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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Privilege and Power of God's Name
Text:LD 36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 3rd Commandment (God's name)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,5                                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – Exodus 3; Matthew 26:57-68

Ps 5:1,3,6,8,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 36 and 37

Hy 63:1,2,8

Hy 23:1,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ Jesus, think of the name of someone you love deeply. Maybe it’s one of your children, or a dear friend, or your spouse of many years. Think of their name—even say it to yourself, in your mind, every letter and syllable.

When you say the name of a loved one, or when someone else says it, it’s probably hard not to have some good thoughts come to mind. There might be a montage of pleasant memories, warm feelings, even a sense of commitment—the conviction that you’d do anything for this person. All that, just from speaking their name and thinking about it for a moment or two.

This is because we can’t separate the person from the name. For someone whom you know and love, their name is much more than a few markings on a page or sounds in the air. Over time, as you get to know a person, their name embodies who they are. A name is not irrelevant to our being, but in a unique way it marks and identifies us.

So we also don’t like it when someone ridicules our name, shortens it crudely, or rhymes it with something offensive. That’s the kind of thing that tends to happen in primary school, and it bothers us—again, because our name stands for who we are. If you make fun of my name, you make fun of me.

This helps us to understand the third commandment of God’s law, where the LORD protects his holy name. He gives us the privilege of knowing his name, joined with the responsibility to use it rightly! For He says that we must not take his name “in vain.” The word “vain” can mean empty, to no good purpose. God forbids us from using his name in a manner that is worthless, but always in a way that honours him. I preach God’s Word on this theme,

            The 3rd commandment protects God’s holy Name:

           1) the privilege of knowing God’s name

                        2) the responsibility of using God’s name


1) the privilege of knowing God’s name: There is a lot that is warned against in these two Lord’s Days about the name of God. It mentions things that we know almost instinctively to be wrong, like blasphemy, cursing, and swearing.

The Catechism is usually limited in its adjectives, but here it describes offenses against the third commandment as “horrible sins” (Q&A 99) or “grievous” (Q&A 100). Then it doubles down with the declaration that “no sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name. That is why he commanded it to be punished with death.”

It’s all very serious, so much so that you might think it is better to avoid God’s name altogether. No sense bringing guilt onto your head by a careless word, a thoughtless prayer, or an empty oath. This is in fact how the Jews over the centuries have treated the LORD’s name—with such reverence and awe that they dared not pronounce it aloud when they read the Scriptures.

But God has given us the privilege of knowing his name. We don’t have to avoid speaking his  name—indeed, it would be very hard to! Just one of the names of God, the name Yahweh or LORD (all capital letters), occurs about 7000 times in the Old Testament. Clearly He wants to be known by his covenant people, and regarded with deep reverence and loyal affection.

God tells us his name, so that we may call on him in prayer, confess him with our words, and praise him in song. We could spend time on the many places in Scripture where God reveals his names, but today we’ll focus on just one, in Exodus 3.  

This has been called one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament. That’s because here we find an explanation of that often-repeated name LORD, or Yahweh. This is the special, covenantal name of God. God had revealed himself to his people before, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their children. But when the LORD appears to Moses in Exodus 3, something new is taking place—something great is about to happen.

To appreciate it, we should recall what comes before Exodus 3. At the beginning of this book, we’re reminded that the sons of Jacob and their families had settled in the land of Egypt, seventy persons in all. Under God’s blessing, they increased and began to fill the whole land. They increased so much that a new pharaoh, one who didn’t know about Joseph’s good work for Egypt, grew very concerned. And so he subjected God’s people to slavery.

Exodus 1 and 2 describe the cruel treatment of the Egyptians. They made the lives of the Israelites bitter with their unfair demands and excessive work. Pharaoh even began to carry out a genocide, trying to exterminate all the Israelite baby boys, lest the nation keep growing. In the midst of this suffering, God protected his people, yet the oppression remained heavy, and the people “groaned…and cried out” to God (2:23).

It is at this critical moment in Israel’s history that God comes to Moses in the burning bush. He is in Midian, far from Egypt, and working as a shepherd. Moses is very startled to see a bush in full blaze, yet the bush remaining unburned.

And Moses is certainly even more surprised to hear God Almighty speaking to him. Because since the death of the patriarch Jacob, Israel had been in Egypt for about four hundred years, and God had been silent the entire time! God hadn’t forgotten his people, but for all that time, God neither spoken nor appeared to his people.

No wonder Moses says to God in verse 13, “When I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Maybe you can relate—you meet someone at a work function or a church event, have a nice chat, and then a couple months pass, and when you see them again you’ve entirely forgotten their name. Sometimes I forget a name after less than ten seconds!

Well, after four hundred years, Moses fears that the people have forgotten who God is and what He can do. His identity has become shrouded in the fogs of time, and nearly lost from weak human memories, so they will ask, “What is his name?” What they mean is: Who is this God, really? What’s his character and purpose? They were crying out to God in their pain, but was He there? Is his name still God Almighty, the name He once revealed to Abraham?

And God would not forsake his people! Not because Israel was so lovable or because Moses was God’s favorite servant. God never abandons his people because God is God. His name is unchanging. In Exodus 3, God explains to Moses, and to the Israelites, and to us, just who He is. He tells them his name, revealing something amazing about himself: “I AM WHO I AM.” What does that mean? God says that his existence is not defined or determined by anyone other than himself. He is who is.

This is unlike us, who tend to identify ourselves by our relationships and connections, “I am a son of so-and-so,” or “I am husband to…” Or we identify ourselves by our country, “I am a Canadian (or an Australian).” Or by our occupation, “I am a carpenter. I am an engineer.” But God alone exists independently, without reference to anything else, the one being who is completely free and unchanging, “I AM WHO I AM.”

And again He says to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (v 14). I mentioned the name Yahweh earlier, and in Hebrew that name sounds similar to that phrase “I AM.” It’s a name that is probably derived from the Hebrew verb “to be.”

So his name reveals him to be the living God, the one who is eternal and unfailing. The burning bush that wasn’t consumed in Exodus 3 is actually picture of God’s own inexhaustible life. For God’s name never fails, his power never subsides, his glory is never depleted. Unlike our existence, which is always dependent on outside resources—food, drink, other people—the great “I AM” needs no one.

The beautiful consequence is that God is always able to do, and He will always do, just as He says. This is what God wants Moses and the suffering people of Israel to see, that this eternal and infinite God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The great “I AM” is the same God who once promised his covenant nation so many great things: fertile land, countless people, great wealth, and a kingly Messiah. He is the God who gave his word, and who will keep his word!

God appears at a time when it seemed his people were about to sink away forever. And like never before, the LORD reveals himself as a God who is ever-faithful, ever-powerful, and ever-present. As God says to Moses, “This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations” (v 15). This is how I am to be remembered throughout all ages!

Beloved, do you see some of the privilege that we have in knowing God’s name? We’re allowed to know the LORD, the one, true, everlasting, almighty, and holy God. We’re allowed to know God as the one who has given his precious covenant promises, as the one who keeps all his promises in Christ Jesus. We’re allowed to confess him, call upon him, and praise him in all our words and works.


2) the responsibility of using God’s name: When God reintroduced himself to the Israelites, what was He expecting them to do? Were they allowed to know his name, meet the great “I AM,” and then carry on as they did before—living in a godless country, just trying to survive another day on the bricks, and forget the God of glory once again?

Of course not! God had a purpose for his covenant people. He was going to tell them all about it in the coming months. But already in Exodus 3 we get a hint, when God says to Moses, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (v 12). The LORD wants worship from those who know him truly. It is his will that Israel becomes a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, a people who are devoted to serving the LORD their God in everything. As God says later in Deuteronomy, the LORD will be their life.

And so for us. If you know God’s holy name—if you know something about his great deeds of creation and redemption—then you have an inescapable duty to praise, exalt, and worship him! This activity gets to be our life’s purpose, with the holy God at the centre of everything we do. Think of how God is praised in Psalm 8:1, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth.”

His name is excellent, so how should we handle its glory and dignity when we speak? It’s obvious, isn’t it? The Catechism says, “only with fear and reverence” (Q&A 99). That means not cursing or blaspheming, of course. It means not speaking careless words about God or his church or the Bible to your friends, and not offering up to him the same thoughtless prayers to him at bedtime every night, and not making empty oaths.

We need to know that whenever we use God’s name, we are entering his holy presence. That’s a great privilege of course, that when we use God’s name in prayer, we come before the one who hears our prayers and who promises to answer. We can speak with the great “I AM”!

At the same time, it’s a weighty obligation, that whenever we use God’s name, we invite God to test us. For when we use his name, God wants to see: Does this person who prays every day and every night really know me as God? Will this people who often say ‘Lord, Lord’ actually do what I say? They honor me with their lips—but are their hearts really near me?

You see, the third commandment is much more than keeping OMGs out of your text messages and avoiding blasphemous movies. No, the third commandment is really about who the LORD is to us, and then giving him our full adoration. Listen to how Psalm 29:2 commands us, “Give unto the LORD the glory due to his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” For glory is due his name!

So does God’s unequalled glory fill our minds and hearts? Is God’s unfailing greatness and goodness our source of strength and hope? Is the LORD so impressive to us that He gives us our reason for living? Because we know his name, do we trust in him? Because we know God’s name, do we seek to hallow his name, like Jesus taught us in his perfect prayer?         

Indeed, it’s good to consider how Jesus our Saviour put the third commandment into practice—how He used God’s name. And we do so because of the irony that when Jesus was condemned to death, one of the charges brought against him was blasphemy.

We read in Matthew 26 about when Jesus was on trial before Caiaphas the high priest, together with the scribes and the elders. It was a desperate hour for the religious leaders, because now that they had Jesus in custody, they needed some pretext to put him to death, and the sooner the better. This was their chance, but unfortunately everyone seemed to know that Jesus had committed no offenses against God. Even when false witnesses came forward, their words weren’t credible enough to put him away.

The turning point comes when another witness testifies, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days’” (v 61). Now, this was a distortion of something Jesus had in fact said. He had spoken of destroying the temple, but He had not meant the holy temple of God in Jerusalem—He had been referring to his own body. So as an accusation, this one too, was not going to stick.

Jesus is silent, but then Caiaphas presses him. And see what he does: he puts Jesus under oath: “I put you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” (v 63). And now Jesus will speak. He had been reluctant to say anything, but this oath obligated him to speak—and of course, to speak the truth.

Jesus had once warned his followers against making an oath in a careless way—“Let your yes be yes,” He had said. But Jesus also knew that sometimes “necessity requires [an oath], in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth” (Q&A 101). Jesus, more than anyone who ever lived, held the holy name of God in high honour. His whole purpose on earth was to glorify the great name of God his Father. And so in this critical moment when He is pressed, when with an oath God is called upon to search his heart and hold him to the truth, Jesus will speak.

So Jesus replies to the high priest, “It is as you said” (v 64). That is, Jesus is the Son of God. And what’s more, Jesus says, the truth is that He will soon sit at God’s right hand and come on the clouds of heaven to judge all people.

This assertion jars with the unbelief of the high priest, so the terrible accusation flies through the air, “He has spoken blasphemy!” (v 65). And just like that, those who are gathered for the trial render judgment on Jesus: “He is deserving of death” (v 66).

If they had better memories, the religious leaders could’ve added to the evidence of alleged blasphemy. For back in John 8, during a sharp dispute with the Jews, Jesus had made another startling declaration about himself. He spoke about how He saw Abraham, so of course the Jews call him on it: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” (v 58). It’d be like if I told you that I had once seen Napoleon—you wouldn’t believe me! But in answer to the Jews’ objection, Jesus said these profound words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (v 58).

Does that phrase remind you of anything? It should. On that day it certainly reminded the Jewish leaders of something—the holy name of God, revealed in Exodus 3, “I AM WHO I AM.” This was God’s sacred name, his covenant ID, and Jesus was claiming it to himself. No wonder the Jews at that moment took up stones to throw at him. For to their minds, this was blasphemy, the worst offense against the holiness of God.

Also later at his trial, the leaders thought that Jesus was bringing dishonour to God’s name by putting himself on the same level as God. But of course, this wasn’t blasphemy or anything like it—for this was true. Jesus is the great I AM, He is the LORD, the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father.

It was a charge of blasphemy that pushed Jesus toward his death in those final days. It was a false charge, but in God’s great wisdom, the death of Christ now allows us to know the name of the LORD in a way that is even more close and intimate. We can know God as Father and his Son as our Saviour, and we can have his Holy Spirit residing within us.

That’s amazing, for the truth is that we deserve the death penalty for all our sins. Let’s make that more specific: we deserve death for how we dishonour and blaspheme God’s name. For example, we dishonour God by being known as Christians among nonbelievers—perhaps at work or at school—being known as Christians, but living in a way that conforms to the pattern of this world. We dishonour him when we sing God’s name without any zeal or love, or when we neglect worship, or when we think little of God and what He can do. For all of our blasphemy, we deserve the sentence of death.

But Christ gave himself in our place. He was charged with breaking the third commandment, so that we, the guilty ones, could be acquitted. Jesus took an oath that led directly to his death, so that we might live forever and praise his name.

It is because of his work on the cross that the name of Christ is highly exalted, glorified as the only way to redemption. Think of how Peter says of Jesus in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” His is the only name!

Or hear the words of Philippians 2. After speaking of how Jesus humbled himself, even to death on the cross, Paul says, “Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (vv 9-10).

This is the glorious name we’re allowed to know, the name of Jesus. This is the name we’re allowed to use, in prayer and worship and meditation. Even more, this is a name that we are allowed to bear on our heads and on our hearts.

Think back to your baptism. In one sense, baptism is a kind of naming ceremony, as our full name is announced in the hearing of God’s people. At the same time, baptism is much more, for we are marked out as belonging to the one true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our name and his name are joined together, united in the power of God’s covenant promise.

And again, with that comes a beautiful and serious responsibility. Will we bear God’s name with holiness? How do you carry and represent the name of God? If you’ve been baptized, will you so direct your whole life—your thoughts, words, and actions—so that you always honour and praise the name of God? This is what the excellent name of God is worthy of forever!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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