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.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale