What’s in a name? You can learn a great deal about someone based on their name. This is nowhere more true than when it comes to the names of God.
The Importance of Names
In western culture, names are a way to conveniently refer to a specific person. This does not mean that names are always arbitrary — often great thought goes into choosing a name that feels right. But in most of our day to day experiences, names are simply a way to refer to someone lest we become stuck in endless conversations trying to identify “Who’s on first?” How difficult and confusing the world would be without names!
However, in the biblical world, names go deeper than simply what something is called, but also communicate something of the nature of the thing or person. In the Bible, names are a window into the essence of who someone is.
This is tremendously important as we consider the names of God. When it comes to God, we don’t want just to know what to call this divine being we worship; we want to know who He is, what He is like, and why He is worthy of worship. The names of God reveal God to us.
Unless God reveals Himself to us, how will we properly identify who “God” is? Left to ourselves, “God” is merely whoever we conceive Him to be. But as Christians, we believe in so much more. In the book 3 2 1: The Story of God, author Glen Scrivener puts it this way:
“Confessing ‘belief in some kind of god’ is about as appealing as marrying ‘some kind of carbon-based life form’. Who cares about ‘spouses in general’; it’s my Emma who has won my heart. In the same way, who cares about ‘God’? ‘Which god?’ is always the question.”
We don’t just want to believe in some idea of God. We want to believe in the true, personal God, and we want to know that person’s name.
The Names of God and Human Experience
The names of God revealed to us in Scripture — or more precisely, the characteristics of God that the names reveal to us — have enormous implications for our everyday experience. Though it is now largely a relic of the past, many family names demonstrate something of who our ancestors were — Go to Mr. Potter for a new set of dishes, see Mr. Carpenter about a new coffee table, and pick up some flour from Mrs. Miller—and so on.
In a similar way, if we know who God is, we know what we can depend on Him for. We know how to relate to Him. We know how He is able to meet our needs. When we are anxious, we need God to comfort us, and when we are afraid, we need to know that God will protect us. The good news is that God has revealed Himself in ways that speak to the unique needs of our experience, and He has done this so that we may know what sort of relationship we can have and what we can expect from Him. What a comfort and joy it is to know to Whom we belong, why He is worthy of our worship, and what we can expect from Him!
Advent is a fitting season to remember and reflect upon these truths. As the image of God, Jesus is the perfect embodiment of every one of God’s names. More than anywhere else, when we look to Jesus, we see and understand exactly who this God is and what He is like. Just as importantly, as we look to Jesus, we see better than ever how God meets us in our time of need, what sort of relationship we can have with Him, and why Jesus is worthy of our worship. In Jesus, God became man, and the divine nature meets human experience.
As we look back to how God has revealed himself in Jesus, we remember who God is and who He is for us. We are reminded that Jesus is exactly who we need in our experience and why He is worthy of our worship. As we learn together about the names of God, may we grow together in our understanding of who our God is, and see and worship Him foremost as He is revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus.
Our church family gathered recently to celebrate and witness a number of people profess their faith through baptism. It was wonderful to be together with so many congregants from our five campuses and their loved ones!
For those who have been around churches for a few years, baptisms may seem rote or routine. And for those who are less familiar with church, baptisms may seem strange – You found religion or something…and now you want to get dunked in water? What’s that all about?
Indeed, what exactly is baptism all about? Let’s find out…
What happens in baptism is a matter of life and death. I know that is a bold statement, so let me unpack it, beginning with the second part.
There is a death we must die.
One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Romans 6:23, which begins “For the wages of sin is death.”
The wages of sin is death. Now sin is an especially religious word. We don’t hear it used much outside of religious contexts, and if we do, it’s something like, “It would have been a sin not to have indulged in a slice of that extra rich chocolate cake.”
But simply put, here’s what sin is in the Bible: sin is when we choose our way instead of God’s way. Sin is when God instructs us in the right way, but we decide it would be right to do something else instead.
And Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. What does this mean? Well, when you go to work and do your job, the wages your boss gives you is a paycheck. But when we work for sin, the wages it pays us is death.
The first time the word “sin” appears in the Bible, it’s likened to a vicious animal that is waiting to devour someone (Genesis 4:7). And according to the Bible, humanity has made a deal with sin. We’ve decided to work for sin. So like a vicious animal, sin has in turn devoured us. We have chosen to do things our way instead of God’s, and sin has given us our wages; death.
If we have eyes to see it, we see this death all around us—all of the brokenness we see in the world and the disconnection from ourselves, one another, and from God that we feel—this is all a kind of death. This is where we find ourselves. This is the normal human condition. We often speak about our condition as a kind of death when we say things such as, “It kills me inside to think about…” or, “When I heard the news, I died inside.”
This darkness, disconnection, and death characterize life in this world, and according to the Bible, it’s all because of sin. And this spiritual death we feel eventually culminates in literal, physical death. These are the wages we have earned. There is a death we must die.
But here’s where the good news comes in. There is a death that leads to life, and if that death becomes your death, you will live.
That death was the death of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners.
What this means is that though Jesus never sinned, by dying on the cross, He identified Himself with sinners. It means that the wages Jesus received were not the wages He deserved, but the wages we deserve. And so it means that if we are united with Jesus, when He died, we died with Him!
This means that on the cross, Jesus fully immersed himself into our darkness, our disconnection, and ultimately, into our death. In doing so He has brought sin to the death it deserves so that we can escape sin’s destruction. It means that Jesus’ death can be our death.
There is a life we must live.
Romans 6:23 begins, “For the wages of sin is death,” but as the second half of the verse explains, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So just as there is a death we must die, so there is a life we must live.
When Jesus rose again to life, His new kind of life burst into creation, and is available to all who are united to Him. Because Jesus has united Himself to us and shared in our death, we may be united with Him and share in His life.
The Bible speaks of this union in a way that is so close that it is as if we are completely immersed into who Jesus is. When a man and woman are united in marriage, they often say in their vows, “All that I am I give you, and all that I have I share with you.” As they are united, they unite their poverty and their riches. And as we are united with Jesus, we come to share in both His death and His life.
This union with Jesus, and therefore His death and life, is what we celebrated as we witnessed people get baptized a few Sundays ago. What these baptisms proclaimed is not that being immersed into water saves them, but that these people have already been immersed into Jesus, and that’s what saves them.
Water baptism is a symbol of this real identity, union, and immersion into Jesus (Romans 6:3-4). As we are immersed in the water, we proclaim that we have been immersed into Jesus’ death, have died to our old way of life, and are choosing to die to sin in our daily experience. And as we rise from the water, we show that we were raised with Jesus, and that we share in and seek to live His new kind of life.
What about you?
There is a death we must die, and there is a life we must live, and that death and life may be ours as we are immersed into Jesus.
If you have been united to Jesus by faith but have not been baptized, keep an eye out for the next time our church celebrates baptism, and consider participating.
If you are unsure of what to make of Jesus, consider the Bible’s claims on the human condition and the matter of life and death that is before each one of us.
If you would like to talk and learn more, please reach out to a pastor at one of our campuses.
Baptism is a symbol of this very real matter of life and death. Through baptism we celebrate and demonstrate our union with Jesus, and that: All Jesus is He gives to us, and all that He has He shares with us. Whatever the future holds, Jesus will love us and stand by us, As long as He shall live –- forever and ever.
One of the most monumental steps humanity has ever taken was when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. What had previously only been the stuff of dreams had now been accomplished for all humanity: humanity had finally made it to the moon. In Armstrong’s own words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
But as monumental as that step was, it is only a small picture of a far, far greater human step: when Jesus ascended into heaven and stepped into the presence of God.
According to Acts 1:3, following his resurrection, “[Jesus] presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days….” It was on the 40th day after His resurrection that Acts 1:9 tells us, “as they were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
It sounds very weird to us. None of us have ever seen someone ascend into the clouds like this, but let’s not let the weirdness of this keep us from understanding the tremendous significance of what it means.
In the Bible, clouds often symbolize God’s presence. When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, clouds covered the mountain (Exodus 24:15). When Moses entered the tent of meeting, a pillar of cloud would descend and the Lord would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:9). But when Jesus ascended, he did not merely enter a tent or go up a mountain. He went into heaven itself, the true place where God resides.
The ascension has tremendous implications, not just for Jesus, but for all who identify with Him. Let’s consider some of the blessings that come to us from the ascended Lord.
The ascension gives us confidence before God.
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest would enter the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice before the Lord (Leviticus 16). As he entered, he would be wearing a breastplate with 12 stones on it, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel (Exodus 28). In this way, year after year, the priest would represent the people and bring them into God’s presence, providing a covering for their sin.
But according to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is our great high priest. Unlike Israel’s earlier high priests however, Jesus has offered a perfect sacrifice, once for all time, and appears before God as our priest forever. And because Jesus is human, He is able to represent us before God. We can say that as Jesus appears now before God, He carries us on His heart, and has our name on His lips. This gives us great confidence before God, because our security before God is as secure as Jesus himself.
The ascension gives us courage on earth.
As the ascended Lord, Jesus is seated “…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). What this means is that Jesus is not just Lord over the church, or in our hearts, or over the spiritual realm; Jesus is Lord over all creation – every time period, every person, every nation, and every realm. The rulers of this world may think they are at the top, but they would be wrong. Whether or not people recognize it, Jesus is the King of kings to whom all are accountable.
This is the courage and boldness the apostles and the early church had as they proclaimed Jesus in the face of persecution and opposition (Acts 4). Since our Lord is the Lord over all creation, we need not tremble before any power or any circumstance, come what may. We must not shrink back from faithfully and boldly following Jesus in every sector of life without compromise. And because Jesus is the ascended Lord, we may do this no matter the pressures or opposition we face.
The ascension gives us comfort in sorrow.
One of the frustrations we may feel with our leaders and those in authority is that they seem so unrelatable. They don’t know what it’s like to be one of us. How can I trust them to represent what’s best for me? But when we find leaders who have gone through the same things as we have and can truly sympathize with us, we find ourselves placing our hopes and trust in them. They know what it’s like, and they know what we need.
The ascension of Jesus gives great comfort for those who feel sorrow. In Jesus, the Son of God became flesh and lived like one of us. He fully experienced the traumas and scars that come from life in this broken world (Hebrews 4:15). And when He ascended, He did not leave His flesh behind but took it with Him, forever identified with humanity. So for those who bear the scars of life, take heart, because the One who rules the cosmos is one who bears scars.
The ascension gives us hope for our future.
When God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He made them in His own image and entrusted them to rule over creation with care (Genesis 1:27-28). Humanity was intended for greatness, but with the introduction of sin, we have fallen terribly short of the glory that was supposed to be ours. Even our best moments are still tainted in some way by brokenness. It is a great tragedy, because we were made for so much more.
But in the ascension of Jesus, we see a glimpse of humanity as it was intended to be. When we see the ascended Jesus, we see a picture of our future. In their book, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God, authors Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow explain:
“The ascension of Jesus is the ultimate rags to riches story. A child born in a barn becomes the king of the world. But it is not His story alone. It is the story of the restoration of humanity. The story of Jesus is the story of His people. All believers participate in this rags to riches story. We ascend to become who we were born to be.”
The ascension of Jesus is good news for humanity. Just as the Son descended to earth in the person of Jesus so that God might again dwell with humanity, so He ascended to heaven that humanity might again dwell with God––forever and ever, amen.