Early in my career as a teacher, God had whispered into my ears a simple and powerful – yet easily neglected – strategy to encourage my students when marking their assignments.
He told me to always write their names accompanying affirmative remarks. So instead of just writing “Good job! Keep it up!”, I was to write “Good job, Alvin! Keep it up!”
I remember receiving feedback from former pupils on how much those compliments meant to them. After all, there’s just something about being called by name.
When was the last time you heard the Lord call you by name? Be intrigued by this encounter between Mary Magdalene and her beloved Jesus (John 20:11-18 NKJV).
As Mary stood outside by Jesus’ tomb weeping, she stooped down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white sitting, where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet.
They said to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Supposing that He was the gardener, Mary said to Jesus: “Sir, if You have carried him away, tell me where You have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her: “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).”
Before Jesus called her by name, Mary could not recognise Him.
Perhaps she was overwhelmed with grief – she had been weeping – thinking that the Romans had taken away Jesus’ body and wondering where they had put Him.
Even when Jesus spoke to her, the eyes of her heart did not open. She even assumed Him to be the gardener. She only recognised Him when He called her “Mary!”
In the same gospel of John, John had recorded Jesus’ words:
“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14 NKJV)
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NKJV)
At “Mary!”, her first response was “Rabboni!” She had recognised her Master’s voice. The tone of His voice when He called her. That voice. She knew it.
According to Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Rabboni is a Hebrew word denoting, literally, my great master. It was one of the titles given to Jewish teachers. This title was given under three forms:
- Rab, master – the lowest degree of honour.
- Rabbi, my master – a title of higher dignity.
- Rabboni, my great master the most honourable of all.
Just like that, Jesus had gone from gardener to Great Master.
Jesus calls us by name. He knows us intimately. He knows us personally. Do we know His voice? By His voice, would we have immediately understood it’s Him?
I also remember that there was a relatively obscure character in the Bible whom Paul mentioned by name, twice.
In Colossians 4:17, Archippus is reminded of his assignment.
“And say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfil it.’”
And in Philemon 2:2, Paul calls him “our fellow soldier”.
Archippus is almost anonymous, but known to God by name.
In the same way God has called each one of us by name. We can be secure in how God has created and gifted us, and who we are in Christ.
God knows us by name.
After resigning from teaching, I wrestled big time with my identity.
I dreaded the question: So what are you doing now? I was tempted to feel less worthy because I could no longer be known as a teacher.
But, mercifully, the Lord kept encouraging me and building my security in Him. I learnt to hear what He says of me rather than what others think.
Be encouraged today! God knows you by name and has assignments for you. No one is less worthy. We may be nobodies, but in Christ we’re known and loved.
- Have you ever wrestled with your identity? Why?
- When was the last time you heard God call you by name?
- Do you know God intimately enough to recognise His voice?