While working on sermon prep on my text (Acts 4:1-31) for the weekend sermons (at the Saturday Sidewalk Church & Sunday service) a small part of the text hit me: “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10b).
Back in my early years as a Christian, I spent hours memorizing Bible verses (and sometime paragraphs and even whole chapters). One of the first verses committed to memory was Acts 4:12:
“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.”
Although I have studied the passage and preached on Acts 4 many times, it never occurred to me that the “no other name” is not simply “Jesus” but “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” For, basically in one breath (short 2 verses), we learn that the man in the story was healed “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and this is the name “given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Of course, “Christ” means Messiah, the anointed One, the long awaited promised One of Israel. The little preposition “of” (before Nazareth) has to be explained, defined. Probably because the following noun is a small village, it is fair to render Acts 4:10b, “by the name Jesus, the Messiah, from Nazareth.”
“Jesus of . . . Nazareth” is more common than one realizes in the New Testament. Obviously, not the most common title, but still 17 or so times. In Acts, Luke uses it seven (7) times in relationship to Jesus (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:3, 8; 22:8; 26:9); and, once Jesus’ followers are referred to as “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
Identifying Jesus as being from Nazareth would not have been good PR, nor would it ingratiate the accusing crowd toward Peter and John. In other words, it didn’t help the situation at all. There would have been shame not honor in being from Nazareth.
The significance of attaching “Nazareth” to Jesus’ name is further affirmed in the gathering of the Jerusalem aristocracy in the Acts 4 scene—“Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family” (4:6) verses Peter and John who “were uneducated, common men” (4:13b). Furthermore, let us not overlook this whole incident is the consequence of Peter and John healing a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10). Note that this healing—the actual occasion in chapter 3—was “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (3:6b), the very name under heaven by which we must be saved (4:12).
The reference here to Jesus being from Nazareth and the power to heal and the gospel preached in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is not incidental. It is central to the story—and to the word being spoken here.
We should stop to consider what it meant to refer to Jesus as the Nazarene or from the village of Nazareth. Remember (we all remember) Nathanael’s words to Philip after he was told they had found the Messiah: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). This alone gives the impression that Nazareth was not a big deal, more likely an inferior place, low socially. The bad side of town. Nazareth was a very small, insignificant Galilean village. So much so that one, more recent, writer put it, “God grew up in a forgotten town.” The fact that we know very little about Nazareth from ancient writers is telling, in that it was an uncelebrated, forgotten little village, “off the beaten path, even for Galilee.” Being called a “Nazarene” would have been a stigma that Jesus would carry his whole life and, literally, beyond.
Yet, this is the only name under heaven—the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth—by which anyone can be saved.
The gospel early on was attached to the two worst social aspects imaginable: the cross and where Jesus was from, namely an insignificant, small, lowly village in the dark Gentile land of Galilee, Nazareth. Naming Jesus from Nazareth would have been, not only geographically a faux pas, but a social blunder, something that would have discredited “the name.” And, thus the messengers.
But it is the name we must be saved. No power in palace, privileged place, nor powerful earthly names. The gospel—right away—in the story is associated with a lack-luster, shameful, insignificant name. Luke’s story tells us immediately that the gospel was associated with the poor and insignificant. It was essential to the story. Luke made it so in the name.
In the church world, this seems to be the opposite now.
We announce there is another name by which we can be saved, one not necessarily associated or from Nazareth. But we must for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved, and that is the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
This spoke powerfully to those at the Saturday Sidewalk Breakfast & church and reminded our Sunday congregation of our mission and purpose in the Hill.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.