On Being Named

John 1:35-51

“What’s in a name?”  Names usu­ally mean a lot, don’t they?  We love naming our children and our children love naming their toys and animals.  We have nicknames, middle names, and last names. Names are important. Naming is what we do by nature.  We do not want our family names defamed; we want a good name.   Many people today live their whole lives trying to find or make names for themselves.  We all know of teen­agers who crave attention and popularity so much that they get lost in alcohol, drugs, gangs, and so on. College students want everyone to know their names.  Amazingly, many people even Google their own names to see if they are known or popular. Thousands of people want the name “American Idol.”  This naming business can turn into a craving Babel-like lust; then it be­comes sinful.

There are two ways to go about getting a name.  You either can name yourself, or be named by an­other.  In John’s language, you can either reject true testimony, or ac­cept it and be named “child of God.”  You might bend over back­wards to gain fame and build a Babel-tower for yourself, so to speak, so that your name can go on it and endure.

On the other hand, by grace, we re­ceive a name from God.  We are in the middle of seeking a name for ourselves, and God comes down, strips us of our old name, and wraps us up in a new one.  It is called Baptism.  It is called conver­sion.  In baptism we are given the name, “Christian;” we are set apart from the names of the world.  When the Lord changes our hearts—be­fore, during, or after baptism—the name becomes official.  Our names then are written into God’s heavenly register, never to be forgotten.
Testimony.  Christ.  Seeing.  Follow­ing.  Finding.  Naming.  These things are what John speaks about in his gospel.  John the Baptist gives testimony to Christ.  Some receive the testimony, then see, and follow Christ.  Christ finds them and names them.  It happened in the first century; it happens today. Christ is the Namer in John 1.

Jesus has already been baptized at this point, and publicly received His name: My beloved Son, my Plea­sure (Matt. 3:17).  His name is now public testimony.  He now turns and names His people, His disciples. This is part of Jesus’ mission, a name investiture.

Day One: John the Baptist’s Public Testimony

Before Jesus starts naming His dis­ciples, John the Baptist takes the stand and testifies: Jesus is the Lamb of God!  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  John declares Jesus’ name to his disciples: Lamb of God.  Re­member the verses before: law came through Moses, but grace and truth come through Christ.  Moses can not save; Jesus can and does. Moses can only give you the name “Pharisee;” Jesus gives the name “Saved-by-Grace.”  This salvation by grace comes through blood, as the Baptist hints at.  Jesus is that Old Testament Lamb who was slain as a substitute for the people—sin must be dealt with, after all.  The forgiveness of sins is the center of John’s legal and public testimony, and the center of the Christian faith.  Jesus forgives.  Jesus’ name “Lamb of God” is part of the legal process of name changing for Christians.

Notice too, how the sound waves of John’s mouth effect something. That is, John’s five-word sermon is effective.  Two of John’s disciples follow Christ because of John’s tes­timony.  John pointed his finger, as Luther said, at Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist’s disciples go to where he points; to the Lamb of God. Faith comes through hearing—the Baptist knew it!  Faith comes through public testimony—John the Baptist knew it!  This is why we preach so diligently in Reformed churches.  John the Baptist preached; we follow his and Paul’s method—we preach Christ, be­cause the preaching-testimony to and of Jesus works!  Jesus is the one we name in our preaching, we testify to the name of Christ in our preaching, just like John the Baptist.

When two of John’s disciples came to Jesus, He asked them, in a sort of ironic way, “Whom are you seek­ing?  For whom are you looking?” Of course, Jesus knew!  They an­swered Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Jesus invited them: “Come and you will see!” (v39).

They called Jesus “Rabbi,” which the Evangelist reminds his readers means “Teacher.”  The Evangelist wants his written testimony to be clear, so he explains this name for his non-Jewish readers.  When these two disciples asked Jesus, “Where are you staying,” they were simply saying, “We want to enroll in your school.  We know you are a unique teacher—someone extraordinary—we want to follow you.”
Jesus’ “Come and you will see” invitation is fulfilled later: “Everyone that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Every name that the Father speaks to Him will come to Jesus.  He will write the name down, never to for­get it.  It is a naming process.  The disciples will slowly learn this; they will learn more of the name of Jesus and their own new names, as well.

One of the two disciples, named Andrew, went to get his brother, Simon.  He said, “Simon, Simon, guess what!  We have found the Messiah!”  The Evangelist reminds us Gentile readers that the name Messiah means Christ, the anointed one.  John the Baptist’s testimony was effective: Andrew believed. Having heard, Andrew could not keep quiet—he testified, or wit­nessed, to his brother Simon.  The one testified to becomes a testifier, a witness.  The Messiah is here!

Jesus looked up from whatever he was doing and saw Peter coming to Him.  He reminds us—and Simon—that he was found by Jesus before he came.  Jesus knew his name before any formal introduction.  And now he is given a new name by Jesus.  He is named by the Namer.  Simon is named by Jesus. Simon is renamed by the Messiah. By gifting Simon with a new name—Peter or Cephas—He is giving Simon a whole new identity. Simon is now Peter.  The old is gone, the new has come.  A new world is made for Simon.  He is given a new name as were Abram, Sarai, and Jacob.  He has a new story with a new beginning, an en­tirely new life.  He will never again be his old self, Simon.  His “this­worldly” story ends here.  He is swept up onto the stage of Christ’s drama and given a name: Christian.
Jesus still gives new names today. In baptism, we are set apart and given the name  “Christian.”  When God is pleased to convert and re­generate us, we are registered in God’s book of life.  We are “church-goers,” named by the Lord of the church.  This name does in­deed sound strange to those who still try to name themselves.  The worldly serpent laughs at us and tells us that his name for the fruit is much better.  The construction workers at Babel still say, “Let us make a name for ourselves!”  But praise God for our new names, and repent from trying to make a worldly name for yourself.  After all, ultimately every “this-world name” is either “Babel” or “fool” (Genesis 11:9; Psalm 14:1).  Chris­tian, you do not define yourself! You do not write your own story! Jesus named you, and He does not forget those whom He names!

Look again at newly named Peter. Oh Peter, you tried to stand be­tween Christ and His cross, and received a momentary rebuke­name of “Satan” (Matt 16:23).  Oh Peter, you tried to rename yourself as you denied Jesus that dark night. Why did you say three times, “My name is not Peter, but Simon?”  Oh Peter, you were rebuked by Paul for treating Gentiles as second-rate Christians.  Peter, you have not lived up to your new name!

Shame, however, is not only on Peter, but us, as well.  We have dragged our name “Christian” through the worldly mud time and again.  We have said, even after we have professed faith in Christ, that we want a world-given name. We have said, “Jesus?  I do not know Him” as we ignored our neighbor in need, or cursed our en­emy.  All of us build our little Babel­towers too often.  We need to re­pent for stomping on our Jesus­given name, “Christian.”

As with Peter, despite all of our name hating, Jesus does not forget our name, nor does He trample it through the mud.  When Peter was rejecting His name, Jesus was re­membering it.  “Peter!  Satan asked to sift you like wheat, but I have named you in heaven—I have prayed for you (Luke 22:31).  I have not forgotten your name; I have named you before my Fa­ther.  Your name has been heard in heaven, and will always be heard in heaven.  Your name is echoing off the walls of heaven. On earth as it is in heaven: Satan cannot touch you no matter how you deny your name and Namer. My naming is stronger than your denying!”

The same Namer that prayed Pe­ter into heaven—that bled and died so Peter could be named in heaven—names you into heaven. He had you in mind in His high priestly prayer.  Your name was on His mind when He died on the cross.  Now He ever lives to make intercession for you.  Right now, Jesus is naming you to the Father.  It is gospel.  It is salva­tion.  You will never be sifted to hell, because Jesus has named you!  This is what the fifth part of the Canons of Dort is about: pres­ervation.  Your name is known by the Father in heaven.  Jesus prays for those named Christian.

Christianity is really all about learn­ing what our new name means.  The disciples learned the significance of their new names as they grew older. Slowly they began to see who Jesus really was, especially after He burst the doors of hellish death as He rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven. Interestingly and significantly, Jesus is never called Rabbi after His resurrection – most likely because after that, they knew He was more than a rabbi.  You will learn slowly too. Just remember, that Jesus who named you will not forget your name.  He will not deny you, be­cause He is the faithful witness.  He had your name in mind as He went to the cross, and He will not forget it as He sits on the right hand of the Father.  You have been named by Christ—that is the gospel. Before our eyes and ears John 1:11-12 is being fulfilled: some did receive Jesus, and to them He gave the right to be children of God, named by God.

Day Two: Coming and Seeing

The next day Jesus found Philip. Two words that Jesus uttered were earth moving for Philip. “Follow me!”  Philip’s life was changed by those two words of Jesus.  Philip tells Nathanael— actually he finds Nathanael—and tells him about one named Jesus. Philip was from Bethsaida, a little fishing town in the first century. Bethsaida was near the Sea of Galilee, so it is not surprise that fishing was part of every day life there.  These disciples were just regular people like you and me.

Jesus’ words, “Follow me” have power.  Just a few words of divine testimony are effective. Isaiah told us as many as seven hundred years before the Evan- gelist wrote that the word of God does not return to Him without doing something (55:11).  The word succeeds here in drawing sheep to the Shepherd.  The same voice that said, “Let there be” here says, “Follow me.”  Later this voice will work wonders: “Lazarus, come out!”  Just by Jesus uttering Lazarus’ name, Lazarus must stand up and breathe once again. Philip, now a follower of one named “Jesus,” names Jesus to Nathanael.  “We have found Jesus, son of Joseph, the One from Nazareth (v. 45b).  We have found the man that Moses and the Prophets named in the Scriptures, in the law and prophetical books. Remember all those words that tell us about a Messiah, a ruler, a King?  He is here!  Seriously!” Even before these disciples had post-resurrection knowledge about Jesus, they understood that the Old Testament named Jesus so many years before their time. They knew that the Old Testa­ment pointed to Jesus.  They will learn it more, but they knew from the outset that the Scriptures were about Christ.

Nathanael’s answer to Philip’s re­mark is a bit cynical.  “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”  No Old Testament prophecies speak about Nazareth!  Nazareth is not even on Old Testament Maps!  I can not find Nazareth in an Old Tes­tament word search.  Was Philip bearing false witness?  Philip’s words echo Jesus’ earlier: “Come and see.  If you do not believe my witness, come for yourself and see.”  John the Baptist witnessed, which turned Andrew into a wit­ness.  Then Peter followed.  Now Philip witnesses and Nathanael follows.  The name of Jesus is being proclaimed early on in John’s Gospel.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to­wards Him (v. 47).  Before a for­mal introduction was given, Jesus said, “You are a guile-free Israel­ite, indeed.”  Nathanael was con­fused.  How did Jesus know who Nathanael was before he had in­troduced himself?  “How do you know me,” he asked Jesus.  Jesus answered, “Before Philip talked to you about me I saw you sitting under a fig tree.”

Jesus knows His people.  Even when His people have not yet heard of Him, or simply sinfully forget Him, Jesus knows and re­members His people.  Jesus knew His people when He went to the cross.  He had their names on His mind, as it were.  It is comforting for us to know that Jesus knows. Jesus does the seeking and sav­ing; He is the Knower and Namer, despite our ignorance and denying.  Your Savior always thinks about you.  He always prays your name to the Father, praying for your good and salva­tion.

That was all Nathanael needed to hear.  Jesus knew what he was doing before anyone told him. “Rabbi!  You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.”  Is he going a bit too far?  Just because Jesus knew this Nathanael makes a deeply significant statement. Jesus compelled Nathanael on in his faith.  “You think that was a sign?  You said that just because I knew you?  I give legal testi­mony before God—Amen Amen, verily verily—you will see greater things.  Truly truly, you will see heaven opening and angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”

Only Jesus says these legal words of “Amen Amen.”  It is an oath swearing word; Jesus gives bind­ing assurance that it will happen. “You think my knowledge is amaz­ing, just wait until you come to know me by the name “Media­tor.”

Conclusion

Even those who cautiously accept someone else’s testimony must also experience Jesus for themselves to be completely convinced.   Jesus said,  I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life...the sheep follow him, for they know his voice (8:12 & 10:4).

A person needs the right Christology, the right doctrine of Christ, and faith in that testimony. You need to know who Jesus is and accept and believe it, and depend on Him.  You need to be­lieve the testimony of who Jesus is and go see Him for yourself, so to speak, along with these early disciples.  You can not just stay under that fig tree and say, “Sure, I believe Jesus is what the Bible teaches.”  No, get up!  Go find out if this testimony is true!  This tes­timony may make you lose a name and get a new one.  It may make you leave your fishing nets and fig trees and give you a whole new world.  It may make people hate you, it may make your life more uncomfortable, but it will save you.  Yes, you will get a new name, and remember that Jesus names His own—prays for His own—in the presence of God.

Jesus is the Namer.  Jesus is the Savior.  Jesus is the Mediator, the way to heaven, God’s presence.  If you trust in His name, you get all wrapped up in a new name.  To have Jesus name you is to get a heavenly name, a name that God sings over.

Rev. Shane Lems is pastor of a URCNA church plant in Sunnyside, Washington.

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