May 1, 2016
Our names are our identity. They label us and they define us. If our name changes it signifies some sort of change in our life. As most of you know, I have had quite a few names! There is the name I grew up with. There are my four married names (yes, it is a miracle I don't have an identity crisis!). And then a few years back I found out I was adopted, so that added my real birth name to the already long list. But what I find really interesting is that our names have meanings. My original birth name was Renee. Renee means 'rebirth' or 'born again'. The name my adoptive parents gave me is of course, Karen. Karen means 'pure'. So I was reborn, and then I was pure. What a beautiful picture of what Christ does for us! When we put our faith in Jesus for salvation, we are adopted into God's family, and are born again as children of God.
There are multiple times in the Bible when God Himself changed someone's name. For example in Genesis 17:5 God changed Abram's name (which means 'high father') to "Abraham", (father of a multitude) and then in Genesis 17:15 he changed Abraham's wife's name from "Sarai" (my princess) to "Sarah" (mother of nations). We know from history that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah indeed formed many nations.
The name Jacob means "holder of the heel" or "supplanter". He was born holding his twin brother's heel and later tricked him out of his birthright. After victoriously wrestling with an angel, God changed his name to "Israel", which means "having power with God" (Genesis 32:28). Jesus changed Simon's name, which meant "God has heard" to "Peter, which means "rock" (John 1:42). So why did Jesus occasionally call Peter "Simon" after He had changed His name to "Peter"? Probably because Simon sometimes acted like his old self instead of the rock God called him to be. The same is true for Jacob. God continued to call him "Jacob" to remind him of his past and to remind him to depend on God's strength.
The Bible doesn't always explain God's reasons for changing someone's name, but usually it was to let them know they were destined for a new mission in life. The new name was a way to let them in on the divine plan and also to assure them that God's plan would be fulfilled in them.
Now I may think I have a lot of names, but God has so many names and titles it would take me an hour or more just to read them off. (Don't worry, I'm not going to do that!). The very first name of God in the Bible is Elohim, found in Genesis 1:1. It means 'mighty creator'. What is especially interesting is that it is a plural form 'Eloah', and thus the triune nature of God, three-in-one, was evident from the very beginning. But His primary name, the one that the Jews considered so sacred that it should not even be uttered, is YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah). The name Yahweh refers to God's self-existence, and is linked to how God described Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, "I AM WHO I AM. God's name is a reflection of His being. God is the only self-existent or self-sufficient Being. Only God has life in and of Himself. This name is used in the Bible over 7000 times. In our English Bible translations it is written as "LORD (all capitals) to distinguish it from Adonai, "Lord", which was often used in place of YHWH, so that the most sacred name need not be spoken.
The LORD who revealed Himself as YHVH in the Old Testament is revealed as Yeshua (Jesus) in the New Testament. In John 8:56-59, Jesus presents himself as the "I AM." When challenged by some Jewish leaders regarding His claim of seeing Abraham (who lived some 2000 years earlier), Jesus replied, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM." Those Jewish leaders understood that Jesus was claiming to be YHVH. This is clearly established when they tried to stone Him to death for what they considered blasphemy under Jewish Law. In Romans 10:9, Paul declares, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as LORD... you shall be saved." Immediately thereafter, in Romans 10:13, Paul backs up this declaration by quoting the Old Testament, "Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD (YHVH) will be saved" (Joel 2:32). Calling on Jesus as Lord is the same as calling Him YHVH, because Jesus is YHVH (LORD)!
In addition to Jesus (Yeshua) and LORD, Jesus is known by many other descriptive names, both in the Old Testament and the New. Isaiah called him Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (9:6). John the Baptist called Him the Lamb of God (John 1:29). The disciple John began His Gospel with the words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is indeed the Living Word - the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us (John 1:14). This is repeated in the last book of the Bible, where we read, "His name is called The Word of God. (Revelation 19:13) Timothy called him King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and this title is reiterated in the well-known Handel's Messiah. Of course one of the most beloved is in the 10th chapter of the Book of John, where Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep, He calls His sheep by name, and they follow Him because they know His voice.
Did you know that if you are one of His sheep, someday Jesus will give you a new name? Revelation 2:17 says, "Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it." I wonder what my new name will be... How about you?
The children learned what their name means during the Children's Message: