Gospel of John (20) — Jesus Calls You by Name

            This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John.  In just a little bit, we’ll be in John chapter 20.

            In his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie made an important observation.  He said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

            And that’s why, whenever somebody is trying to sell you something, they will keep repeating your name during their sales pitch.  They’ve learned that in seminars and business colleges.

            But sometimes a few of them will go a bit overboard.  They just keep saying my name over and over again, punctuating every sentence with my name.  Like my name is a comma or something.

            “Good evening, Alan.  What if I told you, Alan, that switching to solar energy could save you $100 a month?  Tell me, Alan, what would you do with all that extra money, Alan?”

            Anybody here ever had a pushy salesperson become overly-familiar with your name like that?  It’s a little bit creepy, isn’t it?

            When you keep saying my name and I don’t know you, that doesn’t make me want to buy whatever it is that you’re selling.  Honestly, I find it a bit offensive.  Because my name is important to me.  My name is a part of who I am.  It’s not something to be used for you to get what you want out of me.

            Or, have you ever had someone to call you by the wrong name? Someone who just totally butcheredyour name?   Now, I’ve not had nearly as much experience with this as Sue Ellen has.  I mean, Suzanne.  I mean, Sueanne.

            Leaders in the field of education understand the value of a student’s name. Knowing it, pronouncing it right, and calling the child by his or her proper name.  And when you don’t pronounce a child’s name correctly — or worse, when you just give up and make up your own name, it’s not just a failure of courtesy.  It says to that child, “I don’t care enough about you to learn your name and call you by it.” 

            And educators are realizing that this creates a distrust between a student and a teacher.  Because, the kid basically says, “Why should I bother to learn what you’re teaching me if you won’t even bother to learn my name?”

            Because your name is a major part of your identity. It’s how you know yourself, and how you are known by the people around you.  It helps distinguish you from everybody else.

            Which is why Dale Carnegie said your name is the sweetest sound you can ever hear.  But it’s also why it grates on us and hurts us so much when people abuse our names.  Like when a pushy salesperson uses your name flippantly during a pitch.  Or when someone mispronounces your name, and refuses to take the time to get it right.  Or when someone makes fun of your name.  Or speaks it in anger.  Or to mock you.  Or slander you.

            A name is something intimate, it’s at the very core of your being.  Which is why it’s so sweet when your spouse whispers your name.  Or when an old friend calls you on the phone and speaks your name.  And it’s also a major reason why identity theft is such a disgusting crime.  Not just for the financial and legal problems it can cause, but because by stealing your name, that person has violated you.

            So, it’s true that your name can be the sweetest sound you will ever hear.  As long as it’s being used by the right person, for the right reasons.  When the right person speaks your name for the right reasons, it communicates that they know you, they recognize you, and they value you.  You matter to them.

            And so, for the rest of our time this morning, I want us to focus on the thought that Jesus knows your name.  And Jesus calls you by name.  He doesn’t just say, “Hey, you!”  He knows you.  And he calls out to you by name.

            You aren’t just a faceless name in a faceless crowd of humanity.  Jesus recognizes you.  And you’re precious to him.  You matter so much to Jesus that he calls you by name.

            And my prayer this morning is that you will go out from this place listening for Jesus’ voice.  Calling out your name.  Beckoning you to walk closer to him.  To trust him more.  And to live and move and have your being in his unfathomable love for you. 

            Let’s take a look at our video this morning as Jesus is resurrected from the dead.  If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be in John chapter 20, beginning with verse 1:


            Last week, we saw that Jesus said while he was on the cross, “It is finished!”  And just as God rested on the seventh day after he finished creating this world, Jesus rested in the tomb on the seventh day after he finished re-creating this world, making all things new.

            But, as our text begins, it was still dark on the first day of the week.  The beginning of a new creation.  Eyes were red from all the weeping and the sleepless nights.  Women came to the tomb, perhaps to bring spices, perhaps to weep, perhaps just to be there because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, nothing else that ever would matter.

            Mary Magdalene was one of those women.  Mary isn’t mentioned in John’s gospel until she appears with the other Marys at the foot of the cross.  And John doesn’t tell us anything about her background.  What little we do know about Mary Magdalene, we learn from the other gospel writers.  For example, Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her and that Mary was one of the women who helped to support Jesus while he preached, so she was obviously a woman of some degree of wealth (Luke 8:1-3).

            But Mary’s place here in John’s gospel is significant.  She is the first person to bring the news that the tomb was empty.  And she was the first person to see, to meet and to speak with Jesus after his resurrection.

            It’s easy for us to overlook Mary.  We often concentrate on Peter and the other disciple (who was probably John) as they raced to Jesus’ tomb.  Standing there speechless as they found Jesus’ burial garments lying exactly where they left them, except that there was no body in them.  Which made absolutely no sense.  They could imagine someone taking the body of Jesus away, but unwrapping the body before they took it would have been a senseless thing to do.

            And it appears that the burial garments weren’t unwrapped into a pile of linen strips, like you would have if you tried to unwrap a mummy.  But these strips appear to have been still wrapped up in the shape of a man except that there was no man there, just the sunken wrapped cloths. 

            Which would explain why, as soon as John saw them, we’re told that he “believed.” (John 20:8).  Now, John had had faith before.  He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  He had believed that God had sent Jesus into this world.  But this was different.  “He saw and believed.”  He believed that Jesus was alive again.  He believed that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  There could be no other explanation for what he saw in that tomb.

            Like most people today, most people in the ancient world didn’t believe in the idea of a resurrection.  Resurrection just didn’t happen; it couldn’t happen.  The Jews, though, began to believe that it could and it would.  Not all of them, mind you.  The Sadducees absolutely refused to believe in the idea of a resurrection           

            Ans even those Jews who did believe weren’t exactly sure what it would mean, and what it would be like.  But they tended to believe, like Martha did back in John 11, that everyone will be raised in the last day, everyone all at the same time. 

            There had been a few isolated resurrections throughout the history of the Jews.  Both Elijah and Elisha were able to resurrect dead children.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus had raised a widow’s son, and the daughter of Jairus and then, of course, Lazarus. 

            The resurrections of Jesus and Lazarus were similar in some ways, but in many ways they were very different.  Lazarus needed someone to release him from his burial cloths.  Jesus just resurrected right through his.  Lazarus came back to a world that was filled with death, and in fact, John 12:10 tells us that the Jewish leaders tried to kill Lazarus a second time. 

            But, when Jesus rose from the dead, he was raised to a new world, a new creation, where death itself has been defeated and life, in all its fullness, could begin at last.

            And as we focus on Peter and John and their discovery of the empty tomb, it’s easy to overlook Mary.  Standing there at the tomb, with tears in her eyes.  Jesus had already been taken from her once by crucifixion.  And now, his body was missing, too.

            Mary said to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13).  I’m not sure who she meant by “they”.  Maybe she thought some of the other disciples for some unknown reason had taken the body of Jesus and placed it in a different tomb.    Or maybe she thought some of the enemies of Jesus had come and stolen his body as one more act of cruelty. 

            Whatever it was that she thought had happened, resurrection was not one of the possibilities she was considering.  And so, when she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, she didn’t recognize him at first.  Remember that her eyes were full of tears, and the sun hadn’t yet fully risen.  

            And so, as we pick up in the middle of verse 15, it says, “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’” (John 20:15)

            It makes sense that, at first, she thought Jesus was the gardener.  Jesus had been buried in a garden.  Who else but a gardener would be wandering around in a garden that early in the morning?  And, as I suggested last week, there’s a sense in which Jesus was the gardener.  The new Adam, placed by God in a garden, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order.

            But here’s what I want us to focus on.  In verse 16.  “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’  She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” (John 20:16)

            When Jesus called her by name, Mary realized for the first time who it was.  Mary knew it was Jesus when he spoke her name.

            It was that old familiar voice that she loved and trusted.  A voice she recognized, the voice of someone who recognized her, the voice of someone who knew her completely.

            The voice of someone she mattered to, the voice that had always chased away her fears, the voice that had always soothed her pain, the voice that was most precious to her.

            The voice of someone in whose eyes she knew she was precious.  The sweetest voice she knew, speaking the sweetest sound her ears had ever heard.

            Her friend, her teacher, her Lord, her Savior — it was the voice of the Word of God become flesh, Jesus, alive, standing beside her, and calling her name – “Mary.”

            It reminds me of what Jesus said in John chapter 10.  That entire chapter is devoted to describing Jesus as the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for his sheep.  But in verses 3 and 4, here’s what Jesus said about the Good Shepherd:

            “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4)

            What Jesus said in that passage was so true for Mary in our story this morning, wasn’t it?  She recognized Jesus’ voice, calling her by name.  And that’s when she knew it wasn’t just the gardener.  It was her Good Shepherd, Jesus.

            And Jesus is still the Good Shepherd for all his sheep.  And when you follow Jesus, when you trust him and surrender your life to Jesus, you are one of his sheep.  And he is your Good Shepherd.

            You recognize his voice, and you trust your Good Shepherd Jesus with your life, because of what he said in verse 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  There are few people in life that I’m willing to follow, but I can tell you this – if I find someone who loves me so much that he’s willing to give up his life to save me, that’s somebody I’m willing to follow.

            And, of course, that’s what Jesus has done for all of us.  But he’s done so much more than that.  As Paul wrote in Romans 8:34, “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

            And so, even now, if you’re one of Jesus’ little lambs, he’s interceding with his Father for you.  He’s calling out your name to God.

            And Jesus will never, ever forget your name.  Every time Jesus looks at his nail-scarred hands, it reminds him of you.  How he came to bear your sin and shame and sorrow and suffering.  How he fought for you on the cross.  How he defeated death forever by his resurrection.

            Our Good Shepherd Jesus speaks the words found in Isaiah 49, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)

            And so, as we read this story here in John 20, we celebrate a resurrected Jesus.  Because he is our Good Shepherd, the one who laid down his life for us.  The one who was raised for us, and who now lives for us.  Because he knows each of us and he calls us by name, just like he did Mary on that resurrection morning.

            And like Mary, it is important that we recognize his voice.  Because, the truth is, there are a lot of voices out there that are calling out to us.

            There are the voices of ridiculous expectations that other people place on you.  Or that you place on yourself.  Voices telling you that you’re not good enough.  Or maybe voices calling out to you from your friends’ Facebook and Instagram pages.  Asking you why you’re not happy and perfect and beautiful like them.

            Or maybe it’s a voice of shame.  Or a voice of hurt.  Or a voice of regret.  Or a voice of hatred.  Or a voice of despair.

            Unfortunately, all of those voices also know your name.  And if you choose to follow thosevoices, they will lead you.  But they will lead you into some dark places.  Not to the abundant life that your Good Shepherd Jesus has for you.

            Maybe you’re here this morning, and you say you’ve never heard Jesus calling your name. My prayer is that you’ll hear him calling to you today.

            Or maybe you’ve heard Jesus calling your name, and you’ve chosen to follow him.  But over time, you’ve listened to all those other voices calling out to you.  And you’ve let them lead you.  And they’ve led you to some dark places, not to abundant life. They’ve led you into shame and hurt and regret and bitterness and maybe even hopelessness.  My prayer for you is that you’ll hear Jesus’ voice clearly again, cutting through all those other voices.  Calling your name.

            And when you hear his voice, you’ll know it’s Jesus.  I know that’s true because he said so.  “The sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4-5).  When you hear the voice of Jesus, you’ll know it.

            You’re precious to Jesus.  Any voice that tells you you’re worthless, or always reminds you of all the ways you don’t measure up — that’s not Jesus’ voice.  Any voice that tells you to pretend you’re okay when you’re really not, is not Jesus’ voice.

            That doesn’t mean Jesus’ voice will always be affirming.  It won’t tell you that you’re just fine the way you are.  Sometimes Jesus will call your name in warning.

            But even in those times, you can tell Jesus’ voice from the other voices. Because what Jesus says to you may hurt, but it will never harm.  And when Jesus speaks those hard words, the hurt also contains the way to healing.  The voice of Jesus may convict you, but it doesn’t condemn you.

            It’s not because he doesn’t know what we’ve done.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own…” (John 10:14).   Jesusknows us by name.  But it’s more than just the name.  Jesus knows you – he knows everything about you.  Maybe you’ve noticed in the gospels, how Jesus seemed to know everything about everyone he met.

            There was Nathaniel whom Jesus described as a true Israelite, one “in whom there is no deceit.”  Nathaniel was astonished and he asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” (John 1:47-48).

            There was the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus looked into his heart and told him what he needed to do, “Sell everything and follow me” (Matthew 19: 21).

            There was the Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus revealed to her astonishment that he knew she had had five husbands (John 4:18).

            There was Judas, sitting with Jesus and the disciples in the upper room, when Jesus turned to him and said, “Judas, you are the one who will betray me” (Matthew 26:29).

            When you understand just how well God knows you, it is something from which you cannot hide. You cannot escape.  It is a moment that is both terrifying and comforting – unsettling and reassuring at the same time.

            It’s terrifying because you realize you can no longer pretend.  It’s useless to live with the illusion that somehow you might be able to impress God.  He knows every secret, every thought, every word you’ve ever spoken, and everything you’ve ever done.  And that can be very uncomfortable.  You have that sudden awareness that it is no longer possible to hold the illusion of being worthy of God’s attention or affection

            But, for some unexplainable reason, it’s also reassuring.  If God knows everything about me, and he’s still willing to call me by name — that’s astonishing!  He calls out to me — not to frighten me, but to speak to me as a friend.  He calls me by name!  That removes our fear of being rejected by God.

            So, when Jesus calls, you’ll knowit’s Jesus’ voice, calling you by name.  Even if he’s calling you to do something difficult and painful.

            Like the need to let go of your stubborn pride and apologize for something.  Or be vulnerable enough to confess a sin to others who will pray for you and hold you accountable.  Or to surrender an old hurt to him, and leave justice in the hands of God.

            Jesus, your Good Shepherd, will guide you through whatever it is.  And so, my hope and prayer for you is, like Mary on that resurrection morning, you will hear Jesus calling your name this week.  And it will be the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard.

            Maybe, for some of you, it will truly be the first time you’ve ever really heard Jesus’ voice. And, as you hear him calling you, it is your desire you want to follow him into baptism, to begin your journey with him.  If that’s the case, please let us know this morning because nothing would thrill us more than to help you to make that happen.

            As for the rest of us, let’s be encouraging each other to listen for Jesus’ voice.  Let’s help each other discern Jesus’ voice, because sometimes we all get confused by all those other voices. We need to encourage one another to listen.  Maybe some of us will even hear Jesus calling us to join with others in some new ministry.

            Every Lord’s Day morning, we come together to celebrate the risen Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  The one who has laid down his life for us.  The one who calls us by name.  The one who has our names inscribed in the palms of his hands.  As we go out from here, may we hear and recognize his voice when he calls us — like Mary did that first resurrection morning.  And may his voice, calling our name, sound as sweet to our ears as it did to hers.


One Comment

  1. thanks Alan. The last part of this sermon helped me with mine. I used this passage this week and I had this thought about hearing Jesus call our names but the skeptic in me heard – how do I hear him call my name.
    But the John 10 connection did it. Whenever we read Scripture and it pricks our hearts or someone says something the Holy Spirit uses to prick our mind, or we hear the right words at the right time, or that divine appointment that comes out of the blue, all those things that point us to recognize God is the voice of Jesus and we, his sheep recognize his voice. thanks!

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