Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
For each, God has a different response. With every man He has a secret – the secret of a new name. In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, First Series – The New Nam
What’s In A Name: Your Name
Most of us think of names as a word that identifies something. There is no real meaning behind a name – it is just what we call a thing. In the Biblical world a name not only identifies something. It also gives meaning to the item you are talking about, especially when you are talking about people. Our names give meaning to us. This morning, what I want to do is to think about how Jesus makes a difference in your name.
In the book of Revelation Jesus appears to John and gives him a message to give to seven different churches. At the end of one of those messages Jesus says this:
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17 NRSV).
In other words, Jesus changes our name. He gives us a new name and a new identity.
He was born grasping the heel of his twin brother, Esau. His parents named him Jacob, which means “to grasp.” Because of how he lived his life his name came to mean “a deceiver.” As a young man he traded with his brother a pot of stew for the birthright, which meant that he would be the head of the family and receive twice as much of his father’s inheritance. It was a legal transaction, but certainly not loving or moral. He simply took advantage of his brother. A few years later Jacob deceived his father and stole the blessing that Isaac had intended to give to Esau. Jacob ran away to save his life, married two sisters and had twelve sons. About twenty years later he went back home to meet his brother.
The night before Jacob and Esau got back together Jacob got into a wrestling match with God. He actually held his own against God. At the end of the night, after wrestling for hours, God changed Jacob’s name.
“The man asked, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. The man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel’” (Genesis 32:27-28 CEV).
His new name, Israel, means one who wrestles with God. Israel became the father of all God’s people.
Years later God’s people were in exile. It was their own fault. They had sinned and turned away from God. Yet they felt like God had abandoned them. Everything that gave meaning to their lives was gone. The king, who was God’s representative, was dead, along with many of their own loved ones. The Temple was destroyed. They had been taken away from the Promised Land. They lived in despair.
Finally, through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke a word of hope. God was going to save them. He was going to bring them back to the Promised Land. He was going to give them a new name.
“You’ll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God… No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You’ll be called Hephzibah, which means “My Delight,” and your land will be called Beulah, which means “Married,” because God delights in you” (Isaiah 62:2,4 The Message).
Because God delighted in them, the people of Israel were brought back from the exile, and given a second chance and a new name.
His name was Simon, which actually means to hear, or to listen. Simon heard the call of Jesus to follow, and he obeyed. He was one of the twelve disciples, in fact he was their leader and Jesus closest friend. He was the first one ever to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He promised that he would follow Jesus wherever he went, no matter what happened. And then three times he denied that he even knew Jesus.
Yet Jesus did not give up on Simon. He forgave him and changed his name. Instead of Simon he would be Peter, the Rock. Jesus said about Simon Peter, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18 NRSV).
Everyone called him Bear. I don’t remember his real name but Bear was a good name for him. He was about 5’10” and 250 lbs., with a big shaggy afro. However, he was not a teddy bear. He was more like a grizzly bear, a mad grizzly bear, a hungry grizzly bear.
It was the summer of 1978 at Woodleaf, a Young Life camp in gold country of northern California. Bear was one of the campers and he caused all sorts of problems. He disrupted games. He was rude to people. At the club meetings, when they were trying to sing and give the message, Bear was loud and obnoxious. The speaker that week was Pete Cantou, one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. For the most part he was able to ignore Bear, and gave a wonderful message.
In the middle of the week, Pete was talking about the cross. In the Young Life week the cross talk is the most important message. Bear was being extremely rude that night. Pete did not respond in the way that youth speakers usually do. He exploded in anger. “Get him out of here. He may not want to listen but there are others here who need to hear this message.” Then he turned his back on all the kids for several minutes and calmed down. I’ve never figured out how Pete got away with that, or how he got back to his message, but he did, and a number of kids committed their lives to Jesus that night.
At the end of the week Young Life camps often have a time when kids get up and share their stories. About thirty kids got up and said that they had accepted Jesus. The last one to stand up was Bear. As he stood you could have heard a pin drop. Bear said, “I know that I’ve been a jerk this week. I have come to know that I need to be forgiven and have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” The whole place exploded with cheering. Pete stood up front leading the cheering. Then he did something I’ll never forget. He looked at Bear and said, “Your name is no longer Bear. Now you are Aslan, the lion of God.” He changed Bear’s name.
The next summer I worked up at Woodleaf on the Summer Staff. One of the high school students who was on the Work Crew was Aslan. We didn’t call him that, but neither did we call him Bear. I don’t remember what his name was. I do remember that he was a completely different person, one of the best workers and a gentle, loving young man. Jesus came into his life, changed his name and changed him.
There is actually a website that will give you a new name. If you don’t like the name you have now you type in your current name and personality type. Then you push a button and it gives you a new name. I thought I’d try it. The first name it gave me was Daemyn Janus Marshall. I wasn’t thrilled with that so I tried again – Ugor Melker Marshall. I tried a third time and got Mr. Potatohead Cleavon Marshall. I don’t think that the internet is the best place to get a new name. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if it were that easy to get a new name and a new identity.
Everyone has a secret name, a name that you won’t tell anyone, a name that you don’t want anyone to know. Some of you have the secret name Ashamed. At some point in your life you did something unspeakable, maybe even to someone you love. And so you live in shame, pretending you’re okay, hiding the reality of your sin, from other people and maybe even from yourself. But deep down, in the quiet moments, in the times of honest self-reflection, you know your name, Ashamed. Friends, Jesus died for your sins and he wants to give you a new name. Through Jesus your name is Forgiven and Loved.
Maybe your name is Bored. You’re going through the motions of life but nothing really excites you. You get up, go to work, come home and eat dinner, watch some TV, go to bed and start over again the next day. You’re bored with life, bored with church, and bored with God, probably even bored with yourself. You need to meet the real Jesus, the wild and wonderful Jesus, the astonishing, awe-inspiring and adventurous Jesus. This Jesus goes to parties and weddings, laughs and tells jokes, he walks on water and invites us to join in the grand adventure. You need to meet the Jesus who said “I have come so that everyone would have life, and have it in the fullest” (John 10:10 CEV). You need to hear Jesus say to you “You’re name is no longer Bored. Follow me for your name is Adventure and Joy.”
Maybe your name is Afraid. You live in fear; fear of being known, fear of living and fear of dying, fear of trying something new or fear of opening yourself up to a new relationship. Someone has hurt you and now you spend all your time and energy trying to keep that from happening again, trying to be safe. Maybe you were abused or attacked. Maybe you were rejected or abandoned. For whatever reason your name is Afraid, and you need to hear Jesus say to you, “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. Don’t be afraid, for I love you, I am with you and will protect you. Your name is no longer Afraid but Faith and Trust.
There are lots of other potential names – Discouraged, Lonely, Failure, Bitter. I don’t know your secret name, or the story that goes with it. But God knows your name and your story, and the pain that it brings you. The good news is that God delights in you. God wants to give you a new name. God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to save you and give you a new name. Through Jesus’ birth and life, through his death and resurrection, through his ascension and continued presence in our lives we have been given a new name.
Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.