Set in A.D. 180, Gladiator tells the story of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe), who was about to be given reigning authority in Rome by the aging emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before this could take place, however, the emperor’s son, Commodus, killed his father in order to establish himself on the throne. He then ordered the murder of Maximus and his family. Maximus escaped, and the movie follows him as he is sold into slavery, becomes a nameless gladiator, and finally seeks justice against wicked Emperor Commodus.
The turning point comes late in the movie. After Maximus wins a great battle in the Coliseum, Emperor Commodus decides to meet this unknown gladiator face to face. The crowd watches as the emperor in full pomp strides with his soldiers onto the sands of the Coliseum.
The emperor asks the simple question: “What is your name?”
Maximus, streaked with blood and dirt from the battle, takes off his helmet and says: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, general of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
The crowd erupts with a deafening roar, while the emperor visibly shakes under the weight of the true identity of a man he thought was a mere slave. The emperor flees the Coliseum, only to face defeat and death later at the hands of Maximus.
All of us know from experience that names matter. Names orient us to identity and relationships. They are gateways into who we are and who other people are.
When our son and daughter-in-love were going through names for our grandchildren, I remember a couple of the names floated out there were vetoed straightaway by my wife who has taught years of 3rd grade elementary school. She’d say, “Oh, not that one. I had a rotten kid named that 8 years ago.”
I call my wife “Nette” (which is short for Lynette), and when I do in front of her mother I see Wanda flinch. And sometimes she says, “I wish you wouldn’t call her that.” I asked her one time why she doesn’t like that shorten version and she said she had a classmate in elementary school named Nette that she couldn’t stand.
So, being the kind and considerate person that I am when I found out that it bothered my mother-in-law…I say it every time I’m around her.
Names mean something.
Interestingly, at the close of every service at our church I stand down front of the gathered saints, raise my hands, and bless them in God’s name.
I’m not sure how the word “Bless” rings in your ears. I think most of the time we think of it as a polite church word. We say “Bless their heart” before speaking badly about someone. Like, “Bless his heart, he’s so lazy.” Or “Bless her heart, she just can’t say no to cake.”
I’m not sure we really understand what we are saying. To quote Inigo Montoya from the film The Princess Bride, “I do not think that means what you think it means.”
The word “Bless” in Hebrew is not a cute word or an insignificant word. It is a word of depth and power. It is a one-word distillation of the way that the living God treats us. In Hebrew it is the muscular word “Barak”. When God says He “Baraks us” He is saying that He commits His whole self to us. He looks us in the eye and knows us completely and likes what he sees. He gives himself to us. All that he has and all that he is ours.
That’s what God means when He says, “I bless you.”
And blessing is the first word and the last word that God pronounces on the cosmos and on us. If you read the beautiful poetry and prose of the first two chapters of Genesis, it pictures a Creator shaping the cosmos with imagination, intelligence, and creativity out of soupy nothingness. And as God makes one layer and stage of creation after another, he steps back and says, “It is good.” He baraks it.
Then when you flip to the back of the book that we love, just before you get to maps, you find that the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are (you)…and (you) may enter through the gates into the city.
Blessing comes when someone says, “You are my beloved child. In you I am well pleased. Everything I have is yours.”
Some time ago I asked my parents how I got the name: Joseph Oren Chambers. Here is what my parents told me:
“I was on a date with your Mom and was telling her about my dad and all the things I did with him, watching him conduct business, bargaining with ranchers on the price of the calves he was taking to a farmer to fatten out and onto the butcher (these ultimately ended up in the butcher market in his grocery store) or to the dairy farmer to make a deal on the price of milk.
“My Dad liked to walk out over the open prairie facing the sun looking at the ground for something to shine, hoping to find arrowheads. Flint reflects in the sun like a piece of glass. He took me with him and, as you know, we found many of them. We talked about them, imagining what different arrowheads were used for. After I had told your mom about my dad and what he meant to me, she said, “We will name our first son after him.”
Nine years ago I got a phone call from my oldest son and he told me that he and Ashley were going to have a baby, but not just a baby, a baby boy. Then my son said, “And Dad, we are going to name him Oren.”
I can’t tell you what that did to my soul. My Father gave me his father’s name. My son gave his son my name. I’ve been “baraked.” That is what God does in Jesus for each of us who follow Him.
God looks at us and, because we are walking with His Son, He calls each of us “Beloved.”
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’
“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:24-27)
May you grow into your name.