January 28, 2002
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
Why did your parents give you your name? Was it merely because they liked the name? Did they like the name because someone they knew and liked had that name? Did you get the name because it was a name handed down within the family? Or did they actually know that your name had a meaning and they meant you to have that name with that meaning? Might they have meant you to become what your name means?
Maybe you were meant to become your name! It was what you were chosen or destined to become!
That, in fact, is the way it is in many societies, ancient and modern.
Elijah lived in a time when religious syncretism was normal, even though Ahab of Israel’s foreign wife, Jezebel, made life difficult for those who declined to worship her god, Baal. We don’t know if his parents intended his name to become his motto: Yahweh alone is my god. Certainly the prophets of Baal could only regret Yahweh alone is my God’s insistence that there was only one God and Baal was not that one God.
Almost three thousand years later it certainly was a family name that the Rev. Martin Luther and Mrs Alberta Williams King gave their son. They would have believed he was fulfilling his destiny and calling when he was ordained a Baptist minister in 1946 at the age of 17. Would they have also seen it as his destiny and calling – with that name – to become leader of a great movement of social reform based firmly on his faith, as well as Nobel laureate, and to be remembered for ever as Martin Luther King?
Anglo-Saxons seem to have had particular reticence about calling their sons Jesus. Other cultures and other times haven’t always been so reticent. But some men do bear the same name – in its Hebrew form. Iēsous is the Greek form of the name. Jesus of Nazareth was actually Jēshua’, the Aramaic form of the original J’hoshua’, Joshua. The name meant Yahweh saves or just Saviour.
The writer of the first gospel certainly believed that Jesus of Nazareth bore the old name for special reasons. It was his destiny: it was his calling. He was his name. Matthew relates that Joseph was directed by an angelic visitor in a dream to call Mary’s child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is Saviour.
And there’s more to it than that. All of this happened,” said Matthew, “to fulfil the Lord’s message through his prophet”: Isaiah – “He will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us.)” Jesus is God with us.
For Matthew names are significant.
The same is true for John. He uses many names for Jesus.
In the reading we heard this morning John tells of four names.
“Look!” says John the Baptiser, “There’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
In speaking of Jesus, whom he had baptised and upon whom he had seen the Holy Spirit descend, John the baptiser says, “I saw this happen to Jesus, and I testify that he is the Son of God.”
Two of John the Baptiser’s disciples hear his reference to Jesus as Lamb of God, turn, and follow Jesus. “’Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying’” is their question.
One of those former followers of John the Baptiser, Andrew, looks out his brother, Simon Peter, and says, “’We have found the Messiah’ (which means the Christ).”
Jesus: he will save his people from their sin.
Immanuel: God with us.
Lamb of God: who takes away the sin of the world.
Son of God.
Messiah: the Christ.
An extraordinary destiny and calling of extraordinary significance for a carpenter of an obscure village in an obscure part of the world! Never has one solitary life had such impact on the history of the world! If Jesus was his name; if he was what he was called, what he was, what he did, and what he stood for has extraordinary significance for us, and the way we live our lives!
Jesus: he will save his people from their sin. Lamb of God: who takes away the sin of the world. One name tells who he is and what he does; the other tells how he accomplished salvation as the Lamb of God dying that the world might be saved.
None of us is perfect. We make mistakes. We hurt other people. We do harm to our relationships.
Some things happen, as it were, by accident. We didn’t mean to do them. We broke a treasured family heirloom without realising its sentimental value. We reacted in ignorance and spoke harshly, without realising that the person we were criticising was a close friend of the person to whom we were talking. We didn’t know the “house rules,” and outstayed our welcome. Such things ought to be easy to admit, easily forgiven, easily put behind us, and just as easily forgotten. They’re things that happen once and can be put to rights from then on.
Other mistakes we keep on making. They’re part of who we are. They’re embedded in our character. They’re unbreakable habits. We resent having to admit we’ve done anything wrong. We have to force ourselves to say sorry. We accept forgiveness grudgingly. And, if we can be honest with ourselves, we know we’re likely to do the same thing again, and again, and again. We’re hooked. There’s nothing we can do to get off the hook. We need someone to help us, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We need such a radical change, that the only word for it is conversion. We need someone to save us from ourselves. We need a Saviour.
Nicky Cruz in one of his books tells the story of a woman who was hooked on drugs. Death was inevitable. But Jesus came into her life. What happened I still find incredible. She went cold turkey, and suffered no withdrawal symptoms. She needed and found a Saviour to do for her what she couldn’t do for herself.
Son of God. We’ve all heard of – maybe we even know – someone described as a chip off the old block. A man or a woman who are either dead-ringers for father or mother or who do things just the way one parent or another used to do them.
That’s the way the first disciples felt about Jesus. Jews believed in only one God. To suggest there might be another god was not only contemptible, but was blasphemous. No one and nothing could even be compared with God. Yet those first followers of the crucified and risen Jesus dared to say and believe that he was a chip off the old block: Son of God.
Some of you may remember windows in a car showroom in Russell or Exhibition Street. They were specially constructed so that there were no reflections from the glass. It was as though there was nothing between you and those marvellous vehicles inside.
It was something like that for those who knew Jesus. Nothing seemed to separate them from God. Jesus was a man. Yet they dared to say and believe he was and is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus had died. But he had risen from death. He had left behind this mortal life and “ascended.” But somehow he was as much with them as he had ever been.
He wasn’t just a Saviour who had done something to save them from themselves’ he was with them as friend and companion in their struggles with themselves and with life.
He was Rabbi, Teacher. All that they needed to know about the complexities of life were found in the profound simplicity of his teaching. He was guide to truth. He was light through the darkness. His teachings not only provided a way, but Jesus himself was the Way, the Truth, and Life itself.
Moreover none of this was happenchance or serendipity. God meant it to happen. God intended it to happen the way it happened. It was all part of God’s plan. There was mercy in it. There was compassion in it. There was grace in it. There was love in it
Jesus was Messiah. Jesus was the Christ. He was anointed, chosen, intended, planned. He was meant to be what he was: Jesus, saving his people from themselves; Lamb of God: who takes away the sin of the world; Son of God; Immanuel: God with us; Rabbi: Teacher; Messiah: the Christ.
Yet there is some sense in which he is none of those, unless he is those for you!
You can be different. The world can be different. In fact, you will be different and you will make the world different, if Jesus is for you Saviour, Lamb of God, Son of God, Immanuel, Rabbi, and Messiah.
 Matthew 1: 21.
 Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 10.
 Matthew 1: 23.
 John 1: 29, 36.
 John 1: 38b.
 John 1:41b.