What’s in a name? 

Romans 12:1-8 and Matthew 16:13-20

A Sermon by Revd Peter Coley   29 June 2014

I wonder if you like your name?  I think most of us would say that your name is very important.  A teacher looking down a new class list could probably predict quite a lot about a child and the family it is coming from, though often might be wrong.

My mum told me I was Peter and my brother John because they were amongst the closest of Jesus disciples.  If she had gone on producing I suppose she would have had the whole list!

Certainly in biblical times names had very strong connotations: The prophet Hosea for example was told by God to call his first daughter Lo-Ruhamah,   which means ‘not loved’, because the Lord no longer loved his adulterous people!  His next son he had to call Lo-Ammi, ‘not my people’.  Jacob means ‘usurper’ or ‘deceiver’, and his name was changed to Israel which means, ‘he struggles with God’, and they certainly have been doing that!

In ancient thought (and possibly not so ancient) to know someone’s name was to have power over them. In the Genesis account where Adam names the animals he was expressing the fact that God had given mankind dominion over the earth and its creatures.

Today’s passage from Matthew is all about names and it starts after Jesus had miraculously fed the crowds and they were clamouring to make him king which Jesus resists.  The Jewish idea of the Messiah did not involve God incarnate.  They awaited a perfect human being who would come from God and would establish a golden era for Israel – a military and political leader. Not unlike the present struggles by Sunni extremists in the Middle East to establish a caliphate with Sharia law.  The disciples were not immune from this kind of thought and still expected some kind of physical kingdom to be ushered in and indeed had been vying for a good place in it.  You may remember the mother of James and John commending her boys for the best places!

Jesus is in deep conversation with his disciples and asks them, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’

Those who came to Rosemary Harris’ first seminar will be reminded that Jesus used the name ‘Son of Man’ for himself and it is very interesting.  It had a double meaning we read of a ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel 7 who is clearly a divine figure with an everlasting kingdom who will be served by all peoples.  But we also read of ‘Son of Man’ in Ezekiel where it merely signifies a human being.  Thus Jesus uses the title so that his disciples may understand his glory which they would shortly see at the Transfiguration, while those who oppose him may interpret his name according to Ezekiel – just a man.  In effect using this name had the same effect as a parable. Those with ears to hear will understand the Daniel image whilst those who are blind will take the Ezekiel interpretation!

So who do people say that the son of man is?

Clearly people recognised in Jesus a greatness.   Some thought, John the Baptist, come back from the dead.  Others, Elijah, we know there was a tradition that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah.

Now Jesus turns the spotlight on the disciples.  ‘But what about you, Who do you say that I am?’  A moment of silence I am sure

Peter true to form is the one who answers.  ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.

We cannot imagine the enormity of that declaration.  For a Jew to utter such a thing was blasphemy, it took not only courage and the overcoming of all that he had known of God up to that point as a Jew, it actually took a revelation of God, as Jesus points out – ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’.

This was a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Jesus had been waiting for this moment; at last the eyes of the disciples had been opened. From now on we read in all three synoptic gospels that the public ministry of Jesus is coming to an end.  Now he moves towards Jerusalem, now comes a time of teaching his disciples preparing them for his death!

Peter, the natural leader of the group had ‘got it’; soon the others would grasp the significance of who the son of man was.

Jesus turns to Peter and says, ‘and I tell you that you are Peter, Petros and upon this Rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Jesus had told Peter when he first called him that he would be Peter the rock, but he hadn’t proved to be much of a rock up to now, and indeed wouldn’t be until the other side of the resurrection of Jesus.  So often he had messed up, so often he hadn’t understood, so often he had spoken when it would have been better to keep quiet, but he would become a rock.  He would hold a key that would open a door for people to come into the kingdom.

  • He was the one to speak out to a Jewish crowd on the day of Pentecost and see 2,000 believers come to faith!
  •  He was the one who officially began the work to the Gentiles when he was instructed to go to the house of Cornelius and witnessed the Holy Spirit at work.
  • Together with John he was the first apostle to face imprisonment for the gospel
  • He seems to have been the point of  reference when it came to matters of the belief, the rock for establishing the apostolic faith

So there can be little doubt that he was certainly God’s rock as the early church was founded.  And it is nothing short of a miracle that here we are, 2,000 years later and still all the wickedness of humankind, all the forces of evil that have been let loose in our world have never halted the growth and development of God’s church. Today, after decades if not centuries of persecution, the church in China is reckoned to be 54 million and that is just those registered.  In our day despite the onslaught of Islam extremism there remains often as a result of persecution a vibrant church, that would put many of our own churches to shame!  Clearly Peter’s declaration of who Jesus is will form the bedrock of what we believe.  That acknowledgement of Christ as our Lord, as the Son of God is the foundation of who we are as Christians.

This is something that comes by divine revelation.  To know Jesus truly as the son of God, to know him as the Saviour of the world because of his unique position as Emmanuel, God with us,  is the revelation that gives us a name in Baptism.

This is indeed what it means to be truly blessed in our lives!!  Above health and wealth and position and power! To come to a revelation of the person of Christ in a personal way, to allow his holy presence into our lives is what our hearts crave at their deepest level.  For this person is, the life bringer, the light bringer, the healer, the joy bringer, the Saviour.  This person is our true centre of worship, for he is God Almighty!

We can hear about Christ, we can listen to and read the bible, we can even pray.  But until there is a true revelation as to who Jesus is in our hearts we remain, in the words of Jesus, unblessed! We will not know that joy, we will have no desire to worship!

Ultimately this side of heaven or at judgement we will all have to answer that question.  Who do you say that I am?  And if we truly believe in our heart and confess with our tongue then we are given a name, by Christ, we are a Christian!  We become part of God’s people, the church involved in his ministry of setting people free, of becoming a new people who are learning to love and care and sacrifice for they have found a love like no other in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And that will have the most profound influence upon the way we live our lives and what we are living for.

This week we have heard of young men being radicalised by Muslim extremists, without their father knowing a thing!  How much more do we need to be radicalised by the person of Jesus Christ that we might spearhead a revolution not of hatred and killing but of love and life.  Shouldn’t us ‘oldies’ do all in our power to captivate the hearts of our young people with the beauty of Christ and his amazing kingdom?  Shouldn’t we be putting our resources behind this?  Isn’t this why we are looking to adapt our facilities to promote our work with the next generation?

‘Who do you say that I am?’ remains a haunting question to us all, one that we cannot hedge around.  It is actually a question of life or death, for in our response lies the difference between remaining in our sin and being dead spiritually, or being delivered from sins power and given new and abundant life.

In the words of John (1 John 5: 11&12):  ‘And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the son of God does not have life.’

What’s in a name?  In the case of Christ, not just a great deal, but everything!