Thursday, August 5, 2004

Acts 4:1–12

I’m reading a very nice book by Raymond Smullyan, called Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness in which he talks about lots of stuff. It’s a cool book and a fun read, filled with amusing little stories and touching bits and all the rest. And one question he treats at length is hell. He doesn’t believe in it: and more to the point, he thinks that hell might just be a reductio ad absurdum. If that’s necessary, then clearly the whole thing is crazy.

Well, I’m not going to talk much about hell today. But I am going to ask: if Peter is right that Jesus is the only name which we must be saved, then, what must we be saved from?

And the fundamentalists have an easy answer: hell! But I think that’s wrong. First off, note that nothing in the text supports that answer. Moreover, as verse 4:1 makes clear, he is defending himself before the Saducees, who do not believe in any resurrection. And the Pharisees, who do so believe, believe that the irredeemably wicked are annihilated, not tortured forever. So Peter can’t possibly be talking about hell.

So what is Peter talking about? Since he is not telling his audience that Jesus is the only way to be saved from hell (since his audience doesn’t believe in that in the first place), what must we be saved from?

The answer is not supplied, but that’s because it’s easy. Whatever you need saving from, the only name given by which it must happen is Jesus. See how easy that is? Jesus is the end to self-reliance (sorry Emerson). Now how does that match with the rest of Peter’s defense to that point? Look and see!

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... Ah! Remember, we’re talking about that poor disabled person who can now walk. He has been saved, from his infirmity, and a ruckus ensued, and that’s how we got to this little police examination. More evidence that this has nothing to do with hell.

So now what? Let it be known to you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth for it was at Peter’s command, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk--see exactly the same phrasing of the name--it was in virtue of this prayer. But is the point that he prayed to Jesus, and Jesus did this? Not quite. The point is that Peter is calling on the power that raised Christ from the dead. In other words, it is because Christ was raised, that those who have faith in him (and thus in his resurrection, and the power which raised him) can call upon that same power for their own infirmity.

You see, Jesus was saved, and because he was saved, we can be saved by calling on his name. Now those who think this salvation is salvation from hell have nothing to say here; they cannot explain this. But since the salvation is from whatever we need saving it is clear that Jesus too required saving from death, and it is that very salvation which we lay claim to.

What’s my warrant for saying this? Well, see how Peter justifies this: whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” Splendid then! Jesus was saved from death, by God, and through faith in him and calling on his name, we lay claim to that same power to save ourselves. In this case, to save this poor disabled man from his infirmity.

So the upshot is: this salvation is for anyone who looks and says: I need to be saved from that. I will have none of this preaching of bad news to people so that they having something to apply the Good News to. (“First I’ll convince them that they are in danger of hell, and then convince them they can escape the danger.”) No, everyone one of us already has a pretty good sense of what we need saving from. And Jesus is for that, here and now.

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