Acts: The Spirit-Led Church Lives by a New Name

Elder Brian Haferkamp preaches from Acts 5:17-42. He reminds us that because the Church has been given Christ’s name, our mission and purpose are his mission and purpose.

In our passage today we witness the first wave of the Church to bear the name of Christ in the world. And it is here that we begin to see both the glory and the sobering consequences of bearing the name that is above all names.

In chapter 4, Peter and the other Apostles testified that it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom the council of elders crucified, that they are preaching and performing miracles. It was by that name that the beggar at the Beautiful Gate was healed, not by the power of the Apostles.

After their initial reprimand, they continued to preach in that name. They continued to heal in that name at Solomon’s Portico in the Temple. And the High Priest--out of jealousy of their power or jealousy of their fame or both--rose up and arrested them again for teaching and performing miracles in that name.

Notice that twice in chapters 4 and 5 the Council mentions the name by which the Apostles are teaching. In Acts 4:7, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”, and in Acts 5:28, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name… 

It is the name--the authority--the Council members were concerned with. They recognized that these Apostles were not the true Source of their power and teaching. The Council members were searching for the wellspring so they could put a stop to this insurrection.

Why were the Council members so concerned with this name?

The name Jesus was a common one in Israel in the first century AD. In the Hebrew the name is Yeshua, which means “Yahweh saves.” The Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions at least twelve different people he knew with the name Jesus, including four high priests.

Jesus was also given the title of Christ, or Messiah in the Hebrew. The Messiah was to liberate or save the people of Israel.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung writes:

[Names in the Bible] were more than badges of identification. They often told others who you were and what purpose God had for your life.

...More than a great teacher, more than an enlightened man, more than a worker of miracles, more than a source of meaning in life, more than a self-help guru, more than a self esteem builder, more than a political liberator, more than a caring friend, more than a transformer of cultures, more than a purpose for the purposeless, Jesus is the Savior of sinners.

If names denote who we are and what is our purpose, then Jesus Christ fully expresses the purpose and nature of our Lord and Savior.

A person’s name stands for the reality of that person. My name stands for me in situations where I cannot be there presently. The name of Jesus is the same. Jesus Christ has sent out the Church--the called out ones--in his name. To be sent out in the name of Christ means we are under his authority, speaking and acting on his behalf, and we are his possession.

The Apostles were teaching and performing miracles in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth; the same Jesus the Council thought they had just gotten rid of. And now here is this rag-tag band of uneducated men stirring up the same trouble in the same ways that Jesus had done. It was like Jesus was multiplying.

To the council’s charge to stop speaking in the name of Jesus Christ the Apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” You see, they had a new name. 

What does it mean to have a new name? It means a new identity; a new purpose; a new mission. An encounter with the living God meant a new directive for their lives. It meant a new mission and purpose. There are times in the Bible that God reflected that new mission and purpose through the giving of a new name. In the scriptures we see many receive a new name: Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. 

I had a family friend who died a couple of years ago. He was born with the name Greg. At some point, however, God revealed to him that he had a new purpose and mission for Greg. At that time the Lord spoke to Greg about changing his name. His new name was to be Gideon. So from that day forward, he was Gideon. In fact, I never knew him to ever go by Greg again. 

When we come to Christ as his disciples, we are given a new name. We are given the name of Christ. It is at Antioch that the Church members were first called Christians. Adding the -an or -ian suffix to a word means that one belongs to or relates to a person or idea. It can also mean the named is a type of that person or idea, an adherent to that person or idea, or someone who specializes in that person or idea.

This sounds like our new life in Christ. We belong to him, we are called to be a type of him, we adhere to his teachings, and we are to be so closely associated with him and his life that we are experts in Jesus Christ. Not experts in a heady, academic way, but experts in the same way that after 30 years of marriage a wife is an expert on her husband.

The Apostles had a new name and they were living and breathing and being directed by a new Authority. Their primary authority was no longer the authority of Rome or the Jewish Council. Their new authority was Christ, the King of Creation. They knew their citizenship was in heaven, where they awaited a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would transform their lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Jesus Christ has made a way for us to join a new Kingdom--a Kingdom under his reign and rule. We have entered into the royal line of Jesus. He has given us his glory and we are perfectly one with Christ and the Father. We are joined to him in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism gives us a physical picture of that spiritual reality. And through that joining to him we will also enter into his Kingdom as his family and his subjects, taking the name of Christ.

1 Peter 2:9-10

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Our new identity is joined to Christ’s identity. We are princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God. We are God’s people; his subjects. We are the receivers of divine Mercy. We are ambassadors for Christ. We are heralds of the coming Kingdom and the coming King. We are the Light of the World. We are the bearers of the name that is above all names. We are a holy nation, set aside to do the will of the one whose name we bear. We are the Body of Christ living and being and working in the World until the fullness of this age is complete. When this age is complete every knee will bow to the name that we bear. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all Creation. The darkness will be lifted. The veil will be removed. And we will behold the face of the One in whose name we have believed.

The response of the world to our new citizenship is hatred, contempt, and persecution. You see, the Prince of this World knows the scriptures. He knows his end. For a time he has authority in this world and he wields it against God’s children. He cannot strike God. He must go for those whom God loves. Our popular stories reflect this truth. Consider all of the movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read in which the enemy of the story takes a child or loved one as revenge. This is a metaphor of what the Enemy has actually done.

The Prince of this World is desperately trying to erase the name of Jesus Christ from history. He knows that this name is the New Authority in Heaven and on Earth. One day the bearer of this Name will bring all things together and destroy our Enemy--the Prince of Darkness.

We are ensnared in this world with snarling wolves surrounding us. We are on the run through the forest with the enemy chasing after us. Yet we stand in hope. Why do we hope? We belong to the victor. He will save us. We bear his name and he will come for us.

Romans 8:18-39

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of child birth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

...28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Brothers and sisters, bearing the name of Christ means that you are on the victor’s side--but you are presently living in territory controlled by the Enemy. We live like the Rebels inside the Empire; like Robin Hood and his Merry Men in Prince John’s false kingdom; like Spartacus in the Roman Republic.

Yet unlike these famous movie rebellions our insurrection is not consummated with weapons of steel, arrows, or even lasers. Our chief weapon is the name of Christ. It is our power, our refuge, our strength, our comfort, our hope. We remember. We pray. We tell others about the hope that lives within us even though we live in this world as sheep among wolves. Our insurrection does not rely on our force.

Instead, our insurrection is like the insurrection of the Dandelions. It seems like overnight your yard can be overtaken by them. It starts with one and then they multiply. You can crush them with your heel and they will come back. You can pull them and, if you don’t get the full root, they will come back. You can poison them but somehow more come over from another yard that is not as diligent in Dandelion control. We even contrive amazing instruments to insure that we get them up by the roots. Yet we cannot stop the insurrection of the Dandelions.

In bright sun the Dandelions spring forth and bloom into a beautiful flower. They stand as they have been created to stand: Bright yellow flowers against a field of green. Their mere presence is an offense to the diligent landscaper. On days of clouds and rain, the Dandelions transform into peculiar little fuzzy balls. And when the rain and the wind beat down and destroy what was once a beautiful flower, the seed is spread. One Dandelion in exchange for a hundred others. Though the inclement weather has destroyed them all there are more flowers than before. 

The Prince of this World is obsessed with controlling the Dandelions. The Prince of this World had no power to stop God from planting the first Dandelion: Jesus Christ. The Prince of this World tried--quite unsuccessfully--to eradicate this Chief Dandelion before it left behind its seed. In the seed was the DNA for more Dandelions. Dandelions from the Chief Dandelion continue, even now, to grow, and die, and leave behind the seed of the First.

We have a new name. As recipients of this new name we have been re-created with the DNA of the one who bears that name. At this Name every knee will eventually bow and every tongue confess that the bearer of that name, Jesus Christ, is Lord of Heaven and Earth. 

We live in the hope that one day the Prince of this World will be toppled.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

Until that Day comes, the Prince of Darkness will continue his barrage. He will do what he can to uproot Christ’s Dandelions. He will persecute, kill, disparage, insult, devour, and do whatever else he can do to separate us from the Love of Christ.

But he cannot do it. His rage we can endure. For the name that will fell him is the name that we now bear. In that name we live and have our being and for that name we suffer in this world. By that name we have a relationship with God. In that name we have an inheritance with Christ in God’s Kingdom as heirs of the Great Promise.