The Meaning Of The Name

And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21


1. In one sense, there is nothing in a name. The nature of the thing is independent of it. It is not in the power of any name to make evil good, or good evil; and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, would have been what He is, by whatever name He had been called. But in another view there is something in a name. It stands for the thing, and, through frequent use, comes to be identified with it. It is therefore of the highest moment that the name should correspond with the thing, and convey a correct idea of it. Exactness of thought requires exactness of language. Knowledge depends for its accuracy on the right use of words, and the great instructors of mankind are as careful of the expression as of the idea. Words are things. We deal with them, not as sounds but as substances, and look not so much at them as at the verities in them. Names are persons. When one is mentioned in our hearing, it brings the man before us, and awakens the feelings which would be excited if he were present himself.

Now, we may see this, above all, in the adorable name of Jesus. That name, above all others, ought to show us what a name means; for it is the name of the Son of Man, the one perfect and sinless man, the pattern of all men; and therefore it must be a perfect name, and a pattern for all names. And it was given to the Lord not by man, but by God; and therefore it must show and mean not merely some outward accident about Him, something which He seemed to be, or looked like, in men's eyes; no, the name of Jesus must mean what the Lord was in the sight of His Father in Heaven; what He was in the eternal purpose of God the Father; what He was, really and absolutely, in Himself; it must mean and declare the very substance of His being. And so, indeed, it does; for the adorable name of Jesus means nothing else but God the Saviour—God who saves. This is His name, and was, and ever will be. This name He fulfilled on earth, and proved it to be His character, His exact description, His very name, in short, which made Him different from all other beings in heaven or earth, create or uncreate; and therefore He bears His name to all eternity, for a mark of what He has been, and is, and will be for ever—God the Saviour; and this is the perfect name, the pattern of all other names of men.

When Adam named all the beasts, we read that whatsoever he called any beast, that was the name of it. The names which he gave described each beast; they were taken from something in its appearance, or its ways and habits, and so each was its right name, the name which expressed its nature. And so now, when learned men discover animals or plants in foreign countries, they do not give them names at random, but take care to invent names for them which may describe their natures, and make people understand what they are like. And much more, in old times, had the names of men a meaning. If it was reasonable to give names full of meaning to each kind of dumb animal, much more to each man separately, for each man has a character different from all others, a calling different from all others, and therefore he ought to have his own name separate from all others. Accordingly in old times it was the custom to give each child a separate name, which had a meaning in it which was, as it were, a description of the child, or of something particular about the child.1 [Note: O. Kingsley.]

2. The name “Jesus,” then, means Saviour. What does He save men from?

(1) Jesus saves from ignorance. If we consider the incarnate life of the Son of God as a theophany and a revealing, we see at once what power it had, and still has, to rescue man from the blind error which is a part of sin. In Jesus, man sees God as He is. And awakened by this vision, he sees time and the world as they really are. The false theories of life on which he proceeds are all contradicted in Him. Every falsehood which the world's enchantment tells, every delusion which it weaves with its Circean spell, finds its refutation in Him. Part of the power of sin lies in its specious delusions. Among these delusions is the lie that the world is all; the lie that sensual pleasure is good, that passion is strong, that pride is majestic, that disobedience is wise. Jesus came and refuted all these immemorial lies.

(2) But if He is only a lawgiver, or a teacher of Divine truth, or a finger-board to direct us in the way of righteousness, He is insufficient for our needs. The man who teaches me the truth is not himself the truth. And if Jesus is only a teacher of the way of salvation, He is not Himself salvation. It is true that man is sadly and fearfully ignorant both of himself and of the infinite God to whom he must give account for the deeds done in the body; and it is also true that by coming to Christ he can be relieved of this ignorance. But if Jesus is only a pedagogue or schoolmaster, He does not touch the deepest necessities of man's condition. Such a view of Him may improve a man's morals, and elevate him somewhat in other respects, but it can never save him from the power and consequences of sin. Jesus is Himself the salvation which He taught, and which He commissioned His disciples to preach. He is the wisdom, the grace, the mercy, and the power that save men from their sins.

As Laurence Oliphant lay dying, the dear and sacred name of Jesus was ever on his tongue. There had been times in his life when he had spoken it with an accent of perhaps less reverence than was congenial to listeners probably less devout than he, but holding a more absolute view of our Lord's position and work—as there had been times when he had called himself not a Christian, in the ordinary meaning of the word. But no one could doubt now of his entire and loving reception of that name as his own highest hope as well as that of all the world. A day or two before his death he called his faithful nurse early in the morning, probably in that rising of the energies which comes with the brightness of the day, and told her that he was “unspeakably happy.” “Christ has touched me. He has held me in His arms. I am changed—He has changed me. Never again can I be the same, for His power has cleansed me; I am a new man.” “Then he looked at me yearningly,” she adds, “and said, ‘Do you understand?' ” 1 [Note: M. O. W. Oliphant, Memoir of the Life of Laurence Oliphant, 403.]

Many years ago there was a great famine of water in a town in the south of France. It was a hot summer, no rain fell for months, and as the people always suffered from the want of water, this dry, hot season greatly increased their sufferings, and many of them died. A few miles away from the town was a range of hills; in the hills were some beautiful springs of water, but the labour and expense of bringing the water from the springs to the town was so great that very little of it could be brought. In this town there lived a young man whom we shall call Jean. He was industrious and good, and was shortly to be married to a beautiful young woman, whom he dearly loved. But all at once the marriage was put off, the young man began to go about in old clothes, took very little to eat, gave up his pleasant home and went to live in a garret, and, in short, became a thorough miser. He went to bed in the dark to save candle, begged other people's cast-off clothing, and very soon became changed from a blithe and happy young man into a wretched-looking old one. Nobody loved him now. His charming bride forgot him, and married another man; the children called him names in the streets, and everybody shunned his house. After many years of wretchedness he died. When his relatives went to search his room they found him almost wasted to a skeleton, and all his furniture sold, while the old man's body was lying upon a heap of straw. Under his head they found a will, and what do you think was in it? This: that in that dreadful summer, forty years ago, Jean had been so saddened by the dreadful suffering of the people—especially of the children—for want of water, that he had given up his young bride, his pleasant home, his happy prospects, and had devoted himself day and night all through the weary years to working and saving, so that the people might have the beautiful water brought to them from the distant springs in the hillside. Oh, how everybody blessed that old man! A reservoir was made in the hills, pipes were laid under the ground, and the water was brought into the town so freely that its inhabitants never thirsted any more. The old man did not create the water, neither did he make the people thirst, he simply brought the living water and the dying people together—and he sacrificed himself in doing it. Now that is just how Jesus saves men. He did not make God love them—God always loved them. He did not create God's love or mercy—those great springs of blessing were and always are in the great heart of God. He did not make men sinful and sad so that they needed these things; but He brought these springs of love and blessing down to the men that were dying for the need of them. He is the channel through which God's love comes to us. From God, but through Christ, we receive all the blessings of salvation. Jesus brought all these good things to us, and sacrificed Himself in doing Song of Solomon 1 [Note: J. Colwell.]

(3) But if man is to be saved, he must be saved not only from sin's guilt, and sin's defilement, but from sin's power. If man is to be fully saved, not only must he, in the infinite mercy of God, be treated as righteous, he must become actually righteous and holy and good. This is the ultimate purpose of God. He removes man's condemnation, He forgives man's sin, in order that he may become holy. Forgiveness and justification are in order to holiness. But man cannot be personally holy until he is set free from the enslaving power of sin. He, therefore, who would be the Saviour of man must deal with this. How does Jesus deal with it? He deals with it as our Lord and King, dwelling and reigning within us by the Holy Ghost. Remember, the Jesus who shall save His people from their sins is One who lives. He is One who is possessed of all power. He takes men so into union with Himself that they are within the circle of His life. They are in Him as the branch is in the vine. So their weakness is turned into might, by the advent of His strength into their lives. The sin which strives to enslave the believer finds that it has to deal with the believer's Lord. And by that Lord it is defeated; its power is broken and its dominion for ever overthrown. The disease which we cannot shake off flies before Him; the fire which we could not quench is by Him put out; the evil root is eradicated, the mighty current stemmed. The strong man armed meets the stronger than he, and is despoiled. In Him we conquer sin. His power turns the scale of battle in our favour. Sin has not dominion over us. The law of the spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death. So we not only will the will of God, but also do it. He makes us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The one cure for any organism is to be set right—to have all its parts brought into harmony with each other; the one comfort is to know this cure in process. Rightness alone is cure. The return of the organism to its true self is its only possible ease. To free a man from suffering, he must be set right, put in health; and the health at the root of man's being, his rightness, is to be free from wrongness, that is, from sin. A man is right when there is no wrong in him. The wrong, the evil, is in him; he must be set free from it. I do not mean set free from the sins he has done; that will follow; I mean the sins he is doing, or is capable of doing; the sins in his being which spoil his nature, the wrongness in him, the evil he consents to; the sin he is, which makes him do the sin he does. To save a man from his sins is to say to him, in sense perfect and eternal, “Rise up and walk. Be at liberty in thy essential being. Be free as the Son of God is free.” To do this for us Jesus was born and remains born to all the ages.