"What's in a Name?"
What’s in Jesus’ name? Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Infant Jesus was eight days old, He was circumcised to fulfill the Law and He was given His name that points us to the Gospel. Remember what the angel told Joseph even before Jesus was born: “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). What’s in that name, “Jesus”? Let’s explore the name “Jesus” and how it gives us God’s holy name.
Before we look at the name “Jesus” itself, let’s figure out the importance of God’s Name. About 960 years before Jesus was born, King Solomon built the Temple for the worship of God. Until that time the people of God had only a portable tent—the Tabernacle—as a place for worship. The Tabernacle was where God chose to dwell with His people. God chose to be in that specific place to bless His people. The permanent Temple built by King Solomon was again the place where God would dwell with His people. After Solomon dedicated the Temple, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (1 Kgs. 9:3). God made the Temple a holy place by putting His Name there. Where God puts His Name, that’s where He chooses to dwell for the benefit of His people. God likes to be in specific locations to bless His people.
What does this have to do with the name “Jesus”? When God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, He was dwelling in a specific place. Remember what we heard on Christmas Day: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14). When the Son of God—the Word—took on human flesh, He was God dwelling with us. In fact, the word for dwelling is the same word for “tent” or “tabernacle” in the Old Testament. In the Person named “Jesus” God is dwelling with His people to bless them by saving them.
Now to the name “Jesus” itself. Jesus’ name is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” The name very simply means “God saves” or “God is salvation.” This tells you two things about Jesus. First, it tells you who He is. He is God. Yes, He has a common, human name, but He is also God, God in the flesh. He is God living among His people in a particular place. Second, Jesus’ name tells you what He does. He saves. He does much more than just give you some good moral teaching. He doesn’t merely give rules or principles for living. No, He saves. “He will save His people from their sins.”
When the Bible talks about Jesus’ people, it’s talking about His race of people, His community of people, His Church. Yes, it’s talking about you. Jesus saves you from your own sins. He also saves you from the sins in which you are sinned against. Today, let’s focus on the ways we sin against God’s Name.
God teaches us about His Name in the Second Commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” As you look back on the year just past, no doubt you have shattered this commandment. When troubles came, you did not pray, praise, or give thanks—certainly not all the time. Instead, you worried. You fretted. You practiced the fine art of wringing your hands. And when something good happened, or when you narrowly escaped some tragedy, such as a fender bender, perhaps you gave credit to “good luck.” Or think back on ways you failed to pray, praise, or give thanks in general. Chances are that you did not use your mouth to bring glory to God alone. All of this is your sin against the Name of God.
God also teaches us how to use His Name in the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Hallowed by Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
You and I certainly need help in keeping God’s name holy! We cannot do it by relying on ourselves. Our sinful nature does not want God’s Word taught in its truth and purity. When God shows you your sin, your sinful flesh does not want to admit it. In fact, chances are, you really don’t want to admit that you are a sinner, or that you have specific sins to confess. But that’s going against God’s Word. And when it comes to God’s forgiveness, you may want to take it for granted. “Well, I know I’m forgiven. Now tell me something else.” Yes, you and I have profaned God’s Name this past year, and, no doubt, we’ll do it again and again in this coming year.
But this morning let God’s Name be your help and your comfort. After all, our Lord was given the name “Jesus” because “He will save His people from their sins.” Here’s how the Name of Jesus cleanses you and forgives you all your sins. When Jesus was given His name, He was also circumcised. This happened so that Jesus would fulfill the whole Law for you. Even at only eight days old, Jesus is perfectly keeping God’s Law. But there’s also wonderful Gospel comfort in that circumcision. Already when Infant Jesus was only eight days old, He shed His blood for you. Jesus’ circumcision was the first time He shed His blood for the good of His people. It was the same blood that He would later shed on the cross. It is the same blood that He gives you even now in His Supper. And we know that wherever the Blood of Jesus is, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation.
And there’s more. God is very rich in His grace and forgiveness. Jesus takes His name and puts it on you in your Baptism. It’s just like being born into your earthly family. When you’re born, you are given the family name. As you grow up, you learn to wear that family name with pride and honor. That is your identity. In the same way, when you are baptized, you are born into the family of God. In Baptism, God literally puts His name on you: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s your identity as a member of the family of Christ. You are given a name. You are called “Christian.” You get to bear the heavenly family name with pride and honor, because you are saved and made alive by Jesus Himself.
This name that you receive in your Baptism also unites you with each other and with the whole Christian Church. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt. 18:20). Where God puts His Name, there He is to bless His people, His family, His Church. You see, God works the same way today as He did in Solomon’s day. He chooses specific places to dwell with His people—the font, the pulpit and the altar. Yes, in these very places, Jesus gathers you in His name and He is right here in our midst. When you hear the words of Absolution, remember that they are Jesus’ words. In a few minutes you will receive Christ’s very Body and Blood into your mouths. That’s also Jesus’ forgiveness. As Christ’s holy people, you may trust that Word of God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.
Today we begin another year in Jesus’ Name. Remember the meaning and importance of Jesus’ name for you. Yes, He is God with you, and, yes, He saves you from your sins—the sins of this past year and the sins yet to come in the new year. Amen.