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The Name of God: Jesus

December 4, 2011

Sermon:  The Name of God:  Jesus
Text:  Isaiah 7:14; 9:2, 6-7

Today we conclude the series of sermons The Name of God, by considering the name Jesus.  Our responsive reading is taken from the prophet Isaiah.

Responsive Reading:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.


This is the Word of God for the people of God.

When our daughter, Betsy, was a student at Furman University, she took one semester for a kind of foreign study experience.  She went to a strange and distant land.  It was almost like she was going to a third-world country.  I drove her into the city of Chicago one hot summer day.

We were able to take in a Cubs game and get a Chicago-style pizza before Betsy needed to do some shopping.  My job was to follow her around and then pay for the items she put in the cart.  One stop we made was to Target.  I am always a little leery about going into one of those stores because bulls’ eyes appear everywhere.

After picking up all the items needed, we got in a check-out line run by a tall young man with dark skin, long black hair, and a full black beard. He was wearing a large white button on his lapel with one word printed in large red letters:  Jesus.  I thought, This is going to be an interesting, though different, experience, maybe something I did not expect in Chicago.  Maybe this young man is proclaiming his faith in a bold way. 

As he scanned the items on the conveyor belt, I noticed the extensive tattoos on both arms.  On his left arm was a long creepy, scaly creature, perhaps a snake or a dragon.  I could not be sure because he was moving so fast, but I did recognize on his right wrist and arm a tattoo of barbed wire.  Between those rows was writing that resembled something off a Chinese menu.  Somehow, there was a disconnect, in my mind at least, between his appearance and the button on his lapel.

As he continued scanning our items, the manager interrupted him, “Hey, Jesus, isn’t it about time for your break?”

It was then that I realized the boy’s button was not an affirmation of faith at all.  It was simply a name tag.

Jesus finished checking us out.  As I paid the bill, I commented, “Nice name.”

He answered, “I hate my name.  My mother came here from Puerto Rico where the name Jesus was pretty common.  Here in the city though, it is just sort of funky.  A name like mine gets a lot of bad jokes and some really weird expectations.  I hate it.”

Jesus – working at a Target?  He is supposed to come again.  I will let you make up your own joke.

After I preached the early service, one of our members, a deacon, stopped me and said, “I want to show you something.”  He pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through the address book.  He held up the phone and showed me the name of a friend named Jesus. He explained, “Jesus is my yard man.”

Another person said, “Well, Jesus is my yard man, and Gabriel cleans my gutters.”  Maybe the second coming is not so far away as we had supposed.

The name Jesus is a common name, especially in the Hebrew language where it is pronounced Yeshua.  That name is better known to us as Joshua.

In the Old Testament, a number of people were named Joshua.  It is an important name that means “Yahweh is the Savior.”  Jesus is the name Gabriel told both Mary and Joseph to call the infant born to them in Bethlehem.  In Luke’s Gospel, we read that the angel Gabriel told Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).  Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

The phrase “in the name of Jesus” is used twenty times in the book of Acts.  Believers are baptized in the name of Jesus.  The sick and lame are healed in the name of Jesus.  Demons are expelled in the name of Jesus.  Disciples are told to preach in the name of Jesus.  Paul says in his farewell address to the church at Ephesus that he is willing to die in the name of Jesus.  When Peter preached his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Just two chapters later in Chapter 4, Peter and John are arrested because they have healed a lamb man.  When the Sanhedrin called them to task for this, Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  The Sanhedrin recognized that Peter and John had been with Jesus.  Jesus’ disciples used the name of Jesus in their ministry.

Paul used the phrase “in the name of Jesus” frequently in his letters.  In one very distinct passage, Paul writes to those Christians, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Christians greeted in the name of Jesus, encouraged in the name of Jesus, sanctified and rebuked in the name of Jesus.  Christians are to live so that the name of Jesus will be glorified.

This year our Community Thanksgiving Service was held at Mount Moriah Baptist Church, an African-American church on South Church Street.  Dr. Ed McDowell, the pastor of Silver Hill United Methodist Church, which is also predominately African-American, was our guest preacher.  Dr. McDowell can be a stem-winder.  He got going pretty well in his sermon that night.

A number of people in that congregation are accustomed to responding vocally to a sermon in a variety of ways.  I heard “Amen!” many times.  Other responses were, “Well!” “Preach it, brother!” and “That’s right!”  I even heard a few of those phrases during my appeal for the offering that night.

One elderly brother seated on the other side of the Sanctuary had a constant refrain.  I never saw him, but he repeatedly said just one word loudly and with conviction: Jesus. I heard him repeat this word throughout the service so frequently that I started trying to figure out a pattern to his responses.  I finally discerned that any time a member of the clergy said “God” or used a name for God – Creator, Almighty, Everlasting God, Precious Lord, Divine Master – this dear brother shouted, “Jesus!”

Near the end of the service, a woman among the clergy led in prayer.  I could tell that she was being especially careful to avoid gender specific language when speaking of God.  I could also tell that she had little or no experience with this kind of audible feedback from a congregation.

When someone shouted or called out any of the aforementioned responses, she hesitated as if she were thrown off guard.  Starting over, she sounded as if she were praying in a foreign language.  People in the congregation, accustomed to this style of worship, and the elderly man in particular, became vocal during her prayer.  Every time she said “God,” he shouted, “Jesus!”  She closed her prayer, being as politically and as theologically correct as she could be with “In your name, O God, we pray.”  The elderly gentleman again shouted out, “His name is Jesus!”

That style of worship is a little foreign to us, but I use that example to illustrate something that is very important.  Think about the names used for God in this sermon series.  Most originated in the Hebrew Scripture of the Old Testament:  El-Elyon, God Most-High; El-Shaddai, God Almighty; El-Olam, The Everlasting God; Jehovah-Rohi, The Lord Our Shepherd; Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord Our Healer; and Jehovah-Jireh, The Lord Our Provider.

I wonder if you noticed that as I as began the conclusion of each sermon, I tried to take us from the Old Testament into the New Testament.  I tried to find in every occasion the connection for God in the Old and New Testament Scriptures.  Paul, in quoting an ancient hymn in Philippians, describes exactly my point.  “God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every name should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:20).  The spiritual truth in this Scripture is exactly what we celebrate in this season of Advent.

This child that we remember, this child that was born out back and laid in a manger, is not just Joseph and Mary’s son.  This child is the very Son of God, fully human and fully divine.  He is the God-Man.  He is Immanuel – God with Us.  He is not just the omnipotent God, the Almighty God, but He is also the imminent God, the God present with us.  The God above has joined us in our humanity by giving us the gift of Jesus.  Jesus is the present from God, but he is also the presence of God in our midst.  This gift was carefully wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Theologically speaking, the first Christmas carol we sang this morning, “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing,” perhaps best captures the truth of the incarnation.  This song, written by Charles Wesley, conveys the miracle of the incarnation:  “Veiled in flesh, the God-head see, Hail the incarnate deity!  Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”

Let me ask you:  What does the name of Jesus mean to you?  We all know that we are supposed to pray, “In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”  Are we supposed to tack that phrase onto the end of every prayer?  Does that phrase come off a little bit shallow when you think about the meaning and the way the early church used the name of Jesus?  Jesus was the very mark of the Christian life.  The early disciples were forgiven, healed, restored, baptized, and commissioned in the name of Jesus.  This important name gathers up all of the greatness of Almighty God.

All of the names we have talked about in this sermon series are fulfilled in this one name of Jesus.  He, you see, is literally the embodiment of the great God of the universe.  He is the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  We are not just talking about a baby born in a stable.  We are not just talking about an unusual man standing at a carpenter’s bench.  When we say the name of Jesus, we are not just talking about a man who gave very wise teachings, sitting on a rock on a mountainside.  We are not just talking about a man who went to the cross or who conquered death by his resurrection.  Jesus is God, the fullness of God, right here with us, right here among us.  God sent Jesus.

We sometimes think of God as being aloof, distant, scornful, and wrathful.  Some have said that Jesus is God’s answer to a bad reputation.  Now in this one name of God, we see that God is love.  Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God’s great love.

Yesterday Kris and I held an art show at his gallery throughout most of the day.  Two little Vietnamese children – a boy and a girl – kept coming in and out of the gallery while their mother worked in a nail salon at the same mall.  When they started asking about my books, Kris told them that I am a storyteller.  They asked me to tell them a story, so I sat down with them and shared the story of Jesus as simply as I could.  The little girl had heard something about Jesus, but the boy had never heard of him.

The name of Jesus should be in our hearts, and it should also be on our lips so that we can give evidence that he lives in us.  Do you see the importance?  Do you see the seriousness?

So again this year, we come back to Bethlehem, at least in our mind’s eye, and find the stable.  We ask this young mother, “What did you name your baby?”

Mary responds, “I named him Jesus.”

“Is that a family name?”

“No, it just came to me one day sort of out of the air.”

“What does the name Jesus mean?”

“It means Savior.”

We draw near to the manger and look into that tiny face.  Do you notice that he is the spitting image of his Father, the great God fully embodied?  Jesus is the miracle of Christmas, the miracle of the incarnation.  With shepherds and wise men and all who will join us, we declare, “O come.  Let us adore him.”  As the Apostle Paul says, “Before him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10).  Amen.

Do you know Jesus?  Have you invited him to come into your heart, to come into your life?  If not, could I extend that invitation to you today?  You may have another decision to make.  You know how the Lord is leading you.  We invite your response.

Kirk H. Neely
© December 2011

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