Here is the majority of what I told the good people of Heidlersburg yesterday.
A Balcony in Verona
Juliet has wandered out onto her balcony. Tired after a party, but exhilarated after meeting a boy, she steps out to address the evening, and an empty garden. Romeo waits below, having snuck into this garden. A famous scene reenacted the whole world over. In one set of lines, she expresses the main concern and crux of the play.
Juliet: O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Such a lovely bit of prose, and it expresses the peril that names use to have. Not so much anymore. We all know the last names of some pretty famous people, and their names carries some power: the Kennedy’s, or Britain’s royal family, the Hatfields, the McCoys… these names all mean something to someone. But the art of the first name has been lost to us.
Maybe for a parent there can be reasons to name a child what they are called. My youngest daughter is named Lillian Eileen, the reflexive of my grandmother’s name whom I never met. The name of my oldest is Claire Elise simply because it was the only name my wife and I could agree on… but she has lived up to her name, being : “Clear”, and “light”.
But when other’s hear her name their mind does not go right away to the meaning and how it relates to her. We, who live in the present context, put no stock in the meanings of name. Or, if we do, it’s the parent’s who are concerned, and no more. No one when they hear my name thinks, “Like a lion”, or “the dam by the dairy farm”… mostly they ask why in the world my parent’s named me what they had, being an unusual name as it is.
This is part of the cultural lapse we face when we read the Bible. Back then, in the Hebrew world, names meant something and carried great connotation. You were named what you were for a reason. Names revealed your character and the events of the day. But, again, we miss this. Paul, John, Luke, Moses, were not relating the events around them for the benefit of the ear of the 21st century man. God was, but they were writing with one audience in mind, their present. And we must marvel at the amazing Grace of God as He attends to his present audience, and the future work of His Spirit at the same time. No after thoughts, or “lucky I did that” hindsight moments. Things were done with purpose, events unfolded deliberately, names were given to those who deserved it.
When we look at the name of Jesus, we begin to understand this lapse. Jesus was not named by accident. In fact, we were made children of God when we fully understood the power and meaning of His name! We need to understand the meaning of Jesus’ name because it affects who we are. We are a peculiar people who cling to the knowledge that God saves.
There is so much crammed into John’s prologue of his Gospel. It would take months to unload all of it from the pulpit. Even in my own private study I cannot help but marvel at what John has done. Amazing! We are only going to look at one verse this morning, and even in this one verse I’m going to do all I can to keep it to 25 minutes. Not because of time restraints, but because understanding this one verse can truly change your life, and there is no need to be stuck in here when you could be out there, living it out for the world to see!
Turn with me to John 1:12.
“But to all who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”…
Just one verse, and yet so amazing. And it all involves the understanding of a name.
Jesus, a name like none other, and yet, not an unusual name. Yeshuha, was a very popular name at the time period that Jesus walked the earth. How do we know this? From the tombstones that still exist from that time. Jesus was a name like Michael, during the Michael Jordan days, or John was right after the JFK term of presidency.
But this name spoke a hope in the heart’s of the people. Israel, the Jewish people were constantly being taken over. They were in a perpetual state of Exile it seemed. We sometimes think that the exile was over by the time Jesus was born. But this is a misconception. The Pharisees knew this very well. The exile would not be completely over until the Spirit of God once again filled the Temple. All of those laws extra the Bible were followed so closely for this hope: that by doing the laws and by obeying the Word of the Law, the Spirit of God would return to the Temple and the Exile would be over! And this name spoke this hope.
Jesus, Yeshuha, means “God Saves”. And at this time, they were looking for God to do just that. The Jews at the time, the majority of the Jews, the Pharisees, were looking for God to rescue His people, to save them from all the powers of this world that were holding them in bondage.
And yet, He came to them and they did not know Him, that’s what John says, John 1:11.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name…”, most of the people missed the fact that this man was not just carrying a popular name. He was the realized hope and wonder of the fact that “God saves.” And for those who believe in his name, they become the children, the heirs, of God.
“God saves”, can there be no harder concept to understand than this at times? I would say that this is the one point that keeps people from fully turning their lives over God… does he really save? Does he really want to save?
It was our own reliance on this premise that made us available to Him to come and to change us, to work that power of salvation in our lives. God saves. And how fully we believe this will affect the rest of our walk. John will come back to this name and the meaning of it throughout his gospel and the letters that we have of his. Our belief in this name and what it means will change the world, because it has changed us!
His name speaks of the character of the Father. God wants to bring us out of the pit. He longs for none to perish but to be rescued by his mighty hand! This is echoed in the very first commandment:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…
And as we read His law, his wonderful, life-giving law, we see the heart and character of this God, who longs to free people from their bondage.
From here, from this vantage point we understand a bit more about the intentionality of our God. The very lips of Christ tell us in John’s gospel that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever would believe him would have eternal life. He has given himself, but we can only receive when we can fully understand the power and wonder of his name, that God does indeed save.
And His intentionality is written throughout Scripture. One brief passage that shows this so well is Isaiah 53: 10- 12. Do not miss this: It was the will of the Lord to crush him. God willed it, he foretold it, and He wanted it to happen, so that the true pandemic exile would be over. He wants to be with us.
As we fully see the meaning of Jesus’ name, we will be changed. As we fully understand the meaning of Jesus’ name, the world around us will be changed!
1 John 3:23 says this:
“And this is his commandment that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Because of the God we serve and because of His love and care for us, we are spurred on to love others. This love, our knowledge that God wants to save us, brings us close to the heart of the Maker, and we are drawn to love others. Our hearts become free to love others when we realize the love and the extent of the Father to us. And not for some agenda or to save them, because we know that we can do nothing to save them. We can do nothing to add or subtract from their experience with the Savior.
Again, I’m back to how amazing the prologue of John is. The greek word for receive in John 1:12 is not exactly the same word for receiving a gift. It has more to do with receiving someone and getting to know them. Like you would a guest, or a friend who comes for the weekend. Over the course of the weekend, you get to know them a little better, but there is always this sense that they will be going away to come back at another time. We begin to fully understand the Father as we spend time with the Son. As we see what the Son did when he was here on the earth, we see the heart of the Father. When we see that he willingly gave up his life, that no man could take it, but that he laid down his life, we see the Father and his love for us, that He does mean to save us from death.
We who have believed in the power of his name, have been changed, because we know this, God saves. God alone saves! At the end, when the goats and the sheep stand before the throne, there will be two groups: one group that tried to save themselves by any means possible. The other group by means of the knowledge that God saves!
When we look at the world around us, these are the two camps we see. There is a majority of people who really believe that God is distant, or that he has abandoned us. They really believe that there is a verse in the Bible that God helps those who help themselves. Or if He is present, they question His intentions. Why would God care? Why would he save? What does it mean to be rescued?
But again, we know. We live in the knowledge that God saves, that He wants us. That we were made and chosen, that we are loved, and are here on purpose.
We need to act in this confidence. Do we live as thought we really believe this – that God has taken an active interest in our lives and that he loves us in this way: that He gave His only Son for us, that we may be called the Sons of God? All of us, caught up in the name that will cause heaven and earth to shake, and by the utterance of this name, every knee will bow and tongue will confess the lordship of him who bears it.
And so, let us love one another as Jesus commanded, and by this, we demonstrate the power of the word. Let us serve each other, in the humility displayed by Christ. Let us live and love and move, no matter how contrary it is to the world. They will look, and not understand us because they have not understood the basic truth that God has come near, that He has saved, is saving, and will save us from our exile.
Because of who God is and what He has done for us, we are going to be different. Because of who Christ is, we are going to act differently. And we must display this difference, because it is how the world will experience Christ, and by our good measure, and the power of Christ others may be called to glory. Because if it is by seeing Christ that we the Father, it is by seeing us and how we act that they can see Christ and see the power that he has.
So it was, in the cool of the day, the Lord walked amongst His garden and called out for his two children. But they had not trusted in who God was, they relied upon themselves and the empty promises of a forked tongue. And because they did this, the world was changed forever.
But we who trust in the name of Jesus, know that God saves, and our world is changing. Behold, He is making all things new.