A Name

As a group of men, if we’re going to take on a name together then we better get at its roots. So here’s a word for you. Boanerges. Yes, it’s spelled right. I have no idea how to pronounce it. Boanerges. It’s the nickname that Jesus gave to a pair of his first followers, and it means the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).

These two guys looked ordinary enough. Common fishermen, the usual. Hometown friends of Peter and Andrew. Brothers, the sons of Zebedee. James and John. Some of us have heard of them. They were absolute beasts of the faith, right beside Jesus in his most intimate and awesome moments. James was actually the first of the 12 apostles who was martyred (beheaded) for Christ. John wrote his famous gospel and Revelation. Stout-hearted boys deserving this stout-hearted nickname, right?

Well, it might not be so simple. There’s actually some mystery behind why Jesus dubbed them the Sons of Thunder. And it’s worth looking into before we choose it for ourselves. After all, the brothers weren’t perfect.

There are moments when they look like short-tempered hot-heads (Luke 9:51-56). Sometimes they’re singled out for what sounds like ambitious scheming (Mark 10:35-45). Over and over, Jesus rebukes them and puts them in their places. So, maybe the “Sons of Thunder” were just so prone to outbursts and ruckus-causing that the name fit.

Another idea is that Zebedee, their father, was a booming, boisterous man. Maybe the nickname was just a joking reference to their thundering Dad. Or maybe in the episode where Jesus calmed the stormy sea, these guys were the only ones in the boat unafraid of the lightning (Mark 4:35-41). Or maybe they just had earth-shaking voices like James Earl Jones. Or maybe they just really knew how to blow up a porta-john (you know what I’m saying). Boom! The “Sons of Thunder”! Who can ever know? Why should we even sweat it?

Well, what if it wasn’t an accident that Jesus gave these guys such a loaded name?

What if it represented a challenge that Jesus was inviting James and John to live into?

Here they were, men with great potential for good and great potential to fall short. Even after becoming Jesus’ closest disciples, they often went either way. Maybe this nickname was Jesus’ way to say, “You have a choice today, and every day. You can either be empowered boldly with God’s might and majesty, like the very thunder, in service of my kingdom. OR you can choose to bluster and billow and blow-up; you can choose to spew hot air and have a short fuse, and miss the whole point completely.”

To live up to being one of the “Sons of Thunder” sounds like a dare to live with passion and courage, gusto and perseverance. The kind that James and John must’ve already shown Jesus. But to do it right also seems to require Spirit-led patience, wisdom, and a connection to God’s heart.

If that’s the case, then that’s why it makes a good name. It’s not just super tough or man-like. It’s not a license to be loud and brash. It’s a calling to be lived, and lived well, only by the grace of Christ Jesus at work in us.

Every one of us, with all our potential, has a chance to choose either who Jesus sees us to be, or not. We have a name that he gives to us freely, and we must decide whether or not to answer to it, daily. So, yes, I think it’s true enough for us all to identify with the “Sons of Thunder.” It’s a battleground of a name. So, together, whoever will join us, we will be aiming to do that name right.

— Josh