There is a famous line delivered by Juliet Capulet in William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet –
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
She is suggesting that if we decided to call a rose, say, a “rock” it would still smell as sweet. That we are not defined by our names. That our names are meaningless.
What do you think about that?
My legal name is Gerald Thomas Brown. I was named after my grandfathers Gerald Rekowski and Thomas Brown. I was called Tom from the beginning.
There are three Tom Browns in my family, which created some confusion.
With the family I was Tommy. At school I was Tom. Wherever my legal name was used, I was Gerald. When I went to college, my Mom suggested I give my name as G. Thomas Brown to avoid confusion. During roll call at my first class, the professor working through the names hesitantly repeated “G” several times before I realized what was happening.
It has caused me some confusion, but I appreciate the tradition inherent in my name.
Research seems to suggest that your name does have some impact on your life. Let me share just a few –
- If your name is easy to pronounce people will favor you more.
- If your name is common you are more likely to be hired.
- If your last name is closer to the beginning of the alphabet you can get into a better school.
- If your last name is closer to the end of the alphabet you are more likely to be an impulsive spender.
- We judge people by their names. For example, if you got dumped by a boy named Michael in high school you will cast a negative judgment on every Michael you meet.
What’s in a name? Well, today as we begin this new series, Jesus is going to reveal his name and some people are definitely going to judge him for it. For others of us, this name means good news. Turn in your Bibles to John 8:48-59.
Let me tell you the story.
- Jesus has just gotten all up into the business of the Jewish religious leaders.
- He has just challenged them that they belong to the devil and don’t believe in him because they don’t belong to God. Ouch!
- Jesus has definitely not read Dale Carnegie’s best seller, How to win friends and influence people.
In John 8:48 they answered him – Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed? (John 8:48)
- This is a punch below the belt. Jews despised Samaritans and looked down on them.
- Jesus is not a Samaritan (half Jewish/half Greek), but full on Jewish.
- And he is certainly not demon-possessed.
Jesus denies their claims and then says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51)
- They respond – “Now we know you are demon-possessed!”
- Abraham died and so did all the prophets, but if someone believes in you they will not see death…that’s pure craziness.
- Then they pose this question with attitude – “Who do you think you are?”
Jesus responds…listen carefully to what he says –
Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:54-56)
- Ok, this blows their minds.
- He is saying that Abraham saw Jesus. What does he mean?
- He means that when God came to Abraham and promised that the Messiah would come from his seed—his family—that he believed God and saw it by faith. Jesus is that promised Messiah.
- These guys are catching Jesus’ drift and challenge him.
- Abraham has been gone for over 2000 years and yet Jesus is not even fifty years old. He actually 31-32 years old at this point.
- They make a good point.
- Then Jesus lays it on them in verse 58 –
“Very truly I tell you…before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:58)
- According to my calculations, Jesus would need to have been born more than 2197 years ago to be here before Abraham.
- But Jesus is not just saying he was there before Abraham, otherwise he would have said, “Before Abraham was…I was.” No, he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
“Before Abraham was, I am—The words rendered “was” and “am” are quite different. The one clause means, “Abraham was brought into being”; the other, “I exist.” The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did (as Arians affirm is the meaning), but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally (as Joh 1:1). In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since “then took they up stones to cast at Him,” just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God (Joh 5:18)” – Jamieson-Fausset-Brown
- It means Jesus wasn’t born but has always existed.
- He has no origin. He has always been.
- What was their response to this statement? Check out the next verse –
- At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:59)
- Ok, what was it that Jesus said that made them want to stone him? To discover this, we have to go back into the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus 3:11-14
Israel, the Hebrew people, have been in Egypt now for 400 years. They currently find themselves in a horrific, demoralizing state of slavery.
- Moses has been gone from Egypt now for forty years, after he killed an Egyptian. He is hanging out in the dessert as a shepherd with his family minding his own business.
- God visits Moses and speaks to him from a burning bush (that will get your attention).
- God tells Moses that he wants him to trek back into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to (say it with me), “Let my people go!”
Moses says back to God –
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11)
- “Who am I? He is given the name Moses by Pharaoh’s daughters and it literally means, “Pulled out of the water.”
- What’s in a name? Moses is saying to God, “My name means ‘pulled out of the water’ which I was, and I am grateful because it saved my life. I don’t think that’s going to do it.”
- God says, “I’ll be with you.”
- I love Moses’ response –
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13)
Listen carefully to God’s response back to Moses –
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
- What kind of name is that?
- It means, God has always existed. That he doesn’t comes from someone like we do. He has always been, always is and always will be. The uncaused cause; self-existent.
- “I am” is present tense. God has no past, present or future (mind blowing).
- Everything about God is now.
- Everything God is prophesying for the future, we are waiting on, but he’s not waiting on anything.
- It means God is eternal – he has no beginning nor end.
- Then God repeats himself but shortened his title by simply referring to himself as “I am.” Tell them “I am” has sent you.
- “I am” in Hebrew is just four letters without vowels – all consonants.
- The Hebrew language didn’t add vowels until the 10th century by a group of people called Masoretes.
- It made learning this language super hard in seminary.
- It is a tetragrammaton, which means YHWH is a four letter word.
In Hebrew the four letters look like this – יהוה.
- In English it looks like this – “YHWH”
- Does anybody recognize this? Of the nearly 1000 names for God in the Bible this is the one that stands out above them all – YAHWEH Also pronounced “Jehovah.”
- Throughout the Old Testament, whenever “Yahweh” appears, out of respect for the loftiness of the name, Jewish tradition from the second century inserts the Hebrew word or name for God “Adonai.” It appears in your Bible as LORD (all caps).
- Ok, just a small observation here – When Moses goes to the Hebrew people, they never ask for his name.
Back to Jesus
Ok, let’s go back to Jesus.
- Jesus is saying that he is the great “I AM!”
- That’s why they picked up stones to kill him. This was in keeping with the Old Testament law found in Leviticus 24 –
Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. (Leviticus 24:14)
- But it’s not blasphemy if it’s true. And it is true. Jesus is “I AM!”
What does this mean to us today? At least four things come to mind.
Jesus is God
- Jesus is not a mere man and that is important.
- If Jesus were born of the seed of Joseph, we are in big trouble – “still in our sin.”
- Why? Because Joseph, like you and me are born of Adam and Eve’s sin nature is automatically passed down to us.
- Jesus’ sacrifice, while noble and thoughtful, would not have paid for our sins, once and for all.
- Jesus is born of a virgin from the seed of the Holy Spirit.
- He knew no sin and therefore his sacrifice is perfect and sufficient to remove our sin.
- Back in Exodus, Yahweh kept his promise and led the children of Israel out of slavery, across the Red Sea and ultimately into the promise land.
- Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Yeshua.
- You know what that means in Hebrew – Yahweh Saves.
- Build – Jesus – Yeshua – Yahweh Saves
- Yeshua leads us out of slavery to sin and ultimately into the Promised Land of eternity in his new Kingdom where we will be with him forever and ever.
Jesus is present.
- The “I AM” is forever present.
- He is with you right now.
- The best time to experience the “I Am-ness” of Jesus is when life is not making sense…when you have lost a sense of who you are.
Jesus will give us his name.
- In Revelation 22, John is given a vision of our life in the new kingdom.
- John says, They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:4)
- Looks like I know longer need to walk around trying to make something of “Well born wolf.”
- I will have the name of Jesus proudly tattooed across my forehead and it will signal to everyone, including myself, that I belong here.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown