What’s in a Name?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1–2)
Juliet expressed her love for Romeo in these words. Her point was not that she loved the name of Romeo’s family, Montague, but that his name didn’t matter, as it was Romeo whom she loved. “What’s in a name?” Of course in the heat of passion and love we don’t usually express the best theology. Juliet’s dismissal of Romeo’s name for Romeo himself is a false dichotomy. You see, we love Jesus because his name tells us both who he is and what he has done for us: “You shall call his name Jesus, for [because] he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
“What’s in a name?” What’s the meaning of the name of our Savior, Mediator, and Redeemer? Before I explain let me answer an objection you may have or that others may charge. To study the name of Jesus seems to be childish and overly simplistic at best or downright misleading at worst. You see, you might be thinking this is a waste of our time as it is so simple and plain, but that attitude is rooted in a critical attitude. From the fourteenth century’s school of thought called nominalism all the way up to today’s so-called “Postmodernism,” the Western world has been bombarded by the critical thought that words do not have an objective meaning. In a word, it doesn’t matter what Jesus’ name means, after all, we just love the Lord. Why should I spend time thinking about the name when I could be living for the person? “We need deeds not creeds,” we are told today. Yet God calls us to love him not only by our deeds and in our hearts but also with our minds. The angel revealed to Joseph and Matthew wrote this account because the name matters. C. H. Spurgeon once said:
Oh, that Name of Jesus! I could talk till midnight of its depth and meaning, its sweetness, its power; and when the twelfth hour struck, you would say to one another, “Why, it is midnight, and the Pastor is only as yet upon the threshold of his theme!” There is so much to be said about the Name of Jesus that all the tongues of men and of angels would fail to tell the half thereof. It is the joy of Heaven above; and, meanwhile, it is the solace of sorrow below. Not only is it the most majestic Name, the most instructive Name, the most truthful Name, the most powerful Name, the most sanctifying Name, but it is also the most comfortable Name that was ever sounded in this valley of weeping. (Spurgeon, Only a Prayer-Meeting, 186)
So, the Greek Iesous comes from the Hebrew Yehoshua, which means “the Lord saves.” What do we learn from this?
Jesus is Definitely the Redeemer
The first thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He is Definitely the Redeemer. This is not a name he chose for himself. We’ve seen that in our own culture. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson changed his own name to Chad Ochocinco. This is not even a name Joseph and Mary gave him. They didn’t pull out the first century equivalent to the baby name books so popular today. No, this is a name God revealed through Gabriel to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying . . . you shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:20). God told Gabriel to tell them to name their baby boy, Jesus. Why? Because this name would signify who he was: the redeemer.
And that’s no insignificant fact. God, of course, knew what he was doing. He knew that this name meant something significant. No, that being said, Yehoshua and Iesous were common first century names. So it wasn’t as if this name would have been so scandalous to Jesus’ neighbors. He had an ordinary name among an ordinary town of Nazareth. As archaeologists have revealed, Nazareth was a town with about fifty small homes located in an area of about four acres. In our terms one acre would be like a football field, so Nazareth was the size of four football fields (“Nazareth Excavation”).
But you see God gave this ordinary name to his Son but he also attributed the reality of the name to the child: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The whole history of redemption comes alive in Jesus, then. Here is the Savior promised from after the Fall of Adam, when the Lord God promised a seed to Eve who would crush the serpent’s head by bruising his own heel (Gen. 3:15). Here is the Redeemer whom the Lord promised to Abraham, saying, “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). Here is the tabernacle in the flesh (John 1:14). Here is the great sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement as well as the scapegoat (Lev. 16). Here is the prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15). Here is the warrior greater than Joshua. Here is the judge to end all judges. Here is David’s offspring to sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:14). Here is the coming son of the virgin (Isa. 7:14), the shoot from Jesse’s stem (Isa. 11:1), and the Lord who would rend the heavens and come down from Isaiah (Isa. 64:1). Shall I go on? Jesus is definitely the redeemer.
What does this mean for you? Since he definitely is the Savior, you are definitely to seek for your salvation in no one or no thing else besides him. You are to be content with him and his saving work in your life. You are to rest in him. You are to be bold and confident in bearing witness about him, because he definitely is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). You are to be ready to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15). You are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16).
Jesus Definitely Redeems
The second thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He Definitely Redeems. As the angel says, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Let me say a few things about this.
First, Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption was planned. The angel speaks prophetically from the vantage point of Joseph, “He will save.” Yet from God’s vantage point this was a plan that stretched back into eternity. In the Gospel of John we read over and over and over again Jesus’ words that he came to execute a plan that he and the Father purposed from eternity. In Jesus’ bread of life discourse he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:36), then Jesus says, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:39). Again, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer we read that the Father gave Jesus “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world . . . Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:2, 4, 6, 7, 9).
Second, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is powerful. He actually accomplished what he came to do for those whom he came for. “He will [definitely] save his people.” Paul’s “golden chain of salvation” expresses this best, when it says “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Why? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28–30). Listen also to Paul’s words about Christ’s powerful work for this church in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–27).
Third, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is personal. “He will save his people from their sins.” He did not come and die for a faceless mass or an idea of a church, but for distinct persons. Let me conclude by having you read how Jesus describes the personal relationship he has as shepherd with his sheep:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers . . . I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:1–5, 11–15).
What’s in a name? Your very salvation.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Only a Prayer-Meeting, 186.
“Nazareth Excavation Reveals Remains from Time of Jesus,” The Guardian (December 22, 2009). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2009/dec/21/israel-archaeology