This week we are memorizing:
Do not use Yahweh your God’s name as if it were of no significance.
14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
18 Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved [Joel 2:28-32].
19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Gentiles. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord…. 26 It was in Antioch where the disciples were first labeled “Christians.”
When the apostle Peter quoted Joel 2 in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (just 50 days after Jesus' crucifixion), the key verse with which he ended was again one that, in Hebrew, used the divine name: “everyone who calls on Yahweh’s name will be saved.” Peter showed how strongly and quickly early Christians linked Jesus' gift of salvation with the saving power of Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures. Meanwhile, by Acts 11 we find a new name for believers in Jesus surfacing in the city of Antioch, a name still in use (though sometimes too hollowly): Christians.
Lord Jesus, keep growing in me a quality of life that honors your name, and shines your glorious love and grace like a beacon to all the people who come in contact with me. Amen.
Honor God’s name by worshipping Him! Create a special worship box for your home. (You can purchase plain ones at a craft store or simply use a shoebox.) Design the outside with words, pictures and symbols representing your family and faith. Inside place objects that help your family worship together. You might include a Bible, a prayer cloth, a candle, items from nature, pictures, art supplies, and Christian music. Each week spend some time worshipping together at home. You might also try going on a nature walk and praising God for creation or serving in a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whether in a time of intentional worship or in everyday life, always use the name of God with respect and love.
* Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Location 248892). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
If you follow football at all, you may have heard of Boomer Esiason, either for his years as a quarterback or, more recently, as an announcer covering NFL games. You may not even know that his given name is "Norman"--I didn't. He probably got the nickname Boomer because of his strong throwing arm, or because of his exuberant personality as an announcer, right? Well, actually not. He told an interviewer "that the nickname had been created by his own mother, prior to his birth, because of how much he kicked while she was pregnant." *
We belong to a "Methodist" church, and most people today see that as a respectable (maybe even a bit stuffy) name. Yet you may (or may not) know that John Wesley didn't conduct focus groups to choose the word "Methodist" for those who valued his preaching and ordered their life along the lines he suggested. No, "‘Methodist’ was originally a word used by the opponents of Wesley and his friends to sneer at their ‘Methodical’ ways of organizing their groups for Bible study and prayer." **
Acts 11 seemed to report that "Christians," first applied to followers of Jesus in the Syrian city of Antioch, was also a kind of nickname. As you may have learned from a preacher (or the GPS), the Greek word "Christ" (christos) was not a name, but a title. It meant "anointed one," and was essentially the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word "mashiach" (Messiah). The four gospels nearly always treated the word as a title, referring to "the Christ" or "Jesus the Christ." That would reflect the way Jesus referred to himself, and others referred to him, during his earthly life.
But in the New Testament letters, we find Jesus' followers, deeply committed to his identity as God's anointed, often using his name and title together--in many places they referred to Jesus Christ, or, less often, Christ Jesus. But in even the earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians, we also find the apostle Paul using the word "Christ" by itself to designate Jesus (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 4:16). The word clearly moved from a title that might have been applied to anyone to being another way, though certainly a reverent, honorific way, to speak specifically of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which brings us to Antioch. We might wonder why people outside of the circle of early believers would start calling them "Christians" rather than, say, "Jesus-ites" or something like that. Scholar N. T. Wright offered this explanation: "'Christ', as we have seen many times already, was the Greek word for 'Messiah,' ‘the anointed one’, ‘God’s anointed king’. The followers of Jesus were thinking and speaking in such a way that they were thought of as ‘the king’s people’, ‘Messianists’, Christians." ** It may have been meant, at first, as mockery by people who didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed king. But like "Boomer," like "Methodists," it stuck, and because of the people who bore the name, it came to mean things far more significant than just a casual nickname.
And that brings me to us, to me. I live in a time when, for some of my neighbors, the word "Christian" conjures up images of narrowness, of scruples they find silly, and of intolerance that becomes really hurtful to others. Yet I'm proud to bear the name as an expression of my (never perfect) commitment to live the kind of self-giving, love-driven life that Jesus taught and modeled.
So I ask myself: when someone learns I'm a "Christian," does that do honor to the name of Jesus the Christ, or does it make the name more irrelevant or even repellant to that person? As I deal with staff at the apartments where I live, or wait for a slow server at a restaurant, or watch a sporting event with my son and my grandsons, or deal with a stranger who comes to our church, or interact with other members of the church staff, I want to hold in my mind and heart this week's memory verse: "Do not use Yahweh your God’s name [or the name of Jesus the Christ] as if it were of no significance." Because, in fact, the ripples from how I bear those names can be far more significant than I can even see or imagine.
* From an article on The Sportster.
** Both quotations from N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, p. 178.
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