If I were to say the name Aaron Rodgers, what first comes to mind? That he is a great quarterback? That he will hopefully — or maybe for some here, hopefully not — carry his team to the playoffs today? A few weeks ago, if you heard his name would you be thinking the same thing? Maybe not, maybe instead, like many Packer fans, you’d be wondering why his playing was so poor?
Let’s try some other names. How about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Depending on the person, those two names might elicit different reactions, be it happy, angry, excited, disappointed, or disgusted. What about the name Carrie Fisher, what first comes to mind? When we hear a name we often respond in certain ways depending on what we know about the name or what said name has done or not done in their lives. So, I have one more name for you this morning. What comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus?
Do you think of the baby boy whose birth we just celebrated? Do you see the cross on which he hung or maybe the empty grave that could not hold him? When you hear his name do you become happy, excited, or maybe a little nervous and embarrassed? Hearing the name of Jesus, like hearing any other name, can cause mixed reactions. Yet, for believers, for us as we enter the new year, the name of Jesus reminds us of what he did for us and encourages us to live our lives in service to him.
But what is so special about Jesus’ name? Well, we read earlier that “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. “The angel had given this name to Mary before Jesus was conceived. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Then angel also told Joseph the intended husband of Mary that the boy’s name would be Jesus. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” It sounds as if God wanted this little boy to have a specific name, and the angel tells us the reason for the name, “because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus had one purpose on this earth; one goal. To bring salvation to a world lost in sin. To be a light to all who are lost in darkness. To save sinners from death and hell. His name reminds us of this purpose. It is the only name which brings salvation. It is a name that Jesus perfectly fulfilled. That fulfillment began here on the eighth day as Jesus was circumcised.
Jesus’ circumcision actively fulfilled the requirement of God’s Old Testament law found in the book of Leviticus, “On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.” This child then could not be named “Jesus,” Savior without obeying every command of God perfectly. Circumcision was one of those commands. By being circumcised Jesus began his work of being, as Paul writes in Romans, “the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
What’s more, what does this circumcision also tell us about Jesus? He is flesh and blood. This child given the name Jesus was 100% a human being. Sent by God to live under the law. Sent by God to keep that law. Sent by God to save us from that law, which accuses and damns us to hell. Truly the name Jesus reminds us of what he did for us. He saved us.
But this name, like any other name, can cause people to despair and fear. Are there not times when we question whether we are truly saved? Do we not sometimes doubt God will forgive certain sins we have committed in our past or present? Those who have disregarded the name of Jesus and seek their own avenues for salvation will certainly wrestle with these questions. They will always wonder if they’ve been good enough. They will always be uncertain as to whether they or loved ones have lived a life that is worthy of salvation and they will despair. We too might struggle with these kinds of thoughts, but it is then that the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ name and what it means: he saves.
When our focus is on ourselves of course we will despair; we are sinners! When our focus is on Jesus there is no doubt, no uncertainty. In the name of Jesus your every sin is forgiven. In the name of Jesus, you can be certain of your salvation. Trust in that name. Believe in it. It is this name that has been used for thousands of years to bless God’s people as we read in our Old Testament lesson, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
It is this name which has brought God’s grace and favor on all God’s children allowing them to live in a world of sin and yet be certain that God is with them and loves them, “the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” It is this name which has brought peace to believers from the time of Adam “the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” A peace which not only frees us from fear of sin and suffering here on earth, but directs our hearts and minds to an eternal peace that is ours in Christ.
This is a peace that is yours! A peace the world and the devil will strive every day to ruin, but they cannot! That peace has already been won for you by this child named Jesus. By his death and in his name, you are blessed; you are saved. No other person, no work, no payment, no other name can bring you this certainty. Remember what then is in the name of Jesus. His name reminds you of what he has done for you; he kept the law for you. He gave his life for you. He rose and defeated death to deliver you. He ascended to rule on your behalf and to one day bring you home with him. The name of Jesus reminds us of our complete and full salvation.
The name of Jesus not only reminds us of the new life we have as children of God, but his name also encourages us to dedicate our lives to him. If we go back to our previous example: Aaron Rodgers. Does his name not encourage others to dedicate their lives to him? Think of all the homes that have pictures of him. The Facebook and twitter accounts that post his image or the children and adults who wear a jersey that bears his last name on the back. Many willingly dedicate time, money, and often our lives to support and cheer on athletes, actors, politicians, and musicians all because of their names and what those names have done or stand for.
But here is the deal, you might be sad or upset when your favorite actress dies or when your favorite player does poorly, but the reality is that person never has done anything to help you with your everyday life. He or she was never a prayer away. He or she never promised to never leave or forsake you. That person likely doesn’t even know you exist, let alone care that you exist. Even people you do personally know, family, friends, can and do often fail to help us when we are weighed down by life’s burdens – if they aren’t adding to them. Not so Jesus.
In our second lesson for today, we read that “God exalted him, Jesus, to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” Jesus having ascended into heaven after saving us now actually rules on our behalf. “Our names are engraved on the palms of his hands,” Isaiah tells us. If something were different about your hands, you would notice. You see them every day. God sees us every day. We are always before him. He knows when you are sad. He knows when you are angry. He knows your concerns and your doubts. He wants to help; what’s more he can help. His name proves that, he saves! As you begin this New Year, and as you go through it, look to Jesus for encouragement in your daily struggles
Be encouraged also by him when you hear about the gloom and doom of the world around you. In this New Year, you don’t need to be afraid of coming conflicts, policy changes, and environmental disasters, because “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Jesus is our king. He rules all things for the good of his church and has since creation. The world and the people of it might try to rebel and fight against him now, but in the end, they will bow before him. That is the power of Jesus’ name. A name which cast Satan from heaven. A name which frightens the enemies of God’s people, like Pharaoh and the Egyptians during the time of Moses, yet a name which keeps his children, which keeps us safe from sin and every evil.
Be encouraged then this New Year by the name of Jesus. Be encouraged this year to dedicate your life to him out of thanks and love. Maybe that means putting on your calendar 15 mins for prayer and devotion each day. Perhaps that entails signing up for a volunteer opportunity at church once a month or setting aside a little extra for the offering. Maybe, this year, you’d like to dedicate your life to him by reflecting your faith more in your interactions with others at work or in the home.
Whatever God works in your heart to do, be reminded that it is his name that gives you those opportunities to serve and to do good works. It is his name that encourages us until we and every tongue confesses on Judgment Day that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of his name and the glory of God the Father.
So, what first comes to mind when you hear a name? Well that depends on the name. For us, as we think of the name Jesus, we are reminded of what he has done for us. Jesus is the one who saves; he is your Savior. His name brings peace, comfort, and healing. His name encourages us every day to dedicate our lives in service to him.
Let us then go forth boldly in this new year, knowing that no matter what conflicts, hardships, blessings, opportunities, and challenges come our way the name of our Lord will not change and his work of Salvation will always remain. Let us together confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and let us bring him glory until we bow before his throne in eternity. Amen.