This morning (4th September 2011) I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham on the subject “What’s in a name?”
The reading was from Isaiah:
Isaiah 61:1 – 7, 10 & Isaiah 62:1 – 5
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendour in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
“What’s in a name?” This was a question posed some 500 years ago by William Shakespeare in his play “Romeo and Juliet” The two young lovers discover that they belong to rival families who are conducting a bitter feud. The quote goes on “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 11.
And don’t we wish sometimes that life was so very easy. Change the name and solve the problem.
But it goes much deeper than that. Names have a deeper meaning than a mere convenient label. There can be a power in knowing someone or something’s name. Often people going to the doctor or to hospital are relieved when they know the name of the illness that’s afflicting them. You know the name and you know what you’re fighting and hopefully the doctor knows the cure.
Name’s have always been important in the Bible, right from the beginning. In Genesis 2:19 we read “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
Names tell us about the person. In days gone by they were chosen carefully to reflect the character or perhaps the circumstances of someone’s birth.
It doesn’t seem to be the same today where parents will name their offspring after pop singers, or footballers or other celebrities. After all a celebrity is someone who is famous for being well known.
I was surprised to hear a report on the radio the other week by Frank Field MP, the government’s poverty czar, that there are many children coming into the school system who do not know their own name. Either cause their parents never speak meaningfully to them or because its buried in a tirade of verbal abuse that’s shouted at them.
Here are some names from the Bible with their meaning:
“Isaac” means one laughs. His parents had laughed at the ridiculous idea of them being parents at their great age. See Genesis 21:1 – 6.
“Israel” means prince of God. Which was quite a turn around for the unscrupulous twister formally known as Jacob.
“Samuel” means heard by God. He was born after Hannah’s heart felt prayer to have a child. See 1 Samuel 1.
“Jabez” means pain. 1 Chronicles 4:9 tells us “ His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”
“Joshua” means God saves. In the New testament the name Jesus means the same. see Matthew 1:21.
And finally what I think is one of the more amazing names in the Bible in Isaiah 8:3 “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” which means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”. You can read the story as to why Isaiah’s son had that name in Isaiah 8.
A few weeks ago Peter Vickers talked to us about Barnabas which was a nick name meaning “Son of encouragement”.
So today we have some verses from Isaiah 61 and 62 written according to most scholars long before the people of Judah were taken away into their 70 year exile in Babylon. Isaiah wrote these prophetic words to encourage people, to help them with their faith in God. And they still speak powerfully to us today.
Isaiah’s audience were people in exile in Babylon. They would have endured the long siege of Jerusalem and its subsequently being over run by the Babylonian army. Jerusalem was a ruin and even worse the Temple had been destroyed. These people would have lost everything they had held dear. They no doubt felt that God had abandoned them. Maybe that’s where you are today at rock bottom and feeling abandoned. If so these verses are clearly for you.
The verses from Isaiah 61 were read by Jesus at the start of his public ministry when he was in Nazareth. I spoke about this from Luke 4 at the beginning of last December. It describes Jesus’ ministry in a nutshell. It talks about finding healing and wholeness through faith in Jesus.
Part of healing of our spiritual and indeed emotional ills comes through realising who we are in Jesus and how valuable we are to him. That we have had our sins forgiven and that can be free of guilt and shame for our past.
Many of us may feel that we are useless and valueless but this is what the Lord says in Isaiah 61:3 “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour”. No longer scraggy saplings or trees bent over by the wind or even bonsai, but tall, majestic beautiful trees.
Believers in Jesus are promised an inheritance, in fact Isaiah 61:7 says this: “Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance”. In Jewish law the eldest son and heir received a double share of their father’s property, and so people who come to faith in Jesus are part of God’s family, heirs to his kingdom, not outsiders or strangers.
We have another statement about our value to God in Isaiah 62:3 “You will be a crown of splendour in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God “ If you have ever been to the Tower of London and seen the crown jewels you will know how beautiful they are. They contain precious metals such as gold and silver and beautifully cut gem stones. They are items of wonderful craftsmanship and of great value. Just as you can’t imagine the Queen wearing a gold coloured plastic crown with cut glass jewels neither is our God in the cheap replica business. So each and everyone one of us as believers in Jesus Christ are very special and precious to our God.
But do remember diamonds straight out of the ground need to be cut and polished to bring out their brilliance and their true beauty. So God needs to work on us and the trials and tribulations he allows us to go through are not pleasant but the end result will be wonderful to behold.
Isaiah knows what the Jews are going to be called when their country is overrun, their city trashed and the Temple, God’s dwelling place destroyed and its contents looted. The people are going to be called “deserted”. You hear the taunts of the Babylonians almost like school yard bullies “You’re deserted” “Your God didn’t bother to help you” “Not much of a God is he?”. The country is going to be called “desolate” because everything of value has been destroyed or looted and the people taken into exile.
And yet….. God says the Jews are going to be called Hepzibah which means the Lord will delight in you. The country will be called Beulah which means married.
Did you know that God delights in each and everyone of us who have come to faith in Jesus? Never mind what the world says about us. What is important is what God says about us.
Everyone has a name. Some of us may not be called by our official name as found on our birth certificate. We may have nick names or names our families or friends give us. My godmother was named Maud Elizabeth but from the moment her father first saw her he declared she was Queenie and so she was for the next 80 plus years.
But as we go through life we seem to pick up other names or labels, often not of our own choosing. Life can be very unkind and so can people even those you thought were Christians. There is an old saying that “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”. Sadly often that is not true. Words can be very powerful and penetrate to our soul or spirit and cause all sorts of pain and injury.
We end up subconsciously wearing name badges or labels such as:
and because were are told this at perhaps a vulnerable moment we take it on board and act it out.
Sometimes people tells us things that act as curses and bind our lives. We can even do it to ourselves:
☹ “I’ll never be happy”
☹ “I’ll never be able to do anything”
Or you can be unfavourably compared. I sure my mum didn’t mean it but I was told often that I wasn’t as good at various things as my next brother. I finally had to remind my mum that I was David and not my brother.
An elderly friend of ours had complained about something at his church. His minister made an announcement about the issue the next Sunday morning and told the congregation that our friend was just a confused old man. Which he clearly isn’t. Perhaps fortunately our friend was not there to hear it.
The good news is that you don’t have to wear that label. God is the one who tells you who you are. The Bible reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Past sins have been forgiven and no longer do you have to put up with the guilt and shame of the past. Only the devil wishes to remind us again and again about the past. If its forgiven its gone and so you do not have to be concerned about it.
We are a work in progress which is why sometimes the past can still affect us. Rather like the story of Lazarus in John 11 being raised from the dead and having to be helped out of his grave clothes so we can still have the entanglement of our past around us even though we know we are born again.
Just as Jesus commanded those who witnessed Lazarus’ return to life to help him to be free of those grave clothes, so Jesus commissions us to help bring healing or whatever is needed to our fellow believers.
Maybe today you sitting there thinking about the label someone has put on you. Perhaps you’ve believed it and now act accordingly. You don’t have to live with it anymore, if you don’t want to.
Shortly we are going to move into a time of prayer and lets take the opportunity to ask God to act through the Holy spirit to bring us healing and freedom from the names and labels we wear. Maybe God wishes to tell you a new name, one more in keeping with your position as an adopted child of God.
Father God we thank you for the promises you gave to your people through the prophet Isaiah. We now in faith claim those promises and pray that they will became true for us this day through the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord and saviour. Amen.