Sermon: What’s in a Name? (Phil. 2:5-11 & Luke 2:21)

Text: Philippians 2:5-11 & Luke 2:21
Eve of the Circumcision and Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Listen to the sermon.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.46-47

Shakespeare’s Juliet declares that she doesn’t care about the rival family name of her lover, Romeo. Her love for him transcends this label despite the potential social consequences.  Peoples’ names have historically mattered quite a bit.  In many cultures, your place in society was determined by your family name. If you were descended from someone special, then you were due some title, honour or notoriety simply for being born into that family. We still see this a bit today.  Think about the Royal family, or what you might assume meeting a Kennedy from Massachusetts. Our own family history affects who we are and our names become the descriptor of us. Don’t we tell people to go and  “make a name for yourself?” If someone steals our name, we call that “identity theft.” 

If names matter, then there is one such historical name whose pedigree is unmatched. This is the Name that causes controversy, scandal, offence. This is the Name that causes kings to tremble and judges to judge and legislatures to legislate. This is the name that sets the many on edge. This is the Name that may not be uttered in the public square lest unbelievers be offended. No other Name causes such a stir. This is the holy name of Jesus. This evening I want to highlight how the Holy Name of Jesus can tell us two things. First, this name tells us who Jesus is. Second, this name tells us what Jesus does. 

This name tells us who Jesus is

It’s really a strange feast to our ears: the Name and Circumcision of Our Lord. While the rest of the world is getting ready to wish one another “Happy New Year,” the Church sets aside January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, to celebrate the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus. The custom in Jesus’ day was to name the boy on the day of his circumcision, the 8th day of his life. If you listened carefully to the familiar reading from Luke, your ears might have caught the historian’s detail. No one but Mary and Joseph know the baby’s name. For seven days, he’s simply Mary’s first-born, a baby boy, lying in a manger. He is given the name of Jesus on the 8th day of Christmas, January 1st.  

This name Jesus was not an uncommon name. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. It’s used of other men in the Bible. Here this common name is used for an uncommon person. The name Jesus means, “The Lord saves.” Jesus is himself the Lord who saves! He actually is the Creator in the flesh, come to save, embracing our humanity, revealing the Deity. Mary was told he “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). As eternal Son of the eternal Father, he is equal to the Father from all eternity. The everlasting Son, who shared the very nature and glory of the Father, became a human. Matthew says that this birth was in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel — (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:23). God with us, not merely God on our side, but God physically present among us in the person of this child! Both Mary and Joseph thus were told that his name was to be Jesus—literally the Lord saves—because this child is himself the eternal Son of God has taken on a human face and a human name, the name Jesus.

This name tells us what Jesus does

The Holy name of Jesus means “the Lord saves,” and this tells us about what Jesus does. Jesus is the incarnate Lord who “will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). This name was not chosen by Mary and Joseph, who as pious Israelites might have chosen such a name as a confession of their own hope. That name had been given by the angel before his conception (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31–33). From the moment of his conception, Jesus was the incarnate Savior. As an infant he was carrying out his saving work for us, and was properly named Jesus. 

“He will save His people from their sins.” And how will He do this? How will he save His people from their sins? The circumcision shows us that this little child, so weak and helpless and vulnerable, so ordinary, like any other baby boy born in Israel, was born under the Law.  Circumcision was a reminder and guarantee of God’s covenant to Abraham (Gen 17:9–14). This was a sign of God’s unilateral promise, that through the offspring of Abraham, all nations of the world would be blessed by a Savior, the Christ to come.  Circumcision was an outward sign signifying one’s membership in God’s family. It was an outward confession of faith that one believed God’s promise and wanted to be included among his people. 

By his circumcision Jesus was physically identified as Abraham’s offspring (Rom 9:5). By circumcision Jesus not only identified himself with Abraham’s descendants, but took upon himself the obligation of all humanity. He put himself in the place of sinners by assuming our debt to God.  He is your perfection, your holiness, your atonement from sin, your resurrection from the dead, your life. By becoming obedient to the Law, by becoming a son of the covenant, by becoming a human, by shedding His blood to buy back those who were held captive by sin and death. This is precisely why the Son of God became Flesh and was born. Here, here is His first act of obedience. 

Circumcision here points to the Cross. It shows us that he would save his people by shedding his own blood. The blood of Christ, which he assumed in his incarnation, first flowed here. It’s a sign of things to come.  Already on the eighth day of his earthly existence, his holy precious blood was shed. The name Jesus means, “The Lord saves.” Jesus is himself the Lord who saves you! This little Child assumes your debt to God, and then sheds His blood and His tears to save you.  The circumcision made Jesus as truly human, under the law of God, so that Jesus could fulfil that law. He kept God’s Law all the way to the bloody Cross of Calvary.  

This is why the name Jesus is truly a name above all other names. It is the name given by God himself to his Son. It is the only name which brings salvation. It is a name whose meaning Jesus perfectly fulfilled. While Shakespeare may say, “that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,” Christians say with John Newton: 

“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away our fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the troubled breast;  ’tis manna to the hungry soul, and to the weary, rest.”

LSB 524:1-2

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Published by revfenn

Canadian. Confessional Lutheran pastor. Loci Communicant. Husband. Dad. Bach enthusiast. Middle-Earthling. Nerdy interests on the whole.

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