This is my manuscript for my preaching class this week in Lubbock, for sermon # 1. It has been a good week, and getting to share our work with this morning with our peers was fun.
“What’s In A Name?”
Good morning. I am honored to be sharing with ya’ll this week. I hope that our time together throughout the semester is full of God’s good stuff, and some more Buffalo Wild Wings!
The title of my lesson this morning is “What’s in a name?” Names are powerful things. At one time in our world, your name spoke to your occupation; names like John Smith, one who was a smith. Baker, one who baked. Or spoke to your relations, Johnson, son of John. Names are indeed powerful. Names have meanings and those meanings can reveal our character and who we are.
“When the 1960s ended, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. But they didn’t name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school.
That’s when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it.
“Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?” they offered. And later, “Fruit Stand, how about a snack?” He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much odder than Heather’s or Sun Ray’s.
At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. “Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?”
He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word “Anthony.”
Names can be confused, misused and abused. The text we are addressing this morning was given to a people who were abused for the name Christian. Loss of life, property, peculiar glances from neighbors, arrest and imprisonment, economic disparity all because of the name of Christ. Roman society misunderstood the name Christ, and Christian and subsequently abused God’s people. As persecution intensified in some areas of the Roman Empire some of God’s people wrestled with these names. Larger Roman society expected citizens to participate in civic and religious celebrations. To not participate in these observances laden with overt Roman religious symbols and expectations was more or less social suicide. Some Christians capitulated to the large culture and traded in the good name of Christ for the disreputable name of Babylon. It was a case of mistaken identity.
Such was the world of John’s audience and he begins his work with an introduction. Actually two introductions. The first of which introduces the book as an “apocalypse” giving his audience a certain filter or lens to view or hear the rest of the book. Also, know that this first introduction we are told that John’s message comes from God (Rev. 1:1). When we get to the second introduction we notice that this appears to be a standard epistolary introduction common in the ancient world, with in introduction, an offer of grace and peace to the recipients, a body, and a conclusion. As we begin notice, that this letter comes from a man named John, and he writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor, or what is to be understood as the entire church. This is a letter that has a Trinitarian opening, with references to God, as the one who is, who was, and who is tome and from the seven spirits before his throne, or totality of God’s spirit or the Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ.
Unlike other apocalyptic writings, the author of this work identifies himself as John. He apparently knew the churches among Asia Minor and they knew him. By his address, and his subsequent letters to the churches, we can say that he is one with authority that comes from God (Rev. 1:1). John, knowing the situation and sufferings of his audience knows the struggles that fellow believers have undergone, and knows the particular power of a good name. Notice, there are three names ascribed to Jesus in our text this morning, 1. “The faithful witness;” 2. “The firstborn from the dead;” 3. “The ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). These are new designations if you will for Jesus. New names that his audience would have latched onto and appreciated amid all the tension of their day. John is declaring that God acting through his son Jesus knows and understands their needs. He hasn’t abandoned them. He comes to them in their need and traverses the difficult journey with them. He has in everywhere, been in their shoes and is encouraging his followers to remain faithful.
Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness.” He is God’s Word in the flesh. But, more than being God’s final word, he is also one who has stood in their shoes. He too had been brought before the Roman authorities and suffered under Roman rule.
Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of the dead.” The suffering of John’s audience was real, and may eventually lead to death. In order to stand up for Jesus and be a faithful witness, one may even have to give his life. But, even in death, John’s audience isn’t alone in their struggle. Jesus too has suffered and died. But, death isn’t the final word. Jesus conquered death and all those that cling to Jesus in and through persecution are reminded that there is life on the other side of the grave.
Jesus Christ is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Eugene Boring points out that this title is one claimed by the Roman Caesars. In other words, what John is doing is reminding his audience that their first and primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ. He is the true LORD, ruler, and King and that all other claims to such lordship are false claims.
John knows his readers need to hear a word from God in their contemporary situation and offers them such a word in God’s agent Jesus. Again, let me be clear this was a suffering community and John just doesn’t offer new names for Jesus, he goes on to remind them of the work of Jesus on their behalf: They were loved (1:5), that they were freed from their sins by his blood (1:5), and that they were a kingdom and priests with a mission in this world to serve God (1:6). John reminds them that they are in this thing together, that they need each other.
We too live at a time of crisis and suffering. People are losing their jobs, the economy is unpredictable, the once comfortable America we lived in is now ailing. Millions of jobs lost, the unemployment line is growing. We live in a very different America than just a few years ago. What can we glean this morning from John’s introduction?
God still continues to speak a word to us today in and through the redemptive work of Jesus. Let us hear afresh this morning the good names of Jesus:
He is the faithful true witness. He too has suffered. He was unemployed, homeless and often hungry (Matthew 8:20). He is the Word of God come in the flesh (Jn. 1:14). He is the Messiah, the true genuine anointed one of God, the one that is depicted as coming on the clouds (Rev. 1:7). He is our umbrella, deflecting the rain or pain, if you will. He is the continuing presence in the storms of life.
He is the firstborn of the dead. People for ages have feared death. In times of uncertainty, death is the final frontier. But, we don’t travel alone. We can lose everything in this life, and yet enter into the grave with presence and promise that death isn’t the final word. He is the only bail out we need. He has come to seek and to save the lost (Lk. 19:10), and for those that have come to Jesus and remain faithful there is life in the everlasting tomorrow. The one is, who was and is to come was there in the beginning and he end (Rev. 1:8).
He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. I don’t care what your political affiliations are. I don’t care who you voted for in the last election. One thing is for certain, politics won’t save you. Obama isn’t the Prince of Peace, or the Lord of Lords. He isn’t the Messiah. But, we know the one is. We know the one who is given all power and authority (Matthew 28:18). We know who at the end of the day, even through economic uncertainties is LORD, and sovereign over all creation. His name is Jesus Christ.
So, what’s in a name? A lot is at stake. Our identity is tied to the names we associate ourselves too. We have head John lovingly plead with his hearers to remember their association. Their identities, their names were those that were bound up in the work and plan of God through the coming of Jesus. So, what name are you known by? Are you defined by what happens to you, a victim of circumstance? Where you name becomes whatever happens to you? Unemployed, bankrupt, divorced? Or do you make lemonade out of the lemons in your life, so to speak? Wearing the proud name of Christ no matter what and wherever.
“The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883) lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!”
Luanne Oleas, http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/n/name.htm, Reader’s Digest.
Eugene Boring, Revelation, (Louisville: John Knox, 1989), 76
Our Daily Bread, January 6, 1993, http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/i/identity.htm