Exodus 20:7 - A Good Name
July 20, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 20:7–20:7
[Exodus 20:7 - "A Good Name"]
What is your name? Not what people call you. That’s just your name. But who are you? That’s your name.
[Pray – from the Book of Common Prayer (altered) – Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark them and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savor Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.]
[Read Exodus 20:1-7 for context]
I heard a comedian talk about names. "I have a cheese-grater at home, which is its positive name. They don't call it by its negative name - 'sponge-ruiner.' Because I wanted to clean it - and now I have little bits of sponge that would melt easily over tortilla chips."
He's on to something. Names aren't just labels. Names are tied to the essence of a thing. Talking about objects, a name has to do with what something does; a name has to do with what something is - like a cheese-grater. It grates cheese - the name is perfect. But talking about a person, a name has to do with who they are.
Think about your name in the sense of reputation - who you are, what you are known for. A name can become synonymous with the character of the person or their work. Among other good qualities, Jonathan Pierce and the Pearce brothers are known as masters of their trades. Wayne and Barbara Copeland (and a lot of you) are known for hospitality. Stick Boy is known for their cinnamon rolls with cream-cheese icing. Now each of these are known as other things, too. But you get the idea – their names are synonymous with who they are and what they do.
So, a name isn't just a label. A name is fundamentally connected to who we are.
So, what happens if a "good name" - a reputation - is dragged through the mud? How do you feel when you are lied about, when someone says things about you that simply aren't true, when your reputation has been tarnished for no good reason. You feel attacked, misused, abused - you feel violated - because it isn't just your name that's been attacked. Your person has been attacked. And there are consequences that follow. Because when others hear it and believe it, you might seem diminished to them. So, we have slander and libel laws because names are important. Because names reflect who we are and they should be guarded.
Now a cheese-grater can get a bad name for itself when it grates things other than cheese (like sponges or finger tips). It's possible for our names to be diminished not by what others say, but what we ourselves do. I can get a bad name for myself because of my own sinful actions – the human equivalent of grating a sponge or finger tips. By rebelling against God and by hurting others, I can ruin my own name without any help for anyone. And if I do it well enough, then I become a "by-word," a name that represents something fallen by its own hand. Because of my sinful self "Sam Brown" could become synonymous with any sin you can imagine. I could give myself a bad name.
But should the God of the Bible ever have a bad name? Should anyone ever drag his name through the mud? In the Story of Redemption, ancient Israel was being introduced to the Living God who made all things visible and invisible. They learned his name - YHWH - as he rescued them from slavery and redeemed them as his very own people. In his actions and in his words to them, in the covenant he made to redeem this fallen world, they saw and heard his character, his reputation - they were learning who he was. He is YHWH. That's his name.
In the New Testament, we hear that YHWH in the flesh has another name, Jesus (which means "YHWH saves"). In Jesus we see the character and actions of the God who died for sinners and lives again to take care of those who trust in him. In “Jesus” we hear the "name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). And in this Third Commandment, we hear that our Triune God cares about his name.
Growing up in the South, in the Church, the third commandment seemed an easy one to keep. It seemed easy because the command - "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain..." - was reduced to simply mean "Don't yell the name of our Savior if you hit your thumb with a hammer. And don't carelessly ask God to send something (or someone) to eternal damnation." As long as I didn't do that (I believed in my pharisaical youth) I could check that command off as kept.
So, I said things like "Oh my gosh!" or just "dang it." And I would say, "Oooooooh!" whenever someone at school would take the Lord's name in vain.
But these days I read how our brothers and sisters in the Church understand the third commandment. Reading the Scriptures and reflecting with centuries of Christians on what "taking the name of YHWH your God in vain" entails, the pastors and theologians of the Westminster Assembly summarized how God said his name is (and is not) to be used. They condensed it into the utterly overwhelming questions and answers you see on the front of the bulletin (Westminster Larger Catechism #111-114). Each phrase and concept is rooted in the Scriptures. And in them I see the many different ways I try to give this God a bad name.
So, he's the first big question: How do we give God a bad name? How do we misuse and abuse him, taking his name in vain? Well, consider what the Third Commandment actually requires.
Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily [that is, in a set apart way]and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by a holy profession of faith, and Christ-honoring conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.
This God requires that in any way he communicates himself to us be used by us with the utmost reverence and sincere faith. So, when I'm distracted away from focusing on my sermon prep - not by other people but by my own heart - I fail to honor his name. When I don't give God's Word the full attention of my heart and mind - I take his name in vain. When I eat the Lord's Supper unthinkingly, when I do not perfectly keep my vows to God or my wife, when I fail to honor Christ in all my speech, when my words fall short of communicating to you who he is - and in so many other ways - I fail to keep what this command requires of me. But then I also do what is forbidden.
Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows (if lawful); and fulfilling them (if of things unlawful); murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
So, yes, for anyone to use the name of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit lightly, in unbelief or a scornful manner is deeply offensive to God's person; it is an attack on who he is. But if we're looking for people who have broken this commandment, then we don't have to look outside of the church.
Because if we bear the name of Christ, calling ourselves "Christians," but do not call on Christ in faith when troubles come, then we have taken his great name in vain. Or if when trouble comes we assume any evil intent on God’s part, then we drag his name through the mud. When we add the name of Jesus to the end of a prayer for our will to be done instead of his, when we complain against God's providence that governs all things, when we misapply Scripture (which is God’s Word), when we misinterpret Scripture, if we take our oaths to God or vows to each other lightly, if we mock our fellow human beings who bear the image of God, when we take a good thing God has given and twist it in sin - in all these things we attack the persons of our Triune God, violating his perfect reputation and taking his name in vain. In all these ways, we drag the name of God through the mud. And for those of us who bear the name of Christ, the sin is actually greater.
Because we are supposed to count the name of our God as having weight. YHWH and Jesus, God the Spirit - these are the names by which we know the One God in Three Persons. In our hearts and minds and words and actions, these names are supposed to be held as weighty, glorious names because of who our God is. They are to be used by us in humility to exalt him and make much of who he is as our Creator and Redeemer.
But if we - even as his people bearing his name - fail to honor his name, then we deserve the justice of God against those who take his name in vain. Because so seriously does his take his Name, YHWH says in v.7 he "will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." And if that is true of us, then does it mean for those outside of the church who do the same?
It means that we have all made a name for ourselves. If my truest name is a reflection of who I am, then apart from the work of Jesus my name is God-mocker, Sinner, Rebel, Dead Man.
But for all who repent and set their trust on Christ, he gives us a new name - his name. Because Jesus always gave glory, gave weight to the name of God. And by faith in him, we are forgiven and counted as faithful as Jesus himself.
So, that brings us to the second big question; how did Jesus give weight to the name of God?
In John 12:27ff. (our New Testament reading), we hear Jesus' desire that the name of God the Father be glorified, that is, counted as having its full, true weight of significance - "Father, glorify your name," he said. But listen to the context in which he desires the name of the Father to be glorified - in Jesus' own death.
Jesus said, "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die."
When Jesus came to accomplish the judgment of this world and to defeat the ruler of this world who has been a God-mocker from the beginning, Jesus came to die. His body would be lifted up on the cross. Yes, his death would be an act of judgment rendered against the enemies of God – a sign of their fall. But his death would also be an act of judgment upon the person of Jesus himself. Because the Scriptures say the judgment that should have fallen on us as God-mockers fell on Jesus instead. The Father sent him for that very purpose, to win forgiveness for people like us with bad names. So, Jesus gave weight, gave glory to the name and person of God by going to his death on the cross for us.
But Jesus offers more than just forgiveness. He offers the hope that we, too, might glorify God, giving full weight to his name and honor. That's our last big question; how can we give glory to the name of God?
He tells us. By calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting him to always save us. As we call on his name by faith, we are calling on him, on his person and his work, to save us. That's what the Bible calls "faith," trusting the person and work of Jesus as our only hope. Because Jesus died, as he said, to “draw all people [meaning "all kinds of people" - both Jews and Gentiles] to himself.” And as we come to him by faith, drawn by the greatness and beauty of his person, we honor the Father who sent him for that very purpose. The Father sent Jesus the Son to die for God-mockers and sinners like us. And by taking hold of Jesus by faith, we are saved. By taking hold of Jesus by faith, we call on God as our God and Father to rescue us and give us life in Christ. By taking hold of Jesus by faith, we honor the name of the God who created all things, and is redeeming all things through the person and work of his Son.
Only in Christ can you and I begin to keep this command to glorify the name of our God. Only in Christ can true prayer to him be offered. In him we can learn to rejoice in every circumstance the Lord sends because we know his reputation – he is a Redeemer, always doing good to his people even turning evil to our good. We can honor the name of Jesus in all our conversations because he isn’t just a wise teacher or a good example – he is the Savior of sinners like us, the God-man who died for God-mockers like us. In our prayers, in our vows before God and each other, in our study of God’s Word, in receiving the good gifts of God with thanksgiving – in all things we can truly give glory to the name and person of our God and Father through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we can rest in his name when we again break the command, knowing that forgiveness and life have come to us in Christ.
All this we can do because when we call on the name of Jesus, who we are is changed. Because to all who believe in him, gone are our old names of God-mocker, Sinner, Rebel, Dead Man. Jesus gives us a new name - his name.
Jesus says this of the one who endures trusting in his name - "...I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name" (Revelation 3:12 - read in light of 1 John 5:4-5 and Revelation 12:11).
When we call on the name of Jesus as our God and Savior, we are no longer known by God according to our reputation, according to our old name as God-mocker or Sinner or Dead Man. We are known by God according to Christ's reputation and work and name. We are known by God according to Jesus' faithfulness in life and in death. Jesus puts his own name on us, with all that he is - his perfection, his righteousness, his love of the Father and the Father's love for him. And if his name and all that he is is on us by faith, then fear must run away. Because if we bear the name of Christ, having his righteousness, then God can never reject us unless he rejects the name of Jesus himself.
So, call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Call on this God as your God and Father in Christ. Speak well of this God in all your circumstances. Pray to him trusting that he hears us not for our eloquent words or long prayers but because we come under the name of Christ! Ask for him to be with us, praise his name as faithful and true, give thanks to God in all things through Christ our Lord - and do it all with heart clinging to Jesus. Because by faith in him, you do not call on YHWH, your Creator and Redeemer, in vain.
[Pray – Father, your name is wonderful to us. And we would uphold you now in our hearts and with our words as the glorious God of all grace. To sinners like us you sent the One whose name is above every name, at whose name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him as Lord. To us you sent Jesus, that blessed name that resounds in our ears, speaking to us of sacrifice and forgiveness and life eternal. Help us, Holy Spirit, to honor his name with our words and our walk here, so that whether we eat or drink, we do all to the glory of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. In his name we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.