We decided on an apartment complex that had short term rates and moved there. We were not ready for the junior version of the plagues that we would encounter. The first night, I got up for a late night glass of water and I saw roaches scurrying everywhere. The next day, the apartment manager sent an exterminator. This really seemed to do the trick as we saw no more scurrying roaches — a few dead ones, but no more lives ones! Yay!
Then a few days later, I came home to an unhappy wife with flea bites all over her legs and our pre-school daughter covered in them. The apartment manager called a guy to "bomb" the place, but we had to stay out of the apartment for 24 hours. When we finally came home, there were no more roaches and no more fleas. Hooray!
Then a few days later, sugar ants started showing up everywhere. We were given a bunch of little baited traps and set them out, but we were urged to be patient a few more days for the traps to do the trick. As you can imagine, these were not the words any of us wanted to hear!
"Will we ever be rid of these roaches, fleas, and ants?"
I know this is how Annas, the Jewish "High Priest," must have felt about the early disciples and their use of "the name of Jesus"! He had done everything to get rid of the followers of Jesus and eradicate any trace of Jesus from Jewish life. He was sick of any mention of the name of Jesus.
I can imagine him calling Saul of Tarsus in for a visit about the problem before he sent Saul — who would later become known as the apostle Paul — out for his "witch hunt" for Jesus' followers in Damascus.
"How can I get rid of Jesus' band of roaches, fleas, and ants! I'm sick of hearing the name of Jesus. I'm sick of having to deal with the problem of Jesus. I'm sick of being blamed for the death of Jesus."
"Yeah, there were rumors about him still being alive after his crucifixion, but his vermin followers remained hidden and quiet for weeks after his crucifixion!"
Yes, the tomb was discovered empty, but we explained that his body was stolen (Matthew 28:11-13; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7). And there were rumors about him appearing to some of them, but they all remained hidden and quiet, afraid as mice just as they had when we crucified that false messiah!
I know about the disturbance at Pentecost — that bizarre windstorm and all the baptisms and uproar... People calling on the name of the Lord, blasphemously referring to Jesus and the Almighty! (Acts 2:21).
Yes, there were 3,000 that were baptized in pools all around the Temple precinct. They baptized fellow Jews into that awful name: "We baptize you in the name of Jesus the Messiah." It hurts my ears to even think those words (Acts 2:38).
Then came the beginning of the crisis. During the afternoon time of prayer, right after the Shofar blast calling people to worship in the Temple, a couple of them entered Gate Beautiful and healed the lame beggar. Then Simeon Peter, the dumb and vulgar fisherman said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6).
Yes, I heard he just kept saying it, over and over. "It is by faith in Jesus name that this lame man is healed!" (Acts 3:16).
And when we arrested and hauled them in, we were dumb enough to ask them by what authority they had created such a commotion and the fisherman answered us: "The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified and God raised from the dead!" (Acts 4:10).
So we warned them and threatened them. "Stop it! Shut up! No more of this Jesus talk!" (Acts 4:17-18). But no, it didn't work, and the next thing you know, they're back in the Temple doing it all over again, speaking about Jesus and doing miracles in his name! (Acts 4:29-30).
And when that didn't work, we brought them in again. And we warned and threatened them for filling the whole city with their blasphemy, and then ultimately... to prove we were serious, we beat them! (Acts 5:28; Acts 5:40).
But I heard that only seemed to fill them with joy. That they counted it an honor to suffer for the name of this despicable Jesus! (Acts 5:41).
So Saul of Tarsus, scholar from Gamaliel's school, passionate protector of all things sacred, the only thing that seems to have worked is your passionate persecution! You ran the Jesus rats out of Jerusalem when you supervised the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1-2).
Yes, that got them out of Jerusalem, but these vermin blasphemers spread the awful name of Jesus to Samaria and even into Syria! (Acts 8:12).
So Saul, here are the papers you asked for. Go bring everyone who calls on that awful name of Jesus to Jerusalem so we can convince them... or intimidate them... or kill them if necessary... to stop them from speaking the vile name of the Nazarene.
So Saul left his meeting with Annas the High Priest full of passion for God, full of fury at any mention of the name of Jesus, and with a deep conviction he must arrest, hurt, and kill anyone who confessed his name!
"One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.'"'Who are you, lord?' I asked. "And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.' " (Acts 26:12-18 NLT).
Yes, everything changed! Christianity would never just be a sect of the Jewish faith, tucked away in a dusty and violent corner of the Middle East. In less than 70 years, the name of Jesus would be spoken by people all over the world!
Years ago, an older preacher I admired had been in conversation talking about Jesus with several Chinese students. While they all admired the things that Jesus did and taught, one young lady was stunned at the teaching about Jesus' resurrection. She inquisitively said, "If Jesus is raised from the dead, he is alive and I can... know him!"
She is right, you know! We've been in church buildings so long we forget it. We've turned the name of Jesus into the mandatory trailer hitch at the end of our prayers so we can attach the "Amen" and we've forgotten just how powerful and glorious it is to pray with the help of the real, living Jesus as we go to the Father!
You see... Jesus is not just raised, he is resurrected! He has a resurrection body and one day we will have one like his.
And see... Jesus is not just resurrected, he is present! He is not just at the right hand of God, Jesus is present among us. And this occurs in at least 3 ways.
First, Jesus is present through our faith in his name. When we invoke the name of Jesus, we call upon our present Lord to act for the glory of his name and the good his mission! This happens when we pray in his name, when we gather in his name, when we baptize someone in his name, and when we serve and heal and clothe and comfort those in need in his name.
A second way Jesus is present today is through his gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the gift that Jesus gives to those who come to him — he poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18; Acts 2:33) and on each of us when we were baptized (Titus 3:4-7).
A third way Jesus is present today through our experiencing of Immanuel. Matthew reminds us that Jesus is God with us in the story of his life and ministry (Matthew 1:23), and through authentic community (Matthew 18:20), service to those in need (Matthew 25:40), and walking with folks of other cultures until they come to full discipleship in Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
You see, we are not called to go to church, to have church, or to even be church — although being part of a congregation is part of our discipleship. We are called as Jesus' church to be his second incarnation: Jesus' physical presence in the world, the people in whom his love and character are daily displayed!
But, for Jesus' presence to be real... to be more than church talk in church land... we must truly live in the name of Jesus — we must live in expectation he is here and that we can experience his presence! And that, it seems to me, is all the difference between a sterile and lifeless faith, and a life lived boldly with the presence of Jesus.