What is His name?


Harry Foster

The simple name Jesus, without any addition or title, appears almost six hundred times in the Gospels. When the writers thought of their Lord it was always the name Jesus which instinctively came into their minds. The theme of their story was this vivid personality, Jesus. Not that the apostles ever addressed Him in this way. No, for in spite of His great humility He had a dignity which precluded any such unseemly familiarity. Neither then nor after His resurrection did any disciples talk to Him in this way.

When, however, they thought of or talked about Him, they revelled in the rich simplicity of the name Jesus. It had been used in its Hebrew form in Old Testament days (Hebrews 4:8), and it was common enough in Palestine in New Testament times (Acts 13:6), but for them there was only one Jesus. This is still more true of us today. Only in certain Roman Catholic areas would anyone ever think of naming their son Jesus.

The name was chosen in heaven. Since it was decided before Mary's child was conceived (Luke 2:21), we presume that the eternal Son Himself selected this from among all others as the personal name by which He wished to be identified. In due course instructions about it were given to Joseph, who was responsible for the actual naming of the Infant (Matthew 1:25).

There had been other babies whom God had named before their birth, notably Isaac (Genesis 17:19), Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:9) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:13). These were all outstanding figures and their names had spiritual meanings, as indeed had the names of many other Bible characters. This name, however, was in a class of its own. It marked out its owner as the divinely appointed Saviour from sins (Matthew 1:21). Others might have borne the name: He alone could fulfill its meaning.

But even 'Saviour' can be a formal title, [98/99] whereas the force of the personal name Jesus is to link us directly with the Man. The warm personality, the understanding sympathy and the distinctive individuality of Jesus meant everything to His first disciples. As the angels assured them at the moment of the ascension, it would be "this same Jesus" who would come back to earth again in due course (Acts 1:11). Meanwhile by faith they could 'see Jesus' in His heavenly perfection (Hebrews 2:9). And we all agree the rightness of the divine decision that it is Jesus whom the whole universe shall worship (Philippians 2:10).

There was a special way by which He was distinguished from others bearing the same name while He lived here on earth: He was called "Jesus of Nazareth". It was partly true, for He had been brought up in that town; it was partly misleading, for He had not been born there and might better have been known as 'Jesus of Bethlehem'; and it was partly malicious, for Galilee was held in contempt by most Jews and the Jerusalem leaders were glad to use Nazareth as a smear.

It is typical of the Lord that He made no attempt to disclaim this denigrating description. Indeed He did the opposite: He so ennobled the title that His followers enthusiastically gloried in it (Acts 4:10). The Son of God had taken up this common name, with its sneering allusion, and had made Jesus of Nazareth to be the name above all others.

The risen Christ was ready enough to use this description personally. "I am Jesus of Nazareth" was His reply to the astonished enquiry of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:8). In a world where men lust after great swelling names and boastful titles, the great Son of God was content to be known simply as Jesus of Nazareth.

And at the conclusion of John's overwhelming discovery of the glory and triumphs of his wonderful Lord, the apostle must have been strangely steadied and comforted by the reminder: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things..." (Revelation 22:16). For John and for us there is so much that we do not understand. But we feel contented and relaxed when we realise that not only our destiny but that of the whole universe is in the hands of that dearly-loved person, Jesus.

Toward the Mark Vol. 3, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1974.

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