What's in a Name?

 If I called her name, she would turn...

If I called her name, she would turn...

Nothing causes your head to turn like hearing your name. It’s important. It’s personal. It identifies you. Your name names you, calls you, associates you, announces you, and in a single moniker, encapsulates all that you are.

There is no spoken word more personal than your name. It personalizes your relationship, singles you out, reassures you, and tells you that you—specifically you—are not forgotten. When your name is called, you are noticed. And to whoever calls your name, you matter.

Lots of people call my name. The painter, my friend, my wife. Each speaks my name. But most important of all, God calls my name.

What’s that about?

The Bible is filled with references about God speaking a special name. He called for Adam and Eve. Spoke to Abram and announced He was changing his name. He spoke Moses’ name, and Israel’s, and Samuel’s.

Maybe it is because He was dead and now alive, but there is unique power when Jesus calls a name as the risen Christ. For example:

“Mary!”

She thought He was the gardener and began pleading for information as to where Jesus’ body had been moved so she could take it away, anoint it, and ensure it was given a proper burial. Pleading. Desperate. Anxious. Tired. Groping in the pre-dawn darkness until He spoke to her. “Mary!” She turned and recognized Him the Bible says (John 20:16).

One word commanded Mary’s attention. Four letters placed one after the other and voiced by Jesus brought instant recognition. As a matter of fact, so profound was her recognition of Him that I find humor in His next words: “Stop clinging to Me” (John 20:17).

The resurrected Christ, Jesus the Lord, speaks most meaningfully when He calls Mary’s name. In that one word are the answers to all of the questions lurking in Mary’s mind at the time. She had all she needed. Jesus was no longer dead. He was alive, resurrected, and He knew her name.

“Peter!”

In Mark 16, the resurrection text implies that divine orders were issued to a young angel. He was to go to the empty tomb, have a seat, and wait for the first visitors. In the heavenly briefing, he was told, “When the women arrive, put them at ease. Since they will be speechless, answer their obvious question: Tell them, ‘Christ is risen.’ Let them look around a little, and then instruct them to hurry and tell the disciples what they have just witnessed. And be sure to mention Peter by name” (cf. Mk. 16:5-7).

Breathless from running, the women gave their incredible report of what they’d seen at the (empty) Garden Tomb. Peter bolted from the room toward the garden.

Luke says he looked in, saw the grave clothes, and went to his home, marveling (24:12). I have wondered if perhaps he went home, wandered around some, and given his doubts about what else to do, decided to go fishing. The resurrected Messiah met him there—where he was fishing—called out his name, shared a meal with him, and commissioned him in the Kingdom.

Peter had all he needed now: In spite of his failure three days earlier, Christ had not forgotten his name or where he liked to hang out. He was blessed, he was honored, he was recognized, he was commissioned.

“Cleopas!”

Mark and Luke tell of two men—Cleopas and a friend—walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile walk. Although they didn’t recognize Him, the resurrected Jesus met them and began traveling with them.

They talked of life, the news of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the Scriptures. It wasn’t until dinner that this amazing story delivers its surprising finale. Jesus took bread from the dinner table, broke it, blessed it, and began passing the bread to His friends. At that moment, their eyes were opened to His identity, and the Bible says He vanished from their sight.

Christ singled them out. He revealed the Scripture to them, walked with them, talked with them—no doubt calling them by name. He stayed with them, ate with them, and shared His life with them. It was all they needed.

“Saul! Saul!”

In his testimony before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice, Paul says, “By reason of [Christ’s] resurrection from the dead, He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (cf. Acts 26:23). It was this resurrected Rabbi, Jesus Christ, who met Saul on the road to Damascus in unapproachable and blinding light, called him by name—“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)—and proclaimed life to him in his lost and sinful state.

Paul (formerly, Saul) knew if Jesus Christ had not risen from the dead, called his name on the Damascus road, and preached light to him, Saul of Tarsus would be forever lost in his sinfulness and legalism. Christ the light spoke Saul’s name in the midst of his darkness, and it was all he needed. He was transformed.

A tomb in the pre-dawn night. Souls grim with grief. The guilt of failure. A man riding grimly down the road to do violence in Damascus. These are dark places.

But God says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name” (Is. 45:3). Mary, Peter, Cleopas and his friend, and Paul—all heard their names called in the midst of their darkness. Each turned toward the light, the resurrected Christ.

“Preston!”

In the darkness, just before dawn, Jesus vacated his cemetery plot and ushered in the light of grace. He calls my name to look from my darkness toward Him, the light of life.

In Christ’s resurrection, I hear Him calling my name. In His resurrection, I find provision for all my needs. Because of His resurrection, I walk in His light, and in Him there is no darkness, no shadow, and no sundown. Inspired by His resurrection, I put on the armor of light (Rm. 13:12) and trust Him to extinguish the darkness around me and make the darkness succumb to light (Ps. 139:12).

“If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).

In this light, like Mary, I turn toward Christ and cling to Him.

 In this light, like Peter, I am forgiven, and I marvel.

In this light, like Cleopas and his friend, I am amazed. My heart burns.

In this light, like Paul, I am forever transformed.

In this light, I hear Him call my name, and I have all I need.

"And ________" (insert your name)

God is calling your name. It is not a term of derision, but signifies that He knows you, is interested in you, and that you matter to Him. That He loves you is a given. Begin there, but then listen a little longer, focus your attention more than you normally might, and hear what else He has to say--now that He has called your name.