Read Proverbs 22:1-2 to start.
1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. 2 The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all.
I know most of the people here this morning, some of you better than others. Some of you I know quite well, some of you barely at all. And likewise, you might know me well, or maybe not so well. But if you were paying attention at all during the announcements, then there is at least one thing that you know about me, and that is my name.
You might not know how to spell my name, mind you, I get my name spelled wrong a lot. And I do mean a lot, I’ve had relatives post happy birthday messages to me on Facebook and still manage to get my name spelled wrong. I also have people who call me Mark, or Marcus, or even occasionally Mario, which I don’t really get, although I suppose it does end with an O. For the record, it’s Marko with a K, and my last name is Peric with a C, not the other way around, as much as people might try to do it that way.
A name is something that everyone here this morning has, that basically everyone everywhere has, unless you happen to live in some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie where people get numbers instead of names. Thankfully we aren’t there yet in real life. But we all have names, maybe common ones, maybe uncommon ones. We only have a couple here this morning, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve seen as many as four different Roberts in this meeting, and I’m talking on a Sunday morning, not at the Easter Conference. When I was in high school in grade 11 I had a class that featured five girls with the name Jennifer, for example. And at the other end of the spectrum, billionaire Elon Musk has a child named X AE A-XII, that’s twelve spelled out in Roman numerals to be precise. Yeah, I don’t understand why anyone would do that, it seems wildly cruel and unreasonable to saddle a child with such an outlandish name.
While some people are cavalier about names, that’s a poor attitude to have, because names are important. Whether yours is popular or rare, and no matter your background, your status, your wealth or poverty, you have a name. Your name, whether you love it or hate it, is part of your identity. People know you by your name. Maybe it’s the name your parents gave you, perhaps it’s a name you gave yourself later, or maybe it’s whatever nickname that somehow became attached to you, and which works for one reason or another. Who we are is very often tied up with our names.
You might ask, what’s in a name? Quite a lot, as it happens. For starters, there is honour in a good name.
As we read to start from Proverbs 22, a good name is a precious thing. It’s not about the actual word or sound of the name as it is the reputation, the prestige, the integrity, the worthiness of the person with whom the name is associated. Sometimes the two are tied closely together. Think about the name David. There are many positive things to say about that name, and people who have carried it, recently or otherwise. The second king of Israel is of course the prime example, the man after God’s own heart. That’s as favourable an endorsement as anyone could ever want. No wonder so many people have used that name for their own sons in the centuries that followed. There have been many successful and remarkable people with that name, Davids like Livingstone, Letterman, Bowie, and Beckham. As an exercise in curiosity, I went to Google and put in the name David followed by each letter of the alphabet, to see if a famous David came up in the immediate results. Apparently British actor David Warner passed away last week, so his name popped up first in a lot of cases, but for letter after letter there were good examples of people with the name David, usually lots of them. The only letter that didn’t come up with a David which I had heard of was Y. There’s likely a joke to be made there about not knowing why, but I think this proves my point about the name being popular and well received.
I’m not saying that if you have the name David then you a primed for better things than if you had some other name, but it would be hard to argue that David is not a good name. As we read to start, a good name is a good thing, and is certainly worthwhile.
At the other end of the spectrum from popular and positively associated names, there can be shame in a name. Perhaps there is notoriety with which the name is associated. You are not likely in your life to ever meet a person who has the first name Adolf, Attila, or Judas, for example.
There are family names that may have a certain history, and because of what has happened in the past, what our ancestors have done, or have not done, may determine the assumptions that people place upon us. A certain name may have an unsavoury association. Sometimes there can be shame and hurt tied to our names, maybe not because we have been particularly wicked, although that can be the case as well, but because our names are tainted in one way or another.
There are names in scripture which have meanings that were no doubt unpleasant for the people who bore those names. In the book of Ruth, in the first chapter we meet Naomi and Elimelech, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Those names means sickly and pining, or if that’s not bad enough, Chilion might possibly mean destruction. Ouch. How would you like to be saddled with a name like that? Bearing a name with such a dreadful meaning would be a shameful burden through life, I would imagine. I have enough trouble with people not knowing what my name is or how to spell it correctly, but it’s not like my name means sickly.
Sometimes people had names that matched their character. Is that because they acted in a particular way because of the name? Or perhaps the name was applied prophetically? Jacob is a prime example of this, his name means supplanter. That’s not a word we use a lot today, and the younger people probably have no idea what it means to supplant. I’ll give you an example.
When I was in university one day at the start of the school year I was waiting in line to do something with the business office, where you pay your bill for tuition and whatnot. There were lots of people waiting in line that day, so many that the line ran all the way around the foyer and started down the hall. No less than 20 people, maybe closer to 30. As we’re waiting, there were other people coming through to go down the hallway to the far end of the building, where there were other offices for other things. Those of us in line left a gap for people to walk through, because that’s the considerate thing to do. Some of those people may have wanted to also go to the business office, but saw the line and decided to try again later. But there was one girl who came into the foyer, saw the line going around the room and down the hallway, and she stood in the middle of the foyer and waited. Everyone looked at her, but she paid them no heed, she waited, as if she was in her own private line.
No one said anything for a couple of minutes, but when it became clear that she was almost certainly planning to jump in ahead of the rest of us, I spoke up and said “Excuse me, the line starts down there,” and pointed down the hallway. She seemed genuinely surprised, or pretended to be surprised, and said “I only have a quick thing to do at the business office.” “We’re all waiting for the business office,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, “I’ll come back later.” The fact that 30 unimpressed faces were glaring at her convinced her that she was not going to get away with being a supplanter that day. Because that is what she was trying to do.
To supplant means to take the place of another. Not to be given a place, and not to be substituted, those are typically good associations. A supplanter takes someone else’s spot. This might be by force, or by schemes, or by deceit, or by cutting the line and playing dumb. That’s what the name Jacob means, and if you’ve read the middle chapters of Genesis you know that is exactly what Jacob did to his brother Esau. More than once, in fact. I can’t imagine that he was proud of that name, but he certainly lived up to it. Or maybe I should say he lived down to it, because his actions matched his name.
We’ll loop back to Jacob a bit later, because while there can be shame in names, there can also be meaning. Your name has a meaning, maybe you know what that is. Maybe you don’t. My name means warrior, in case you were wondering.
Sometimes this meaning is literal and purposeful. The name Methuselah, for example, means his death sends, which may not make much sense by itself, but from checking the dates and the genealogies in Genesis we see that Methuselah died shortly before the Flood. We don’t know the precise date, but it was within the same year. If his name meant his death sends, well, his death certainly sent something, didn’t it? That’s a pretty on-the-nose meaning.
Most names in scripture have meanings, and while some are prophetic like Methuselah, others are responsive to a situation. The name Samuel means heard of God, and we know from reading the first chapters of the first book that bears his name that Samuel’s mother’s prayer was indeed heard by God, because she had prayed earnestly for a son, and her prayer was answered. Samuel was the answer to that prayer. Samuel himself, even as a youth working in the tabernacle heard the voice of God speaking to him, and he answered and spoke with God. And during his years ministering as a prophet he many times talked with God, and we know that God answered him.
While there are countless names we could look at, I think my favourite example is Moses, which means drawn out. That name was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter because she drew him out of the River Nile when he was a baby. That seems pretty straightforward, but the meaning was applicable several times. Years later, Moses fled from Egypt and was drawn out into the wilderness of Midian. During his years in that country, he had the lifestyle and the ways of Egypt drawn out of him. He lived as a simple shepherd, not a prince in Pharoah’s court. He needed to have that part of his experience drawn out in order to prepare him for what came next. Because we all know the key task that Moses did. After meeting the Lord in the burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt, and followed the Lord’s plan to draw His people out of Egypt. Sometimes a meaning is applicable once, and sometimes it is relevant time and time again.
We have considered honour, shame and meaning in names. There is power in names as well. If you speak to someone by name, it has far more impact than in simply calling them “buddy” or “kiddo” or “you there” something like that. When you use someone’s name, there is more connection there. Something I learned from watching my boss, when speaking to someone on the phone for the first time, write down their name on your notepad along with any important details from the call. Knowing that you spoke to Steve or Frank about a particular issue is far more useful if you have to follow up in the future than knowing that you spoke to “some guy.”
In countless mythologies and fairy tales there is the concept that knowing someone’s true name is a means of controlling them. A well known example is the story of Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold for a poor miller’s daughter in exchange for greater and greater gifts, until he demanded her firstborn son. He would only agree to forfeit this demand if she could guess his name. When she followed him into the forest and heard him say his name aloud, she was able to answer him correctly, and he was so upset he was never seen again.
That’s a fictional example from a fairy tale. Something a little closer to home, something that most of us have likely experienced is the power of the full name when you have misbehaved. Now, I can honestly say that I have never known this for myself, because I don’t have a middle name, but those of you who do, you might know what I’m talking about. When a parent calls you by your entire name, first, middle, and last, that’s a tip-off that trouble is coming, or more likely that trouble has arrived. What do you say kids? If you hear me or mom saying “Sean Marius Peric, or Nathaniel Kevan Peric, get in here!” is it because we want to give you your allowance or is it because you are being called on the carpet for something? The full name has a definite power, a level of seriousness not found elsewhere.
We can see an even more relevant and real example in scripture. We talked about Moses a moment ago, I’m going to read from Exodus chapter three now, from when Moses met the Lord. (Exo 3:13) And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? (Exo 3:14) And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Exo 3:15) And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
This name means “The one who is” and is not to be used lightly. In fact, the name of God, not a title or a role, but His actual name, is something of such power and majesty that the Israelites were cautioned against saying it in vain. It’s the second of the Ten Commandments. They were so careful about it that they did not pronounce it at all, they substituted the title Adonai, meaning master or lord. From what I understand most observant Jews today will not say that name. In our modern Bible the word LORD in all caps is used where God’s proper name is written in the original language. It’s a big deal.
We should be careful that we don’t use His name casually or flippantly, because while we might generally think that to take His name in vain means to use it as a curse word, really that means to use it without proper respect. That can mean a lot of things, some of which we wouldn’t really think of as offensive or problematic. This is the God of all creation, maker of heaven and earth. Even if you would never dream of using His name as a swear word, His name is not something to be bandied about irreverently.
The name of God is so powerful that on the night His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, well, I’ll read the passage to give you the full picture. Reading in John’s gospel, chapter 18. (Joh 18:1) When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. (Joh 18:2) And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. (Joh 18:3) Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. (Joh 18:4) Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? (Joh 18:5) They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. (Joh 18:6) As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. (Joh 18:7) Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. (Joh 18:8) Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: (Joh 18:9) That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
When the men and officers arrived to arrest the Lord, He did not flee from them, He did not hide. He answered them with the same response that Moses received when he asked for God’s name at the burning bush – I am. I don’t know that the band of men come to arrest Him really understood what was going on, but they were knocked backwards at those words. The name of God, when spoken by the Son of God, who of course was God Himself, toppled an armed host.
In this same account in Matthew’s gospel we read that the Lord could have summoned upwards of 12 legions of angels to defend Him if He so wished. Not that He needed them, of course. He had healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, and that was with no angelic assistance at all. The mere power of His divine name was enough to stop the soldiers in their tracks. That is power in a name if there ever was power.
But beyond power, there is also redemption in a name. In Acts chapter 4, when the authorities questioned Peter and John about the healing of the lame man which took place at the Temple gate, Peter answered them thusly (Act 4:10) Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. (Act 4:11) This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. (Act 4:12) Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
The name of Jesus Christ, that is in whose name the man was healed. The name of Jesus Christ is the name that offers salvation. There is no other name that does so. That name, and the person behind that name, is the reason why we are here this morning. It’s the reason why we’re here at all, it’s the reason, He’s the reason, that we have meaning, that we have hope of salvation, hope of life. There is no other name whereby we must be saved.
Names are important, and names have power. None more so than the Lord Jesus Christ. We would do well to remember that.
We’ve looked at what is contained in names, both the good and the bad. Let me ask you a question, and I’m not looking for a show of hands or anything, but consider this now: Are you happy with your name? Do you have a good name, or do you wish for something different? The opening verse of Proverbs 22 says that a good name is to be chosen rather than riches. But we don’t pick our own names. Our names are typically chosen for us. Most of us don’t get to select from a list. Our reputation, though, that is a different matter. That we can choose, or at least influence. Often though, we do not consciously think of that, we do not typically formulate a plan of action and take into consideration how our reputation may be changed by it. We do things, and then we realize afterwards how our name has been affected.
If we were to turn back a couple of chapters from Proverbs 22 it says in chapter 20, verse 11, that even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right. What we do, how we conduct ourselves, that is quickly and sometimes indelibly tied to our identity. Ever heard that someone’s name is mud? It’s not that they literally have the name Mud, it’s that their reputation has suffered to the extent that their name is now worth no more than mud, or has been dragged through the mud. It is tainted and damaged.
It might not be entirely fair, mind you, a person might be well behaved almost all of the time, but get caught stealing something once, and you may well be labelled as a thief. Get caught in a lie, and you might be called a liar, or if you complain a few times, and you become known as a whiner. Our actions become bundled with our identities, tied to our names, and we may end up with a poor reputation, a bad name, as it were, because of what we have done.
Sometimes it’s not even what we have actually done that determines what is tied to our names, but it’s the baggage that comes bundled with the name. Or it is what others have done before us that pre-colours our names. My kids will attest how often they might be known not as themselves so much as they are known as my child, or my wife’s child. Or maybe they are known as the little brother of an older sibling. Our names, our reputation, and our identity are tied in with so much, with so many others, and it might be challenging at times to own your name without difficulty, or confusion.
I asked a moment ago if you like your name. Do I like my own? I don’t hate it, I think it’s a good name, but it’s far from perfect. Apart from the fact that people can’t spell it or remember it, I get Marco Polo jokes thrown my way on a regular basis. And I get email for Marko Peric, for several different Marko Perics in fact. There is one whose hotel reservation for the Radisson in Belgrade went to my inbox. Not sure if he was able to check-in okay or not, that’s his problem. There’s another Marko Peric whose boating newsletters I get from time to time. There’s one who buys and sells used cars in Zagreb. There’s a couple of professional athletes, and one whose band competed in Eurovision back in 2006. There’s more than 100 of them on LinkedIn. I’ve locked them out of their Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts because they used my email address, which is my name, and also their name, for their accounts. It’s aggravating for me, and likely for them as well. There’s baggage with my name. But someday I won’t have to worry about that any more.
There’s a hymn we sing sometimes, number 200 in the red hymnbook, “A New Name in Glory.” That’s not just a line in a hymn, that’s clearly laid out in scripture. In Isaiah chapter 65, it says that the Lord will call his servants by another name. You might think I’m pulling that out of context, and maybe I am for that specific example, but in the book of Revelation it says something similar. Twice. In chapter 2, in the letter to the church at Pergamum, at verse 17 we read (Rev 2:17) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. And then one page over in chapter 3, in the letter to the church at Philadelphia, at verse 12 (Rev 3:12) Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
Whatever your name is now, whether you love it or if you hate it, don’t become too overly attached to it. It’s your name for now, but it won’t be forever. If you follow Christ, if you trust in Him for salvation, and if you lean on His strength and guidance to overcome the temptations and struggles of this present world, then He has a new name for you. I don’t know what it will be, none of us do, but I know that it will not have shame. It will not have confusion. It will not be mud, and it will not be a bad name, that is certain.
We talked about Jacob earlier, his name meant supplanter. God gave him a new name, Israel. That means a price of God. Sure sounds like a name upgrade to me.
Will there be power and meaning in your new name? I imagine so. But unquestionably, there will be redemption in it. Because whatever baggage, whatever hurt, whatever regret is bundled in your name now, the Lord will take that away and give you a new one, one that He has chosen for you.
I don’t know about you, but that’s something that I’m looking forward to.