Building upon my last article, let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of a personal relationship with God. Just how personal is it? Is it all on our end, or is God personally involved and acquainted with us? If we turn to John 20, we can find a glimpse of the answer.
To give the setting for the chapter, Jesus has just risen from the dead, but none of His followers expected Him to actually do that. Mary Magdalene and some other women come early to the tomb, but find the stone already rolled away (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; John 20:1). Mary leaves the other women, goes and tells Peter and John what they had found, then returned to the tomb at a slower pace than the two disciples (John 20:2-11).
She was broken, afraid, and bewildered by the events of the past week. The One they had all thought was to be the Messiah had been arrested, brutally scourged, given a mockery of a trial, then ultimately crucified and laid in a tomb. Yet some one had come and taken away His body. She couldn’t help but wonder who had done such a thing…and why they had done it. Perhaps she accused the religious leaders, thinking that they were trying to make their anguish all the more harsh.
When she finally made it back to the tomb, she was alone, the others having already left without encountering her. She stands there, observing the tomb, her thoughts running wild. Finally, she lowers her head and sobs as the grief washes over her yet again (John 20:11). Slowly, she brushes the tears away and glances into the open tomb. Whether she had previously overlooked them, or whether they had suddenly appeared, she didn’t know, but two angels were sitting there (John 20:11, 12).
For whatever reason, they do not startle her. In answer to their simple question about her tears, she responds in a choked voice that she is weeping because some one has stolen the body of her Lord (John 20:13).
Now you and me might be thinking, “come on, Mary—remember everything Jesus told you! And if that was not enough, you are talking with two angels, and that doesn’t happen every day.” Yet Mary still does not understand. She still doesn’t understand even when Jesus walks up and asks her why she weeps and whom she is looking for (John 20:15). For reasons not immediately disclosed in the text, she is unable to recognize Him as her Lord. Instead, she thinks that He is the man who tended that garden (John 20:15).
Everything had to have been a fog for her, perhaps it all seeming to be a dream. All was darkness and gloom, until a single word shattered the darkness with a brilliant light:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’”John 20:16
That was all it took, just hearing Him call her by name. As soon as that happened, she saw Him clearly, fell at His feet, and in the dear language of her people, she called Him by His title, “‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher)” (John 20:16, 17). It was just her name, but that was all it took.
Every time I read this passage of Scripture, I am amazed by how much is wrapped up in this simple exchange. I imagine Jesus said her name very tenderly, knowing the pain and sorrow she was experiencing, with the pure love only He can demonstrate. Yes, she should have expected His resurrection, and His question a few verses earlier hinted at that, but He doesn’t sharply rebuke her for her lack of faith. It was a gentle, compassionate, grace-filled voice that spoke to her that day.
Not only that, but it shows His personal involvement and concern for her life. Two different people can speak my name, and it can have very different results. If it is someone I care for, I enjoy hearing them call me in that personal way, I feel a connection with them, and I want to listen to what they have to say. However, there are others who can call me by name, and I automatically feel defensive, guarded, and unsettled. Now I do have a lot more of the first group than of the second, but you get the point. For Mary to have reacted to Jesus calling her by name the way she did, there must have been a relationship, a friendship, an involvement that was on-going (and no, I do not mean a romantic one as some of the false gospels propose).
God has really been dealing with me on this issue of His desire to be personally involved in my life, but sometimes I can be a slow learner. There are several other passages that teach this principle, so don’t think I am just making this up from my interpretation of the story. In John 10, the chapter about our Good Shepherd, Jesus says that He calls His sheep—meaning believers—by their very names (John 10:3). Not only that, but He leads the way, showing them the path they ought to take, defending them, caring for them (John 10:4). And you know why the sheep follow Him? It is “because they know his voice” (John 10:4).
We can also find this by flipping over to the Psalms. In Psalm 139:13-18, David reveals many precious truths about the Lord and His involvement in our lives. He is the One who formed us inside our mother’s womb. He knows the number of days we will live, even far before we were even conceived. His “precious” thoughts to us are so many, they are far more than the sands of the sea.
Okay, but isn’t that just poetic license? Well, look at what He said to Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,Jeremiah 1:5
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations”
To the people of God, the Lord says, “I have called you by name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). You get the picture?
Try to explain it away however you choose, but the evidence is there—Jesus knows our names because He Himself is personal, and He calls us by name because He desires a personal relationship with us. Now I admit, I often struggle with trying to maintain an on-going, dynamic relationship with Jesus, my God whom I have never seen, but it is definitely possible to do so, and it is what we ought to do. I personally know of several Christians who are incredibly in-tune with the Lord, walk with Him faithfully, and are deeply acquainted with Him on a very personal level. That is what I want for myself, and I know God wants that for all His children.
So as we wrap this up, remember who our personal God is and that He wants to build that relationship with you. It is hard, true, but it can be done. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Do we love Him enough to fight for that relationship?” I am trying to, and I pray that you will join me as you strive to draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.