What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? Shakespeare might have the answer: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – in which Juliet argues that it doesn’t matter that Romeo is named “Montague” – from a rival family. A name, in Hebrew, designated the character or function of someone. Adam gave names to all the animals indicating his authority over creation. Later on, God gave names to Abraham – “The father of many nations” and Jacob – “the holder of the heel”.

The meaning and history of “given names” is important for the simple reason that names carry weight. If you meet someone for the first time today with the same name of someone you used to know, more than likely you’ll think of the previous person from the past.

We call people all sorts of names, some of them good and some not very nice at all! Nicknames, for instance, don’t always show closeness between friends. If we’re on first name terms with someone it usually means closer intimacy, whilst formal address, Mr, Mrs, Dr, Revd and so on perhaps reflects the social setting in which we find ourselves.

We place an importance on names. Each of us has some form of Christian name, given at baptism which reinforces the link between the kingdom of God, ourselves and others. My name, for example, means “Honouring God.”

The very name “Christian” – itself was first given in the city of Antioch, where those early believers, baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity, established a church. Taking the title marks us out as followers of the Lord Jesus – the very name which the angel had given him before he was conceived (v.21) – the name above all names which means “God Saves.”

In ancient times it was important to know your god’s name. Altars to “unknown gods” (as Paul found in Athens) were an “insurance policy” against offending gods by not knowing their names. Knowing the name gave you power and helped you trust in that power. However, in OT the Lord’s name remains enigmatic. People asked, but the closest they got was “I AM who I AM” (Ex.3:14) revealed to Moses, but to pronounce even this was considered blasphemous.

However, Isaiah promised “That my people shall know my name” (52:6) and, as we’re just getting over the excitement of Christmas, remember the child in the manger has made God fully known to us, because Jesus really becomes what His name means: “Our Saviour.”

That’s what Christmas is all about. The Magi came with gifts fit for a prophet, priest and king. That’s what worship in spirit and truth is all about: celebrating the name of Jesus: “Christ the Lord…who brings great joy to all people!”

The Greek word “Christ”, that is “anointed one” or messiah was attached by the first Christians to the name of Jesus. With the effect that it doubled its strength and power. To pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to call upon God the Holy Trinity in an intimate manner – “Our Father who art in heaven” – means that we really belong to God’s family.

The Gospel reminds us in those lovely verses that Jesus had to be named and circumcised according to Jewish Law, on the eight day after birth to intimately connect Him with God’s people, but more fundamentally to affirm His relationship with the Holy One, the Most High God.

By means of the Gospel, as Paul says in Ephesians, we gentiles “have a part with the Jews in God’s blessings; we are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.” (3:6). The Priestly Blessing: “May the Lord bless you and take care of you; May the Lord be kind and gracious to you; May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace” (Num.6:24-26) – which is sung or pronounced at Christenings, is so special because using God’s name makes us part of God’s family. And the Lord says: “If my name is spoken as a blessing upon the people…I will bless them.” (Num.6:27).

We celebrate the Nativity of our Saviour because it’s all in the name: “Lord Jesus Christ – Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” I think this New Year we should make a resolution to reclaim the name of Jesus. His Name needs to be treated with a bit more respect. Too many people, and not just those outside Church, use the Lord’s name as a swear word. We need to teach people that it’s not socially acceptable to slander the name of God. Muslims don’t stand for it when their god is crudely drawn in cartoons and their prophet ridiculed, so why do we when Jesus is a name that’s dear and important to us? We need to remind people that God does not bless them for breaking His commandment: “For the Lord will punish anyone who takes His name in vain.” (Ex.20:7).

For Jehovah, “I AM who I AM, the LORD” – is not just a collection of Hebrew letters, but is specially holy: “Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name” – as it’s the name that pointed forward to the coming of Christ who gave His life for the forgiveness of sins and who from the adoration of shepherds would establish a new faith community – the Church; the new Israel.

We can be an ungrateful lot can’t we? Christ is for life, not just for Christmas! The Gospel lets us know that not everyone appreciates the greatness of God’s gift. The world does not recognise the special baby who had to grow up to become the man who preached about the Kingdom of God and who healed the sick before being executed on the cross. The world does not recognise the great triumph of Easter Day and the promise of eternal life, for as God complained through His prophet Isaiah 3,000 years ago: “All day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (52:5).

Yet the name of our God and Saviour is a powerful name:-

  • It is the name of Christ that through prayer grants us access into the very presence of God.
  • It is the name that gives us confidence to ask in prayer and to believe that we shall receive.
  • It was the name used by disciples in healing people: “Silver and gold I do not have” said Peter, “but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6).

That’s the Gospel. That’s good news!

In summary the name of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, has power over sin, sickness, the devil and death. The Bible encourages us to turn to His name and find safety. It’s a privilege to acknowledge in our lives the name of Jesus – but seriously there’s nothing more dangerous than to abuse it.

Let us keep these things in mind, as we leave this place and begin this New Year. Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

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