What’s in a name?

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Passage: Galatians 4:4-7

“What’s in a name?”

Shakespeare famously asked this question through the character of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet; the point is that just carrying a certain name doesn’t change who a person objectively is. And this is true!

But if you are familiar with the story, the family names in play—while not absolutely defining each person—nevertheless certainly had an impact on the end of the story.

Names are often means to convey information about the object or person to which they refer.

Each of my children’s names has a special meaning. “Jensen” means “God is gracious.” He was our first precious child, and we are still so thankful God brought him into our life. “Selah” means “pause for reflection” and is a musical term found in the Psalms. Again, Selah was a reminder to us of the greatness goodness of God, and that we are to think on those things often.

During the Amber’s pregnancy with Gwyneth she was in and out of St. Joe’s hospital here in Phoenix, and there in the hallway to her room was small statue of St. Mary, the patron saint of mothers and the mother of Jesus. During that time of uncertainty it gave me a lot of comfort to know that Mary had a lot of uncertainty in her own life and yet trusted her son. There was another statue at the elevators of Jesus with the words, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” So we named her Gwyneth Marie after the mother of our Lord. “Gwyneth,” means blessed and of course Marie is the French form of “Mary.”

My parents named each of their three boys carefully as well. My name, Nathan, was of course after the prophet in the Old Testament that stood up to King David when he was going around having affairs and murdering people. So that’s quite a lot to try to live up to. Plus “Nathan” literally means “Gift of God,” or “Gift from God.” Which I suppose could make a little prideful, but Amber seems to know how to keep me from thinking I’m God’s gift to the world. I think that’s one of the reasons he brought us together.

For the Jews at the time of Jesus, names were important!

Names were ways of indicating family ties, ways of remembering important events, and even ways of speaking prophetically.

So what’s the big deal about Jesus’ name? The first thing that makes Jesus’ name such a big deal is that it is commanded by God. When the Angel visits Mary he gives her the name she is to call her child. Now, like I said, names have limits to their truthfulness, when given by human beings. But this name is given by God himself, the source of all truth, so perhaps our ears should perk up a bit, especially when we consider what the name “Jesus” means.

“Jesus” is the English version of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name “Yeshua.” We would recognize it in English as “Joshua.” It means, “Yahweh saves.” Yahweh, of course being the personal name for God that God himself reveals to Moses.

So, the name commanded by God to be given to this baby, is “God saves.”

The first thing that’s important about Jesus’ name is that it’s commanded by God.

The second important thing about Jesus’ name is that it is perhaps the Gospel message in its simplest form.

Unlike names given by fallible human beings, this one is completely accurate, because it’s not only a true statement about the character of God, but it is powerfully prophetic, because Jesus is the way that God saves. In the Matthew account, the angel Gabriel also adds that Jesus will be called Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Think about what’s in that name: God saved us by becoming one of us.

We read in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians that

“…when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…”

Yeshua, Emmanuel, was born under the law at the just the right time, so that he could fulfill every single part of it. Human beings were always meant to reflect, to image, the character of God. The moral law, those things that have to do with how we relate to and act toward God and others, never lets us forget that. Our innate sense of good and evil lets us know that there’s more to life than simply living for ourselves, even when that’s all we can seem to do on our own.

The ceremonial law, the rules having to do with how the people of God were to worship him and live as a set-apart society always pointed toward the people’s need to be made whole. Every law that set Israel apart from the surrounding reminded them that God had a plan to work through them to fix the brokenness between people. Every ritual washing emphasized the need to be made clean inside and out. Every animal sacrifice was a reminder that sin always works its way out in death.

The law in all its forms communicated a lot, but could not it itself actually deal with the infection of sin in the world.

But Jesus, being God and a human being, perfectly exemplified the image of God, and being perfect, could deal with sin by offering himself in our place on our behalf on the Cross.

At the Cross—it ways we don’t fully understand—he took our sin, our sickness, our mistakes, our disobedience and distrust upon himself as one of us and definitively defeated death itself.

This is why we say in the liturgy, “Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

He did something for us we could not do for ourselves. This is Paul means when he says “God sent forth his Son…to redeem those who were under the law.”

This redemption was vindicated and proven by his Resurrection from the dead.

Because of God’s saving work in Jesus, Paul says you and I can “…receive adoption as sons [and daughters].”

Think about that. You have been adopted into God’s family. You have taken on his family name, if you will.

Paul goes on

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Without God you would be doomed to death and destruction. This is simply the natural consequence of trying live apart from the only source of life in all of existence. Without Jesus, it would make sense to be very afraid, especially if you understand the depth of your sin in relation to God’s holiness and his perfection.

But, BECAUSE of Jesus, there doesn’t have to be any fear of death, and certainly no fear of God, because now, you can with Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, approach God as your loving father. “Abba” is an intimate, familial term. It probably didn’t mean “Daddy” as is often asserted, but it had a sense of family connection. To call someone Abba Father, is to say, “my Father.”

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4–7, ESV)

You are a son or daughter of the King. An heir of God, through God. So what is your inheritance? Eternal, abundant life. Perfect communion with God, perfect communion with the saints. Imagine that world. No sickness, no pain, no strife, no death. Imagine that world.

…at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10–11, ESV)

Everyone will see the greatest truth “God saves” made manifest, made real, and made glorious.

That’s what we’re waiting with faith for. We won’t see it completely until Jesus comes again, yet, he has sent the Spirit to indwell us now. He is building up the Church into his body on Earth now. He invites us to join the worship of heaven literally right now. The work of God’s salvation has been accomplished by Jesus and is even now being applied to you and to me in the Spirit.

Imagine what it would be like for you to live as one who believes in the name of Jesus, that is you really believe that God not only wants to save you, but has saved you, is saving you, will save you from every evil.

What fears and anxieties would you be released from?

How would it change your life to approach God as Abba, your father? To know your Creator isn’t out to get you, but wants welcome you home so he can give you abundant, meaningful, eternal life? If you lived in light of the name of Jesus, what else could you cling to for your security, your hope, your guiding light through our often dark world?

Imagine if we, as the body of Christ, took our name “Christians” seriously. Christian means “little Christ.” What if we realized that God’s desire to is to bring people to Jesus through the Church? That people at are meant to look at the Church and see God saving his people and manifesting his kingdom? Would that change how we view our life together, how we treat each other and the people we serve, and even how we go about laying our lives down for the world around us?

It comes down to this,

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.”” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

This week I want you to do two things:

First, meditate on the name of Jesus, your only source of life, light, and salvation. One easy way to do this that has become an important part of my own practice is to say the Jesus prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Make it a point to recognize how almost every Christian prayer ends “In the name of Jesus.” This New Year, make your overarching goal to know think on Jesus more, worship Jesus more fully, and have deeper communion with Jesus.

Second, share the Name of Jesus with someone this week. Pray for opportunity and pray for God to lay specific person on your heart. This can be a simple as a praise in conversation (“I’m so grateful for the life I have in Jesus”) or a word of encouragement (“I know because of Jesus that God is with you this difficult time”) or as in-depth as is appropriate. But remember you have also been given by the grace of God a name and an inheritance in Jesus Christ, and it is meant to be shared with whole world. AMEN.