Names are supposed to mean something and in the Bible they actually do. Today people pick names for their children because they like how they sound or because it’s a family name or because it’s a Norwegian name and they’re Norwegian or a German name and they’re German. But in the Bible names mean something. Look at Abraham – it means father of many nations, so that every time that name Abraham was spoken the people could remember God’s promise to Abraham that He would make him a father of many nations (this is the promise of Jesus who when he is lifted up on the cross draws all nations to himself and tells his apostles to make disciples of all nations). Or look at Samuel, the name means God hears, so that every time Hannah looked at her little Samuel and said, “I love you my sweet Samuel,” she was remembering how God answered her pray, God heard her, when she wept and begged Him to give her a baby, He heard, He answered, and the very name of her child Samuel God hears told her that. The same goes with the name Jesus. It means something. It means the Lord saves. That’s the name the angel commanded Joseph to give him, “You shall call his name Jesus,” and he gives a reason for calling him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” So that every time you say the name Jesus, every time you call upon it, you are calling upon the God-Man whose very name is a promise to save you. His name doesn’t mean the Lord condemns. It doesn’t mean the Lord is angry. It doesn’t mean the Lord threatens. When you approach Jesus trusting in His name you are approaching the God who will not condemn you, will not threaten or be angry with you, but will forgive you and love you and save you from your sins and from everything that could hurt you. This is his name.
It is an absolutely beautiful thing that Jesus receives this name when he is circumcised. His name is the Lord saves, but how is this Lord going to save you? He shows you. He sheds His blood when He’s still a baby. He obligates Himself to obey all the law from his birth, to be the perfect man, to be our substitute. That’s what circumcision is, not just the shedding of blood, but as St. Paul says it, ‘I tell you that anyone who is circumcised has become a debtor to obey the whole law.” Jesus became a debtor to obey all the law, and He did it because His name is Jesus, the Lord saves, and this is how He saves us.
Consider how full and complete this salvation is, so that you have no doubt at all. The Lord saves by shedding His blood for us – so that everything wicked you’ve ever done or said or thought, all the times you have doubted God or forgot about Him, every nasty thing you’ve said to hurt others, every selfish thought and action, all of it is laid on Jesus and He sheds His blood to pay the price of God’s wrath against you. The shedding of his blood on the eighth day of his birth, at his circumcision, is the down payment, it’s the security, for the blood that will flow on Calvary, that will pour from head and feet and hands and side, the blood that will stream from his pores, as God pays Himself for what His sinful creatures have done. What love is this! When you call on Jesus, his name is the promise to you, I am not here to be a terror to you, to drudge up your guilt, I am the one who has born it, who saves you by shedding my blood for you.
And it is more than this. Circumcision obligates a man to obey all the law, to be perfect. And Jesus saves you by living your life in your place. All the holes in your life, all the imperfections, all the things you should have said and done and thought, every time you have failed, every time you have become angry when you should have been patient, every time you have gossiped when you should have kept silent, every time you should have spoken but you held you tongue because you feared man’s opinion more than God’s, every time you lusted when you should have been pure, every time you were terrified of death when you should have been eager for heaven, all of it, Jesus atones for, He lives it perfectly, His innocence, His pure words, His entire life of love to His Father and love to all around Him, His firm and unbending commitment to God’s Word, His gentleness and mercy, this fills every hole in your life, covers every stain, dresses every wound, beautifies all ugliness. When you call on Jesus, his very name promises you that He is your purity, He is your innocence, He has lived for you and He lives now for you, the Lord saves, His name says it, his circumcision shows it, and His life lived it.
Names mean something in the Bible. This is true also of the devil. Every horrible thing you see going on in the world, families fighting, divorce rates skyrocketing, children neglected because their parents live life for themselves, the slaughter of the unborn, the praise of things that should not even be spoken out loud, the devil is behind it all. His name is Devil or Satan. They both mean basically the same thing. Devil means slanderer and Satan means accuser. He slanders by telling lies about God and about us. He convinces people of the most absurd things. He tells them they’ll find their happiness in serving themselves and especially in indulging and obsessing in their lowest sexual appetites, which has never, ever made anyone happy. He makes people believe they evolved from slime, that there is no Creator of heaven and earth, only an aimless and meaningless existence. He tells them that since there is no Creator it doesn’t matter what you do with your body, God didn’t make a man or a woman, you define who you are, God didn’t make you a husband or wife either, a son or daughter, he lies about all this, and inserts these lies in schools and in government and on your screens, into your life, and so he leads people to despair and misery and meaninglessness. He’s rightly named. He is a slanderer and a liar.
And then when he’s done all his lying, he accuses. That’s what Satan means, accuser. He accuses you. He holds everything you’ve done in front of you. He tells you God doesn’t care about you, God doesn’t love you, and it’s your fault because you’ve not acted like God’s child – you’ve been selfish and mean and rude and you know it. Look at the last year! Look how many times you’ve lusted and coveted and been discontent and complained and took joy in repeating gossip and worried about money and lost your temper and forgot about your God, to pray or to read His Word. The devil accuses and calls you unworthy of God.
So you call on the name of Jesus, and you commit yourself again in this new year always to call on His name, throughout every day of this year. Admit it. Say, Yes the accusations are true. I have lived as if I mattered most. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I am a sinner, I am sorry, I want to do better. Lord save me. And Jesus saves. It’s his name. He forgives every sin, covers up all shame, and speaks the truth. Of course you haven’t deserved it by your life, of course you haven’t earned it, why else would Jesus come into this world, why else would God become a man, why else would he shed his blood, why else would he be called Jesus, except to save you, to make you worthy, to give you His righteousness and take all your sins away, to crush the devil and establish the truth in your life – you are a Christian.
And that is a powerful name. It means you belong to Christ. And God named you a Christian. The devil is a liar. God put his name on you. He said I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He called you his child and He called Himself your Father. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He joined you to Jesus, so that everything Jesus has is yours – if Jesus is a son, you are a son, an heir of eternal life, beloved of God. He gave you His Spirit. And by the power of this Spirit you confess the name of Jesus, the name that makes you worthy of everlasting life, the name that silences the devil and speaks the truth of God’s love.
And the name Christian gives you a life of total purpose. Jesus knew exactly what He was to do. His name told him. His circumcision told him. He was to live his life to save us and bleed to redeem us and rise again to claim us as His own Church. And love moved Him to all of it, the love of God for us. And your name, Christian, and your Baptism, they tell you who you are and why you’re here and what your future is and how to live your life.
You are God’s child. The great problem with the attack on the family and the fourth commandment in our day is that people are beginning to lose sight of what it means to be a child. The expectations for children to obey their parents is being erased. The idea that parents are to discipline their children is almost gone. That parents are supposed to keep gross and adult things from them, to preserve their innocence, that’s being replaced with sex ed in kindergarten and explicit material in children’s libraries. And when you lose sight of what it means to be a child in this world it can be very hard to understand what it means to be a child of God. God made the family to mimic His relationship with us, children under a father and a mother. When we lose the family, we lose what God gave us to understand what it means to be His child and what it means to belong to His Church.
You are a child of God. That means you have His honor and everything He has, everything in all creation that He made, belongs also to you, just as my backyard is for my children’s enjoyment, and my money I spend for them, and the antelope I shot I feed to them. What I have is theirs, to give to them in due time, and so for you to be a child of God means everything, heaven and earth, are also yours, to be shared with you in due time. Because you are Christ’s and Christ possesses all things. And this not just bodily things, but spiritual. Forgiveness, righteousness, innocence, purity, all yours, because you are a child of God, coheir with Christ.
You are God’s child and that means you respect Him and obey Him, not because you are a slave forced to it, but because all His commandments are for your good. Just as I tell my kids not to eat cookies before dinner, to go to bed and to get a good night’s sleep, to not run in the street, to never talk back to me or to their mother, to never fight with one another – these aren’t rules to hurt them or torture them or simply to assert my power over them, they’re commands that will make them happy, protect them from pain and danger. God’s commands are good for us – honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t gossip, be content with what God gives, pray, go to church, why? Because God wants you checking the appropriate religious boxes? No! Because He’s your Father and He wants your good, and His commands are for your good, and you’ll see it in your life, you will.
And a father disciplines His child. It’s wrong, it’s cruel, not to discipline children. They need to know that mom’s in charge, dad’s in charge, not them, that mom and dad know what’s best, not them. They’re children. God is our Father. And He disciplines His children. He knows we are children, that our desires can be pulled up or down, that we thirst after what will hurt us, obsess over things that are bad for us, and so He disciplines us and gives us pain and hardship, not because He want to hurt us – no true father would ever want to hurt his child – but because He loves us and wants us to learn that He is in control, that He wants our good, that He knows what’s best, and that He’ll give it to us when He’s made us ready to receive it.
And finally, the child is always his father’s child, always his mother’s child. I am a grown man with children of my own. But when my dad and mom come to visit, I am as surely their child as the day I was born and I know it, I know they love me and I talk to them with the familiarity and love that only a child can give to his father and mother. And so it is with you. You are a child of God, a Christian. That doesn’t end. It doesn’t stop. You don’t grow out of it. He doesn’t stop loving you. He doesn’t stop forgiving, doesn’t stop having mercy, doesn’t stop caring for you and thinking of you. He is with you now and wants you with Him forever.
Jesus is the guarantee of all this. He is the true Son of His Father, who obeyed His Father out of pure love for Him and for us His brothers and sisters, and came to save us. That’s his name, the Lord saves. And that remains forever, in 2022, in 2023, every year. God grant us by the power of His Holy Spirit to call on this name throughout this year and live our lives for Him as He gave His for us. Amen.