Circumcision and Name of Jesus
January 1, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
But what’s so important about a name? Everyone has one. Most of us have had it since birth, which means that before you knew how to talk you knew your name. Some of you got other names when you grew older. Nicknames that identify you more than your given names, and those names probably have something to do with how you look, or something you once did, or some other characteristic that defines you as you. But generally, given names don’t mean that much. A few letters, a few syllables that distinguish you from the person sitting next to you. The post-modern trend has been to stick any random syllables together with a unique spelling, but in an attempt at claiming more diversity and individuality, these names start to all sound alike. But it was not always so. Names, especially in Scripture, mean something. They reveal something about the nature of the one who bears the name.
So what do you name a Being who is above all and through all and in all, the Creator of all that is, all-powerful, all-knowing, kind, and good. God. Although it’s more of a title than a name. In the beginning, the first man had the task of naming the creatures. Did he also assign his Maker the name God? There are many variations of the name as well—God almighty, God of hosts. Some have argued that the name God derives from the word good. But that only works in some languages; the Hebrew word for God is El. The name God, however, doesn’t reveal very much. It’s a way to describe His power and transcendence, to identify some of His attributes. But it does not tell us much about Him, about who He is. There are many gods, in fact, many who would claim some or all of your love and life. When the descendants of Noah built their tower, they wanted to make a name for themselves, which is to say they wanted to make a god for themselves. God might be a name for power and might, but it is not a name that tells you that God won’t use that power against you.
We need to know a little more about this One called God. Is He really good? Moses spoke with God on the mountain, and in their first encounter he asked for a name. Who should I say sent me? I AM WHO I AM,” God answered Moses, and He added: “Tell Israel: ‘I AM sends me to you’” (Ex 3:14). This name certainly isn’t given by man, but it’s revealed by God. It’s His own self-identification. Yahweh. I AM. He is the source of all being. Everything that is, is because He is. Not only is He Creator, but He is also source of all things. And what’s more, when He reveals this name is also telling. It’s the name He gives when He begins His gracious activity to deliver His people from their bondage in Egypt. Because of this holy Name, whenever pious Jews would come across it in reading, they would not enunciate it, but instead say Adonai, which means Lord. That convention held in the New Testament, too. Lord is the equivalent of God’s proper name.
Both of these names were often incorporated into the names of the Old Testament saints. Names that have el as part of it often say something about God—Daniel means “God is my judge;” Ezekiel means “God is my strength.” Names that have a yah in the name often say something about the Lord—Jeremiah means “appointed by the Lord.” But the name most important to the story of the name of Jesus is Joshua; pronounced Yehoshua in Hebrew. Joshua did not receive his name in any remarkable way; he was already named so when he became at first Moses’ assistant, and later his successor. Joshua’s name has significant meaning: “the Lord is Savior.” Where Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery and Egypt, he could only bring them as far as the wilderness. He gave them the Law, and for forty years they wandered and waited. But it was Joshua who led them from the Law into the Promise. After Moses, Joshua completes the salvation begun in the Exodus and delivers them into a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord saves his people through His Joshua.
After the Babylonian exile, Hebrew fell out of use except as a biblical and liturgical language. Aramaic took over, but it’s a cousin of sorts to Hebrew. Those who named their sons after the prophet who led Israel into the promised land would have shortened Yehoshua to Yeshua. Then, when Alexander the Great conquered the known world, and Greek became the ligua franca, this same name would have been pronounced Ιησους which brings us to today’s Gospel. And when eight days were fulfilled for Him to be circumcised, His name was also called Ιησους, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Lk 2:21). In English we would say, Jesus. He got the name not from His parents, but from an angel, who was sent from God, which means it is God’s self-revelation of who He is. Jesus means Yehoshua means “the Lord is Savior.” “She will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus,” said the angel Gabriel, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). No earthly salvation; He will save His people from their sins. The name of Jesus reveals just who He is—the Lord who saves His people from their sins.
Dale Carnegie once said that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest, most important sound in any language. It’s more than just a label to differentiate you from the guy or girl sitting next to you. It’s who you are. Your name was given when you were born, though perhaps it was picked out before you were born. But more important than when your parents first named you is when God first spoke your name. That happened at your Baptism. Martin, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; Katie, I baptize you in the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus—which is to say, the name shared by Father, Son, and Spirit, is joined to your name in the water. And that is simply to say, “The Lord is Martin’s Savior;” “The Lord has saved Katie from her sins.” The name of Jesus, placed on you at your Baptism and invoked again and again, reveals Jesus as your Savior.
[The Name of Jesus Is the Name of Your Salvation from Sin]
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard