What’s in a Name?
About 2000 years ago, an eight-day-old baby boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, and was given the name Jesus. What makes this child or his name so special? In our world over 350,000 babies are born every day; that is over 127 million babies born in the world each year. Many of those babies are circumcised for reasons of religion or custom. Many are presented in churches and temples; they are all given names, and in Israel many are even given the name, Jesus.
Yet this one child—Jesus of Nazareth—has changed the course of history and of many individual lives. He has caused the years to be numbered from the time of his birth; BC—Before Christ, and AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. While your name or mine might not tell other people much about ourselves, the Name (or names) of Jesus tell us something very significant about his person.
William Shakespeare is known for the famous quote: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! That is not true in relation to Jesus. His name is packed with meaning and purpose; and this one referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘Rose of Sharon,’ would by any other name than those given by God, certainly NOT smell as sweet.
So what is the significance of the Name of Jesus? While many other Hebrew children were given the name Jesus, including the notorious criminal Jesus Barabbas, the name of Jesus of Nazareth was chosen, not by his parents, but by God himself. Luke writes: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived (Luke 2:21). You will remember how Matthew records the angel’s instructions: You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21).
The name ‘Jesus’ is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, ‘Joshua’ which means “The Lord Saves”. How appropriate a name for this child! Just as Joshua had been chosen to conquer the enemies of Israel and lead them into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus had now been chosen to conquer the enemies of the entire human race – sin, death and the devil – and lead his faithful people into the promised land of heaven.
It is not just his common, given name, Jesus which is significant. Matthew recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: They will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His name describes his nature. This Jesus of Nazareth would be God in human form, true God and true man, living among his people.
Luke tells of another name the angel gave for Jesus: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). This name also tells us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). This child born to us, this Son given to us is not like the 127 million other babies born each year; he is not like all the other children called Jesus or Joshua. He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).
When Jesus was born, the angels gave the shepherds another significant name for this child: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The name ‘Christ’ held great significance for the Jews. ‘Christ’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’—meaning ‘The Anointed One’—the long awaited King and Saviour of his people. The angel told Mary: The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33). Hence this Jesus is distinguished from all others by being referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’
When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians he showed how Jesus lived up to each of these names. He lived up to the name ‘Son of the Most High’ by being in very nature God (Phil 2:6). He lived up to the name ‘Immanuel—God with us’—by taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He lived up to the name ‘Jesus—The Lord saves’ when he humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8); and he lived up to the name ‘Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One’ when God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Yes, Jesus is certainly the name above all names!
What does the name of Jesus have to do with us? John tells us that when we believe in Jesus who is The Christ, the Son of God, we receive ‘life in his name’ (John 20:31). The name of Jesus saves those who trust in it because to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in the person of Jesus and everything he is for us. Early Christians developed the symbol of the fish because the first letter of each Greek word in the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour” spelt out the word ‘ichthus’ [pronounced ick-thus] the Greek word for fish. This confessed who Jesus was.
The apostles declared that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
When the Jews asked the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37, 38). When we are baptised in the name of Jesus we are given the name and nature of Christ as a personal gift for our forgiveness and eternal salvation. We are referred to as CHRISTians.
Scripture tells us that when we are baptised in the name of the ‘Son of the Most High’, we also become sons of the Most High God (Gal 3:26). The ‘Immanuel – God with us’ now becomes ‘Christ in us’’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘The Lord saves’ us by joining us to his dying and rising (Rom 6:3-5). Christ, The Messiah King gives us the power to join him, seated at his Father’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23). Such is the power of this name!
So as we enter a new year, what are we to do with the name of Jesus? Jesus’ name cops quite a bashing in today’s society. It is used commonly in cursing and swearing. Next time you hear it used that way, ask the person who says it: “Do you know who you are talking about?” You may get some interesting reactions. The name of Christ is being removed from State Schools and from prayers at all levels of government. We hear the name of Christ and the people who bear his name demeaned in the media. We Christians can even bring disgrace to the name that we bear by failing to live like ‘little Christs’ in the world or by failing to call upon the Lord’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.
God calls us to live as ‘bearers’ of his name, honouring his name, believing in it, calling upon his name in worship, praying to the Father in Jesus’ name and praising his name forever. Luther encouraged us to begin each day by making the sign of the cross and repeating the name in which we were baptised. All these things are involved in the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your Name”. We are acknowledging the holiness of all God’s names—including Jesus—and asking that we may keep them holy in speech, in life and in teaching.
So, “what’s in a name?” Let’s never forget that the name given to a Hebrew baby over 2000 years ago and engraved on our lives by baptism and faith is our most precious possession. A rose by any other name would certainly NOT smell as sweet! Amen!
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.