the Bible, historical documents tell us that Peter was later executed. And Scripture does tell us of Stephen, James, and others who died at the hands of those intolerant to Christianity and hostile to the name of Christ.

Still, we must see, that not fearing the intolerance of the day – – Peter named the name of Christ.

For him, it was a matter of connections – – we are with the one you opposed – -and now we are part of the body of Christ – the church of Jesus Christ.

It was a matter of gratitude – – he was crucified for our sins – – he paid the penalty we deserve.

It was matter of love and loyalty. We have decided to follow Christ and there is no turning back.

Peter spelled it out very specifically:

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 4:12

In giving this confession, Peter shared what Christians call the good news or the gospel. His point was that even though all fall short of God’s standard, those who trust Christ as Lord and Savior are forgiven on the basis of his atoning work on the cross and will spend eternity with him.

Stillman Valley Class of 2016: As you go out into the world, people will ask not just where you’re from, but where you’re coming from, in terms of faith commitment. Where faith is concerned, it will be up to you to decide where – – like Peter – you will name the Name.

We live in an age of vague generalities and qualified allegiances. Yet, to be a Christian is to accept and believe a very specific claim – – that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life – that no one comes to the Father except with him as King (John 14:6).

To be sure, there can be a cost for following Christ. Many are intolerant of Christianity. People are comfortable alluding to the man upstairs – – or even God – – or a higher power. Increasingly, broader culture allows undefined allegiances. But this is not the Christian faith. Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we can be saved.

Inevitably, those intolerant of Christianity will object that naming Christ is narrow and dogmatic. The answer is, “Well, of course, it is narrow to say that Jesus is King.” Truth is narrow – -by definition. Are you from Davis Junction or aren’t you? If you are – – to say you are from DJ isn’t being unreasonable. It is the truth. Is Christ God or not? Was he resurrected or not? The answer is inevitably narrow.

Surely it is also obvious that is as narrow to deny that Christ is not the Messiah as to believe that he is.

Or, maybe you have heard someone accuse: “You are a Christians because you were born in America.” To this, we would respond, “be reasonable.” We don’t have to think long about that accusation to see it doesn’t hold together. Jesus lived in Asia. We live in North America – –  the other side of the world from Christ – – we are not Christians because we live in America; we are Christians because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the father except by Him – – and those who lived on the other side of the world went throughout the world to make disciples.

To be sure, there are some religions that are relatively limited to particular places. But not Christianity. And where the spread of Christianity is concerned, it is worth noting – – Christianity does not obliterate cultures – it does not insist that people all dress the same way nor does it oppress – rather, it is redemptive.

Someone still others object, “Well, naming Christ is offensive to those who disagree.” It may be – – but the nature of truth and loyalty demands specificity. Just as it would be silly to say you should not get married because some other disappointed person will resent your allegiance, it is ludicrous to say that you cannot confess the name of Christ because someone else may not like it.

And – of course – the sword that the cries “foul” when a different position is articulated cuts both ways. It could just as easily be pointed out that those who deny Christ are being unfair to believers.

Christian graduates – – those of you who are followers of Jesus Christ – – the expectation is that you have given your lives to Christ with a willingness to confess his name – – even to die for his name if necessary. This is saving faith. This is not a matter of being unreasonable. And there is every reason to follow Jesus. If it was clear in the book of Acts, that a lame man leaped, it is one million times more vivid today that Christ went to the cross, was crucified, and rose again. Any objective examination of the evidence bears out that it is the name of Christ that has brought salvation and freedom wherever people bow before him. It is the name of Christ that has shaped all of history – you are, after all, graduating in this, the year of our Lord, 2016, so dated because time is measured in terms of his life. As surely as North America has steeples on the horizon of nearly every small town, the good news of Jesus has gone into the world.

Now, how will you respond when intolerant people demand an explanation for your life? I implore you to look to Christ. Name the place (He was from Nazareth and he went to the cross on Calvary), the event (the Cross and resurrection), name the name: Christ.

I recognize, of course, that everyone hear may not be a follower of Christ. To you – – I would encourage you to investigate very carefully who you will serve – what name will you name. Don’t think about life’s big questions in general – – consider them in particular. Who is Christ? What did he claim? What is love? Who is the source of love? If you have any question talk to one of your pastors or leaders. Ask specific questions.

In concluding, allow me to practice what I preach. As one of your pastors, I love you – – not in general – – but in particular. We love the graduates of Stillman Valley High School. And I commend to you the good news – – that salvation is found in the name of Jesus Christ. Name the name.

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