What’s in a Name?
December 11, 2016
When it comes to naming children, different people approach it differently. Being raised Jewish, I am named after my mom’s dad who had died. Jewish people don’t name their children after someone who is alive. And you use the first letter of their name to choose your child’s name. My grandfather’s name was Mayer. His name started with an M, so my name would start with an M. My Hebrew name was Mayer, for my grandfather.
When Debbie and I chose names for our children, we looked at baby names, but we chose names which had meaning for us.
Some parents read baby name books and choose a name based on meaning.
Others choose names because they sound good together.
Some choose a name because that person was famous.
Others choose names which make no logical sense, you’ve heard a few of them.
I heard a story (though I don’t know if it’s really true; it may be an urban legend) about a couple who’s child was named “Phemalley” [note: the spelling here is insignificant, but the pronunciation is crucial; pronounce it with the emphasis on the MAL syllable.]
The couple was asked how they chose such an unusual name. The mother said, “We didn’t name her. The nurses at the hospital did. When they brought her to me the first time, her name was on a little wrist band — Phemalley Jones. We decided we liked the name, and we kept it.”
The person then asked, “So, how do you spell Phemalley?”
The mother said, “Just like it sounds: F- E- M- A- L- E.”
When you read the Bible, there is a great deal of significance given to people’s names. Many times, when someone’s name is mentioned, the writer says what the name means, or uses the meaning of the name in a sentence that describes why that name was given. For example…
[Eve] gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel…” (Genesis 4:25) The word “Seth” means “granted.” It was common for a child to be given a name that had a contextual significance.
When Rebekah gave birth to twins, one was hairy, and the other came out of the womb grasping his brother’s heel. So she named them “Esau”, which means “hairy”, and “Jacob”, which means “he grabs the heel.”
Oftentimes children lived up to their names.
For example, the name Jacob — he grabs the heel — was a Hebrew idiom for “he deceives.” Later, when Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, Esau said…
Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times. He took my birthright and now he’s taken my blessing! (Genesis 27:35)
Later in Jacob’s life, after spending years running from God and wrestling with God, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. Israel means, “Struggles with God.”
We see this in the New Testament as well, when Jesus told Simon, whose name means “He who hears” was changed to Peter, which means “rock.”
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
Names have significance, and people often live up to the meaning of their name.
In the first chapter of Matthew, three names are attributed to the child of Mary and Joseph. His names were not chosen at random; they each have a special meaning. They are crucial in understanding who Jesus is and what His life means to us today. In part, these names define our relationship with Jesus, and His relationship to us.
Let’s look at each one. He is our leader.
Matthew refers to Him as Christ ~
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
What does “Christ” mean?
Actually, it’s not a name as much as it is a title. We hear people named Jesus, but we don’t hear people named Christ! Christ in Greek is Christos, which means anointed. It has the same exact meaning as the Hebrews word for Messiah, which also means God’s anointed one.
In the Old Testament the word Messiah was used primarily for kings and priests — those whom God has anointed for a special task. In Judaism the word also was applied to the coming king whom God would send into the world to redeem the people of Israel.
That’s who Jesus is. He is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one.
Let’s take a look at the word anointed for just a minute. In the Old Testament, anointing was used for induction into positions of leadership. Samuel, the prophet, anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. Later, Samuel also anointed David to be king. It was a religious ritual of great significance: it was a public proclamation that this man is set aside for God’s service. He was to follow God’s plan and call.
I’m using the word leader because I want to keep this on the most personal level possible. He is our ruler, our King, our boss…our Lord. God anointed Jesus to protect us and to lead us through our day-to-day life.
Israel’s idea of the Messiah was a deliverer/ruler/protector/priest. They thought he would come and deliver them from Roman oppression, that he would rule or govern them with righteousness and justice, and he would lead them into peace and prosperity. He would lead them to a renewed relationship and worship of God.
This is what Jesus came to do, though he didn’t do it the way they expected him to. He established a kingdom, but it’s a spiritual kingdom, not a political kingdom. Being part of this kingdom isn’t determined by where you live or what your nationality is. You see, for the Jews, the Messiah was only coming for them. He was exclusive and inclusive. No outsiders allowed.
This is part of the reason why it was difficult for some of the early church leaders to grasp the fact that God was opening the kingdom to the non-Jews, or the Gentiles. Entrance into this kingdom is determined by your heart, and whether or not you’ve given it to Jesus, the Christ. He came to be your leader, your ruler, your king, your deliver, your protector, your Lord.
That’s why we say Christ is the head of the church. He is our leader, and we look to Him — NOT John Wesley, or John Calvin, or John the Baptist or the Apostle John or Michael Deutsch. We look to Christ for our ultimate leadership . . . because He is our leader.
He wants to guide you — to lead you through your daily life. He wants to lead you through the decisions you make. He has given us ways in which we are to live our lives. He has established laws, as a King establishes laws, and they are for our benefit. His laws are not designed to hold us back. They’re designed to move us forward, to draw us closer to Him, to protect us, and lead us into peace / prosperity.
The name Christ tells us that Jesus is God’s anointed ruler, and He wants to rule in our hearts; to be our leader, our Lord.
2. He is our savior.
We also read in Matthew 1:21, the angel said to Joseph…
21 Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will SAVE His people from their sins. – Matthew 1:21
The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua (or Yeshua) and it means “The Lord Saves.” According to Jesus, He came into the world for one reason:
For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost. – Luke 19:10
He came to be our savior; He came to save us from our sins.
There are two ways He does this.
Jesus forgives us of our sins. Each one of us has sinned. We’ve built up a long list of sins, offenses against God. We’re not talking about sins against people, because any sin you commit against a person, is a sin against God. If we were to stand before God and try to get into heaven on our own merits, we would never make it. We would never know how many good deeds is enough. How much do we have to do to make up for the last and the next ugly sin? Whether they’re those “big” sins or “little” sins is beside the point. Either way, they’ve piled up against us.
Think of it this way. There are some people who drive like maniacs, and have no business being on the road. They drive when they’ve been drinking, while texting, while putting on their lipstick, while disciplining the kids in the back seat, while hunting through the glove compartment for a CD, while they read a map, they drive without insurance, and on and on.
Then there are other people who approach the task of driving more responsibly. They don’t speed or let themselves be distracted when they’re behind the wheel. They don’t panic and slam on the brakes when they see a police car. That’s because they’re excellent drivers. If you fall into this category, I applaud you.
But let’s imagine for a moment that the only way you could renew your driver’s license was to have a perfect driving history. I don’t mean that you haven’t been caught bending a traffic rule, I mean you’ve never actually bent one. Imagine that when you went to the Department of Motor Vehicles, they had an all-knowing computer that could determine with absolute accuracy — whether or not you ever made an illegal U-turn, went 1 mile per hour over the speed limit, rolled through a stop sign and so on. If that computer existed, and those were the conditions, how confident would you feel in your ability to renew your license? Would anyone here make it? Anyone – – – besides me? Looks like no one.
That’s the way it is with the sin in our life. Even if you’re an excellent driver, you’re still not good enough to meet the standard of perfection; you’ll never make it on your own merits.
That’s why Jesus came into the world. He came to forgive our sins. This means He takes them off our record; He wipes our slate clean – – – and He takes on our sinfulness Himself.
We read ~
17 … in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. — Isaiah 38:17
25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. — Isaiah 43:25
19 He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:19
Jesus came into the world to forgive our sins. But that’s not all. He not only forgives our sins, but also…
He delivers us from our sins. When John the Baptist first saw Jesus approach him, as Jesus was coming to John to be baptized, John proclaimed…
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” – John 1:29
Jesus not only wants to forgive your sin, he wants to take it out of your life. He not only wipes your driving record clean; He teaches you how to drive.
Sin presents a dual problem in our lives. On the one hand, it separates us from God. And secondly, it destroys our lives. Jesus solves both problems. He forgives us of our sins, and He delivers us from our sins.
Imagine a person drowning in the middle of the ocean, and someone comes along and throws him a life-preserver. He’s no longer at risk of drowning, but all he can do is float in the middle of the ocean, hanging on to that life preserver. He’s no longer at risk of drowning, but he’s still powerless over the water.
If all Jesus did was forgive us of our sins, it would be like he threw us a life preserver to keep us from drowning, but never helped us get back to the land.
When Jesus came to save us from our sins, He came to do both. He forgives us and He empowers us to live a holy life, with victory over sin.
You know how it feels to be powerless over sin. You know there are some sins you struggle with that are stronger than you are. But, they’re not stronger than God. He has the power to help you overcome sin. The Bible says…
The one who is in you [Christ] is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
Jesus came in to the world to be our savior–to save us from our sins. That means – – Jesus takes away the penalty of sin, He takes away the power of sin, and He takes away the presence of sin. He is our Savior.
Lastly, Matthew tells us – – – 3. He is our companion.
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him “IMMANUEL” — which means, “GOD WITH US.” – Matthew 1:23
Understand this – – – God is not a distant God. He’s not a God that we view from a distance, or that we serve in obscurity. He can be known; He can be experienced on a personal level.
It’s like the hymn – – “In the Garden,” the chorus says,
And he walks with me, and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own.
That’s a great thought to picture our God as One who is willing to walk with us and talk with us and simply be with us. Too many Christians have a distant view of God. They picture God as being very impersonal. They don’t experience the power, beauty and strength of being in His presence. We do serve a God who walks with us, and talks with us.
Jesus came into the world to be God with us, Immanuel. In His earthly life He was God with us. And today, two thousand years later, He is still God with us, because He lives in our hearts. And I don’t mean this in a symbolic sense. I mean it in the most literal sense possible. Jesus Christ comes to live with us. Where you are, He is. He is your companion. He is always with you.
There was a story about a bishop named, Lajos Ordass of the Hungarian Lutheran Church, who was held in solitary confinement for more than 6 years. His captors tired to break his resistance by depriving him of contact with anyone. After he was finally released, he said, “They thought I was alone in my cell. They were wrong. The risen Christ was present in that room. He was with me.”
That’s Jesus ~ God with us.