At a local chainsaw shop, I met a man in his 80s. He’d come to get his trusty Stihl repaired. He has a small mountainside spread up McClellan Creek Road. He runs a herd of 20-30 Red Angus. Black Angus are too temperamental.

He named one cow, “Wild Calf.” Fifteen years ago, she was born late -- in the wilds. When the time came to sell her, she was too small. The buyer used a cattle prod to divert her from the herd.

Her owner commented: “That shock was too much. It’s taken Wild Calf 15 years to be approachable.”

I smiled and commented: “Maybe she’s been living up to her name!”

The Bible and names

As we read the Bible, we find the meaning of a name often gives us an understanding of the person.

Wild Calf made me think of “Ishmael” -- “God hears.” An angel gave Ishmael his name before Ishmael was born. Even in the wilderness, God “heard” the cry of Ishmael’s forlorn mother, Hagar, and provided for her.

But, that kindness made less of an impact upon Ishmael than the angel’s prophecy about him: “A wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he will have conflicts with all his relatives” (Genesis 16:12). Wild Calf, Wild Ass.

Your name, my name

This Christmas/New Year's, discover what your name means. Go to https://www.behindthename.com. You will find the meaning of your name and its popularity. Check it out.

As many discover, often there is a confluence of events that lead parents to give their child a name that – for whatever reason -- is popular -- whether the parents are aware or not of the name’s fame. I was born in 1951. “Stephen” achieved its height of popularity that year. Remarkable!

Jan. 11, 1951, at Glockner Hospital, Colorado Springs, my parents, Warren and Ruby, named me Stephen David Bostrom. Later, I learned the meanings: “Stephen” (Greek - “crown”) “David” (Hebrew - “beloved”) “Bostrom” (Swedish - “bo” - “one who lives near” - “strom” – “a stream”). Before our family had a television, I was nicknamed: “TV” – for the entertainment I provided! Some called me, “Steverino.” One of my friends still calls me “Steveo.”

“Stephanos” is from “stepho” -- “to twine a garland” -- “to make a prize for public games.” Think, Olympics of old. More formally, “stephanos” was a badge of royalty, honor.

First uses of ‘Stephanos’ in the New Testament

What a shock discovering “stephanos” is first used by Matthew (27:29), Mark (15:17), and John (19:2,5) to describe soldiers twisting thorns into a “stephanos” and “putting” it upon Jesus’ head.

What kind of “putting” was that? Matthew and John use the word Luke uses in Acts 16:23 when the magistrate ordered that many blows be “laid” upon Paul and Silas. Head wounds bleed. Jesus’ bashed in bloody “stephanos” is the prelude to the horror of the cross.

How could this be? King Jesus, why choose a crown of thorns?

Let’s pause and look at Jesus’ passion -- using Lancelot Andrewes’ (1555 -1626) prayer: “I remember your obedience unto death -- even death on a cross. I remember your sweat, bloody and clotted, your soul in agony, your head crowned with thorns, bruised with rods, your eyes swimming with tears, your ears full of insults, your mouth moistened with vinegar and gall, your face dishonorably stained with spitting, your neck weighed down with the burden of the cross, your back ploughed with the welts and gashes of the scourge, your hands and feet stabbed through, your strong cry: ‘Eli, Eli,’ your heart pierced with the spear, the water and blood flowing, your body broken, your blood poured out.”

‘Jesus’ at work

Beyond this excruciating physical brutality, what took place? On the cross the Lamb of God spiritually exchanged places with -- let’s call ourselves -- Wild Ass, Wild Calf -- born wild -- outside the Garden -- prone to conflict with God and others. Jesus took the white-hot cattle prod of death we deserved and in exchange gave forgiveness and righteousness -- a new nature -- to all who will follow him. For many, Wild Calf, Wild Ass no more.

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The wounded, dying, sin-bearing, holy God upon the cross is “Jesus” -- “Yahweh Saves.” While Mary was pregnant, an angel told Joseph: “You shall call his name “Jesus” for, indeed, he will “save” his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Indeed!

When we call him Savior, we call him by his name. Let’s.

More about ‘crowns’

The New Testament gives some warnings about “crowns.” Others may seize ours (Rev 3:11). We may run the race of life hard only to find we have been competing for a “perishable” (“phthartos” -- perishing) “stephanos” (1 Cor 9:24,25). Ah, trophy careers, trophy entertainment, trophy spouses, trophy children, trophy homes, trophy retirement -- not so.

God calls us to get in the hunt for an “imperishable” (“aphthartos” -- imperishable) “stephanos” (1 Cor 9:25). Jesus opens the field for us to track crowns of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8), of life (James 1:12), and of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

Christian, these sought-after crowns are awarded -- temporarily. In heaven, John saw 24 elders fall down before Jesus – casting their crowns before him -- declaring: “You are worthy, our Lord and God…” (Rev. 4:10,11). Yielding our honors to the Source of honor -- to the One who made us worthy -- is our deepest honor!

Names

Friend, see what connections “stephanos” gives! 

Now, how does your name connect with The Story?

Regardless of our given names, one who follows “Christ” – “Messiah” -- “Anointed One” -- is called “Christian” -- “little Christ.” We are “Wild Calf” -- “Wild Ass” no more. Christian, he loves us. We love him. And so, we share in the name above all names. We ask our prayers in his name. By his Spirit, we seek to remain true to his name. And some day, Christian, in a moment of crowning intimacy, God will bestow upon you your new name known only to you (Rev. 2:17).

Steve Bostrom, a descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, and grandfather of nine, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. The Presbyterian Church in America oversees his work. To contact him, email: stevebostrom@gmail.com. If you would like access to previous columns, please go to www.stevebostrom.com.

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