More than a name

Names!

One of the fun things about being a parent is the ability to name a child. But it can be a bit daunting as you begin to realise this little person is going to have to live with this name for the rest of their lives! What’s cute on the nursery wall is not necessarily ideal for the rough and tumble reality of the school yard.

In the Jewish culture of the Bible, naming a child involved more than wondering what Aunt Betty might think; names carried great significance and were often associated with a person’s character or destiny. People were often given a name for its meaning, not how it sounds.

Jacob, for example, means heel-holder or supplanter and he did both: he came out of the womb holding onto his brother’s heel, and he was perpetually conniving as he deceived others to his own advantage. God changed his name to Israel in a powerful declaration that Jacob could stop his trickery because God was going to fight for him.

The name Jesus

When it came to the naming of the Son of God, the Lord did not leave this to chance; the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son also included a naming instruction: You shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1.31-32).

The idea of having a child that would be called the Son of the Most High must have been daunting.  Although this announcement disrupted Mary’s life in significant and profound ways, God graciously removed from her the responsibility for getting the name correct.

To confirm the, the angel who spoke to Joseph about this conception from the Holy spirit also included naming instructions: She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21).

This episode with Matthew is important because it clues us in – not only to the name, but to its significance. The name Jesus is an anglicised form of the Greek Iésous (ee-ay-sooce), which is the Greek version of Joshua (Yeshua). And Yeshua comes from the Hebrew words Yahweh (God’s name, the existing one) and yasa which means to save or deliver. Thus, the name Jesus means Yahweh is Salvation. The God who is is the God who saves.

In this Awesome God series we have already looked at the episode in Exodus where God reveals his name to Moses, I am the existing the one. The great New Testament reality captured in the name of Jesus is The God who exists is the God who saves.

Now, we shouldn’t think that this link between God and salvation was foreign in the Old Testament; just the opposite. The leader who brough the people into the Promised land was Joshua, and every time someone said his name, they were saying; God saves! And from the belly of the fish Jonah’s prayer of repentance ended with this declaration: Salvation comes from the Lord - literally, salvation is of Yahweh - (Jonah 2.9).  So every time you sing, pray, or say the name Jesus, you are making a powerful statement – Yahweh, the God who is, He saves!

What is salvation?

Immediately following God’s great deliverance of people from Egypt, Mirriam declared in song, ‘The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation’ (Exodus 15:2). In Acts chapter 16 we read about a troubled jailer who asked Paul and Silas, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:30)? The answer to this question is the central message of the Bible. A concise way of stating the gospel is simply that ‘God saves sinners’.  Note the three components of this statement: God, sinners, and salvation.  God is the one who does the saving, sinners are the ones who experience salvation; salvation is thus what God does and what sinners experience.

Salvation is a rich, full, multi-faceted concept. When we discuss salvation, we refer to the entire work of God to deliver people from sin and its consequences.  Thus, salvation deal’s with the human problem: people are dead in sins, alienated from God, guilty of breaking God’s law, and morally polluted. The good news is that the salvation God provides solves all of these problems: God makes us alive, he brings us to himself, he forgives our sins and pronounces us not guilty, and heals our pollution, both pronouncing and making us righteous.  This is indeed a great salvation! (Hebrews 2:3).

The Significance of the name

But what does this beautiful salvation have to do with the name of Jesus? Very simply, it is through Jesus that we experience God’s salvation. It is because he lived the life we should have lived, died a death in our place on the cross, and was raised from the dead – it is because of his work that we can be saved.

Remember what the angel spoke to Joseph: the reason behind the name Jesus is that he will save his people from their sins. The essence of salvation is to be delivered from the consequences of our sins. To sin is to violate God's law, to do anything God says is wrong - or to not do what he commands. To be saved is to be delivered from God's righteous judgment of our sins and our sinfulness, and to be set free from the power and dominion of that sin. Jesus can save us because of who He is (the Son of God) and because of what He did (dying in our place and bearing the penalty for our sins).

Paul’s answer to the troubled jailer who asked about salvation was simply, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16.31). Believing on Jesus means to trust that what he did is sufficient to save us, and to submit to his Lordship and turn to follow.

This is why Peter makes such provocative statement in Acts 4.12: ‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’. You might wonder – why Jesus? Why not anyone else? Very simply, no one else is who He is, and no one else has done what he has done.

It’s kind of like trying to ride your bicycle to the moon; it’s not arrogant or exclusive to assert strongly that it won’t work, and that you need a rocket. Similarly, but more profoundly, it is only the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that deals with our guilt for breaking God’s law, our sinfulness, and our separation from God.

But God has determined that the name of Jesus is not just a name, it’s the name – the name above every name:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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 (Philippians 2.9-11).

Jesus has been given the name above every name. At the end, whether in sinful reluctance or in passionate praise, every knee is going to bow and every mouth will declare that Jesus is Lord. That’s how this ends.

Now, if you were an alien trying to understand human culture by watching films, it would be understandable if you did not reach the conclusion that Jesus is the best name. You might come to the conclusion that the word ‘Jesus’ is another fruity curse word with some of the others that populate the speech of films. If you happened to do research on the etymology of that name, you would perhaps be confused that people in the 21st century were cursing by using the name of a 1st century Jewish rabbi.

Why is it that the speech patterns of this age so often and freely use the name ‘Jesus’ as a curse word? Very simply, the god of this age detests that name. It’s not the name of Muhammed that’s dragged through the mud; it’s not the name of Buddha or Vishnu or Hare Krishna that is slandered. It’s Jesus.

Humans have an amazing capacity for self-destruction, and it is a sad irony that people curse the name of the one who can save them. Worse for them, they curse the name of the one to whom they will give an account; they curse the name of the one before whom they will stand. But even in the midst of the curse, every time the name of Jesus is uttered, even when he is cursed, someone is declaring in ignorance, ‘Yahweh is salvation’.

But we should not be deterred by the misuse of that name; we should not let other’s abuse keep us silent. So open your mouth and let that name - let the name - out. Praise him, worship him, extol him, pray to him, thank him. His name is light and life and hope and victory. The Lord saves, and his name is Jesus.