and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Luke 2:21 +INPFSS+
Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. A Name rich with particular meaning and intimacy and power. But in order to talk about this name, in order to really understand it, we need to go way back into the depths of the history of God’s people.
So, I invite you to travel back in time with me this morning.
In your mind I want you to go back with me, 3500 years or so. To the time of Moses, around 1500 BC. Moses has fled the Egypt in which he grew up, and is living in the desert, where God is preparing him to go and set the Israelites free from their slavery under the Pharoahs.
One day Moses is out and about, and he sees this bush that’s on fire, but somehow not on fire, since it’s not burning, and it freaks Moses out, as it would, right? And Moses says to himself – one imagines accidentally outloud, in his confusion, “what is this?” And approaches the strange bush, from which all of a sudden a voice comes -- the voice of an Angel, speaking as a mouthpiece for God, and introduces himself – in the burning bush is the presence of the God whom Abraham and Isaac, Moses' ancestors 500 years before, had worshipped. The one true God, who made the heavens and the earth.
And after introducing himself, God explains to Moses that he wants to set his oppressed people free, and he wants Moses to be the human leader of this great project, and Moses hems and haws a little, and asks God what his name is, to prove to the Israelites that it really is Abraham’s God who has come to help them.
And God replies to Moses, “eh yeh esher eh yeh” (or in English, I am who I am), and he then says, he says, “eh yeh sent you” – I AM sent you, and then in the very next verse, Exodus 3:15, God reveals his name. He says -- ‘YeH-WeH the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’ do you hear the sequence of sounds? And the name He gives – Yeh-weh, or yahweh, clearly derives from his introduction of himself. Can you hear the similariry? Eh yeh → YHWH. God shows that the meaning of his name – the meaning of YHWH is that he is the God who IS – I AM who I AM – God connects his eternal existence, as the one who always has been, and who is, and who always will be, with the giving of his own name to Moses.
And so, for the first time in History, God has revealed his name to mankind.
It’s almost like Shakespeare writing himself in as a character to one of his plays. Like in the middle of the play ‘hamlet’ a character walks into the scene, and says to Hamlet, “hello, Hamlet, I am Shakespeare, and I wrote you and this whole play”.
It's God, stepping down into the created order, revealing himself. Which is the only way we can know him right, when he reveals himself. We could never have guessed God’s name by ourselves. We needed him to tell us. And he did.
As a little historical aside: In the1600s A.D., the translators of the King James Bible – their Hebrew wasn’t that great, and so they translated the word YHWH as Jehovah. Long story how they got that exact word, but that’s how they rendered it. So some times you’ll hear the name YHWH pronounced Jehovah, but it’s just an Elizabethan attempt at understanding the Hebrew.
So, God has revealed his name. The offspring of Abraham now had a name by which they could call on their God. No longer calling him just ‘God’, but YHWH.
In giving the Israelites his name, God invites them into a deeper relationship with himself.
It is in fact what you do if you want to be known more by someone, right? You tell them your name. You give them the ability to call on you, and to know who you are as a distinct person, and this is exactly what God did.
But of course, unlike our names: Ben, and Joe, and Lincoln -- the name of God is inherently a holy name. A name, which, according to the third commandment that YHWH himself gave to Moses on Mount Sinai – is a name which should not be taken in vain.
And so, as a proper response, when the Jews received the name of God, they received it with reverence. And wanted to be careful with it.
So, they created a handful of conventions actually to avoid saying the name of God all together, so as to avoid even the possibility of taking it in vain.
Would that we Christians had such a reverence for our maker! We who so flippantly throw out, “Oh My God!” whenever we are surprised.
The Jews put us to shame on this one.
Now, One convention they had was, any time they wanted to say, YHWH, or anywhere in the scriptures that Moses wrote the name of God, when the Jews saw the word on the page, “YHWH”, they would say, “the Lord”, as a sort of code.
Sort of like, how if you saw the letters U.S.A. on a page, and you were reading out loud, you might say, “America”, instead of “USA”.
So that was one thing they did, to reverence the Holy name, and this tradition lives on to this day – when you read the old testament, any time you see the word “LORD” in Small-caps, it’s a code – the Hebrew word in the text isn’t Adonai the word we translate “Lord” as in “Master”, it’s the name YHWH. But out of reverence, the code is printed, all-caps: “Lord”
Another convention they had was using just the first half of God’s name. Saying just “Yah” instead of the fuller “Yahweh”. Again, a way to nod to the full, holy, name of God, but without actually saying the whole name.
Now at this point, you may be thinking, well, this is a very nice history lesson, but what does it have to do with the name of Jesus? We're getting there. Stick with me.
I want you to think about what times were like back then. Life was materially much simpler for most folk: plain houses, plain clothes and plain food. Life revolved around families and birth and staying alive.
And the name you were given in life was a big deal. The meanings of names were VERY important. You never named a kid ‘apple’ or some silly thing like the celebrities are doing these days.
The name you gave to the child was often a prophetic insight into the life that child would have.
So, you want to give your child a good name, something that will set them up well.
And if you really want to bless your child, you bestow on them the name of the God that you serve. The heathen nations around Israel did this, and Israel did it too. But because they reverenced the name of God so much, it seemed irreverant to put the name YHWH into a person's name. It would perhaps violate the third commandment. SO, what they did was, take the shorter, version, just the “YAH” bit, and used that in their names.
And so we see this word-root yah in all kinds of names in the Old Testament. It can be a little hard to see in English, but in the Hebrew it's crystal clear. For instance.
- John, in hebrew is Yah-hanan – Hanan means 'gracious', and so the name John means: YAH is gracious, meaning: YaHWeH is gracious.
- Elijah, Eli-YAH. Is Hebrew for My God – Eli – My God is Yah = my God is YHWH.
The name of God, is present in so many of the names of the great people of God. To give one further example, which comes to bear heavily on our feast this morning:
After Moses had led the people out of Egypt, and through the wilderness, and had brought them to the edge of the land of Canaan - the Land God promised to be theirs – he appointed a successor.
A man who was pure in heart and a mighty warrior, who would lead the people into the promised paradise, conquer all the evil forces, and grant peace to God’s people. He was the son of a man named Nun, and his name was…Joshua, well at least, that's the English pronunciation of the name: Yeshua. YAH—shua. 'Shua' means 'saves', so Yeshua means: YHWH saves. Ok, so that's the last piece of necessary backdrop today,
Ok, so, now fast-forward on this time-travel journey we're on 1500 years, to the reign of Caesar Augustus, some time a little before the year 1. B.C.
And now think of the holy family we have been hearing and thinking a lot about in this Christmas-tide. Joseph, and Mary, and her little baby boy, placed in a manger.
Now, 8 days after being born, Mary and Joseph, in obedience to the Law of Moses, circumcised their child as a Jew, and in the midst of that act of making him a member of God’s chosen people, they were to give him his name.
And they didn’t have to flip through a baby-name book, because the Angel that had appeared individually to both Mary and to Joseph had said very clearly what the name of the child shall be: His name shall be Jesus.
But actually, the name as we know it – “Jesus” – would have sounded a bit different back then. The sound has shifted through the various centuries and languages through which it has come down to us. A few Hundred years ago, “Jesus” was pronounced “Iesu” and a few hundred years before that, going back to the time of Mary and Joseph, it would have been pronounced yeshua.
The same name as had been given to the one who led the Israelites into the promised Land 1450 years prior.
So, Did you know that there was a man called Jesus, before Jesus was called Jesus? Yeshua son of Nun. The conquerer of Canaan.
And this is no accident in God’s mighty outworking of his saving plan.
Because when we name a child, we think of who carried that name before, don’t we?
These days, if a parent named their child ‘tiger woods’, there's no secret about what they hope he will grow up to be.
Just so with the son of the blessed virgin Mary, for her, as for any Jew of her time, the name “Yeshua” was synonymous from the Old Testament with conquering evil, and providing a peaceful home for God’s people.
So, when the Angel Gabriel announces to her and to Joseph that the miracle-baby that she was carrying was to be named “Yeshua”, they knew that this was the right name for the man who would accomplish all that the Angel had foretold.
And So, 8 days after he was born, Jesus was given his name.
The name of a hero. The name of the chosen Messiah.
And the name that says it all – YHWH – SHUA – The God of Abraham and Moses, is the Savior!
And how many layers of meaning there are in this name when it comes to the son of Mary! It communicates so much to us about who Jesus is:
It tells us that he is going to be the Savior of the World, it tells us that he is the living incarnation of YHWH himself, which he would later prove when he stilled waves and forgave sins. It tells us in miniature all that the man Jesus would do and be.
And it completes the picture. It shows us that the Old Testament only revealed the first half of the name of God – YAH – the full name is only seen in Jesus: YAH-SHUA.
In the OT we learn that God IS, but in Jesus we learn that God SAVES.
And together, in the person of Jesus Christ, we learn that he IS the one who SAVES.
The full picture of God as both creator and redeemer, can only be seen in the face of Jesus.
And this is a very long way of introducing the singular focus of the sermon this morning:
The Holy name of Jesus, which we remember the giving of today, 8 days after Christmas.
Having spent all this time getting here, I wish to now offer three very brief reflections on this great name.
The first is the scandalous particularity of it. God is not an abstract. God is not an idea that we can name however we want to. God is not a mysterious mist. We know him and we know his name: Jesus.
These days it is still, even in our sometimes anti-Christian culture, very easy to talk about “God”. To talk of “God” does not scandalize people. Most people recognize that there is some sort of “divinity” or “deity”. What drives people crazy is the name of Jesus.
His name alone introduces the truth about him – that he is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, and that in him alone can eternal life be found.
So in your speaking and your listening in the world, remember:
The Gospel is only proclaimed, where Jesus is named.
The Gospel is only proclaimed, where Jesus is named.
It’s his holy name alone that brings us into the real arena of our own souls and of our salvation. “God-talk” without his name, is just abstraction.
The name is scandalously particular. That’s the first thought.
The second is how intimate it is – we know God’s name. How personal! How wonderful! When we call on God, we know who we are talking too. We know that in his Son he is a man, and in the face of that man, we see God the father.
The name of ‘Jesus’ then should be something that we treasure. It should taste sweet on the lips to say. If it doesn’t taste sweet, it’s because we’re not straight with him, because we haven’t truly known his mercies in repenting. But to those who have repented of their sins, and turned to him, his name is the most precious word we could ever hear or say.
It's particular. And it's intimate. And the last thought I wish to offer on the Holy Name of our savior, is the power that is associated with it.
Since Jesus himself has been given all authority on heaven and earth, his name is now the most powerful name in the cosmos. It is only by the power of the name of Jesus that demons and darkness can be cast away, since only he has power over them.
But even more than this – and here recall the event in the Gospels when the disciples were expressing their astonishment that even the demons obeyed the authority Jesus had given them – Jesus tells them not to marvel at this, but instead to rejoice that their names are in the book of life.
Just so for us – Far more wonderful than the power Jesus' name has over evil, far more wonderful is the Good it brings us into. The access it gives us to God the Father himself. To illustrate what I mean, I want to read you this anecdote from a wonderful book on prayer by a man named Paul Miller, and with this I'll close:
“Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odor, stumbling toward the palace of the great king. You have become your prayer. As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen. Your smell has preceded you. You stammer out a message for the great king: “I want to see the King” Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, “Jesus. I come in the name of Jesus.” At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive. The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you. Lights come on, and the door flies open. You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms.” (Miller, Praying Life (2009), 135)
THAT'S the power of the name of Jesus.