17. A Power Name

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 17. A Power Name

Acts 4:10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Familiarity so often removes mystery. At first sight there is mystery in this verse spoken out by the apostle Peter. A man has just been miraculously healed and Peter says it is by the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, that this has happened. What does that mean? It means that what Peter had said and done that resulted in this man being miraculously healed, came about because of all that Peter had known and experienced of Jesus and so that now he has the authority of that same Jesus to do the same things Jesus had done.

And then comes the thrust about Jesus: “whom you crucified”. Yes, you rejected him, and you tried him and wrongly declared him guilty of sin although he was sinless and then executed him. Yes, all right, all of that is not there in the record, but that is what is implied in it. And to prove you were wrong, “whom God raised from the dead.”

And that is why the name of Jesus is the name under which you and I operate, the name under which you and I serve God, the name under which we can have confidence that God will act. Peter does not spell it out here and perhaps it would have to wait until the fuller understanding was given to the apostle Paul. The truth was that by being crucified Jesus was being offered as a sacrifice for sin so that Justice would be appeased because all the sins of mankind were taken in this momentous punishment taken by the very Son of God. He was a figure so great that no one could ever say he wasn’t big enough to take your sin, my sin and the sin of every person who has ever lived or ever will live. Yes, that was what was happening on the Cross.

But as we’ve seen, it didn’t end there; he was raised from the dead and by his resurrection he proved he was who he had said he was, this Son of God ‘big enough’ to carry our sin.

And so, what was the outworking of those two things, Jesus’ death and resurrection? Well, as heaven sang of Jesus, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10)

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I who have become believers, have been united with him and so, as he now reigns at his Father’s right hand, we share in that reign with him and his authority and power is expressed in and through us so that we do the works of Jesus here on earth as he said (Jn 14:12), just like Peter.  Hallelujah!

4. Don’t be rude about God

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  4. Don’t be rude about God

Ex 20:7   You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

At first sight this always seems to me a minor instruction. I mean, does God get upset when silly, puny, tiny, foolish human beings say nasty things about him?  I’m sure not. You only get upset about what people say about you when you are insecure, but having said that God does get upset but I believe it is for an entirely different reason.

These first commands in this list that we fid in Exodus 20 are all about God, about who He is and about how we perceive Him AND about how we communicate Him. Don’t have other gods, was the first one, because if you do, you fall into error and deception because there is only ONE God.  Anything else is the figment of man’s imagination. Don’t make idols, was the second one because no idol can convey anything of the greatness of God and making an idol is a sign of wanting to control the divine. And so we come to how you speak about God.

Sometimes I believe us uttering words gives us a sense of power. It is foolish and it is deception. Speaking out false truths (which are no truth in fact) helps the unbeliever be even more convinced that he is right. The well known crusading atheist who is known for his rants about God, I am sure, makes himself feel good and strengthens his pride that he could come up with a paragraph of unpleasant words about God. He merely reinforced his unbelief and closed his mind even more. When we speak out words, somehow they take on a strength in our lives.  Perhaps that is why the apostle Paul said, For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:10)  We need to speak out our salvation and in so doing we are strengthened. The fool (Psa 14:1) says, “There is no God.” He speaks in his folly and reinforces his folly. Denying the Lord is the first way people misuse the name of the Lord, for they deny the truth.

And there we find the primary reason, I believe, that God is upset when people foolishly misuse the Lord’s name, because in some way they demean Him, make Him appear less than He is, and in so doing that will put other people off from coming to Him, finding Him and entering into a relationship with Him.  The first way of misusing the name of the Lord is by denying Him or making Him less than He is. That doesn’t hurt Him as a person, but it does mean that it will hinder others coming to know the truth, knowing Him.

The command uses the word ‘misuse’ but there are two similar words that are linked to that. The first is abuse. We have already touched on the foolish atheist who abuses the Name by saying silly and untrue things about Him, but there is misuse by using the name in an abusive way. Some Christians seem comfortable with using the expression, “Oh my God,” in an expressive way but they are not appealing to God when they are doing that; they are using the name ‘God’ to vent emotion. I suggest this is misuse by abuse. If we use the name ‘God’ or even ‘Lord’ (“Oh, my Lord!”) we are using it for our purpose. Misuse is the main word, abuse is the second word, and the simple ‘use’ is the third word. We use the name God for our purposes, we make His name servant to our desires.

Jesus chided people for using God’s name, not as a swear word, but as a support or confirmation to swearing an oath: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Mt 5:33-37) The Law said don’t break an oath but Jesus said you shouldn’t need to make an oath. The implication was that your word should be sufficient without any form of verbal backup, and especially not using or abusing the names of heaven or Jerusalem or of God Himself. In all those ways we use God to support what we are saying. We should not use His name like that.

An example of the power of words came when Jesus stood before the high priest: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God.” (Mt 26:63) Invoking God’s name made the charge doubly strong in their eyes, but it was still using God. God is not to be used or abused, because He is the Holy One of Israel, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of all things.

Just a small point in closing: what name do you use when you are praying? I ask the question because I believe it indicates something of what we feel about Him. I never address Him as ‘God’. God is what He is. It is like us approaching another person and saying “Human being, will you…..”  It is impersonal. It is blunt and hard, and it lacks any sense of either reverence or intimacy. I confess I will pray, “Lord….” or “Father….” or “Lord Jesus….”. I believe the way we address the Lord says something about what we feel about Him. I may be wrong about this and it may be a cultural thing, but I don’t think so. Think about it.

The command comes with a strong warning: “for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”  i.e. this is not a casual thing; this is an important thing and God WILL hold you accountable for how you use His name. You know I believe there are number of ways we Christians in the West in the twenty-first century miss God’s blessing and tolerate lives that are not what they could be, and the poor use or even wrong use of God’s name is one of them.

I have a suspicion that the way the name Jesus is used sometimes in modern songs verges on misuse. Sometimes we seem to use it as an icon (and I know there is a part of the church that uses icons) and the emphasis is on ‘use’ which often verges on or is ‘misuse’. When we utter the word, ‘Lord’ does it come with either a sense of awe (reverence) or intimacy (love); are we expressing it about the one we love and adore so much or are we expressing it to the one who we revere and adore?  The way we speak should convey our relationship with Him. It even reveals that we are people who are known not to use the name for abuse, and that should communicate the truth of it to others. This third commandment has very real meaning and when we think about it, it reveals much about us and about modern life.

17. A Guaranteed End

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  17. A Guaranteed End

Phil 2:9-11    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The problem with these verses is that they are on the end of verses that seem even more attention-getting and so I think we almost take these amazing verses for granted. Many think that verses 6 to 11 were part of an early Christian hymn or even one of those famous ‘sayings’ that crop up in Paul’s writings, that the early church used to teach new believers.  Together they are full of immense significance  and I wonder why I haven’t picked them up before in this series – except for the reason I’ve just given of taking them for granted.

Verses 6 to 8 are staggering enough – that Jesus who is and was God, put aside all his glory and came and lived as a human being with little or no glory and gave his life for us on the Cross. That in itself it staggering enough to be worthy of a meditation on its own, but then you come to our three verses above.

Because Jesus did that, the Father raised him from the dead and then took him back to heaven (see the remarkable event in Acts 1:9) where He seated him at His right hand – “the highest place” (Check it out – Mark 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22 – reference after reference to Jesus being exalted at the Father’s right hand. It is of major significance in the New Testament!)

And there He “gave him the name that is above every name,”  a recognizable identity of which there is no doubt, a name that is now exalted above EVERY other name. There is no figure in history who – claimed to have come from heaven – who lived out a life and ministry that used the miraculous power of heaven to bless humanity – who gave his life to satisfy justice with its demands on our sinful lives – who rose from the dead – who ascended visibly into heaven – who empowered his church to do the miraculous and transform millions of lives with love. NOBODY from any other faith, belief system, political persuasion or whatever has ever done all this. No wonder Paul could say this name was above every other name.

But it doesn’t end there. Because of who he is and because of what he is done, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Now I used to read this wrongly as, I suspect, a lot of us do, because it doesn’t say “every knee will bow”. Now I believe that every knee will eventually bow to Jesus as the picture in Revelation 19 of the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords shows, but this verse doesn’t say that. It says that they should bow (one of two versions say ‘shall’ but most say ‘should’) and that ‘should’ suggests ‘ought to’ rather than ‘will’. Commentators often suggest that there is little difference in meaning or outcome but the word is there.

Now why this particular way of putting it? I suggest it is because of the context. Paul starts out, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” (v.5) and so he is teaching attitude or outlook. He’s saying, follow Jesus example who put aside his glory and became nothing, and leave the outcome to the Father, as Jesus did. He has been exalted by the Father to a place where he is now worthy of worship – and that including from us. It ought to be but it isn’t always and we too can be remiss and not be part of that worshipping company, but that just puts us in the wrong because Jesus deserves our worship.

But this verse with its ‘should’ shows us that is conforms to the reality of the world which often doesn’t worship Jesus. The truth is that it should and in its failure to, it will be held answerable to God. Jesus is the bench mark of the wonder of heaven. He reveals the wonder of the grace and goodness of the godhead. Failure to realise this and respond in worship is an indication of spiritual blindness and willful self-centred godlessness. Yes, there will come a time when every knee will bow before Jesus and confess he is Lord, as we’ve already indicated that Revelation 19 shows, but in the meantime there are those who go against what should be happening.

This is significant because it explains what is going on in the world today. There is coming a guaranteed end when Jesus will reign over all but the reality of the present is that many fly in the face of that ‘should’ and will be judged precisely on that one thing. They may appear to be allowed to get away with it in the present moment, and that is true, but the truth is there, and they will be judged according to it, and that WILL happen in a day ahead of us.

These verses elevate Jesus above all else and set the level of expectation. Failure to reach that level is the bench mark against which all will be judged. That is why these verses are so amazing. They not only show what Jesus has done, but they also establish the measure against which every person will be judged. As a Christian, I have already bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus is Lord; that was an essential part of the process that brought about my conversion, that opened the way for me to be born again, and so it is for every believer.

But the measure has been clearly displayed in the New Testament and in these verses in particular – Jesus IS Lord and we SHOULD bow before him and declare him as Lord. If we have not already done that, we stand before God judged. We have whatever time we have left on this earth to remedy that; the only problem is that we do not know how long we have left. You dare not leave it if you have never bowed before him and surrendered your life to his lordship. Action now is the only sure way. Do it.

God of Glory

God in the Psalms No.13

Psa 8:1 O LORD , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

In the 6th of these meditations, when we considered the face of the Lord, we briefly considered the glory of the Lord. Let’s now think about that more fully. David starts this eighth psalm off by reflecting on how wonderful the Lord’s name is.   He uses the covenant name for God (LORD = “I am who I am” – see Exodus 3:13-15 and footnotes) which is another way of saying “God of Eternity” or “the Eternal One”.

When he thinks of the Lord he feels His name is majestic, higher than any other, and then he gives the reason for this: the Lord, he says, has set His glory above the heavens. Now that’s an interesting way of putting it: “above” the heavens. In some old paintings the painter showed the earth and the sky above it, and then had heavenly beings above the sky. It’s like they wanted to put the heavenly world above “the heavens”, the sky, to give a fuller or more complete picture of reality.

When we look at the rest of this psalm we see David marvelling at God’s work in Creation (v.3). He then wonders at the fact of God making man and giving him all this and making him ruler over all of it (v.4-6). As he ponders on this and on the wonder of this incredible world, God’s gift to mankind, he just bursts out with, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v.9). Man may have been given this world to rule over, but God Himself is the King over all things. He’s the One who created all things and therefore He’s the only one who can really claim to be King, Lord of all.

But there’s more than this, there’s this reference to the Lord’s glory. When we considered God’s glory before, we saw it as the brightness that literally shines from God’s presence, the glory that was first revealed to Israel at Sinai.   It was subsequently seen at the completion and dedication of the Tabernacle (Ex40:33-35) and the completion and dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10,11).   Is that the glory that is being referred to here by David now?   Not quite but the same sense is there in what he describes.   He is saying that when you look at the wonder of God’s creation you see the wonder of the Master Craftsman, the Creator, behind it all; it isn’t just a bland piece of construction; it is a masterpiece that reflects the staggering nature of the One who brought it all into being from nothing.  What it reflects is the glory or wonder of the One who made it all.

Have you ever seen it like this?  Have you ever been somewhere in the world and gazed upon what you see before you – and marvelled and wondered at what is before you – the handiwork of the Master Creator?   Have you ever stood on the seashore with the sun setting and marvelled?  Have you ever stood on a hillside gazing on the panorama before you, and marvelled?  Have you ever seen the Canadian Rockies, or any other great mountain chain, and marvelled?  It would be possible to write for hours describing the incredible variety of the features of the world that are so beautiful.  This is God’s world; this is what He has made.  You have to be hard-hearted or blind not to see the handiwork of God in all this and remain unmoved. Paul wrote about such people, what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen (Rom 1:19,20). His conclusion about their blindness and refusal to respond? They have no excuse! Let’s not be like them!