The Power of a Nickname

Posted on January 17, 2012 by


We’ve heard it said before that a person’s favorite word is their name.  We’ve all learned the importance of repeating names and learning them as fast as possible.  People are always impressed when we’re able to recall their names after an initial meeting. It communicates that we care. It communicates that they are important.

Giving people a nickname can also have a profound impact.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by the Jordan River in John chapter 1, John labeled him immediately as the “Lamb of God” (v29, 35).  Lamb of God was a title that had enormous implications.  Lamb of God meant that Jesus was the Messiah.  Lamb of God meant that Jesus came to save people.  Lamb of God meant that Jesus was going to set Israel free.  For those who had never met Jesus, labeling him as the Lamb of God opened up significant hope and endless possibilities.

No wonder Andrew turned his attention to Jesus upon hearing John’s report.  If Jesus was the Lamb of God, then no one else could be more important.  Verse 40 tells us that after Andrew spent the day with Jesus, “the first thing” Andrew did was take his brother Simon to meet Jesus too.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus took one look at Simon and then said, “You are Simon son of John.  You will be called Cephas” which is translated “Peter” (v40).

We know that “Peter” also means “Rock” so in a breath, Simon becomes “the Rock.”  At that point Peter probably didn’t understand the importance of the change, but Jesus did.  In a later conversation in Matthew 16, Jesus unfolds more of its meaning.

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v16-18).

The Gospels don’t tell us a lot about Simon son of John.  He was a fisherman.  He had a brother.  He had a wife and a sick mother-in-law.  He was a big man but we don’t see him catching a ton of fish unless Jesus is around.  But the nickname tells us a ton about this man.  Peter would leave a financial windfall to follow Jesus (Luke 5).  Peter would speak his mind and declare Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16).  Peter would call out to Jesus from the boat and indeed, Peter would walk on water (Matthew 14).  Peter would follow Jesus to the courtyard and although Peter would deny Jesus (John 18), Peter would be the only one in the water, swimming to Jesus after the resurrection (John 21).  Peter came in second in the race to the tomb, but he was the first one to barge in to see the scraps of death’s clothes that Jesus had left behind (John 20).  Peter would explain the Pentecost to the crowds (Acts 2) and it was Peter who would respond to his angelic dream and baptize Cornelius and bring salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Truly, this man did become the “Rock” that Jesus used to build his church.

What about us?  What’s Jesus’ name for you?  When you spend time with him, what do you hear?  Do you hear him calling you Beloved?  Forgiven?  Cherished? Do you know that this is how Jesus sees you?

And what about those we lead?  So many people are desperate to be known, to be noticed, to be given a special name, to be re-named.  Recently, a leader told me that kids in our town know that they’ve made it when my wife and I call them by their last names.  For them, it’s the moment that they’re no longer just “kids”, but they’re someone with direction and are a part of something bigger. They belong.

Take some time to pray for the people God has placed around you.  Jesus has a vision for them that can reshape their lives forever.  Help them to hear His voice and catch His vision?  Constantly speak His truth into their lives so they would learn to recognize His voice and know how He sees them.  They too need to hear Him call them Beloved, Forgiven, or Cherished.

Two-thousand years later, there are only a few references to a St. Simon (one being a British race horse from the 19th Century), but there are many references to St. Peter. He grew into the name that Jesus gave him. What would it look like for us to grow into the name that he has for us?