“Too Many Names” a Christmas story



One upon a time there was a little boy with too many names.

I wonder sometimes about names people give to their children.  Recently a sports fan named his child ESPN after the sports station.  There can be a problem with some names that can be used for boys or girls – Terry, Frances, Erin/Aaron.  You don’t want your boy sent to the girls cabin at summer camp.

Some names are very long.  Engelbert and Zechariah are two examples.  Some parents make up names with special spelling.

Some names are too common.  When I was a kid David was the most popular name for buys. I once had 5 David’s in a class. How can we keep them all straight?  David, Dave and Davie?  David 1, 2, 3, 4, 5?  Hey you!

At Christmas time we hear a lot about Jesus.  His name Jesus is pretty easy.  But is Christ his last name? No it is his title – Christ means King, anointed one.  Then we start reading in Isaiah.  It says, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a child.”  Well, we know that has to be about Jesus, because it only happened once.  “and you shall call his name Immanuel.”  Immanuel in Hebrew means God with us.  It is a cool name because Jesus is God who came to be with us.  But we call him Jesus not Immanuel

Later Isaiah adds this, “and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.”

So what did Jesus write on his paper when he did his homework?  Yes, Jewish boys in the 1st Century went to school to read and to write.  Jesus could read the bible.  So did he write “Jesus Immanuel Wonderful Counselor Mighty God Everlasting Father Prince of Peace Christ?”

There would be no paper left for his homework.

And then there are other names for Jesus.  Here is a list:  Son of God, Son of Man, Son of Joseph, son of Mary, Savior, Shepherd, Servant, Seed of David, Morning Star, Living Stone.  Those are just some of the S names..  There are maybe 200 names and titles of Jesus in the Bible.

Once upon a time there was a boy with too many names.  That is how I started this story.  However, really there are not too many names.  Each of these names tells us a little bit about Jesus.  Each is another piece of the puzzle.

But I know how to make it easier.  This is what the Angel Gabriel said to Joseph.  “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Just remember Jesus.  Jesus came to save us from our sins – to free us from our mistakes, to rescue us from death and hell, and to save us to a home and a place in Heaven with Him, and with the Father and the Spirit and with a very large family of people from every nation and language.

Once upon a time there was a boy named Jesus!

Do you see what I see in John 1?

As I studied the text of John 1, I found 19 uses of words like “see” or “reveal”.  Here is a section from John 1:29ff with the words about sight highlighted in bold.

    29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

    32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

     35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

    37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

    They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

      39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

    So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

    40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

   Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

     43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

    44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

    46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

  “Come and see,” said Philip.

   47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

    48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

    49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

    50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.

So why is this important?  It really relates to the message of John 1, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  An idea, a spiritual discipline, a commandment, a philosophy — these are not things that we see the way we see Jesus.  The word became flesh so he could see and be seen.

John 1:14-18

   14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

   15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.


New NIV “Clunk” on Psalm 32:1,2


My friend, a copy editor, always said that it took a good copy editor to make the King James Bible sing.  So as I was looking up a verse on Bible Gateway in the New NIV, I found this.

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

“Clunk” is the sound I hear when it get to the “them” that I highlighted in verse 2.  The inclusive goal, which is noble, has run against something very beautiful about this Gospel psalm.  Bless is the “one” whose sins are forgiven.  but to avoid “him”, “one” becomes “them.”  Sorry, it does not work.

Here are some others.

Old NIV  (aka NIV 84)

Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Lot’s of unnecessary uses of “he” and “man”


Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

All plurals all the time.   “imputes” hmmm


Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.

Wordy but maintains individuality without masculine language.  Loses “count” to “consider”.

Holman (Baptist)

How joyful is the one
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
How joyful is the man
the Lord does not charge with sin
and in whose spirit is no deceit!

Why did they go from “one” to “man”?  “Charge” is a strong verb here!


Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Why change from “one” to “man” in Holman and ESV?  In the Hebrew verse 2 uses “adam”.  So the literal translations want to preserve that.  I am not persuaded.

NIV – Clunk

NIV 84 – dated

NRSV  – hopeless

ESV – clunky

Holman, NCV  get an  A- for effort.  I would like the Holman best if it simply stick with “one” in both verses.

On the need to talk about tragedy

“The only exercise (s)he gets is by jumping to conclusions.”

“Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.”  (over my Dad’s work bench)

Job’s friends thought they had a lot of helpful things to say to explain tragedy.

People had an explanation for blindness and tragedy.  Jesus said this John 9:1-7; Luke 13:1-5

“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:14

Herod and the innocents – Matthew 2 –

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.


Latin, Really?

JohnSo what we are doing in this time of preaching, teaching and reading John’s Gospel is “lectio divina.”  This is a way of reading the bible that has a long history; Most things with a Latin name have a long history.  I like Latin, as little as i know if it, but I prefer ordinary speech.


the official stages are:

  • lectio, to read in a way the really listens to the biblical text
  • meditatio, which E Peterson defines as “mov[ing] from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text.”
  • oratio, to pray in response to the text, all kinds of prayers are possible
  • contemplatio, which seems to mean more than the English cognate, “contemplate”, to also include living out the text.

J. Wilhold and E. Howard in “Discovering Lectio Divina”, (IVP, 2012), translate these to

  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Praying
  • Contemplating

As a preacher I try to eschew obfuscation.  It seems to me that we can say that the process is this.  Take a selection, find a place and an uninterrupted period of time, without interruptions, and

  • Read deeply to understand what the text means, noticing its shape, genre, art and direction.
  • Think about what the text is saying, how it relates to other things you know, how it relates to your world and your personal life.  Carry it around with you after you have left your reading place.
  • Respond to God in any way that is suitable; Scripture models all kinds of prayer from silent to exuberant, from spontaneous to formal, individual and corporate.
  • Live, with the presence of the Spirit to guide and enable, what you have learned.
  • Repeat as necessary (yes, I added that)

If you like alliteration: Read, Reflect, Respond, Redirect, Repeat.

This is a new topic for me, so I plan to play around with what works for me and also with what communicates to people who are not attracted to tradition, to Latin or to history lessons.  As an unreformed history major, I like all of that stuff.  But tradition is helpful as a gentle guide, not as a drill sergeant.

What does it mean to receive Jesus? John 1:12-13

kids-raising-hands    I once taught this idea to a group of kids.  I asked, “What does it mean to receive Jesus?”  One little kid said, “That is when you take the bread at the Mass.”  That was not what I had in mind. I learned to ask better questions after that.

What does John say it means to receive Jesus?  He defines it here in verse 12.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name – he gave the right to become children of God.”

To receive Jesus is to believe in Jesus.

I want to point out something very important in the passage.  It is not to believe things about Jesus.  That is to believe in “information” or perhaps “dogma.”  We are not saved by information or dogma.  We are saved by a person.

Look at these phrases

  • V. 10  “the world did not recognize him
  • V. 11  “his own did not receive him
  • V. 12  “to all who receive him
  • V. 12  “to all who believe  in his name
  • V. 12  “he gave the right to become children of God.”

The words change: recognize, receive, believe, become.  One word does not: “him/he/his”.  In each of these phrases it is about the person of Jesus. It becomes clear if I replace the pronoun with the actual name.

  • V. 10  “the world did not recognize Jesus’
  • V. 11  “Jesus’ own did not receive him’
  • V. 12 “to all who receive Jesus”
  • V. 12 “ to all who believe in Jesus’ name”
  • V. 12 “Jesus gave the right to become children of God.”

Religion, if you want work with that term, or Spirituality if you prefer that, is personal.  John tells us that Jesus (not the idea or the teaching about Jesus or the other spiritualities that are like Jesus) is the true light.  Faith is trust in the person of Jesus.


Reading and Living John’s Gospel

JohnI will be reading, preaching and teaching from John’s Gospel from Advent to Easter. We have already started by focusing our Advent celebration on John 1.  Sermons are available at the church web site.

Like a dog chewing a bone so as to get every bit of its value, we will read deeply and slowly John’s gospel.  Members at church can get a copy of the Gospel in large print, to encourage making notes and using colored pencils.  Web friends can make a copy of their own, or order the no verses version at Biblica.com

Here is the schedule – chapters are indicated or use the page numbers for the no verse version.


Psalms and David – Psalm 63

David Flees So is David showing more maturity here?

I like Derek Kidner’s point that the use of “King” in verse 11 would date this at the later flight into the wilderness of David’s life. He first had to flee from Saul, when Saul not David was King.  Later in life he had to flee from his own son.  2 Samuel 15ff.

This psalm carries more confidence in God and less vitriol against his enemies.

  Worksheet on Psalm 63

Psalm 63 (NIV – 84)

A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God’s name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

The Word Became Flesh – John 1:1

candle We can ask, when did the story of Jesus begin?  The gospel of Mark begins his account with the ministry of John the Baptist.  It was when Jesus was about 30 that he was baptized and began his ministry.  Should we say that Jesus’ story begins with the baptism?

Some have said that Jesus did not become the “Son of God” until he was baptized and God said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”  But we have go back further.

Matthew and Luke start with the Christmas Story.  We could say that the story of Jesus begins when he is conceived by the Holy Spirit.  That is when we agree that life begins – when a child is conceived.

Matthew traces Jesus story in the genealogy back to Abraham.  Maybe the truth is that Jesus story began when God first called out Abraham to become a father of a nation.

Luke also has a genealogy, and his genealogy goes back to the creation of Adam.  We could say that the story of Jesus really began when God formed Adam out of the ground and breathed life into him.  Yet Luke adds a little clue. He calls Adam the “son of God” in Luke 3:37.  So Luke traces the story back before the human race, to God.

John was the last gospel written.  It is different from the other three in its emphasis and style.  It tells us about the same Jesus as the others.  The Gospel is the same.  Matthew seems to show how Jesus came from the nations Israel.  Mark shows Jesus as a man of action.  Luke shows the human side of Jesus and his compassion for the lost.  John shows that Jesus is the Eternal Son of God.

John 1:1 takes back beyond time.  He says, in the beginning “was” the word.  The beginning in the bible means the creation of heaven and earth.  Here John 1:1 is an echo of Genesis 1:1.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So is John saying that Jesus story begins with the creation of the world?  No John put’s Jesus story even beyond that.  Notice that the verb is in the past tense.  “In the beginning was the word.”    He did not say, In the beginning, the word began.  He said, in the beginning the word was.  Jesus was already there before there was any universe at all.

John is saying that  Jesus is eternal.  Not only is he as old as the Creation, he existed before there was anything.  We learn from the Bible that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed in Love and Unity from Eternity.  They have always existed that way.  Even before we had a sun and moon to mark the passage of time, God existed.


Three uses of “was” and one “became” – John 1:1, 14

dict.jesusI really like the IVP Black Dictionaries.  In an article from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I encountered this observation.  There are three uses of “was” in John 1:1.  Each use has a different nuance.

Look up “is” in your dictionary sometime and you will be surprised how many listings there are.  I found that in my Spanish New Testament (NVI) there are three verbs used to convey the ideas there.

  • “In the beginning was the Word…”   This is about the existence of the Word (the Son of God).  I think that it is significance that it says the word “was” not “became” in the beginning.  So the nuance here is eternal pre-existance.
  • “…and the Word was with God…”  This is about a relationship with God (the Father).  It could be about location, but where exactly is God?  And where was God before the creation of the heavens and the earth?  So it is better to see this as a relationship – the Word was together with (in love) the Father.
  • “…and the Word was God.”  Here is the essential nature of the Word.  The word is divine, he and the Father are equal.

Now we look at Verse 14, where “the Word” reappears.

  • “The Word became…”   Who is eternal “became” something.  He did not come into existence  but he entered creation (of which he is the c0-creator) – v. 2-5,  Colossians 1:16).  The eternal Word becomes the temporal Jesus.
  • “The Word became flesh…”  His essential nature is Divine – an omnipotent, eternal, omnipresent Spirit – yet he takes on human nature.
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  He who was with the Father was for 33 years with humanity.

So the nuances of the three “was” statements in verse 1 have a correlation in v. 14.