I want to tell you a story about a name and a washing machine. Several years ago, before I was married, I went to the Bahamas with a college buddy of mine, Wayne. We stayed at Club Med on Paradise Island, just across the harbour from the city of Nassau, and it was at Club Med that we met Rudy. Rudy was the sailing instructor at that Club Med resort and Wayne and I got to know Rudy well as we took sailing lessons from him. Rudy was a big man, a native Bahamian and he knew all the ins and outs of the resort and the surrounding area. Soon Rudy was giving us tips on where to get the best deals and information like “Don’t go over to the market on a day when the cruise ships are in because the prices are much higher.”
One day Wayne and I spotted a washing machine in one of the buildings at the resort and we asked Rudy about it. Rudy told us that that washing machine was for staff use only. (We were guests so we were not supposed to use that washing machine.) But then Rudy gave us permission to use the staff washing machine and he said to us, “If anyone asks you, just tell them that Rudy said that it was okay.” So Wayne and I bought some laundry soap and began washing our clothes in the staff washing machine. Sure enough, one of the other staff members came along while we were doing this and, knowing that we were guests and not staff, he asked us, “What are you doing using this washing machine?” We simply said, “Rudy said that it was okay.” The staff person replied, “Rudy, said that it was okay? No problem, man.” He gave us a big smile and left.
“What’s in a name?” you might ask. I think that we can all agree that a name serves like a sign that means something because points towards a particular person or other entity. So if someone were to say, “Let’s go see James Paulgaard,” they are referring to me, unless, of course, they are referring to that other person whose name is James Paulgaard. A name points to someone or something.
We can also agree that names have meaning. A few Sundays ago, our Sunday School Superintendent taught the children how names have meaning by telling the meaning of their own names. Let’s review this concept by looking at a few names and their meanings. The name Corrine is the French or English variation of the name Corina which means “beautiful maiden.” The name Harvey is of Old English and Old French origin and it means “eager for battle; strong and worthy.” The name Monique is of Latin origin and it means “advisor.” The name Denise is of French origin and it means “follower of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine.” So names are like signs that point to people or things, and names have meaning. But names also have power and it is this aspect of names that we will be looking at today.
Names have power but the power of names is limited in three very important ways. First, the power of names is limited to a specific area. The power of a person’s name is limited to those areas where a person has authority. Thinking back to the story that I told you at the beginning, Rudy’s name had power at the Paradise Island Club Med resort because Rudy had authority and influence at that resort. If Wayne and I had travelled to Ottawa and used the washing machine at 24 Sussex Drive, when Brian Mulroney, who was the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, asked us what were we doing, if we said, “Rudy said that it was okay,” that would not help us at all. Rudy had no authority in Ottawa so Rudy’s name would have no power there.
Second, the power of names is limited to specific uses. The power of a name is limited in that it can only be used in ways that are authorized by the person whose name is being used. So Rudy gave us his permission to use his name to gain access to the staff washing machine. Rudy did not give us his permission to use his name to borrow one of the resort’s sailboats. If Wayne and I took a sailboat and said to the police when they caught us, “Rudy said that it was okay,” that would not stop them from arresting us for stealing the sailboat. Rudy had not authorized us to use his name to borrow a sailboat.
Third, the power of names is limited to specific people. Only those authorized to use a person’s name have the power of that name. For example, in Acts, chapter 19, we read:
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts 19:11-16)
Paul was authorized to use Jesus’ Name, but the seven sons of Sceva, were not authorized use Jesus’ Name and even the demons knew that they were not authorized to use the power of Jesus’ Name.
So why should any of this information about names and power matter to anyone? Because, when we look at what really matters in a human life, you and I and every other human being in the world is totally and completely helpless. And there are four specific areas of life where we are powerless. First, you and I and every other human being in the world have no power to connect with God and seek his help in our lives.
Second, every human being is helpless against the power of the devil. It is not fashionable to believe in the devil these days, but the devil is real. From time to time, we see the devil’s power when evil rises up to try to crush what is good and beautiful and true. And no human being stands a chance against the external challenge of evil personified.
Third, every human being is helpless against the power of sin in our own lives. It is easy for us to see sin in other people’s lives and we can successfully use the strategy of separating ourselves from the sin of others for a time. But eventually we end up alone and then we have to face the power of sin in our own lives. We may be disgusted with the things that we do, and yet we find ourselves doing those same things again and again. We understand how Paul feels when he says, “I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do.” (Romans 7:15).
Fourth, every human being is helpless against death. All of us are going to die someday and it doesn’t matter how much we deny it or fight it, one day death is going to come and get us. Even now, we can see the effects of death in ourselves and others as our bodies age and deteriorate. There is nothing that we can do to stop death.
God is all powerful. God has power over the devil, God has power over sin and God has power over death. But God having all the power does nothing to help human beings. So what God the Son did was enter into His creation and become a human being, just like you and me. God realized that humanity needed a champion, someone to fight of the side of humanity against sin, death and the devil. This champion needed to be perfect in every way so that the power of His goodness would overcome the power of evil. This champion needed to be human so that he could take the place of all humanity and defeat these three great enemies of ours. This champion needed to be divine so that his life and his death would have the infinite value needed to overcome sin, death and the devil. This champion is Jesus.
Because He loves you, God the Father sent God the Son into this world to be born as a helpless baby in a manger. That baby, the God-human Jesus, lived a perfect human life and grew up to be an adult man. Because He loves you, the adult Jesus willingly went to the cross and absorbed into His own body the worst evil that the Devil could through at Him. Jesus shed his blood to pay for the sins of all people throughout all of time. Jesus died one death on behalf of all people. And on the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead to proclaim to you and to the whole world His glorious victory over sin, death and the devil.
So how do all these wonderful gifts become real in your life? When you were baptized, Jesus washed you clean of all your sins, He adopted you into the family of God, and He connected you to Him with a bond that, from his side of the relationship, is unconditional. In your Baptism, Jesus saved you through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Jesus brought to life a new person within you. Jesus has given you a new identity: you are now a much, loved, forgiven child of God. And Jesus has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit. Your body is now a holy home and a place of worship to the Holy Spirit. So we treat our bodies with reverence and respect and we are attentive to the leading and the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus did something else in your Baptism. You were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has, in effect, placed His Name on you, you are now called a Christian. And as a Christian, that is a follower of Jesus, He has authorized you to use His name. You are part of that specific group of people authorized to use Jesus’ Name.
Second, Jesus has authorized you to use His Name to do specific things. In Mark, chapter 9, after observing His disciples arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus placed a little child in their midst and said,
37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us.41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:37-41)
From this passage we can see that Jesus has authorized you to practice hospitality to the insignificant and the marginalized in His Name. Jesus has authorized you to command demons in His Name. Jesus has authorized you to pray for miracles in His Name. And Jesus has authorized you to serve others in love in His Name. From elsewhere in Scripture, we know that Jesus has also authorized you to pray to God the Father in His Name. Imagine this, in Jesus’ Name you have access to the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the Universe and you can ask Him for anything just like a child asks their Daddy. You can ask God the Father for help in your life, in Jesus’ Name. You can ask God the Father for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name.
Jesus has also authorized you to die in His Name. If you have been following along with the Bible reading plan, you read these words of Jesus in John, chapter 5, last Tuesday:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:19b-23)
Jesus is telling us that he has been given authority by the Father to judge humanity and to raise the dead to life. So what does it mean to die in Jesus’ Name? With Jesus, death is not the end, nor will death lead to everlasting torment and separation from God. Dying in Jesus’ Name means that when our life on this earth comes to an end, our body will be laid in the ground, but Jesus will carry our soul to heaven to wait with Him there until the day of resurrection. As Jesus himself puts it, 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear … [my] voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29). Jesus has authorized you to use His Name for specific uses.
Jesus has also authorized you to use His Name in a specific area. However, Jesus’ area of authority is infinitely greater than any other human being. In Matthew, chapter 28, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:17). Jesus has authority everywhere, so Jesus’ Name has power… everywhere.
The power in Jesus’ Name is never our power to use for our own selfish or sinful purposes. The power in Jesus’ Name always belongs to Jesus. And that’s okay, because we know that Jesus loves us unconditionally and we love, trust and worship him.
The Good News is that Jesus knows our helplessness and in mercy and love Jesus authorizes you to use the power of His Name to do his work, everywhere. With Jesus, you do have power in your life. You have the power of the Almighty Son of God at your disposal. Things are never hopeless and you are never helpless with Jesus.
So what does this look like? In the morning when we get up, we say a prayer in Jesus’ Name. When we eat breakfast, we give thanks in Jesus’ Name. When we are driving to work and someone cuts us off in traffic, we ask for peace from God in Jesus’ Name. When we interact with others at our school, workplace or in a store, we do so in Jesus’ Name. When we serve in our vocations as a student, an employee or a homemaker, we do so in Jesus’ Name. When we encounter a challenge, whether it is big or small, we pray for God’s help, wisdom, courage and strength, in Jesus’ Name. When we greet family or friends after the workday is over, we do so in Jesus’ Name. When we lay down to sleep at night, we entrust ourselves into God’s loving care, in Jesus’ Name.
Everything we do, we do in Jesus’ Name. It is in Jesus’ Name that we have the power to connect with God. It is in Jesus’ Name that we have the power to withstand the devil, overcome sin and pass through death to the glory of eternal life with Jesus. It is in Jesus’ Name that we have the power of Jesus’ forgiveness, salvation and eternal life in our lives right now. And if, after you die, when you are in heaven, or when you are walking around in the new heavens and earth, if someone comes up to you and asks, “What are you doing here?” just tell them, “Jesus said that it’s okay.” And they will respond, “Jesus that it’s okay? No problem man!” Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on January 12, 2014.)