When the angel visited Mary and Joseph to announce the birth of the Messiah, he gave clear instructions concerning the child’s name: “You shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). Christ has many glorious names: King, Creator, Lord, Judge, Son of God, Son of David, Master, I Am, the First and the Last, etc. But the angel commanded that a very specific name be given Him at His birth—and we may wonder at the intention behind that choice. Why “Jesus”?
The name itself was not an unusual name. In fact, it is the Hellenized version of the Old Testament name Joshua. In Hebrew, it is Yeshua, and simply translated, it means “The Lord saves.” So of all the glorious names He might have been given, the name that would mark out the incarnate Son of God would be that which describes Him as Savior. Jesus’ name communicates His purpose: “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). As Peter would later proclaim, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
While Jesus’ name and ministry invite people into grace, many do not respond to Jesus Himself with warmth. His name is precious, yet so many treat it as peripheral, or even profane. During this Christmas season, then, we ought to ask ourselves, “What does the name Jesus mean to me?”
Profaned and Peripheral
Many people have no interest in the name Jesus, except perhaps as a curse word. They have no interest in Jesus as a Savior, they have not experienced Jesus’ power to change their lives, and they may even question whether Jesus really is who He says He is—but they still find the sound of His name to be a convenient interjection when they are surprised or angry. So they choose to profane the name of the incarnate God, who came to save us from our sins.
Yet it is not only the obvious offenders who profane Jesus’ name. Many people feel some respect for the name of Jesus, but their lives are busy, and so Jesus is ultimately sidelined. After all, there are places to go, people to meet, money to be earned, bills to be paid, and children to be raised. Jesus is just one of many obligations, and certainly not their chief desire. People thus have little awareness that they need to be saved at all, and they ignore the testimony of Jesus’ own name: that He has come to save them.
Still others are lost in their desire to have an open mind. They want to be inclusive citizens who never offend their neighbors. But in the process, their open minds have closed their hearts to belief. The goal of complete inclusivity does not mesh well with the message that “there is no other name … by which we must be saved.” Such men and women prefer to keep Jesus at the margin as one of many wise teachers who can show the way to a better life. While they may think they honor Him, they deny the very meaning of Jesus’ name by denying the world’s need for His salvation.
It is not only the obvious offenders who profane Jesus’ name.
Surprisingly, even professing Christians can defile the name of Jesus with their pious routines that lack the substance of faith in the risen Lord. When people go about religious duties, calling themselves Christians, but their lives have not been changed and they have no intimate awareness of Jesus, they take His name in vain (Ex. 20:7). To be a Christian is not simply to perform the good works and religious ceremonies that the Bible prescribes. It is rather to be united to Christ by grace through faith. Consequently, it’s a great profanity to invoke the Savior’s name while at the same time denying its testimony by seeking to save oneself through good works.
“How Sweet the Name”
If you have been brought face-to-face with your sin and have come to believe that Jesus is your Savior, no name will be more precious to you than His. Though at one time you may have held Him at arm’s length, despised Him as nothing more than a profanity, or even thought that you could save yourself through good works, the name, the person, and the work of Jesus have now become dear, for you have drawn near to Him and experienced His compassion, kindness, and mercy.
For the bereaved, Jesus Christ is a comfort in times of loss. For those who have been preoccupied with themselves, lost in life, and confused about their future, Jesus opens their eyes and shows them the way. For those who have felt lost and empty because their consciences accused them of their guilt night and day, Jesus is their joy in life and the only one who can still their soul. There are myriad ways that someone may find that the name they once profaned is truly precious. These men and women can wholeheartedly agree with the hymn writer:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
And drives away our fear.1
What Does the Name of Jesus Mean to You?
Whether we have been hostile to Jesus’ name or simply ambivalent, we can recognize God at work within our hearts when we are confronted with our sin and find ourselves admitting we can’t solve the problem on our own. We can’t become better people. We can’t clear ourselves of the guilt of the past or the present. We can’t save ourselves.
If you have been brought face-to-face with your sin and have come to believe that Jesus is your Savior, no name will be more precious to you than His.
But once we are convinced that Jesus is the answer to our greatest problems, we can accept His gift of salvation in childlike faith. Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem so that He could, as Matthew tells us, “save his people from their sins,” restoring them to peace with God and giving them the promise of eternal life with Him. He did this by dying on the cross and taking the punishment of sin on His own shoulders. And now, having been raised from the dead, He sits at the Father’s right hand—an eternal testimony that He has saved those who have put their faith in Him. And someday, He will come again to make all things new.
The name given to the incarnate Son of God was significant. This Christmas, take the time to understand just how precious that name is. Put your faith in Jesus, the Savior, and rest in the assurance that you can rejoice in His name forever.
This article was adapted from the sermon “The Name of Jesus” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.
John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779).↩︎