Thursday, June 5, 2014

Salvation in No One Else and the Golden Rule

Sunday in our P1:6 Bible study on Acts, we looked closely at Acts 4:1-12, which is the aftermath of Peter and John's healing of a lame man while they were entering the temple. Of course, it got them into a lot of trouble with the "religious powers that be"; those who were at the top of the dominate system, the tip of the triangle in the power structure.

The lame man - lame from birth - had evidently been carried to the same spot for years, day after day. This made him both a regular sight for the good folks going up to the temple to pray each day. However, it also made him like the "wall paper"; he also blended with the background. It's interesting that in the story Peter and John make a conscious statement to the man who has held out his cup and asked them for some money. They say to the lame man, "Look at us." (I hear this more as an invitation than as a command), and the lame man looked at them.

Something happens when we look and see another human being.
Space for God to restore us to full humanity is created, and no one can be the same in such moments.

In this case, Peter and John don't have money for the man. It's not that their pockets were empty, but looking into the lame man's eyes - and being seen themselves - Peter and John realize the lame man's deepest need. There wasn't enough money in the entire world to heal the man so he could walk again.

Peter and John aren't empty handed, however. They have much more to offer. In the name of Jesus, Peter takes the lame man's hand in his and says, "Walk." The lame man does more than that. He leaps and jumps and praises God! Suddenly, for everyone coming and going to pray, this lame man is no longer like the wall paper, no longer does he blend with the background. Not only do the good folks witness this, but such a commotion happens that so do the religious powers associated with the temple.

This healing got Peter and John in a lot of trouble with the religious powers that be. They don't like to be upstaged, no matter how innocent the actions. Religious powers, like any powers, when feeling threatened, do what they do: they squash, squelch, seize, arrest, threaten, and crucify. They ask the question that every person in power that feels threatened asks, "By what power, authority do you do this?"

The answer for Peter and John is simple. Jesus. They are beholden to Jesus, whose name is all the authority and power they need to restore someone to their full humanity.

Then we listen to Peter and John speak. They remind the religious powers that when they were threatened by Jesus they called for his crucifixion and stood by relishing in their victory (interesting that in Luke-Acts, we have not hint of penal substitutionary atonement, no suggestion that Jesus died as a substitute on our behalf to pay the price for sin). They also declare their conviction that they are the witnesses to Jesus resurrection. In  other words, "You religious leaders may have said, 'Kill him!' but God said not so fast - and he who was dead came out of the tomb!"

God wins. Love wins. Too bad. So sad.

Then Peter and John end up with the final statement of their defense before the religious powers in Acts 4:12: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given by which we must be saved.

I've heard this verse used often as the coup d'├ętat in that debate about Jesus being the only way to heaven. The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it. Salvation, after all, means for most people escaping the final judgment of eternal conscious torment in hell and making it to heaven. But I invite you to ask yourself some questions:
  1. What is salvation in this context?
  2. Peter and John have the evidence to back up their claim. What might that suggest to us about how we relate to people of other faiths?
  3. How might the principle of the Golden Rule help us live this claim in a world of religious pluralism?
Looking forward to the conversation!