February 18, 2018

Acts 4:7 - By what name?

And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

Acts 4:7

I love the fact that the askers of this question have a clear understanding of the correlation between power and names. A miracle had been performed and was making them look bad, so something had to be done. They couldn't deny the miracle, as it took place in front of plenty of witnesses. It also didn't help that the healed man insisted on being excited about it in the middle of the busy temple. They needed to find out how this was done if they were going to figure out what to do about it.

The religious leadership in Jerusalem was still upset about that whole "Jesus thing" and the two disciples of Jesus performing a miracle and then preaching about him in the temple annoyed them greatly. They had the men arrested by the captain of the temple and thrown into captivity overnight. That should cool their enthusiasm for talking about Jesus! The next morning everyone important, and everyone who thought they were important, met at the temple for the show trial. It wasn't going to be a real trial for two reasons, first the Romans currently occupying their land would not allow any death penalty judgments and secondly, there was no way that innocence was going to be permitted to be an outcome. This was the religious leadership of the Jews flexing what authority muscle the Romans still permitted them. Peter and John were going to be dressed down, no doubt about it.

The fly in the ointment was that there was still the matter of the miracle. How did that happen? The priests hadn't performed a miracle in many hundreds of years and now these disciples of Jesus were performing miracles just like he did. The guilty verdict could wait a few more minutes while this was investigated.

The religious leadership was wrong on the matter of whether Jesus was the Messiah. They said that he wasn't. They may have personally believed that he really was the Messiah, but with the exception of Nicodemus, not one of them broke with the party line and all went to the grave publicly denying the obvious.

Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

Acts 4:4

Suppression and denial are great tools of state if you can control the flow of information to the people, but in this case, the miracle and subsequent preaching had reached 5000 men. The religious leadership was in full damage containment mode now. They needed to know how this was done and plain-spoken Peter was more than willing to supply that information.

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Acts 4:10

On the one hand, I doubt they were too surprised with this information, but on the other hand I imagine that they actually hoped it was something else. Perhaps they hoped that this was the work of a devil, although there wasn't (and still isn't) any precedent for devils healing people. So, here they had Peter's answer and now they were stuck with dealing with this new (to them) reality.

Miracles are a supernatural thing. Kinda by definition really. Miracles are things that don't happen in the natural, so when something happens that is not seen in the natural, it must have been caused by something above the natural order of things. Hmmm, above the natural order, that would be "supernatural". The healing of the lame man was a miracle and now the religious leadership knew it and they knew that it was in the power of the name of Jesus. And to be sure, Peter had fully explained which Jesus. Jesus was not an uncommon name at the time, so Peter told them that it was in "the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" and just in case there were two Jesus' in Nazareth, he further narrowed it down by adding "whom ye crucified". Oh, yeah, the Jesus we had crucified, that Jesus! They knew exactly who he meant.

The miracle was performed in the name of Jesus, so we know that the source of the power for this supernatural happening was Jesus. The religious leadership knew this as well. So, this meant that Jesus was supernatural and there are only two sides in matters of the spirit. So, either Jesus was God just like he claimed or he was a devil who had possessed a body. They realized that it could not be a devil and so it had to be God. And rather than rejoicing that their Messiah had indeed come and walked among them, they doubled down on the denial and commanded them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Acts 4:18

There really wasn't any chance of this working, but they had very little choice in the matter. Next time they found the disciples teaching they stepped up their response and beat them, but they were still fearful of doing more than that because the people were responding so positively to the teaching.

And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Acts 5:40

Again with the emphasis on the name. What's with this? In these times that we live there is very little consideration given to the meaning of names. Many children are named after famous people or relatives, but very few are named according to the more biblical traditions of the parent's hopes, dreams or life circumstances. Such things seem very strange to us now, but in biblical times this was a very well understood manner of naming children. Names mean things and Jews in particular took naming very seriously. Of course, their example was the Lord and he took names the most seriously of all.

There are many references to the name of the Lord in the scriptures. The reason for this is that names were understood to reflect the nature of the one named and also to represent them. The name of God therefore represented him and whenever his name was used, it was as if he was there at the time of its speaking. King Solomon referenced this when he gave the dedication prayer for the temple. God is too big to fit into any earthly building, so the next best thing we can have is his name which brings his attention, as if he were there.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to day: That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive.

1 Kings 8-27-30

God also took human names equally seriously. To the extent that he changed a number of names when the circumstances of their lives changed. Abram was renamed to Abraham, Sarai to to Sarah, Jacob to Israel and while not strictly a name change, Simon to Peter. (The Saul to Paul change was more of an emphasis change given that he already had both names, Saul was his Hebrew name which he used until the Lord assigned him as the apostle to the Gentiles, when he started using his Roman name of Paul.)

The authority of the Lord is a powerful thing and not to be taken lightly. The Lord warned the children of Israel about this when he explained that he had provided an angel to go before them to guide them. He explained that his name was in the angel and that the angel would not be forgiving of any transgressions. The authority of the Lord, but apparently not the full quota of mercy, was within that angel and they should observe all that he directed them.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

Exodus 23:20-21

It's not for nothing that the Psalms observe that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I understand that the fear spoken of here is mostly deep reverential respect, but there is also a portion of good old-fashioned actual being afraid kind of fear because God is mighty and powerful and can snuff you out of existence in a moment.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Psalm 111:10

Finally, the name of God is an interesting progression through the Old Testament. The exact sequence and an enumeration of the different names is a whole sermon in itself, but worth noting here that while the name that the Lord was known by to the Jews did change, God himself did not. He was progressively revealing his nature to the Jews as they were able to handle it.

We are blessed to live in a time when we have the final redemptive name of God. All of the nature of God that he has chosen to share with us humans is to be found in the name Jesus and its meaning of "Jehovah is salvation".

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