September 1, 2016 • Life for Leaders
These are the twelve [Jesus] appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Jesus appointed twelve of his disciples as members of his primary team. Like Jesus, they would preach the good news of the kingdom and drive out demons (3:14-15). Most importantly, as we saw in yesterday’s reflection, they would “be with” Jesus, sharing life with him and learning in relationship with him.
Maybe Jesus is the kind of friend who invents nicknames for us. But, whether or not this is true, we who follow Jesus have the incredible privilege of knowing him as a friend, and this is a truth worth savoring.
Mark reports that Jesus gave nicknames to three of his apprentices. To Simon, “he gave the name Peter” (3:16). “Peter” is the English version of the Greek word petros, which means rock. In Aramaic, the language Jesus and his disciples spoke most often, Simon’s nickname would have been Cephas. In Matthew 16:18 we learn that Simon was the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his church. (Years ago, I did a whole sermon for Vacation Bible School as if I were Peter in the guise of Rocky Balboa. Indeed, Simon’s nickname in contemporary English could be “Rocky.”)
James and John received the nickname Boanerges (3:17). This is an English version (via Greek) of an Aramaic word meaning “sons of thunder.” Though we don’t know exactly why Jesus gave the two brothers this nickname, we can imagine that it had something to do with their explosive personalities. Later in Mark, we’ll see that James and John once said to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (10:35). They were bold, brash, and said emphatically whatever came into their minds. They were also, along with Simon Peter, members of Jesus’ inner circle, those whom he invited to witness his transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane. Apparently, Jesus didn’t mind have the “sons of thunder” among his closest friends and colleagues.
As I reflect on this story, I wonder what Jesus might choose as a nickname for me. Would it be serious? Or whimsical? What would Jesus see in me that he’d like to capture in a name?
I know this might seem like a rather strange train of thought for a devotional. But, as I’ve reflected on my potential nickname from Jesus, I find myself remembering two important truths about him and my relationship with him. First, I’m reminded that Jesus knows me through and through. He knows everything about me, my strengths and weaknesses, my dreams and fears, my delights and yearnings. Nothing is hidden from him (Heb 4:13). This would be a scary thought, indeed, were it not for Jesus’ matchless love and abundant grace.
Second, I’m reminded that Jesus wants to be a friend with his followers, including you and me (John 15:13-15). Now, to be sure, Jesus is much more than just a friend. He is Lord and Savior, the unique Son of God, fully human and fully God. Yet, Jesus seeks friendship with us. Maybe Jesus is the kind of friend who invents nicknames for us. But, whether or not this is true, we who follow Jesus have the incredible privilege of knowing him as a friend, and this is a truth worth savoring.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What does the fact that Jesus made up nicknames for some of his apprentices tell you about Jesus?
If Jesus made up a nickname for you, what might it be?
How do you respond to the fact that Jesus knows everything about you?
How do you respond to the fact that Jesus wants to be your friend?
Lord Jesus, I don’t know if you have a nickname for me. Perhaps I’ll be able to ask you about that someday. Yet, because of my confidence in your grace and love, I’m glad that you know me so well.
Plus, I’m also glad that following you isn’t only a matter of worship and obedience, though these are surely essential and I don’t mean to minimize them. Nevertheless, thank you for inviting your followers to be your friends. Thank you for wanting to be with us even as you chose us to be with you. May we know you more intimately and learn to enjoy your presence more consistently. Amen.
P.S. For additional insight into the nicknames Jesus gave to Simon, James, and John, see this article from the Theology of Work: https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/mark/kingdom-and-discipleship/the-twelve-mark-313-19/
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Maybe James and John simply had loud (like thunder) voices. That’s another explanation I’ve heard.
I think the rock Jesus was referring to was Peter’s answer to who Christ was, the Christ, the Son of the Living God in Matthew 16:16. That is on what the church foundation would be built, the cornerstone rejected.
Actually, many years ago when I was in high school, I did wonder what nickname Jesus might give me. I also commented to Adrian’s that Sometimes it was hard to feel close to Jesus because I couldn’t touch or see him with my senses; I got a weird look. I imagine now I’m not the only one who felt that way.
The Lord’s words there may be paraphrased like this:
Your name is Peter (Rock) and the confession you just made by the help of the Holy Spirit, shall be the rocky foundation on which my Church shall be built