THE CARING CHARACTER OF JESUS’ UNIVERSAL AUTHORITY
Sermon delivered on the 3rd Sunday after Easter (Easter 3) the 26th April 2015 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Acts 4: 5-12 1 John 3: 16-24 S. John 10: 11-18
Acts 4:10,12 “Be it known to you all....that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth....this man is made well ... and there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
TEACHERS OF THE FAITH
St. James in his epistle counselled that not many of us should become teachers, because those who do subject themselves to severer judgments than those who do not. I suppose that teachers of all sorts have an idea of what he meant. Yet specifically as Christians all of us are charged to teach, which is to say, to communicate by word and action the realities and the joy of the proclamation entrusted to us. Some of us might exercise a ministry of writing, some will have a particularly winning and persuasive tongue, some will communicate that proclamation through their ability to tend and relieve the sick, others by lifting peoples’ spirits through their joyful approach, and so on. Nor should any of us think we need to stick fast to any one method of communication. We need to think often about what the proclamation is that is entrusted to us and then be prepared to use any and every method that is to hand to communicate that good proclamation wherever it can be received.
PETER'S LESSON OF THE UNIVERSAL AUTHORITY OF CHRIST
In our first lesson today from the book of Acts we see Peter and John being examined in the court of the 71 elders of the Sanhedrin. This was led by the same Annas and Caiaphas who had tried Jesus Himself and sent Him to Pilate to be condemned to death, and we should bear in mind their evident hostility to anybody claiming to be such a One's disciple. Their interrogation was not about whether the good deed of the healing of the crippled man had been done or not, because everybody accepted that it had been done. In the power of the Spirit Peter had told this habitual beggar to walk in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and had taken him by the hand and pulled him up, and immediately his feet and ankles had been made strong. As the interrogators had expressed it from the first, and as Peter pointed out in his answer to them, the interrogation was about in what “power” or “name” the deed was done. Peter’s explanation in the High Priest’s court then was to provide the theory for this remarkable event that was well witnessed and undeniable. The Scripture says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. His communication method had formed in his mind. Peter accordingly taught that the man had been healed in the Name and therefore by the authority of the same Jesus Christ of Nazareth that these people had earlier caused to be crucified. Since a dead person could have no such direct influence or authority, this showed that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that as Jesus Himself had said, He was the stone that though rejected by the builders, had been made the key-stone by God. Going further, Peter taught that there was no salvation, no rescue or help or healing in any other Name than that of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. That was both a warning to Peter’s interrogators and an invitation. That universal truth was controversial then, and is so up to today. The authority of Him who had been raised from the dead was universal, before His face we are all to repent and by Him we and our communities may be healed, rescued and made whole. The authority of Him who was raised from the dead extends everywhere if it extends anywhere, in Capernaum, in Mecca, Islamabad, Kingston or in Cayman just as much as in Jerusalem, and is applicable for all time if it applies for any time. We are called to know that it is as true for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and secular humanists of all sorts as it is for Christians, as true in the gaol as in a cathedral, as true for the disobedient as it is for the obedient, and as true for the derelict, the depressive and the addict as for the lawyer, the businessman, the domestic worker or the monk, as true for England's Equalities and Human Rights Commission or for the American Supreme Court as for the Cayman Ministers’ Association. Newspaper columnists and editorialists may assume or specifically state, that it really doesn’t matter what anybody believes about Jesus, or for that matter about the Buddha or about Mahomet, so long as the human rights of everybody are upheld. That is the good thing, they say, that overrides everything else, all matters of truth or religion, for example. It is not hard to be attracted to such an argument and many people are convinced by it. The flaw in the argument in its own terms, however, is that this view makes of human rights an untouchable authority in itself, or in other words making of it the God they don't believe in. The “rights” attempt to define ethics is not itself supported by any independent form of ethics, and therefore in practice is catastrophically more vulnerable to unprincipled and arbitrary distortion by special interests than if the human rights were understood to be, as we consider is right, the bright flowering of a healthy religious or theological moral structure. This unprincipled process of distortion can be seen rather obviously at work in the controversies raging all over the secularised western world today.
These sorts of dispute are not really anything new, though they are set out in a way that can appear to be new. In this connection it is of interest to read Article 18 of the Articles of Religion, that were framed in the 16th century. (Article 18 is on page 701 of the Prayer Book). It reads: “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.” Some of the sixteenth century divines will probably from their high position even now be observing those attempting to form utopias out of human concepts with a sense of deja vu.
THE LESSON HOW WE KNOW LOVE
The Johannine writings that form the Gospel and the Epistle this morning teach of the love that Jesus has for us and that we are called to share with others. When we combine this call with the consideration of His universal authority, it is compelling indeed. In the Gospel Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, the kind of Shepherd that will never leave the sheep and run away when the wolf comes. In the Gospel the Lord specifically says that there are also sheep that are not of what He calls “this” fold - sheep that are outside those who were following Him at the time, sheep scattered throughout the world and not just in Jesus’ Judea and Galilee. In the figure of the shepherd, the Lord Jesus teaches the same lesson that we have seen Peter teaching, that Jesus’ authority, His Name is nothing less than universal; and just as the deed that was done in Jesus’ Name at the hands of St. Peter to the Jerusalem cripple was good, so the universal authority that the Lord Jesus exercises throughout the world, is a good and shepherdly authority. There is no earthly authority to rival it, either in universality or in goodness. So indeed it is true, as St. John teaches us in our second lesson, that it is by Jesus's laying down His life for us that we know love, and so if we truly desire others to receive this proclamation we are charged with, then its demonstration must be some form of laying down of our lives for the brethren. The proclamation is one of word and speech certainly, but the love that it embodies, as St John says, must be in deed and truth. If there is no exception to Jesus' universal authority, we must deduce that however many methods of explaining and teaching it there are, there is no exception to the character of the proclamation we are charged with. The truth of the Gospel is expressable and communicable in many ways, but it cannot be lived out and cannot be communicated rightly anywhere unless it embodies love and sacrifice. As St. James said, we all make many mistakes, yet we are to be true witnesses, as Peter was in Jerusalem, to the universal authority of Jesus that is universally truthful and universally caring.