Names matter. Your name. Your business or organization’s name. The names of all the people you work with matter. Your clients’ and customers’ names are all important. Think about how business names have changed and are now delivered as shorthand for their original names (FedEx was Federal Express and 3M was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing). What makes each of these companies unique is attached to their names (FedEx=overnight delivery, 3M=innovation).
If you don’t think personal names are important, watch the expression on someone’s face when you get their name wrong. Names are intricately tied to our identities and personalities.
In the Old Testament, names were given to represent key personality traits. In Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we are introduced to Abram and it’s in Genesis 17:5, where we see that God changed Abram’s name to Abraham in deference to his new position as “father of many nations.” Other biblical name changes you might be familiar with are Saul to Paul and Simon to Peter. Each of these changes aligned the person’s name with his new identity. Without the change, these figures would have been closely tied to their previous lives, lives they led before experiencing a transformation from God.
If you agree that names are important, then you will probably agree with me that a name that a person gives himself or herself would be even more significant. Our first introduction to God’s name came when he shared his name with Moses while meeting with him on Mt. Horeb. Moses said to God: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me ‘What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.”
In the New Testament, Jesus often followed his name with a further description, such as “I am the vine.” Let’s explore the names and descriptions Jesus used to refer to himself in the Gospel of John as our way of getting to know him better.
Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
This is a clear and unmistakable statement by Jesus to the crowd because he knew that they were stuck on physical bread and failed to understand the spiritual implications that Jesus himself was what they needed. He had been talking about bread that comes down from heaven and which gives sustenance to the body. We might think of manna from heaven as a good example. But when the crowd said, “Sir, always give us this bread,” Jesus had to make it clear to them that, as hungry as they were, he was talking about spiritual bread. The taking of his body in the sacrament of communion is a blessing from him and which we continue to celebrate.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
God as light fighting the evils conveyed in darkness goes back to the Old Testament. In Isaiah, the scripture says that in the end times, the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy that he (as light) wasn’t just on earth as the Messiah for the Israelites; he came to redeem all people.
The next two references in John’s gospel focus on Jesus’ name of savior and truth-giver.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” And “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 11.25).
Jesus was addressing his friend, Martha. As with all of us, he was inviting her to have a personal relationship with him. Sometimes we are slow to understand and need more examples from the Lord to fully take in what he is saying. In the second verse, Jesus is addressing the apostle Thomas. Jesus is focusing on himself as the truth of God and the life of God.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1).
This explanation of the vine and the branches may be the most concrete and easiest to understand for those in an agrarian society. It may also be the most compelling because Jesus is not just giving us another example. He is giving us an unmistakable invitation to be healthy branches that bear good fruit. This is a powerful invitation to join him in faith and action.
You see, names do matter, and how we respond to them may matter the most.
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.