“What is God’s Name for You?”
February 25, 2018
By John Partridge*
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Mark 8:31-38 Romans 4:13-25
Have you ever met someone who changed their name?
In some ways it isn’t as common in our American culture as it is in other places, but even so, we have a tradition that most women change their names when they get married. Sometimes that means they take their husband’s last name, other times she hyphenates her last name with his, and sometimes both the husband and the wife change to a hyphenated name together. But in other cultures, people change names when they change religions. Although it isn’t terribly common, we see that here when someone chooses to become a Muslim, such as when Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali. It can go the other way as well, when a person from a predominantly Muslim culture becomes a Christian, or even if they abandon Islam and become an atheist or agnostic, they might well change their name as a reflection of that. In nearly all of these cases, a name change comes about as a reflection of a significant change in the life of the person.
There are a number of times when we see people of both the old and the new testaments change their names but two of the most memorable are when Abram become Abraham, and Simon becomes Peter. We begin this morning with the story of Abraham from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 where we hear these words:
17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram [Abram means exalted father]; your name will be Abraham [Abraham probably means father of many], for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
You might have noticed the continued theme of “covenant” that we saw last week in the story of Noah. In the case of Noah, God made a covenant with every living creature on the earth that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. But in the story of Abraham and Sarah, God makes his covenant specifically with these two people and with their descendants. So significant is this promise, that God changes their names, Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah, as reflection of its lifelong importance and as a testimony to the change that God had made in their lives.
But that brings us, as followers of Jesus, to an obvious question. If God’s promise was to Abraham and to the Jewish people, then where does that leave us as Gentiles? And that is one of the important questions that the Apostle Paul addresses in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 4:13-25).
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Paul argues that the Jewish people have often depended on God’s covenant with Abraham and their compliance with the laws of Moses rather than upon their faith in God. But if that’s true, then Abraham himself is condemned because the law was not written until many generations later. For that reason, Paul says, we know that the promise that God made to Abraham is a promise that is connected to faith and not to a strict obedience to the laws of Moses. And, Paul continues, if that is so, then anyone who puts their faith in God can have the same hope that Abraham did. It was Abraham’s faith in God, even in the face of a childless reality that seem certain, that made him an heir of God’s righteousness. Despite being over 100 years old, and despite Sarah being nearly as old as he was, they persisted in believing that God would fulfill his promise. Paul says that Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised” and because he was “fully persuaded,” God credited him with righteousness. That means that even though, as an imperfect human being, Abraham was not righteous, God’s own righteousness was deposited in Abraham’s account. And Paul tells us that this promise of God was not unique to Abraham and Sarah, but applies to everyone who will put their full faith in Jesus Christ.
But what does it mean to be “fully persuaded” or to put our full faith in God?
That is a reasonable question, and in Mark 8:31-38, we hear Jesus explain it this way:
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Peter was one of Jesus’ first followers and his closest friend, but even so Jesus chastises him because Peter had begun to think of himself and his own needs and desires before focusing on what God wanted. Jesus goes on to say that in order to become a person who is fully persuaded, we must lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean that we had to literally die for him, but he clearly did mean that his followers are expected to put the needs and desires of God, and God’s kingdom, ahead of our own.
If you’ve spent any time at all on some social media outlets, you have almost certainly seen one of the countless posts quoting Jesus saying “If anyone is ashamed of me” and that verse comes from this very passage. But on Facebook, those posts almost always say that if you really love Jesus, if you really are not ashamed of Jesus, then you will resend that photograph or that post to all of your friends. Poppycock. That’s not what this passage means at all. What Jesus is saying, is that of you really love him, you will put the desires of Jesus, and the needs of the kingdom of God, ahead of your own. What Jesus wants, isn’t for us to repost his picture or some scripture verse on Facebook or Instagram. What Jesus wants is for us to live our lives as if his teaching actually meant something.
Abraham, Sarah, and Peter were all given new names by God to signify that they belonged to him and were living their lives in devotion and obedience to him. They were “fully persuaded” that God had the power to do what he had promised and they trusted God enough to put God’s desires and the needs of his kingdom ahead of their own. When that happened, God, knowing that the desire of Abram’s heart was to be a father, changed his name from Abram (which means father) to Abraham (which means father of nations). Jesus saw Simon’s faith and changed his name from Simon (which means God has heard) to Peter (which means rock) because despite his doubts and his failings, Peter would become the rock that held the church together.
And so, I invite you to come with me on a short flight of imagination.
God wants each one of us to put our full faith and trust in Jesus Christ, to become fully persuaded, and sold out to him so that we become willing to put the needs and desires of God ahead of our own.
So imagine, if and when you are willing to do that, what new name would God give you?
Would it tell the world that God was giving you the desire of your heart so that he could change the world through you? Would it tell everyone that God intended to use you to build something far larger than yourself? Or would it be something else?
God is waiting to change your name.
Just imagine how your world would change, if you were willing to become… “fully persuaded.”
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.