The Name of Jesus - January 1, 2017
Luke 2:21 New Year’s Day 2017
He Was Named Jesus
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Dear friends in Christ,
In his famous play, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” With that line Shakespeare implied that a name doesn’t really affect who a person is or what that person does. In many instances that is true. Parents can name their new baby “John” or they can name him “Caleb” or they can name him “William.” But the name they choose for their child probably won’t affect his character very much. He will be the same person with whatever name he is given.
While names don’t often affect who people are, names do often describe who people are, what they are like, or what they do. Maybe we don’t think of names in this way so much in our day and age. But in years gone by, the son of Jack was named “Jackson.” The son of John was named “Johnson”. The man in the village who built barrels was named “Cooper.” The man who worked with metal was named “Smith.” The infant whose mother had a hard time delivering her might be named “Mary” or “Myriam” because these names mean bitter or rebellious.
In his Christmas Gospel, Luke makes sure to include a sentence about the naming of Jesus. At first we might be tempted to skip over this sentence rather quickly. We might regard it as kind of an “add on” to the previous twenty verses. In those verses Luke describes the glorious and miraculous scenes of the first Christmas: the newborn Son of God lying in the manger, the angel announcing the good news to the shepherds, and the army of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.” He describes the shepherds running to Bethlehem to see for themselves what the angel had told them, and those same shepherds evangelizing as they returned to their sheep. But then we read this simple verse: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus.”
Compared to the previous verses, this one short sentence doesn’t seem very glorious or important. But what Luke records for us here is significant because it reminds us who this infant is and what he came to accomplish for us.
I. Why the name Jesus?
“He was named Jesus.” “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” It means, “The LORD saves.” The most famous Joshua lived several centuries before Jesus was born. He was the man whom the LORD appointed to be the leader of Israel after Moses died. Joshua led the wandering Israelites across the Jordan River. He conquered the Canaanites, and the people of Israel settled in the Promised Land.
Perhaps because of this leader of God’s people the name Jesus (or Joshua) was not an uncommon name in Israel. But Joseph and Mary did not name their baby “Jesus” because of that Old Testament hero of faith. They also did not name him Jesus because it was a family name or because it was a trendy name or because they liked the sound of the name. They named the child Jesus because of what had happened many months earlier in Nazareth.
In Nazareth the angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary. He said: “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The LORD is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:29-33).
A few months later, Mary was pregnant, like the angel had predicted. When Joseph found out, he was ready to leave her because to him her unfaithfulness was obvious. But then the angel appeared to Joseph too and said, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She 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 1:20-21).
So after the baby was born, and the customary time for naming of the baby came, Mary and Joseph had no debates or doubts about the name. They didn’t poll their relatives for opinions. They didn’t search through friends’ lists to see what might sound good to them. Instead, in faith, they obeyed the Word of the LORD. They named the baby Jesus, “The LORD saves.”
Exactly how this eight day old Jesus would accomplish such a magnificent mission must have been difficult for them to imagine. How would he save his people from their sins? What Joseph and Mary might not have realized was that already, on that eighth day of his life, Jesus was already carrying out the mission of his name by undergoing circumcision.
II. Jesus carried out the mission of his name by being circumcised
Circumcision is a common practice around the world today, mostly for health reasons and sometimes as a rite of passage. Many ancient cultures practiced circumcision for the same reasons. But for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob circumcision took on a very special significance because it was a sign of the LORD’s covenant with them.
A covenant is an agreement or a contract. By grace, long before the nation of Israel existed, the LORD made a covenant with Abraham. With a cluster of promises he placed himself under obligation to Abraham. He promised to give Abraham a son and to make Abraham into a great nation. He promised to give Abraham’s descendants a land. He promised that out of that land one of Abraham’s descendants would come as the Savior for all the people of the earth.
As the years passed, and Abraham grew older, the LORD confirmed his covenant and sealed it with the physical sign of circumcision. Not only was Abraham circumcised, but all of Abraham’s male descendants also were to be circumcised when they were eight days old. By this cutting off of the foreskin, every son of Abraham would become a son of the covenant. He would have a daily physical reminder. His circumcision would remind him of his place in God’s kingdom, of his obligations as a child of God, and of God’s promises to him - including the promise of the coming Savior.
Later at Mt Sinai the LORD incorporated this rite of circumcision into the laws that he gave through of Moses. So, as descendants of Abraham, and as faithful adherents to the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary had Jesus circumcised. At eight days old, Jesus became a son of the covenant and subject to all the requirements of the law.
The circumcision of Jesus might seem like such a small point for Luke to mention. After all, every faithful Jewish couple had their sons circumcised. But the circumcision of Mary’s child is different because of who this child is.
For centuries, the LORD’s prophets pointed ahead to the time when the Son of God would come to save. Then he came. He clothed himself in human flesh and began to carry out his mission. The apostle Paul writes, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4,5).
Jesus’ circumcision is not a minor point. And it wasn’t just another law that Mary and Joseph had to follow. Jesus’ circumcision, rather, was another step in God’s great rescue plan for us. By this circumcision Jesus assumed our place under God’s law, the law which he would obey perfectly in our place. By his circumcision Jesus shed his blood, the same blood by which he would pay for our sin and guilt on the cross.
Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But there is no other name sweeter than the name of Jesus. No one else is both God and man. No one else was able to fulfill all the requirements of God’s law in our place. No one else was able to die as the complete payment for our sins and the sins of the entire world. This new year, trust in the name of Jesus, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we are saved.” (Acts 4:12). Amen.