You try to do something nice for a guy, try to proclaim the gospel and pronounce healing and forgiveness over him and what do they do? They bring you to court. Being only weeks removed from the death of their beloved Jesus, the experience must have been somewhat overwhelming for Peter and John. After all, this was the very place where the rulers, elders, and chief priests brought Jesus when he stood trial. In fact, some of the very same people who tried Jesus then were now presiding over their examination. They must have wondered if their fate would be the same for them as it was for Christ.
The court had only one question for Peter and John, and it was a fully loaded one. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The proceeding didn’t begin with a debate on whether or not the healing was legitimate. The healing didn’t matter, though the officials didn’t really care to specifically acknowledge it either. The fact that a man born lame was now walking about of his own accord didn’t faze or move them at all. What the court really wanted to know was in connection with what or whom were Peter and John able to do such a thing?
Now, different religious parties made up the court of 70 or so men known as the Sanhedrin. Some in the court were a class of people known as the Sadducees. They were the ones who instigated the arrest of Peter and John and it was most likely their party who filled most of the Sanhedrin court room in which Peter and John now stood.
The Sadducees were religious in their following of the Law of Moses, but mostly because they believed that material wealth and power came from close adherence to the Law. Theirs was the prosperity gospel of the day. If you do this, then you will receive this.
However, while most Jews believed that at the end of time there would be a resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees didn’t. For them there was no afterlife. There was just this life and your success in this life was determined solely by your works according to the Law.
Of course, the court knew Peter and John. They were specifically arrested and brought before them because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that Jesus was raised from the dead; proclaiming that this man whom this court demanded to be crucified, whose body mysteriously and infuriatingly disappeared three days later, was indeed raised from the dead by God! They knew these men. They were a threat to the Sadduceean way of life.
Their way of life may seem ridiculous and perhaps foreign to us, but the idea of our own personal prosperity being connected to God’s favor as a result of our works is not as farfetched as it may seem. Of course, if one follows that logic through, one must say that any disaster that befalls us must be because of a lack of good works or because of a particular offense against God.
I met an older gentleman who once told me that his son tragically died because he was too prideful of his son. He believed that God took his son from him in order to put his pride in its rightful place. Living as though our works alone determined God’s attitude toward us for good or for bad is a fearful way to live, yet we are all helplessly drawn to that kind of thought. The Old Adam within us will always look inward to what we have done and in the end all we can do is hold our works up as a measure to determine what God’s judgment upon us will be.
When the disciples respond to the Sanhedrin court, Peter uses some subtly nuanced words that get a bit lost in our English translation. But they strike right at the Old Adams standing in judgment over the disciples.
“If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ.”
When Peter says that the man had been healed, he uses a word that implies more than that. The word is often used in Acts to refer to salvation in the spiritual sense. This man has been more than healed. He has been saved. Peter goes on to say that this man stands before the court in good health. The word he uses for that implies “wholeness.” His physical healing is part of that, but not all of it.
All of it is because of the resurrected Jesus. “You want to know by what name we did this deed? You want to know by what power this man stands before you? By the power and name of Jesus Christ, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This man was saved and made whole and stands as a witness to the living power of the living Jesus Christ.”
Peter went on to tell them, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Outside of Christ, one cannot find salvation. There is no other power, no other name through which one can find salvation. Salvation only comes through Christ.
The Old Adam in all of us who seeks to please and hold back the wrath of God through his own machinations was exposed by Peter’s words. The work of those who condemned Jesus to death in order to preserve their way of life – a work that our own sinful nature gives us a share in – had been undone by that very death when God raised Jesus from the dead. Our distorted pursuit of power over our own salvation – one that could only lead to fear and anxiety – was suddenly and wonderfully outmatched by the Son of God we saw executed, whom God saw resurrected.
In the healing of the lame beggar the power of the resurrected Christ was given witness. In Holy Baptism and in Holy Communion, that same power is testified to and in you. In water, Word, Body and Blood, Christ draws us into his death and resurrection and offer us forgiveness and life. The Old Adam is put to death and a new creation is brought to life in us through the New Adam, Jesus Christ.
Christ does this for you because you were unable to do it of your own accord. Salvation only comes through Christ. Salvation is found nowhere else and in no one else and that includes you and your own works and plans.
In his death and resurrection Christ says to us, “There is life and salvation only in my name and I give life and salvation to you freely and fully. In my name, in my cross, in my resurrection, I make you whole. I have saved you from yourself and from your sins. There is no other way. I free you therefore to live in the life I have given you and to be witnesses of salvation given in my name.” Amen.