There Is Salvation in No One Else
Passage: Acts 4:1–4:22, Psalm 118:22, Luke 20:9–20:19
Jim is a Christian. Bill is not.
Jim and Bill were engaged in a late night conversation about religion in their dorm room. Although he was initially quite interested in Jim’s impressive testimony about how his relationship with Christ had changed his life, Bill became increasingly disturbed as the conversation began to focus on verses such as John 14:6 [“I am the way and the truth and the life”]…Jim continued to explain in a gentle but insistent tone that Scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the only Savior for all peoples. Suddenly Bill cut him off: “Come on, Jim, be reasonable. I’m glad that Christianity works for you, and I do think Jesus said some good things. But how can anyone today believe that there is only one true religion?[i]
Perhaps you’ve had a conversation like this. Nearly everything you’re saying about Jesus is acceptable to others, until you make the claim that Jesus is not just one way of salvation. He’s not just the best way of salvation. He is the only way of salvation. At that moment, the offense of Christianity becomes clear: the salvation God offers in Christ necessarily excludes all other proposals for salvation.
We live in a culture where religious pluralism is rampant. Rather than having any one particular, objective Truth, our pluralistic culture tells us that no one religious perspective or figure can be normative for all people in all cultures at all times.[ii] In this environment, religion becomes highly pragmatic and psychological. The pluralist doesn’t care to evaluate any one religion based on the truthfulness of its claims, but based merely on its usefulness to meet felt needs. Remember Bill’s reaction: “I’m glad Christianity works for you.” To assert that Jesus is anything more is imperialistic, says our culture.
Our passage is quite relevant for the situation in which we find ourselves. Peter and John get interrogated by the religious elite in Israel. And what they say in response leaves no room for neutrality when it comes to Jesus. All peoples of all times in every place must call upon his name if they want God’s salvation. That’s the appeal of the true gospel. That means preaching the gospel will divide the world—some will believe; some will oppose. It will also mean great boldness to preach this gospel in particular when the world does oppose it.
Our passage is a bit longer today, so let’s break it down into three smaller chunks where we see the gospel dividing humanity; where we see the gospel’s exclusive claims; and where we see the necessity of boldness in preaching this gospel.
Preaching the gospel divides humanity.
To begin, let’s look at how preaching the gospel divides humanity into two camps—those who oppose and those who believe. Verses 1-4…
1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Let’s stop there. We’re in the middle of Peter and John preaching to a crowd of Jews amazed at the healing of a lame man. A lame man of forty years was healed instantly in the name of Jesus. The healing signals something huge. The healing is proof that God glorified Jesus. Jesus wasn’t dead; he was alive and the power of his resurrection was now manifesting itself in the healing of this man.
Well, about four hours later[iii] the religious elite have had enough of this talk. It says they were greatly annoyed for two reasons. One, “they were teaching the people.” These apostles aren’t the accepted leaders in Israel. Who do these guys think they are? Who approved them? Who gave them authority?
Two, they were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Now, are they preaching the resurrection of Jesus in particular? Or, are they preaching the resurrection of the dead in general? The answer is Yes. To proclaim “in Jesus” the resurrection from the dead, was to proclaim that the expected resurrection at the end of history has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul puts it later on, Jesus was “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23; cf. Col 1:18); he is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). The final resurrection has two episodes: episode one, Jesus rises; episode two, his people rise.
This explains why the religious elite are so annoyed. The Sadducees denied there was a resurrection at all (Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). The other guys accepted the resurrection, but at the end of history, not in the middle of history. So the disciples were annoying everybody: not only is the resurrection a fact, but it has already begun—Jesus’ resurrection was proof of both. And hey, by the way, don’t forget the lame man whose standing here healed because of it.
So they arrest them. A quick fix, while they try to figure out what to do next. Not everybody opposes the message, though. Verse 4, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” There’s the division. The gospel provokes opposition in some and produces faith in others.
Why it does so, we must trust to the sovereignty of God. These religious leaders have every reason to believe. The apostles’ answers are logical. They’ve done only a good deed. At one point, the leaders realize that the evidence is stacked against them: the lame man is healed and standing right there; nobody can deny it. “Who wouldn’t believe?” we might be quick to ask. But the truth is that the human heart is so stubborn. By nature it suppresses the truth. God must change the heart to receive the evidence for what it truly is. God must remove the bias inside.
One thing we must remember in our own gospel preaching is that some will oppose it. There are always ways to get better at our evangelism efforts and relating to people with the truth. But we must never think that if I could just get X, Y, and Z in place, conversion is inevitable. It’s not. Some will oppose the gospel, no matter what evidence they’re given. At the end of the day, we must entrust the results to the Lord, and pray fervently for conversion, and then sleep well at night.
But we must also remember that in our own gospel preaching, some will believe. Some will hear about Jesus and believe. God’s Spirit will open their eyes to the truth. There will be more summary statements like this in Acts, where we see the word of God advancing and saving despite opposition. The point for us to take home is that God’s mission to gather his people cannot fail. The gospel cannot be stopped. The opposition will intimidate, frighten, and seek to smother. But nobody can stop the risen Jesus from building his church. Preach the word, brothers and sisters!
In fact, arresting Peter and John becomes just another opportunity for the gospel to advance among the religious elite. It was just like Jesus said before: “you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake [Why?], to bear witness before them…” The arrest of Christians does not mean the opposition is winning—and that day may be drawing closer for us. Pray for faithfulness to bear witness to the opposition. Let’s go there next, to the message Peter proclaims to the religious elite.
Preaching the gospel means declaring Jesus as the exclusive Savior.
We’ll begin in verse 5, but by the end of verse 12, we’ll see that preaching the gospel means declaring Jesus as the exclusive Savior. It says,
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Picture the situation. This council of religious elite, also known as the Sanhedrin—they gathered in a semi-circle. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Senate floor at the Capitol, it would be much like that. And they sit Peter and John right in the middle. Talk about intimidating!
They then inquire: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” They know the answer. Peter and John spent four hours talking to the people about it yesterday. It wasn’t a secret. They’re looking for a way to intimidate them. These are the same leaders, who threatened to ostracize anybody who confessed Jesus to be the Christ. They’d kick you out of the synagogue (John 9:22). These are the same leaders who put Jesus on trial, and convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus.
How would you answer? Would you just keep things vague? You know, kind of generalize your answers so as not to offend? After all, you want to go home. Your wife and kids are waiting. Couldn’t they have just said, “God healed the man”? Wouldn’t that have been true? Yes, but it wouldn’t have announced the gospel. It wouldn’t have challenged their worldview that had no room for a crucified Messiah. It wouldn’t have glorified Jesus. Peter centers them on Jesus. Look at it in verse 8…
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
What an answer! It cuts right through all the baloney and forces these leaders to deal with Jesus. As C. S. Lewis once put it: Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or he is Lord. Peter presses such a dilemma upon them. There’s no room for neutrality when it comes to Jesus.
Jesus healed the man, which means that he's risen
First of all, he reiterates that Jesus is the one who healed the man. Verse 10, “by him this man is standing before you well.” In other words, the Jesus you crucified—he’s alive. The Jesus you rejected, God vindicated. He’s still healing. You tried to stop him, but this is how it goes when someone walks out of the grave.
God made Jesus the cornerstone by resurrection
The same point gets reinforced in Peter’s next assertion: God made Jesus the cornerstone by resurrection. What’s important is that Peter doesn’t pull this cornerstone metaphor out of thin air. He’s quoting from Psalm 118:22. These religious leaders would have known Psalm 118. It was used annually during Passover. It called Israel to give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love, in particular in relation to his special king.[iv]
In Psalm 118, God’s special king is suffering. A mob of hostile nations are about to consume the king, and he has nothing left. Life itself is fleeting. But one thing never waivers—the king remains faithful to the Lord. He is righteous. So, the Lord vindicates his king. When the king wins the battle, his people also win the battle.
So at the end of Psalm 118, you get this picture of the king making his victory march into God’s city. His people come with him. He leads them right up to the “gates of the righteous.” These gates were the entry way into God’s presence. Only the righteous could enter (Ps 118:20). All of us would be in a heap of trouble, wouldn’t we? Well, this king comes right up to the gates, all his people with him, and says, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them…” They open to the king, proving his righteousness. And amazingly the people get to enter with him. So the picture is that of a faithful king who brings his people into God’s presence by his own righteousness.
Within that context comes this cornerstone metaphor. The king is “the stone that the builders rejected” but “has become the cornerstone.” The cornerstone is the most significant stone. It determines how all the other stones will lay. If you miss this stone, your building is a disaster. Apparently, this king who brings his people into God’s presence by his own righteousness will also be rejected by men and then vindicated by God as most important. Verse 23 says, “This is the Lord’s doing.” His rejection, his vindication—all of it is the Lord’s doing in making this particular king the cornerstone.
Hold that thought and look now at Luke 20. Jesus is talking with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. They’re all bothered by Jesus and want proof of his authority. So Jesus gives them a little parable:
9 A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Well before Peter used Psalm 118 to speak about Jesus, Jesus had used it to speak about himself to the same leaders in Israel. He is “the beloved son” in the parable. After ignoring all the prophets, the people would kill Jesus. Once they did, the Lord would raise up Jesus and build a true people that listened to Jesus and gained the full inheritance. He would build them up like a new temple, and Jesus would be their cornerstone. If you don’t build your life on the cornerstone, that same stone will crush you.
That’s the kind of preaching Peter heard from Jesus. Now Peter is telling these same religious elite, “Look, I know that you think you’re building up Israel with all your fancy traditions and law-keeping. But in the process, you actually rejected the righteous king who brings people into God’s presence. You can’t bring yourself into God’s presence. The gates of the righteous won’t open for you. They open for only one who is truly righteous, King Jesus. You rejected him, but God made Jesus Christ the cornerstone by resurrection. And he’s building a new people. Here’s one of them leaping for joy.”
There is salvation in no one else
This is the way it would’ve fallen on their ears, and it leads him to make one further assertion about Jesus in verse 12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” According to Psalm 118, being saved has to do with being welcomed into the very presence of God by a righteousness that’s not your own. In our sin, we can’t enter God’s presence. In our fickleness, we can’t stay faithful to the Lord when suffering comes. The gates into paradise only open for one man, the God-man, the victorious man, Jesus Christ the righteous king. You stand on him, you’re on solid ground.
But if you don’t, then there is no hope for you. Listen to the universality of his claim: no one else. If that wasn’t clear: no other name under heaven given among men. People must call upon the name of Jesus Christ in particular, in order to be saved. Jesus is the only righteous one who gives access to the presence of God, and we know that because God raised him from the dead. If death had held Jesus in the grave, it would’ve proved that he was a sinner like the rest of us. But it didn’t! God said the world’s verdict on Jesus was wrong; he in fact is the righteous one, and the only righteous one.
What that means is that all attempts at salvation or human flourishing apart from Jesus, are totally vain pursuits. Personal enlightenment (Hinduism/New Age), good works to earn God’s favor (Islam/Mormonism/Jehovah’s Witnesses), following the Torah and waiting for a messiah other than Jesus (Judaism), appeasing the so-called gods (Tribal religions), living in harmony with the ways of nature (Taoism), simply applying rational thinking to our problems (atheism), the noble eightfold path of right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration (Buddhism), the activity of self-realization (Oprah), just believing that you have what it takes (Osteen), Christ is the best way but maybe not the only way (Nominal Christianity)—all of these are totally futile.
None of them ultimately submit to Jesus as the only way for salvation. Salvation is in no other name, because only Jesus was with God from the beginning. Only Jesus is both God and man. Only Jesus was born of a virgin. Only Jesus is righteous. Only Jesus fulfills the prophecies. Only Jesus lived the life Adam could’ve lived but didn’t live and thrust us into a heap of mess wishing we could only live. Only Jesus could satisfy the cup of God’s wrath. Only in Jesus’ death comes the death of death. Only Jesus rose from the grave. Only Jesus is seated at God’s right hand. Only Jesus will come again to put the world right, and every knee will bow. The world must believe in him.
The world asks, “Why just one way?” But we should be asking, “Why’s there a way at all for sinners.” The only way is open for all.
And we must build upon him, church. He is the cornerstone. He’s the foundation of our existence. We can have no competing foundations. No pastor, no dynamic personality, no political party, no demographic, no ethnicity, no self-help philosophy, nothing can replace the cornerstone. We build on him, or we perish.
The Christian life isn’t about how I can live the way I want and still have Jesus too; it’s “Hey, by the grace of God, I was set on this one Cornerstone, and he changes everything about me.” Right now, you’re being built into a holy temple, and everything about your life, God is making to display his beauty and glory. Jesus is the cornerstone; we must believe in him alone and build on him alone.
Preaching the gospel requires great boldness in the face of opposition.
One final point: preaching the gospel requires great boldness in the face of opposition. Read with me from verse 13…
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
In verse 13, the religious elite observe “the boldness of Peter and John.” A further example of their boldness comes in verses 19-20. They’re commanded by the highest authorities in Israel not to speak in Jesus’ name any more. But Peter and John promise to obey God rather than men. One thing we must always remember as Christians is that governing authority is never absolute authority. Absolute authority belongs to Jesus alone. If governing authorities demand we live in ways contrary to the authority of Christ, we must disobey them in order to follow Jesus. This requires boldness.
Keep in mind that they’re speaking to some of the very people who crucified their Master just two months ago. They know what this answer may very well cost them. What makes them so bold? We’re talking about Peter! Peter, the one hiding by a fire when Jesus is on trial, the one who got scared at a little servant girl asking him if he was Jesus’ disciple, the one who denied Jesus two months ago. What changed him? What gives him such courage to preach Jesus as the exclusive Savior of the world and then disobey governing authorities to keep preaching Jesus? What’s now in him that will also give us the courage to preach Jesus?
They had the hope of resurrection.
To begin, they have the hope of the resurrection. Verse 2 said they were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection gave them confidence in their own resurrection. Do you so believe that God raised Jesus from the dead that death can have no ultimate hold on you? The worst people can do is kill us for the gospel; and then immediately we’re with Christ until he raises our bodies. When that’s truly in you, then you will be bold. You will say with Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
The Holy Spirit empowered them.
They also have the Holy Spirit’s power. Notice again verse 8: “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…” There’s no need for us to borrow trouble from tomorrow and worry that we might fail Christ when the occasion comes. Jesus told his disciples, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” The Spirit empowers his people to speak as they ought in these moments. Ask him to help you, and trust that he’ll be there for you.
They spent time with Jesus.
It’s also noted that these men were with Jesus—verse 13. These men weren’t bold because they were trained in the schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were bold because they were with Jesus. They knew Jesus, and he knew them. They walked with Jesus and witnessed his glory. They spent time with Jesus. Boldness to preach Christ grows out of knowing Christ—not just knowing about Christ, but knowing Christ. You don’t need a seminary degree to be a bold witness. You don’t have to be eloquent to be a bold witness for Jesus. He can use anybody. But you must know Jesus.
They knew the truth.
These men also knew the truth. Verse 20, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” They saw Jesus rise. They heard Jesus teach. The resurrection was tangible reality they discerned with their senses. Not only that, there’s a man who was lame for forty years now leaping in their midst. Even the religious leaders couldn’t deny that truth. They could ignore it. They could suppress it. But they couldn’t withstand truth. The more we’re acquainted with the truth and convinced of the truth, the bolder we become in our witness.
They feared God more than men.
Lastly, we see that they feared God more than people. In verse 19 they turn the tables a bit: “Whether it’s right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge…” Their biggest concern isn’t the approval of others. They’re not concerned with what the religious elite think of them. They’re concerned only with doing what’s right in the sight of God. Fear of man may be one of the biggest hindrances to preaching the gospel. The only solution to the fear of man is the fear of God who rules all things.
That’s not to say we don’t face the truth about difficult, and even intimidating circumstances we may face. The apostles weren’t living in denial of their own fears—we’ll see next week how they prayed for God to overcome their fear. Rather, the fears they did face were given their proper perspective before a grand vision of God’s authority and God’s rule and God’s judgment. Awe of God is the solution to man-fear.
Perhaps you’ve been timid to share the gospel with others. Perhaps you’re already wondering what that next conversation is going to look like when you finally tell that friend, that family member, that co-worker, that Jesus is the exclusive Savior of the world, and they must call on his name to be saved. Be emboldened to speak by what we see here. Christ’s resurrection is the assurance of our resurrection. The Holy Spirit will empower us to speak on behalf of Christ. Spend time with Jesus in the word and prayer. Equip yourself with the truth in Scripture. And rekindle your awe of God.
[i]This conversation opens the essay written by Harold Netland and Keith Johnson, “Why Is Religious Pluralism Fun—and Dangerous?” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 47-67.
[iii]Cf. “the ninth hour” in Acts 3:1 (approximately 3:00pm) with “it was already evening” in Acts 4:3.
[iv]The servant in Psalm 118 not only leads God’s people into worship; he also has enough influence in Israel that he represents the nation in battle. All nations surround him. The figure in Psalm 118 is very similar to the figure we see in Psalm 2, where “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed” (Ps 2:1). The nations hate him, too, because of his loyalty to Yahweh (cf. Ps 1:1-6). If we take Psalm 118 in light of Psalm 2, then the servant in Psalm 118 is no ordinary Israelite, but God/Israel’s anointed king.
More in The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus
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April 22, 2018All Things to All Men