What's in a Name?
A Review of the 2nd Commandment
A sermon based on Exodus 34:5-7
Sunday, June 29, 2014 – Pentecost 3A
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So wrote William Shakespeare in his classic Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). But I want to challenge that poetic sentiment this morning. Is a name really worthless?
Parents choose the name of their children carefully since it's a decision that will last a lifetime. Is the name modern or old fashioned? Common or unique? What perceptions will people have of my child when they hear this name? Will they have a hard time spelling it? Or maybe pronouncing it? What does the name mean?
But really, who cares, right? What's the difference? What is in a name? Your name doesn't change who you are. It doesn't define who you are. Well, no, it doesn't change you, but it does say who you are. It doesn't define you, but it does identify you. Your name is important and you want others to know it. And so, when it's mispronounced, you correct it. When it's misused you defend it. Your name is important.
And so is God's name. His names say who he is. We looked at some of those names in Bible Class last week. They identify him. They describe him. And his name is important to him. He wants us to know it. And when it's misused and mistreated he says there is hell to pay—literally. That's why he gave the 2nd Commandment to Moses. That's why he revealed his name to him and to us. Here's what God said about his name in Exodus 34:5-7…
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
What's in a name? Everything! What comes to mind when I say the name Michael Jordan? Maybe you know one of the thirty Michael Jordans who live in Alaska. (Check it out online later. There really are thirty. After all, the name Michael Jordan is fairly common). But most likely, when I said, "Michael Jordan," you thought of one Michael Jordan in particular, didn't you? You see the name Michael Jordan isn't just a name is it? The name Michael Jordan includes everything you know about the man. It means Nike deals and Looney Toons movies, short lived baseball and golf careers, Hanes underwear commercials and of course, basketball as he was one of the greatest basketball players to have ever played the game.
And the same is true of any name. George Bush, Sarah Palin, Muhammad Ali, Aaron Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Tom Cruise, Barbara Walters, Rob Guenther… Each of these names, when spoken, evokes an image in your mind—a set of characteristics and accomplishments. It evokes emotions and feelings you have toward that person. And so, a name is more than just a title—it carries with it everything you know and believe and feel about someone. What's in a name? In short, it's the handle for someone's entire reputation.
And the same is true of God's name. Yahweh, Adonay, Elohim, El Shaddai, Baal, Melek… these are some of the many names of God. And they all define who he is. God gave a summary of all that his name contains to Moses on Mt. Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
So how do we misuse these names? Well, how many hammers do you think are in hell? Sounds like a goofy question, but how often doesn't someone call upon God's name to damn a hammer, asking him to send it to hell, when they slip and that hammer connects with their thumb? How many times haven't you heard someone "swear to God" over some trivial thing? How often do you see the letters "OMG" texted as an abbreviation for "Oh, My God!" calling on him to witness the latest celebrity scandal?
You know, maybe you're thinking right now, "You know. I think I've got this 2nd Commandment down pretty well. I keep a pretty tight reign on my tongue. I don't use God's name to curse or swear. I certainly don't practice witchcraft. But the truth is that we break this command not only in what we day or don't say, not only in what we do, but also in what we don't do. How's your prayer life? How often do you pause in your day to thank God for abounding in love and faithfulness to you? Do you regularly use his name to praise him, not just on Sunday, but every day?
And it gets worse. At our baptism each of us was given a new name last name: Godson. That is, through our baptisms we each became a child of God. We were brought into his family. And just like kids reflect their parents and carry their name, we are God's representatives, his ambassadors. We carry his name.
An ambassador visited another country but he didn't take his job very seriously. Instead of carrying the message he was given, he pretended to be a tourist so he could go sightseeing. In the evenings he would party with the locals, getting drunk every night. And when called upon to deliver the message he was to carry, he made up his own messages, ignoring the country that he represented. What a horrible ambassador, right?
How well do you carry God's name? What impression of him do they get when they watch you as his ambassador? Do they even know you are his ambassador? Or do you misuse his name by failing to mention it at all?!
When we carry the label "Christian" and openly sin, we misuse God's name. When we misrepresent who God is by the words that come out of our mouths, we misuse God's name. When we hide the fact that we are his representatives we misuse God's name. And for such sins, we deserve to be stripped of that title. We deserve to have God remove his name from us and say, "You are no longer my children! You who call yourself Christian are not! You're not in my family any more!" And we deserve to be sent to hell where we forever curse our own names for failing to honor his. There is hell to pay for misusing God's name. "He does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
But thanks to Jesus, who took that misuse of God's name away from us, we will never experience that hell. Do you know what the name Jesus means? It's Yeshua (or Joshua) in Hebrew, and it simply means "the Lord saves." My parents named me Robert, which means "Bright Fame," not because they hoped or thought I would be famous, but because they thought it gave me a lot of options if I didn't like it. I could go by Robert, Rob, Robby, Bob, Bobby, or even just by my initials: R.J. That's the only significance of my name. But Jesus' name is full of significance. "The Lord saves." The Lord saves indeed!
Jesus always kept God's name holy. He often withdrew to a solitary place that he might have time to pray to God. He called upon God in trouble, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39). He praised God's name and every time he broke bread we're told that he "gave thanks." But he gave his perfection in keeping this and every commandment to us. Then Jesus took our name—damned sinner!—on himself when God poured out all his wrath—hell itself—against your sin. And suffering in your place, he's removed your guilt in breaking the second and every commandment.
So this is God's name, his reputation, through Jesus: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…" And so you and I are sinless in God's sight. When he sees you and me he sees perfect ambassadors who have always represented God's name perfectly, who have never uttered a lie in his name, have never cursed or sworn, or used his name or our Christianity flippantly. He sees perfect saints who have perfectly represented him all the time. And we are called by his name.
In Biblical times a person's last name was "son of" followed by the name of his Father: Joshua, son of Nun, David, son of Jesse, Simon, son of Jonah, James son of Zebedee, and so on. You and I have our Father's name placed on us: I'm not just Rob, son of Doug. But now I am also Rob, son of God. And your last name is Godson too! You are a son (or daughter) of God.
And having his name—"The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin,"—placed on us, we long to honor that name! We want to show how proud and grateful we are to be Godsons. We call upon him in the day of trouble, confident that he will deliver us. (Psalm 50:15) We want to honor him and praise him, not just in worship, not just in what we say, but in all we do. We want to live our lives in such a way that all who know us know that we are Christians and want to know more about that name we bear. We want to give him thanks and praise in all we do and honor his name by sharing it with others.
What is in a name, dear Christian? Everything! God's name is holy and worthy of respect and honor. And because of the name of Jesus—the Lord saves—his name is now placed on you! Now go and honor that name and be as holy as you're named to be! In Jesus' name, dear friends. Amen.