As I blogged last week in a blog post entitled, "Take Two a Day," our church is reading the New Testament together from now until Christmas. It is part of a new sermon series our Pastor began two weeks ago called, "All Things New: A New Testament Challenge." So last weekend, while I was reading Matthew 16, I came across this idea of names and their meanings when I read verse 18, which says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Jesus is talking to Peter and the disciples when he says this directly to Peter, reminding him of his name and its meaning (the name, "Peter," means, "rock"). Peter's name was actually, "Simon," when he first met Jesus. But Jesus changed it to, "Peter," and we can understand why when we ponder its meaning. Peter was the first one to come alongside Jesus to follow him, to be discipled by Him, and to help spread the truth of Him. So I am sure Peter was special to Jesus (as we all are). Hence, the importance of giving him a new name and a name worthy of his calling in Christ. Since Peter was the first chosen, willing disciple, he WAS the rock upon which Jesus' ministry and the future church would be built (via him and all the disciples). Jesus is also telling Peter and the disciples that they are ALL important to Him and the furthering of the truth of Him. He was using Peter and his name to give them all this understanding about the importance of their ministry through Him, as well as, the protection they'd be afforded within that ministry (when He says, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it").
We know from God's Word that we are ALL special to Christ. John 3:16 tells us so. We know that God came to earth as a human sacrifice for the payment of our sins because we deserved death due to that sin, but "...God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life," (NIV). God desires for everyone to know Him, accept Him, and love Him. We were all special enough to Him that He came down here and suffered for all of us because we couldn't save ourselves.
So like Peter, we too, are special to the Lord. In looking at Scripture, I believe that those in the Bible who were given new names aren't unique in receiving that gift. In Revelation 2:17, Jesus is speaking and says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." Also in Revelation 3:10-12, Jesus is speaking again, and we read, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name." Now I am not Bible wizard, but it sounds like to me that Jesus gets a new name in heaven, and so do all of us who believe in Him and accept His salvation for ourselves. Many theologians believe this to be true, as well (I looked into it). It sounds like part of our name will include God's name, the name of God's city, and Jesus' new name. Since we belong to Him, (if we've acknowledged and accepted His payment for our sins and claimed our need for Him as our Lord and Savior), He'll write His new name upon us. I like the idea of belonging to Christ and having His "stamp of approval" or His "this person belongs to..." label attached to my being and name. Essentially, that is what we are already saying when we call ourselves, "Christians," which means, "little Christ" or "followers of Christ." But there are those that say we will also have a new name altogether that is special to just us, and given to us from Jesus Himself.
We discussed this topic briefly in our Sunday School class last winter. We were doing a study on the book of Revelations, which was no easy study. I left with so many questions and a headache several Sundays! We came upon those two verses and touched on them for a bit, discussing their relevance. We talked about how many times God changed the names of people in the Bible when they had been evil but then turned their lives over to Him (for example, "Saul," who murdered Christians, was changed to "Paul," on his "road to Damascus" conversion). God would always change someone's name to something related to their new life's mission in Him, and we all agreed this was really pretty cool. So I sat there thinking about my current name and what it means. "Stephanie," is Greek in its origin (derived from, "Stephanos"), but it also has French, Spanish, English, and Italian forms and meanings. In Greek, it means, "Crown," or "Crowned One." In Chinese, it means, "Warrior" and "Optimistic." You can find many other meanings for it from those other derivatives, such as, "Elegant," "Beautiful," and "Hardworking." I've always liked my name. But as I sat in Sunday School pondering it and the whole, "crowned" meaning for it, I was reminded of something someone once said to me that was actually a painful recollection.
I was in high school and I was a candidate for Homecoming Queen. The other girls in the race were all much more popular than I was, and arguably more beautiful, talented, and the like. But I was honored to have been voted in as a candidate. I recall that in our particular school, candidates were selected by the opposing gender of the rest of the high school. So the boys voted and chose the female candidates and vice versa. As I sat in class one day the week prior to Homecoming, a rude boy who had always thrived on jabbing and harassing me incessantly (and I believe he meant every cruel word he uttered), said to me, "Did you know that you are the candidate who received the fewest votes? You only beat one other girl by four votes. So you really barely made it. Just thought you might want to know there's no reason to get your hopes up about ever winning on Friday. You'll never wear a crown!" And he smiled his little frank, snotty smile. I thanked him for his support and kindness, rolled my eyes, and let it go. Deep down I knew this boy's issues with me stemmed from the fact that I would never go out with him (well, ya wonder why).
But it hurt. I honestly never thought I would win (and let me save you the suspense, I didn't). But having someone tell me I didn't really deserve to even be a candidate, and that I was there by the skin of my teeth, was kind of a painful reality to face. Having someone bask in the mathematical fact that I would never win was also hurtful. No one likes for anyone to despise them. It sounds really lame and self-absorbed, but when you're seventeen and pretty unsure of yourself, these kinds of comments pierce your very being--even from total, bona fide jerks. So sitting in my Sunday School class, a 41-year old grown woman with a married child, this long ago conversation arose in my memory just from the word, "crowned." I can still see that guy's face and hear his voice say, "You'll never wear a crown!" But at that moment sitting in Sunday School several recent months ago, I felt God say to me, "Yes, you will--MY crown." Tears filled my eyes, and I smiled to myself as I got my composure in my little private moment with God, thanking Him for that revelation and unexpected blessing of this great reminder of truth. I said back to God, "And I will remove it and place it at your feet, just as your Word says we will all do."
I've never really thought a lot about the meaning of my current name until that Sunday morning. I know that some of my current name's meanings don't fit me well at all--I am not royalty, I don't believe I am "beautiful," (and I certainly don't always feel beautiful), and as a girl who is kind of a tomboy at times, I am not elegant. But I am hardworking, a prayer warrior, and I am optimistic that I will receive a crown from Christ someday. It is stated in Revelation 4:9-11, "Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the thrown and Who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the thrown and worship Him for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the thrown and say: 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.'" You can read many other Scriptures about how we will receive a crown in heaven for our good works done in Christ's name, with God's power, in pure love, and in true desire to obey and glorify God alone. Some are as follows:
2 Timothy 4:8, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing."
1 Thessalonians 2:19, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you?"
James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."
1 Peter 5:4, "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."
And my personal fave...
1 Cor. 9:25, "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."
In thinking about what I believe my "new" name will be in heaven someday, and how it will more than likely be opposite of my current name's meaning (which isn't exactly fitting for me), I think my new name will have something to do with worship. As I've stated, we know from many instances and Scriptures in God's Word that God gives new names to those who turn their lives over to Him, and that those names typically have something to do with their new life's calling, purpose, or ministry in Him. Therefore, I have come to believe wholeheartedly since my epiphany in Sunday School this past winter, that my new name will have something to do with leading worship. We know from Scripture that the work we will do in heaven will mirror what we did here for God. Leading worship and singing are what I do--they are my passion, my love, and my life's main calling in Christ. I think it is funny that my current name has to do with royalty, and my new name will be about me falling on my face in worship and servitude to God! That is perfect! So fitting! I am not crowned royalty--I am a servant and a lover of Christ. No crown would ever stay on my head anyway, because I will be bowing to Christ, the Lover of my soul and Whose namesake is, "Our Salvation." If I am royalty at all, it is through and because of Him. My crown will be cast at His feet, and I will be worshiping and singing His praises for all of eternity.