Names are important, aren’t they? I recently read of a lady who gave birth to twins; a girl and a boy. Sadly, her husband was away on business in America and couldn’t be with her so her brother stepped in to help with their initial care. Mum needed some attention in the hospital and so it was several days later when she heard from the nurse that her brother had decided to name the twins. This caused her some concern as her brother had never been noted for his good decisions. “What has he called them?” she asked with some nervousness. “Well”, replied the nurse, “he’s named the girl Denise” – “That’s ok” said the mum, “I like the name Denise … what about the boy?” “He’s called that one ‘De-Nephew’”
The importance of names feature in all our readings. We may name our children according to the personality we desire them to possess; names that mean peace, gentleness, graciousness etc. Viking Warriors gave their sons names such as Bloodaxe, Toebreaker, Ironside, to raise fear in their enemies. Isaiah speaks of God knowing our name before we are born. How wonderful is that? That God has a special name for us. A name that reveals the qualities He knows we have when we are living fully in Him.
The Bible teaches us that it’s not how people know us as that matters; the crucial factor is how God knows us; have we made a decision to belong to Him or to belong to the world? Does He know us as one of His? What is your name, I wonder; your identity before God?
In the Old Testament a change of name was often associated with a change of relationship with God. Jacob (supplanter) was changed to Israel (triumphant with God) Abram (Father) to Abraham (Father of nations) and Sarai (Princess) to Sarah (Mother of nations). Those who enter a religious order will often change their name to signify a new life beginning and Jesus teaches us that when we enter into a new relationship with God our identity changes. It’s a completely new start as a new life begins. The old one goes and a brand new one commences. Jesus calls it being ‘Born Again’.
We begin a new life with God.
In the ancient world, many people had two names; a Greek name which was used for business and commerce and then a name in their native tongue.
We have an amazing truth that presents itself in the words of Jesus when He meets Simon and it’s this: God looks not just on what we ARE but on what we will BECOME in Him. There are actualities and possibilities. Jesus changes his name from Simon to Cephas, which means Peter.
In his native tongue, Cephas relates to a stone a rock. Think of how many times God is described as a ‘Rock’ in scripture and what that means; strong, solid, dependable, immoveable. Many look on the character of Peter the Disciple and see a man who was anything but a ‘Rock’. They see a man who was impulsive and unstable, rushing into situations and denying Jesus three times at His trial.
In Greek, ‘Cephas’ is translated ‘Petros’ – Peter. ‘Petros’ is derived from the word ‘Petra’. A mass of rock is Petra and a smaller stone or boulder is Petros and so Peter is effectively named a ‘chip off the block’. What a wonderful name to be given and identified as; a chip off the block of God.
And here is what is even more wonderful. As Jesus looked on Simon he saw what he would become in God, not what he was now, but all the possibility and potential locked within him waiting to be released by the creator.
God knew his name before he was born.
There is a story relating to the great artist Michelangelo. A man came upon him chipping away at a huge shapeless piece of rock. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked and Michelangelo replied: ‘I am releasing the Angel imprisoned within the Marble’.
Jesus said that he had come to bring Life and Life in all its fullness. That fullness begins and ends with knowing God; knowing our creator. Jesus looks on us and says, give your life to me and I will make you what you were created to be and release all that is within you. Give your life to me, place your trust in me and I will release you into your hopes and dreams and untapped potential but I will also release you out ofyour sin, guilt, shame and any sense of loss and emptiness you may be experiencing. It begins and ends with Jesus.
Paul writing to the church in Corinth details a fundamental Kingdom principle and the reason why Jesus came; that those who place their trust in Him might stand ‘blameless’ before almighty God. Jesus taught that we will all stand before God for judgement. The question is not, will I be judged but on what will I will be judged? Will I be judged on my own merits, on my own name and my own character and stand guilty before God or will I be judged on the character of Jesus Christ, God’s son and stand blameless, a ‘chip off the block’ of God himself? God’s desire is that we should know Him and discover our true potential that is waiting to be released. It’s all in the name.
So … have you or haven’t you? …. made a new year’s resolution?
There never appears to be a shortage of ideas or invitations to participate in at this time of year as numerous agencies seek for our attention and patronage for gym membership, health programmes, various diets, or perhaps even a dose of retail therapy through a variety of enticing shopping discount cards. We are surrounded by great offers. Some come with a variety of ‘free’ offers, some with a localised support programme, some with a wide range of different guarantees but all come with the possibility of changing our ‘status’ our condition and our general sense of well being. All we need to do is respond to their offer and all will be well.
The Daily Telegraph was recently suggesting in one of its columns that we might benefit from a set of ‘National Resolutions’ to save us all time and keep us focused on a national agenda that would assist us all. ‘YouGov’ states that 63% of us will have started the new year having made a resolution of some kind and that by the start of next month a large proportion of us will have broken it.
With the birth of Jesus, the Bible tells us that God made a clear resolution with a set purpose in mind; to bless us and to help us.
Anyone who has ever made a new year’s resolution knows just how hard it is to live our lives under the restriction and constraints of rules and regulations. We try hard and begin in earnest with energy and enthusiasm but the initial interest and attraction often begins to fade quite quickly and before too long we find that we have failed to meet our initial targets or goals. We haven’t lived up to our expectations and life returns to its familiar cycle of trying hard once more. The Bible tells us that this is what our lives are like without God. Our natural selfishness and desire to do things ‘our own way’ has set us on a path that takes us further and further away from how God intended us to be living and enjoying our lives. This is not how God intended it to be.
St Paul, writing to the churches in Galatia is reminding them of how the Jewish law held its followers in captivity to it. They believed that the only way to please God was by observing the law in all its fullness and that the only way to secure forgiveness and the hope of a life spent with God both now and beyond death was by observing the law in every single detail.
The Jews understood the value of ‘doing life with God’. To live life with God meant everything to them. Without God, they had nothing. With God, they had everything. However, observing the law in this manner was an enormous task and one that was inevitably set for failure.
If obeying rules and regulations was the only way to obtaining God’s mercy and forgiveness, then you and I would be in a very sad position indeed. Yet before the intervention of Jesus on the cross, this was exactly the situation the world was in. Paul tells us in his letter to the churches in Rome that the law was given to help us realise that we couldn’t keep it and therefore needed a saviour. That saviour is Jesus.
Because of His death and resurrection, we no longer need to be living under the burden of the law and seeking to ‘work out’ our salvation through the things we do. It’s not about what we do – it’s all about what Jesus has already done. All we need to do is accept the invitation to change our ‘status’ and our condition and respond to the offer God has made available.
The image Paul uses to explain what Jesus has done is one that would have had great resonance with that culture. The rights of an heir and the absence of any rights of a slave. An heir within a family had all the rights and privileges of the father: influence, status, stability, freedom, security etc where as a slave had none of those things. They had no power, no status, no security and most definitely no freedom. How they might long for that situation to change and for a very lucky few it sometimes did. A trusted servant might be ‘adopted’ by their master and when they were, everything changed and changed quite suddenly. They moved quite dramatically from a situation of nothing to a situation of something.
God’s promise, His resolution to us, is no less dramatic. When we accept His son Jesus for who He is and for why he came, God’s promise is that our ‘status’ changes immediately and irrevocably. We move from a situation of nothing to one of having absolutely everything. God wants us to have a relationship with Him. A fresh start. The chance to live our lives in the fullness of knowing Him and his son Jesus in our lives every day and every moment of every day. To enjoy ‘doing life’ with Him.
The reading in Luke has a lovely statement regarding Mary in verse 19:
‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’
I believe that we need to do the same. To treasure the gift that God has given us, to ponder its significance and to respond.
And what an offer – it’s absolutely free, comes with a 24/7 worldwide individually tailored support programme and with a double lifetime guarantee!
Maybe 2017 is the year that God is speaking to you about making a resolution to discover Him and to step into that new life of freedom that He has promised and made available for you; and for those of you who know that freedom already … to allow Him to take you deeper into that adventure.
Happy New Year to you all.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale