Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015
“One Name, One Flock, One Shepherd” (Acts 4:1-12; John 10:11-18)
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the day in the church year every year when the propers–that is, the various parts of the service–revolve around Jesus as our Good Shepherd. The Holy Gospel is always a portion of John 10, in which Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. The Psalm is always the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Hymn of the Day, which we just sang, is “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” And so on. This theme of the Good Shepherd really comes through loud and clear.
Now the First Reading today, from the Book of Acts, chapter 4, doesn’t exactly fit the Good Shepherd theme. There is no mention of sheep or shepherd. But still, it is an appropriate reading for the Easter season. For it describes how the apostles Peter and John were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” which is the great emphasis for Easter and these weeks that follow. And what Peter says here about the preaching of the resurrection in Jesus’ name does tie in well with what Jesus himself says in John 10–as we shall see now, as we focus our attention on “One Name, One Flock, One Shepherd.”
One name, one flock, one shepherd. And, dear friends, your salvation and your life and your future are vitally connected to this name and this flock and this shepherd. So let’s take them now, one at a time.
First, one name. It is the name of Jesus, of course. This is the name the apostles Peter and John were preaching in our reading from Acts 4. There it says they were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Remember, this is what Jesus had told them to preach, as we heard last week, when Jesus said “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And Jesus then added, “You are witnesses of these things.” So now these apostles are doing what the risen Christ had told them to do. They are being witnesses of these things. Witnesses tell what they have seen and heard. And Peter and John have seen Jesus risen from the dead and heard his words, so now they are simply being faithful witnesses, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus, calling people to repentance and forgiveness in his name, and doing it there first in Jerusalem.
What did this preaching get them? Well, for one thing, the Holy Spirit worked through their preaching to bring many people to faith: “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” But this preaching of the resurrection in Jesus’ name also brought the apostles something else: arrest. The temple guard came and arrested them. Peter and John had, not long ago, seen Jesus arrested and brought before the powerful Sanhedrin, that is, the Jewish ruling council. And now the same thing is happening to them. But whereas at that time, Peter had shrunk in fear and denied that he even knew Jesus, now Peter is filled with the Spirit, and with great boldness he declares what he knows to be true. Unashamed and unafraid, he says that what they have been doing they have done “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” And not only so, Peter does not mince words when he tells the Sanhedrin, straight up: “Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified . . . God raised from the dead.”
Wow! You guys crucified Jesus, but God raised him up from the dead. You were wrong, dead wrong, but God is mightier than you. That took some Holy Spirit courage for Peter to say that. And he doesn’t stop there. He goes on: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” More “you guys blew it, but you couldn’t stop God” talk. Peter is on a roll. And he wraps it up by saying: “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.”
“No other name.” Did you catch that? There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Only Jesus. That’s it. One road to salvation, not many roads. Only one. One name by which people must be saved. It’s like Jesus had told the disciples earlier: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
One name. Friends, do you realize how distasteful this is to the people of our world? They hate it! This is so out of step with the direction our world is going. On the one hand, you have the Muslim terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, who are murdering, slaughtering, Christians by the hundreds for believing what Peter says here, that there is salvation only in the name of Jesus. And then, on the other hand, in Europe and here in America, you have the secularists, the non-religious types, who are so highly offended if you dare to say there is salvation only in Christ. And they will try to shut you down and silence your voice, if you speak like Peter is speaking here.
But friends, our voice will not be silenced. We will not shut up. We will not be intimidated. No, rather we will continue to proclaim boldly what Jesus told us to say and what Peter preached, no matter how powerful and threatening the opposition may be. We will preach and proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead. We will preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. We will proclaim salvation and the resurrection of the dead in the name of Jesus Christ. For that is the one name–the only name–by which we must be saved.
Allah won’t save you. Mohammed won’t save you. There is no god called Allah, and Mohammed is his false prophet. God’s wrath be upon them.
Buddhism, Hinduism, and any other “-ism” that does not teach Jesus Christ as the very Son of God, crucified and risen bodily from the dead, the only Savior of sinners–those false religions will not save you. They are empty dreams and dead ends.
Your own goodness, your own niceness, your own attempts at being a good person–you will always come up short. Your own imagining that there is no god to whom we are accountable, your wishful thinking that death–well, let’s not even think about that. Your delusion that there will be no day of judgment–well, now you’re just making things up. Good luck with that. Wishful thinking will not save you.
And make no mistake: You need to be saved. Death is a reality to be reckoned with. Your sins condemn you. There is a God who will judge you. There is an eternity to come, to be spent in either heaven or hell. How will you escape? How will you be saved?
See, it is the recognition of this reality, and, more than that, it is the oh-so-wonderful reality of what God has done to rescue us from sin and death and judgment–this is what gave Peter and John the courage to preach, even in the face of persecution. The blessed reality of the gospel of Christ–this is what will give us the courage to persevere in our faith and the commitment to support and advance the preaching of the gospel. This type of courage and commitment comes in knowing the one name, Jesus Christ, by which we and all people must be saved.
And what is it about this one name, Jesus Christ, that saves us? Now this is where the one flock and the one shepherd come in. Listen to what Jesus says–what he says about himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And again: “I am the good shepherd . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
What is Jesus talking about here? He is saying that he will sacrifice himself, his own life, in order to save the life of his sheep. That’s us. And this is what Jesus did for you, dear friends, when he willingly laid down his life by being lifted up on the cross. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered and died for you, for your sins, so that you will never die eternally. He is your forgiveness, he is your righteousness, he is your life and salvation.
And just as Jesus had the authority to lay down his life, so he has authority to take it up again. Jesus, crucified for sinners, rose from the dead, visibly and physically on the third day, on Easter. Now he lives, victorious over death, and he shares his resurrection victory with us. You are baptized in the name of Jesus–indeed, in the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Jesus comes again, you too will be raised from the dead, whole and holy, raised to eternal life in glory with Christ and all his saints. This is what your future holds, and it is sure and secure in Christ.
And so now, by faith in the one name, the name of Jesus Christ–Christ our risen Lord, the Good Shepherd, the one shepherd of the sheep–now you belong to his flock, the one flock, the one holy Christian and apostolic church. This flock is made up of all who have trusted in Christ for their salvation, Christians in all times and in all places–we all belong to the one flock of which Jesus is the one shepherd. He feeds us in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for he, Jesus, is with us. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
One name, one flock, one shepherd. Our salvation is sure in that one name, Jesus. Our life is shared in that one flock, the church. And our future–our eternal future–is safe and secure, because of that one Good Shepherd, whose voice we hear once again today, namely, Jesus Christ our Lord.