Does Jesus Know My Name?
December 5, 2007
A few months ago we opened the Anchor Book Depot in Chicago to give away copies of a simple gospel book called “An Anchor for the Soul.” This is a continuation of a ministry that started seven years ago. Since then we have given away over 350,000 copies, mostly to prisoners across America. Sometimes the prisoners find the book through unusual means. Here’s part of a letter we recently received from a prisoner in Pennsylvania:
Dear Ray Pritchard,
Hello, what’s up? I hope you are doing OK. My name is Shawn. I have just read your book “An Anchor for the Soul” I’m writing you because how I read it was an accident from God. It was the best thing that EVER happened to me in my life. Thanks to you I have found God.
I got into a fight and went into the hole (solitary confinement). So I was trading my food trays for envelopes (a kind of money in jail) and I wound up trading a food tray for a book to read. It’s something to do because you’re not allowed out of your cell. I looked at the book and thought, Ah, a religious book, I got ripped off. Cuz I never believed in God. I was baptized but I was a baby and it was not by choice. I decided to read the first little bit to see if I’d like it. Once I read that first prayer and everything before it, it touched me and I flew through the book. You covered every aspect I ever thought about. Thanks to you, I’ve found God. You’re right, once you’ve hit rock bottom, you can only look up.
Thanks to your book and my accidentally stumbling upon it, I have a different outlook on life. The day I found God was 9/22/07. O Thank you so much!
I love this story for a lot of reasons but there is one phrase in particular that sticks in my mind. Shawn came to Christ because of an “accident from God.” I love it when new believers talk about things and they don’t use the “Christianese” vocabulary of people who’ve been inside the church a long time. They give God the glory for their salvation in their own unique language.
“An accident from God”
That’s an excellent phrase for this season of the year. Everything about Christmas seems like an “an accident from God.”
A decree from Caesar Augustus.
An angel appearing to Mary.
A virgin becoming pregnant.
An angel coming to Joseph in a dream.
A baby who will be called Immanuel.
A mysterious star in the east.
A group of magi showing up in Jerusalem.
Angels appearing to shepherds.
A trip to Bethlehem.
An inn that was full.
A stable that was available.
A babe wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.
A star that led the magi to the right house in Bethlehem.
Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
A dying king who tried to kill the baby.
A desperate journey to Egypt.
Another journey to Nazareth.
And think of what the Bible says about this baby:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32).
“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Pretty amazing stuff, if you stop to think about it. What are the chances that all of those things that had to happen in exactly the right way would have happened? That a pagan emperor would issue a decree at just the right moment in history, when the Pax Romana was in full force, when the world was yearning restlessly for deliverance, that angels would show up to a young man and a young woman, that they would believe the angels, that the virgin would become pregnant, that Joseph would decide not to divorce her, that the star would shine in the east, that the magi would travel hundreds of miles seeking the baby, and all of it would finally focus on a stable outside an inn in the “little town of Bethlehem,” where the most incredible event in history took place.
C. S. Lewis says it this way:
The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares the way for this, or results from this.
He is entirely right about that. Sometimes we focus on peripheral questions (how did Jesus turn water into wine?) that distract us from the central truth of our faith. We believe God became a man. That the Creator became part of the creation. That the infinite became finite. That Almighty God took on the form of a man and was born as a tiny baby. This is the central truth of our faith.
I think Shawn is on to something when he uses the phrase “an accident from God.” That’s what Christmas is. It’s an “accident from God,” which means of course that it’s no accident at all but it sure seems that way from the outside looking in.
Why would God do something like this?
Why would God ever become a man?
Why would the eternal God ever come down to this little ball of dirt whizzing through space, one speck of matter floating in the universe, one tiny planet orbiting one ordinary star in a corner of the Milky Way, one of millions and millions of galaxies? Why would God do a thing like that? Why would he leave heaven to come to place like this?
Hebrews 2:10-18 offers us four clear answers to the question, “Why did Christ come?”
I. He Came That He Might Lead Many Sons to Glory.
The first answer is given in verse 10. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The whole earthly life of Jesus is summed up in one phrase. He was made “perfect through suffering.” The word can also mean complete. But wasn’t Jesus perfect when he was born in the manger? And didn’t he live a sinless life? And wasn’t his death the death of an innocent man? Yes. He was morally perfect. That is one kind of perfection or completion.
But there is another kind of perfection or completion. It is that which comes only by experience. Jesus entered fully into the sufferings of this world and emerged victorious over them. He was completed in his experience on the earth by the things he suffered. That is why he may be called the “founder” of our salvation. The word can also mean pioneer or trailblazer. He came and suffered on this sin-cursed planet so that by virtue of his sinless life and death, he might blaze the trail for us back to God.
Christ came to blaze the trail so we might follow him on to glory. But the trail is marked with suffering, with tears, with rejection, and it leads to the cross. And anyone who follows Jesus is going to end up where he ended up–outside Jerusalem on a hill shaped like a skull. He is not just leading us to heaven. He is leading us to glory. There is glory at the end of the Christian life. Jesus came from heaven so we might follow him in suffering and like him be made complete through suffering and in the end reach the prize of the glory set before us.
And that explains so much that happens to us. What is God doing in your life and in mine? He is putting us through the Curriculum of Grace in the School of Suffering. School starts the moment we trust Christ and ends the day we die. How will we ever pass the test and win the degree? By keeping our eyes on Jesus. He’s the valedictorian of the class. He never failed a test. He blazed the trail through the School of Suffering that we might follow in his path. He is leading us to glory.
There’s a second reason given in verses 11-13.
II. He Came That He Might Be One of Us.
“For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ’I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ’I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ’Behold, I and the children God has given me’” (vv. 11-13).
Suppose a man went outside one night and looked at the stars. Could he know there is a God? If he went to the Grand Canyon and saw its incomparable beauty and then traveled to Yosemite and saw its splendor, if he visited the mighty Niagara Falls and then walked among the redwoods, could he be sure there is a God? The answer is yes. If a man looked at nature and saw the intricate design and pattern of creation, he could know for certain this could not happen by chance. It must have happened by design. A man could by careful study conclude there is a God.
How much could he know about God simply by studying nature? He would know about his wisdom and his power. He would know about God’s infinite creative ability. But no one could discover the love of God simply by studying the bombardier beetle or analyzing the antelope. He would never know if God even knew who he was or if God knew his name and cared about him. A God of the stars, moon and sun would be great and powerful, but he would never be personal.
And that explains why Jesus came to the earth. These verses tell us that we share a common humanity with Jesus. That is why he is not ashamed to call us brethren. God has come down where we live and has become one of us. He didn’t yell down “I love you,” and he didn’t mail us a letter we couldn’t read. He took on our nature, was born just as we are born, lived as we live, died as we die. So that when He says, “I love you,” we understand him for in Jesus Christ God has become one of us.
The third reason why God became a man is found in verses 14-15.
III. He Came to Free Us From the Bondage of Death.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (vv. 14-15).
Down deep in the human heart there is a fear of death that Satan uses to keep us enslaved. Don’t mistake the point. Satan has no independent power to kill you or anyone else. He can do nothing without God’s permission. But he plays upon our fear of death to keep us in the chains of sin. That’s why the Bible says the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). When the unsaved die, they die with their sins still upon them, like a heavy burden, a vast weight bearing them down to hell. They die miserable, angry, frustrated and fearful because they don’t know what to do with their sins.
The fear of death is the ultimate fear. Death lasts for a long, long time. So we drive a little faster past a cemetery, we take someone with us to the funeral home, and we hate going to funerals. Death scares us. We don’t know what’s out there. And we’re not sure we’re ready. That kind of fear is slavery. It is something every person has until they come to Jesus Christ. The glory of the cross is that it sets men free from the fear of death.
Sometimes I think about my own death. Just this week I heard a man say, “We all have to think about death now.” I’m 55, my father died when he was 56, and I have friends who have died. People talk about living in “heart attack territory” and that sort of thing. And it’s true. Once you reach a certain age (when your AARP card arrives in the mail), you can’t kid yourself about still being young. Personally I’d prefer to live a while longer. I was writing my cousin a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about our aunt who is 93. I told her I don’t think I want to live to be 93. “That’s not for us to worry about,” she replied. And she’s right. When my time comes, I’d just as soon die in my sleep peacefully. But I have no control over the time or the place or the manner of my death. All of my days are written in God’s book (Psalm 139:16). I will not die one second before the time my Father ordains for me.
Oh, it’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian and to know your sins are forgiven and to know that death is not the end but the beginning. What a difference it makes to die having your sins forgiven. How many times have I heard Christians say when a loved one dies, “What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” Death is hard enough to face if you are a Christian, but it is intolerable without the Lord. And yet every day countless thousands march into eternity with the leaden weight of sin hanging around their necks.
A friend who watched a loved one die said it succinctly in just two words: “Death stinks.” Yes, it does, which is why the Bible says that death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Some people claim that death is a “natural” part of life. This is certainly true in the sense that death comes to all of us because we live in a fallen world. Where sin exists, death is indeed “natural.” But that is only part of the biblical picture. Death reigns because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-14). But now through Jesus Christ we have his infallible Word that “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Like most pastors I have quoted those verses often during funeral services. I like to do it when the dead person is in the casket right in front of me. After all, that’s when the full impact of Jesus’ words really hits home. Do we believe Jesus or not? John Stott comments that for the Christian, death has become a “trivial episode,” a minor inconvenience and nothing more. If we know Jesus, death is like closing our eyes and one moment later opening them in heaven.
Unbelievers don’t have that privilege nor do they understand our confidence as we enter death’s door. For them death is the end—or so they think. For believers in Jesus it is the next step in our eternal life with God.
Peter Marshall tells the story of a young boy about four years old who had a terminal disease. At first he didn’t understand his condition, but finally he realized that he wasn’t going to get better and would never again play with his friends. So one morning he asked his mother, “Am I going to die?” And she said, “Yes, dear.” “Momma, what is death like? Will it hurt?”
The mother ran out of the room to the kitchen and leaned against the refrigerator, her knuckles gripped white to keep from crying. She prayed and asked the Lord to give her an answer for her son. Suddenly, an idea came and she went back in his room and sat down on the bed
“Timmy, do you remember how you used to play outside all day and when you came inside at night you were so tired you just fell down on the couch and slept? In the morning you woke up in your own bed and you wondered how you got there. During the night your father would pick you up and carry you to your own bed.”
“That’s what death is like. One night you lie down and go to sleep and in the middle of the night your Heavenly Father comes and picks you up and carries you to your own bed. In the morning when you wake up, you’re in your own room in heaven.”
The little boy smiled and nodded. And several weeks later he died peacefully. That’s what death is like for the Christian. Satan’s hold is broken. The fear is taken away.
IV. He Came to Free Us From Sin.
One last reason Jesus came to earth is mentioned in this text. He came to free us from sin. Look at verse 17. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” You have the birth of Christ and the death of Christ in the same sentence. He was born as a man that he might be made like us. He died as a propitiation for the sins of the people. To propitiate means to turn away wrath by offering a gift. When Christ died, he voluntarily took upon himself the wrath of God that was meant for you and me. You see, there’s a great biblical principle that God is too righteous to overlook sin. Psalm 7:11 says “God is angry with the wicked every day” (KJV). If a man sins, he faces the wrath of God. God cannot wink at sin. Before I can have peace with God, my sin must be dealt with. There is no escape from this fact because God is 100% righteous and will not clear the guilty. Any solution to the sin problem must face that fact.
But another Biblical principle tells me that God is merciful toward sinners. That means he loves me in spite of my sin. God so loved the world (John 3:16) that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Any solution to the sin problem that involves his mercy must also satisfy his righteousness.
What gift can I bring to turn away his wrath?
Money? No, because all the silver and gold comes from him.
Animals? No, because he owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
My possessions? No, because he made the stars.
What can I bring to turn away his wrath? Nothing. God knew that. He knew I didn’t have anything to offer, so he offered the gift of his one-and-only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in my place. That’s the mercy of God. When Jesus died, his death on the cross was the perfect sacrifice for sin. That satisfied the righteousness of God. His anger was turned away by the offering of his own Son. The Father was propitiated.
In 1863 Charitie Bancroft wrote a hymn called Before the Throne of God Above. Recently it has gained new popularity because it has been set to a Celtic melody. The second verse offers one of the greatest statements of the gospel I have ever heard:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.
There is enough gospel in those last two lines to save the whole world:
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.
Here is a wonderful fact on which to rest my soul. God isn’t angry at me anymore. Why? Because I’ve believed in Jesus. I’ve trusted in what he did on the cross. He took the wrath of God in my place. Forever and ever God is my Father and I am his son. The blood of Jesus has paid the debt and turned away God’s righteous wrath against me. That’s propitiation.
The text goes on to say Jesus frees us from sin by helping us when we are tempted. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18). The word help comes from two Greek words meaning “To run to give help when someone cries out.” That tells me what kind of God we have in heaven. Jesus walked in my shoes; he knows what I am going through. When I get discouraged and despondent and want to throw in the towel, I cry out and he comes running to help me.
This is the ultimate answer to the answer to the question, “Does Jesus know my name?” In John 10:14 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” The last time I saw my father before he died, he was in the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Birmingham and was desperately ill. I walked in and said, “Hi, Dad.” But he didn’t recognize me. He talked but he didn’t know who he was talking to. He was so sick that he didn’t know I was in the room.
I know someone who never forgets my name and is never too busy for me. I know someone who knows me through and through, better than I know myself, who knows all my fears and dreams, my motives and hidden thoughts. I know someone who knows me intimately and loves me anyway. His name is Jesus. And when I cry out, he runs to my side. An old gospel song called Just When I Need Him Most says it this way:
Just when I need him, Jesus is near,
Just when I falter, Just when I fear;
Ready to help me, ready to cheer,
Just when I need him most.
Just when I need him, Jesus is true,
Never forsaking all the way through;
Giving for burdens pleasures anew,
Just when I need him most.
Just when I need him, he is my all,
Answering when upon him I call;
Tenderly watching lest I should fall,
Just when I need him most.
Do you know him?
Do you know Jesus who came from heaven to live on earth?
Do you know the One who is leading his children to glory?
Do you know the One who frees us from the fear of death?
Do you know Jesus whose death turns away the wrath of God?
Do you know Jesus who runs to help us in the hour of our need?
I began this message with the story of Shawn who came to Jesus through an “accident from God.” But we know now it was no accident at all. Every part of what happened to Shawn was planned by the Father. I know that because Shawn added this note at the top of one page of his letter: “Jail saved my life. The one on earth.” It was no accident that he was in “the hole,” and it was no accident that when he traded food for envelopes, he ended up with a book that helped him come to Christ. What at first seemed like a bad deal ended up leading him to eternal life. He had to go to jail to save his life forever.
How far will God go to reach a lost soul? Christmas reminds us that the world is full of “accidents from God” that are really part of his plan to save the world.
Do you know him? Come to Jesus now. Say “Yes, Lord Jesus, I’m coming to you. I’m coming right now.” May God help you to come to Jesus this very moment. Amen.