Do you have a nickname? Did you have one growing up? Often nicknames are just variations of our actual name. Sometimes they are very…well…odd. “Bear.” “Peanut.” I used to call my daughter, “Girl Head Bean,” which was the weirdest of about ten other nicknames I’ve called her over the years. Like most nicknames, hers are all terms of endearment. What nickname do you think Jesus might have for you. I ask that because in our continuing study of John 1:35-42, Jesus reprises his role as a nickname-giver.
There they are on Day 1 of meeting Jesus. Look at John 1:41, which tells the story of Andrew and his brother meeting Jesus for the first time. Andrew tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah,” meaning, “We have found the one who will free our nation from the oppression of the Romans.” Did they get it wrong? Probably yes (as we discussed in the previous post), but they are very excited nonetheless.
Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, and Jesus’ first words to Simon are to give him a nickname. This is now the second nickname that we have learned about in our study of the Gospel of John. The first was not in the text of the Gospel of John, but it was about the author of the Gospel of John, who, along with his brother James, Jesus nicknamed, the Sons of Thunder. Read what I wrote about that story here.
When Jesus sees Simon, he first says his name real name, “Simon son of John,” which is now the third person named John in our study of the Gospel of John, all different people. John the Apostle (who we believe is the writer of the Gospel), John the Baptist, and John the father of Simon and Andrew.
So Simon is “Simon, son of John,” or as we would more typically say English, “Simon Johnson.” The implication of this phrase is that Jesus knew his name without being told it. How? We don’t know. Maybe Andrew told him ahead of time (“Hold on Jesus, let me go get my brother Simon…I really want him to meet you!”), or maybe it was a miracle. This gets to the discussion of how much of the power of God Jesus had access to. Clearly, he had access to miraculous power. Was it through the filling of the Spirit? Was it because he didn’t fully empty himself of God’s power? We don’t know. All we know is that this is a potential miracle, Jesus knowing Simon’s name.
Then he right away gives Simon the nickname, “Cephas,” which is the Aramaic word that is the equivalent of the Greek word “Peter,” both of which mean “Rock.” Put together all of Peter’s names and what do you get? He is not just “Simon son of John,” or “Simon Johnson,” or “Simon Cephas Johnson,” or “Simon Peter Johnson,” he is, believe it or not, “Simon the Rock Johnson.” And for those of you who don’t know what I did there, you might have heard of the movie star and former WWE wrestler, Dwayne Johnson, whose nickname is also “The Rock” Johnson.
What do nicknames have to do with Jesus attempting to form these men into disciples? Nicknames can be hurtful. Nicknames be silly. Nicknames can also be formative. Jesus seems to creatively use nicknames to build up, to inspire, to give people a vision of something about themselves that the people didn’t realize or think was possible. In Peter’s case, he was The Rock, and Jesus later said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock, I will build my church”.
Many scholars believe Jesus was shaping Peter to be the leader of the church, which is especially meaningful when you consider that Peter would later do the most un-Rock-like thing by denying even knowing Jesus in Jesus’ most dire moment of need, and Jesus would then restore Peter. Peter would go on to be the leader of the church.
What nickname might Jesus give you? Obviously we can’t answer that question, but we can guess. Jesus’ nickname for Peter gave Peter a vision of something about himself that was beyond what Peter could have imagined. Perhaps Peter’s view of himself was stunted. Perhaps Peter had a negative or corrupted view of himself. Here comes Jesus saying, “Peter you are The Rock.” So the first step to imagining what nickname Jesus might give you is to consider how you think about yourself. Do you look down on yourself? Do you have a negative perspective about yourself?
Jesus comes to you and says, “I love you. You are made in God’s image. In me you have everything you need. Depend on me, and you will bear much fruit.” That doesn’t mean you are perfect or do not need to grow and change at all. We all need to become more like Jesus. But Jesus’ nickname for us reminds us that he is our sufficiency. Peter was not a rock who didn’t need Jesus. Peter was a rock only as he rested on the one true Rock, Jesus (see Matthew 7:24-27). When Peter showed rock-like behavior and got out of the boat to walk with Jesus on the water, in the middle of a storm, that rock-like confidence didn’t last long. Peter reached out to the Rock who was his true foundation.
So what nickname might Jesus give you?