But giving God the glory or performing any act in the name of Jesus is just the subject of the first lesson in this week's Revised Common Lectionary (Acts 4:5-12). Here we see the apostles Peter and John who have just scored a pretty big "touchdown" by healing a man crippled from birth who has been begging at the gates of the Jerusalem temple all of his life. This act of healing not only brings the man from dependence to self-sufficiency for the first time in his life, but also raises him out of the shadow of being an outcast--one believed to be cursed by God with his affliction--and places him back within the community. Naturally, the two disciples give God the glory and proudly announce that they have performed this wondrous act in the name of Jesus. The crowd (about five thousand people according to verse 4) goes wild.
Unfortunately for our heroes, this acclaim manages to attract the attention of the ruling elite who promptly have the two miracle-workers arrested and see to it that they spend the night in the slammer. The following day the boys are interrogated, and Peter--filled with the Holy Spirit as the scripture tells us--proclaims to his captors that he and John have done their work by the authority and in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
"...for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." (v.12)
This intelligence sits uneasily on the authorities. They're perfectly okay with beggars getting healed, but just not in the name of Jesus. They let the boys go, but order them not to do any more miracles or preach anymore in that particular name. Peter and John promptly ignore this injunction, of course, but you can read the rest of this story later. But for now, let me talk a little about the authority of Jesus' name.
Just what is it about acting in Jesus' name? I'd have to say that Jesus' name carries ultimate authority because it is the name of the Good Shepherd (Yes! I finally got around to the Gospel lesson, John 10:11-18) who "lays down his life for the sheep." This act of sacrificial love--the most passionate and honest type of love there can be--differentiates the authority of Jesus from any other authority.
In the world of the text which John's readers would clearly understand, the word "shepherd" was another synonym for "leader." That is, a shepherd of the people was charged with leading the nation but also with its ultimate welfare. In the tenth chapter of John's Gospel Jesus notes those who only come to abuse the sheep for their own purposes (the "thieves" in verse 10) and those who may not seem abusive but don't really care about the welfare of the sheep as much as they care about their own interests (the "hired men" of verse13). In the hired men analogy, the religious leaders of Jesus' time would surely have recognized themselves. They were so busy preserving the sheep pen--the religious institution--that they forgot about the sheep it was meant to serve.
Recently, I officiated a funeral for a very devout Roman Catholic lady who, in spite of her religious zeal, refused to allow a Catholic priest to preside at her memorial. She had grown disgusted after the sexual abuses scandals of recent years by priests and church officials who seemed more interested in protecting the church from lawsuits than in defending and healing the wounded sheep. Indeed, if we act in the name of the Good Shepherd and accept its authority, we must also accept the responsibility which goes with the name. We can't be selfish, fearful, angry, bitter, or vindictive in Jesus' name. Rather, we are called to do all things in the spirit of loving sacrifice which his name evokes. As our second lesson for this Sunday reminds us,
"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or a sister in need and yet refuses help?" (1 John 3: 16-17)
Our challenge is to do all things in Jesus' name. What would it be like if we started the day by praying, "Lord Jesus, let me live in your name today?" Try it.
And if Tim Tebow wants to throw footballs in the name of Jesus, I say more power to him. I'd rather look silly for Jesus than anyone else. Wouldn't you?
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts this week. Please drop by again.