“Only Jesus: No Other Name” (Acts 4:1-12; Revelation 1:4-18; John 14:1-14)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2022

“Only Jesus: No Other Name” (Acts 4:1-12; Revelation 1:4-18; John 14:1-14)

Something significant, something momentous, happened in the city of Chicago 175 years ago this week. No, I’m not talking about the day I was born. I was born in Chicago, yes, but I’m not quite that old. No, but something else was born there 175 years ago. It was the birth of our church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It was on April 26, 1847, that representatives from fourteen Lutheran congregations came together at First St. Paul Lutheran Church on the north side of Chicago, and they formed a brand new synod. They were all German-speaking congregations, mostly from the Midwest, so they called the new synod “Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio, und andern Staaten,” that is, being translated, “The German Evangelical-Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States.”

Well, in the 175 years since then, we’ve grown from fourteen congregations to about 6,000. We’ve expanded far beyond the Midwest, with congregations all across the country and mission work and partner churches all around the world. And we’re not nearly as German as we used to be: You’ve let some of us Scandinavians in, as well as Blacks and Hispanics and Asians and every ethnicity under the sun. But there’s one thing that still binds us all together, and it is this: “Only Jesus: No Other Name.”

“Only Jesus: No Other Name.” That is the theme for our synod’s 175th anniversary year, which begins on Tuesday. “Only Jesus”: He alone is able to bring us to God. “No other name” has been given to men by which we must be saved. This saving message has been the central focus of our synod’s work throughout our history, and we pray that that will never change. “Only Jesus: No Other Name.” This morning I want to show you how this message has been the glue that has held our synod together through many challenges, and how Jesus alone will give us hope for the future–for our synod, for our congregation, and for each one of us personally.

The Missouri Synod was formed in 1847, but the story begins a few years before that. In 1839, a group of Lutheran pastors and laypeople in Saxony, Germany, were persuaded by a powerful preacher to leave their homes and their congregations there and to join him as their leader and set sail for America. They came up the Mississippi River and settled in Perry County, Missouri, south of St. Louis. Through a series of misfortunes and the cloud of scandal, their glorious dream colony fell apart. Their leader was banished across the river to Illinois. The people were left despairing and despondent and filled with regret. “Why did we leave Germany? Did we really need to? Now that we’re here, should we go back? We were deceived and deluded. We messed up, big-time. Are we even the church?”

Well, in the face of that uncertainty, one of the young pastors stepped forward to encourage the little flock. His name was C. F. W. Walther, and he was saying: “Yes, we messed up, but we are still the church. We have God’s Word here among us. We have the Sacraments in our midst. God will bless us despite our failures. Jesus is here, and he will see us through.”

Friends, you and I mess up in our lives, don’t we? Our little congregation has had its share of struggles. But Jesus is here. His Word and Sacraments are here among us. Christ forgives us and restores us, both as church and in our personal lives. And this gives us the encouragement we need to carry on.

Which is what the Saxons in St. Louis and Perry County did: They carried on. Walther began publishing a newspaper called “Der Lutheraner,” “The Lutheran.” And over the next few years, they discovered that there were other like-minded Lutherans elsewhere in America. A pastor in Bavaria, Wilhelm Loehe, had heard that there was a pressing need for more pastors to serve the fast-growing number of German immigrants in America, so he began training them and sending them over. And that’s how the Saxons in Missouri and the German Lutherans in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio found out about one other, and they discovered they shared a common bond in the confession of the faith. Thus they came together in 1847 and formed a new synod.

And in the 175 years since, the Missouri Synod has had its ups and downs. While God has blessed us richly, far more than we deserve, we have had some serious challenges. For example, after World War II, some of the professors at our St. Louis seminary, and the pastors they trained, were influenced more and more by the liberalism prevalent at the time. This led to the so-called “Walkout” at the sem in 1974 and the formation of a breakaway “seminary in exile” called “Seminex.” Our church body was engaged in what is known as “The Battle for the Bible.” Is the Bible true and trustworthy, or is it riddled with errors and thus we can pick and choose which parts we like and which we can discard? That was the issue. And it was a painful struggle, with a number of pastors, professors, and congregations leaving the synod. But by God’s grace, most of our synod stayed and remained faithful to the truth of God’s inspired and inerrant Word.

Why did this matter? Because if you lose the truthfulness and inspiration of Holy Scripture, before too long you will lose the central message of Scripture, which is the person and work of Christ. And if you lose Christ, you lose everything. You heard what Jesus said in John 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way. Only through Jesus do we come to God. Jesus is the truth. He makes God known to us. Jesus is the life. Only Jesus can give us the life that overcomes death. Only Jesus, and we only get to know Jesus and believe in him through the testimony of Holy Scripture. Thank God that he preserved our synod in the Battle for the Bible!

Brothers and sisters, you and I cannot rest on our laurels, thinking, “Hey, we are the faithful ones! We believe the Bible!” That does not do us much good if we’re not continually in the Bible, drawing our strength and life from God’s Word. Through regular attendance at our church’s worship services and Bible classes, through our daily meditation on the Word of God–this is how the Lord keeps us steadfast in his Word. This is how we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another challenge our synod has survived: In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, one of our clergymen–a district president, in fact–participated in a nationally televised interfaith prayer service at Yankee Stadium. This is something he should not have done. Because the nature of an interfaith prayer service is that it has clergymen representing all sorts of religions and denominations–Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, etc.–all of them leading prayers and delivering messages, as though all of those religions were equally valid. The effect of this is to reduce Jesus to just one option among many. But that can never be.

You heard what the apostle Peter said about Jesus in Acts 4: “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! Not “Allah,” not “Muhammad.” There are not many roads to God; there is just one. The road is narrow, but it is open to everyone. God wants all men to be saved. And the only name by which we must be saved is the blessed name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Why? What has he done to save us? Dear friends, this same Jesus, the very Son of God come in the flesh–this same Jesus took all the sins of the world and carried them on his back to the cross. There he died, taking the judgment of God upon himself, the judgment we sinners deserved. By his blood, he has redeemed people for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Jesus Christ “has freed us from our sins by his blood,” as you heard in the reading from Revelation. What a Savior we have! And by his death, he has conquered death and gained the victory for life. You heard our risen Lord say: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Fear not, dear friends! Jesus is risen, and he is ruling all things for the good of his church. Our risen Lord stands in the midst of his church, and he will see us through. Our synod still faces its challenges. “Woke-ism” has crept into our colleges, and we need to deal with that. Numbers are down in our congregations, and we get discouraged. The temptation for our church body has always been to blend in with the culture around us, and that’s still the case today. Many of our congregations have taken to imitating the non-denominational churches: diluting the Christ-centered, cross-focused message in favor of more popular topics; and resorting to peppy, shallow songs and weak worship practices, in place of our rich heritage of solid liturgy and hymnody. But as for us, we will preach Christ crucified, and stick to what extols him best.

“Only Jesus: No Other Name.” This is what has kept our synod together over these 175 years, and thank God for it! This is the heart and soul of our church body and of our own congregation. And this is the saving message that will give healing and hope to your own life: forgiveness for your messed-up past, strength for your challenging present, and wonderful hope for your eternal future. God grant it. Amen.

Published in: on April 23, 2022 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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