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We Cannot Step
June 8, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ACTS 4:5-22

It should have been a glorious day. It should have been a great event. It started out that way. A man was healed, a man who had been lame all 40 years of his life. In the Bible days, that was pretty old. Now, 40 years is a spring chicken, but in those days, 40 was pretty old. For 40 years, this man had been carried to the temple, had lain at the door and begged for his support and his sustenance. 40 years the people had seen him, 40 years the people had responded to his needs. And now Peter and John came along and said to him, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk!” And the man did. The man leaped, the man jumped and the man praised God. A  great crowd gathered around for they had known this man. They knew they were not being hoodwinked. The excitement and the fervor was high. And Peter, never letting an opportunity like that pass by, began to speak to the crowd and tell them of this new faith, of this new religion. 

Then they were arrested. They were put in jail overnight. The next day, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Jerusalem. There were 71 members on the Sanhedrin. The chief priest was the President. Peter and John stood before this august body. This was the same council who sentenced Jesus to death. They didn't have the power tp execute so they had to take him to Pilate and talk the Roman government into executing Jesus. This was the same council that a few months before had condemned Jesus to death. And now Peter and John were brought before them—fishermen, simple people. The wealthiest, the most learned, the most powerful people of the society were on the Council. They asked Peter and John, “How did you do this?” I suppose they thought it was magic that the lame man was cured. “How did you do this? What power do you have?  Whose name did you use?” They asked an interesting question— “Whose name did you use to do this?” A name was considered a very powerful entity. If you could name someone's name, if you could call on someone's name, you received part of the power of that person, some of their essence, because part of a person's personality and spirit is caught up in their name. So if you know the name, then you have power and you have their participation in your problem. So they asked them, “By what name did you do this? By what name are you identified? Whose name did you go by?” 

A good question for all of you. Whose name do you go by? Whose name do you want to go by? 

By whose name do you want to be identified? When you walk by and someone says, “Who is that?” And someone else says, “That is such and such the Republican or the Democrat? Or that is such and such the Californian or that's such and such the Texan, or that's a Mantecan, Oh, that one that's a troublemaker. Oh, she's a snob.” By what name do you want to be identified? “Oh, he's the athlete. Oh, he's the musician.” When people ask about you, when people try to identify you and try to fit you into where you belong, by what name do you want to be identified? Will they say, “Oh, that is such and such, the Christian?” Do they say that of you? The Christian? A follower of Jesus? What do you want to be identified with? 

Peter stood up erect. Peter stood up with his shoulders back. Peter stood up fearlessly and said, “By what name? That man was healed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I stand before you in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus whom you crucified, God has now raised from the dead. This same Jesus that you put to death, God has now raised from the dead. And God is now saving the world through the name of Jesus the Christ. And there is no other name under heaven whereby people may be saved except through the name of Jesus Christ.” It is in the name of Jesus that I stand before you. It is in the name of Jesus that I stake my life. It is in the name of Jesus, I declare my loyalty. Peter identified himself completely with the name of Jesus, and in that identification, Peter found his salvation, Peter found his meaning, Peter found his future, and Peter found his power. 

The Council was amazed at this man. They were amazed, first of all, that he claimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. They were amazed that this new movement that was healing people was headed by a dead man. That was quite amazing. A dead man was leading this movement. It was growing by leaps and bounds and doing powerful and miraculous things by a dead man. And they were amazed at Peter. They said to one another, according to the book of Acts, “Aren't these just fishermen? Aren't they just ordinary people? They don't have any education. They're illiterate. And look at him standing before us eloquent.” What a change had come over Peter. Peter had been a fisherman. Peter had been rough. Peter had been impetuous. When the soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter cut off the ear of the soldier with a sword. Peter was the first one with insight to say that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter, the man who had denied Jesus three times and told the maiden, “I don't know him”, the cowardly Peter, afraid of being arrested, afraid of being identified with Jesus. Now, just a few months later, standing before the Sanhedrin, speaking firmly, resolutely in the name of Jesus. What a change! The Holy Spirit had come upon him. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit had come upon him and transformed him. 

And when we get discouraged —Oh, can I ever change? Won't people ever change?—look at Peter who was changed from an illiterate into a speaker, from a coward into courageous by the power of God. The Council was amazed and said to him, “I want you never again to speak of anyone in the name of Jesus.” But, Peter and John stood there resolutely, and said, “We cannot stop. We cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have heard and seen. Our loyalty is first of all to God, and secondly, to the law. Our loyalty is first of all to God and secondly to the government. Our loyalty is to our conscience and secondly to the rules of people. We will obey first of all God who tells us to speak in the name of Jesus, who tells to witness in the name of Jesus.” 

With that kind of firmness, that kind of loyalty, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church spread throughout all Jerusalem, throughout the Roman Empire and to the ends of the world. The church spread by that spirit of loyalty to God, with empowerment by the Holy Spirit and with the attitude “we cannot stop”.

My prayer for the Confirmation Class and my hope for St. Paul’s, for all of us, is that as we go forward, we will see ourselves as identified with Jesus, known by his name, known as Christians. When God is put first, receive the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came upon Peter when he needed it. When he took the risk to stand before the Council, when he had the nerve, the gumption and the courage, then the Holy Spirit gave him the power. As we are identified with Jesus, whenever you're challenged, whenever you're doubting, whenever you are tempted, may you say “I cannot stop.”

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris