January 3, 2021
The Name of Jesus
Let us pray.
The Name that comforteth in woe, The Name of Jesus healing sin, The Name that curbs the powers below And drives away the death within. …
Lord, may Thy Name supply our needs, And keep us all from danger free, And make us perfect in good deeds, That we may lose our sins by Thee.
O Jesus, of the Virgin born, Immortal honor be to Thee; Praise to the Father infinite, And Holy Ghost eternally. Amen. (From Exultet cor praecordiis for evening prayer, BPB p. 411)
Amen. God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
William Shakespeare famously wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s true. If you call a rose by another name, like a “nail,” you haven’t changed what it is. It will still smell sweet, but it doesn’t mean that nails smell sweet.
There are better and worse ways to use words. Some ways convey knowledge, wisdom, humor, or beauty (like Shakespeare), and others create confusion. To speak is to act: to do something with or for others. Speech connects us.
Your spoken or written name connects you to your past and to other people. An old name may be like a history of yourself. A new name may mean a break with the past, a different future. This meaning in language and our names is a gift of God, who also uses them. He has a name, too.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Two Approaches to God
There are two approaches to God. Many don’t even care to think about God, and don’t try to approach Him as long as their earthly lives keep them preoccupied. But at some point each of us must approach Him. Best when that happens before the Last Day.
The first approach to God is the natural one. God created it when He made Adam and Eve, blessing them with privileges, powers, and responsibilities as the crown of His creation. They stood before His face in their glorious innocence. They served Him freely and gladly, possessing dominion in all the earth. They were in God’s presence.
This natural approach to God still exists, but since the Fall into sin, we cannot take it. We can’t find it, can’t bear the responsibilities, the privileges, and powers. Instead of serving our Creator, mankind now bows before the creature and even the witless forms of Creation.
People still try approaching God this way. They sometimes imagine they can. The thunder of God’s law upon our consciences shows us that the way is closed, like the approach to Eden past the flaming sword of the cherubim. In reaching for the forbidden fruit, mankind declared himself to be outside the structure of authority that God created, outside His works, and opposed to His name. Creation provides no other way for us to approach Him.
The second way to approach God must begin with Him. Where Creation can’t help us naturally, God must act instead. The second way begins with God revealing Himself to us. Without that, there are still things we know about Him as part of the natural created order. But natural knowledge is not enough for us to approach God. On the other hand, when God reveals Himself anew, it’s like a new act of Creation. He reveals a new way for us to know Him. He reveals His name in a new way.
Jesus’ Name and Natures
The name of Jesus was given to Him at one week of age, when He was attached by circumcision to the covenant God made with Abraham. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and thoroughly human. But especially in this season we remember that He’s much more than human. He’s divine.
The Gospel before us represents something at the very center of the whole Bible: the person of Jesus Christ. Of whom? Of Jesus, the Christ. We know who He is from the narrative of the Bible and the teaching of faithful Christians. But the name that wraps this up in a package came directly from God. With its connection to the entire Bible from beginning to end, that divine name, Jesus, summarizes the only way we can possibly approach God. This name is precious.
God invests a lot in a name. The generic word for God in the Old Testament hints that He’s one being, but somehow more than one. The name He gave to Moses in connection with keeping His promises to Abraham and Jacob, and with delivering Israel from slavery: that name expresses that He is the only God who actually exists. The word “Lord” expresses authority, but the name “Jesus” means what the angel said to Joseph in that dream. “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) Giving this name may have been one of the most meaningful responsibilities in Joseph’s life.
The Meaning of the Name
Like many Old Testament names, the name Yehoshua, Yeshua, or Jesus tells a story. It connects the name of God spoken to Moses at the burning bush to the act of salvation. “Yahweh is the Savior” would be one way to understand what it means.
Scholars identify up to five people before Christ with that name. One was Joshua the son of Nun, the faithful helper of Moses who survived from slavery in Egypt until he led the conquest of Canaan. Moses renamed him Yehoshua, based closely on his original name Hoshea. Another with that name was a priest when the Jewish people returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Those men are both historical pictures of Mary’s Son, who is a new Savior of Israel leading God’s people to our eternal homeland, and the everlasting high priest whose sacrifice has made permanent atonement for the whole world. Our way of saying His name, Jesus, comes to us through the Greek version, Iesous. That’s the name we know as “Jesus.” We could think of Jesus’ name not only as a confession of faith (Yahweh is the Savior), but even as a description of his person (Yahweh, the Savior).
The Effect of Having the Name
By His name God reveals himself and makes himself accessible and approachable. Without His name, we’d be like the heathen gentile world that ignores the revelation of God’s Word. Sinners like us who lack God’s name and word are limited to the first approach to God: knowledge that comes from Creation and conscience (Rom. 1 & 2, Ps. 19). God still holds them accountable for sin, but they don’t know the one to whom they owe their obedience. They must live in constant fear or denial. We join their number when we use the name of God thoughtlessly, or worse: in profanity. This denies its meaning and puts us in jeopardy. Knowing God’s name comes with responsibility for its correct use.
God’s name goes beyond the one given to our Lord on His 8th day. The name Jesus includes the name Yahweh, who spoke to Moses face to face. By this name He made a covenant with Israel that promised them salvation and required only faithfulness. They broke the covenant time after time, but God continued in His faithfulness. Through Isaiah He said, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.” (48:9) For His name’s sake, He has mercy on those who repent of misusing that same name.
God’s name is a bond. It means what He says in His Word, especially His commitments or promises. Where He hasn’t given His name, He owes us nothing. But under His name, the fulfillment of His promises is more sure and certain than our sight, hearing, or any scientific observation.
Now consider that Jesus commanded His Church to baptize individuals in the name of God that expresses most completely His mighty works of creation and salvation: the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. By your baptism, His name is attached to you. On the other end of that is His promise: divine favor; eternal life. This is personal certainty on a level unequalled by anything else. It’s more powerful than death, than any earthly power or disease.
But the command and promise of Baptism was given by Jesus, so the name Jesus is also bound to you in Baptism. It becomes your confession: Yahweh is Savior.
The Humanity of Jesus
The name Jesus is distinct from the other names we have for God because it communicates His humanity especially well. He’s like Joshua who helped bring the children of Israel from slavery into their new homeland, and like Joshua the high priest who helped reestablish the freedom of those who had been held captive.
So Jesus is also the one able to deliver gentiles like us from slavery to sin and unbelief, and to restore the freedom that was lost every time our forefathers turned away from God’s Word. His very name reminds us not to trust in our own strength, for our Savior is Yahweh. Jesus is how we know Him.
When we trust our own strength, we may be reverting to the first approach to God. It depends what we’re trying to do. If the thing is purely of this world, like brushing your teeth, crossing the street, or reading a book, our own reason and strength is perfectly able to do it. But if it involves pleasing God, believing in Him, or coming to Him, the truth is in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” But this doesn’t stop us from sinning.
You can try to watch your own mouth, but you still hurt others by what you say. You can try to show kindness and respect to others, but eventually your manners betray you. You can try to be perfectly obedient, but you will soon cross the line. You already know what I mean. Your efforts to be good are doomed when you rely on yourself. The same goes for trust in God. Someone may say, “Everything will turn out okay if you only believe!” But your reason and strength can’t even do that. It’s too much for any sinner.
But the writer to the Hebrews connects the name of Jesus to this, too. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15).
The name of Jesus as the Son of Mary and our brother is assurance that where we fail to approach God by our own reason or strength, He understands and has opened the way for all of humanity. By rising from the grave, He has begun a resurrection that must include us as well. This is all possible because of what the name means: He is Yahweh, our Savior. True God, True man.
The Name of our Salvation
The blood of Jesus with His precious body is the “new and living way” for mankind to approach God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). This is what Christians do week to week as we meet in Jesus’ name to receive the holy Supper of our Lord.
The name of Jesus is your access to God through His mercy. It’s the name of God’s grace, so it’s also the name that can give you confidence before God to take joy in living, and boldness to act in love toward others as God has acted in love toward you.
The name of Jesus means forgiveness and life: for you, both now and eternally. This is the name of our salvation.
In the name of Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria