Perhaps our culture has lost the depth of meaning in a name. We can forget that names mean something. In Scripture, when someone, something, or someplace is given a name, it is given that name for a reason. That reason is often a confession, not just to tell one person from another. Abram means “exalted father,” but he was renamed Abraham, “father of a multitude,” after God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Jacob means “deceitful one,” and was given that name for quarreling with his brother from Rebekah’s womb. But after wrestling with him, God gave Jacob the name Israel, which means “the Lord preserves.” After that, Jacob renamed that place Peniel, which is literally “the face of God,” because there he came face-to-face with God and, despite that, his life was preserved.
Even the very Name of God is a confession. When Moses asked Who sent him to tell Pharaoh that his 400 years of slave labor were ending, God told him that I Am sent him. I Am is more than just a name. It is a confession of who and what God is. He is eternal; there has never been nor will there ever be a time when He does not exist. All else has a definite beginning and end. God has neither.
So we mustn’t be surprised to find a meaning in the Name of Jesus. Jesus, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, was a very common name until the second century. For the son of Mary to be named Jesus was about as shocking as finding a newborn boy today named James or Michael. But besides the true Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, everyone else who bore that name looked for the One who would not only bear it, but would fulfill it.
In a dream, Joseph was told by an angel that the Child whom Mary bore would be named Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). So when the eight days were accomplished and Jesus was circumcised and named, He was given the Name Jesus, just as God had declared. At His circumcision, Jesus was placed under the Law to be the One who would fulfill it, saving His people from all their sins against it and its Author.
As ordinary as that name might have been, it is anything but ordinary. The Name of Jesus is the one name given under heaven by which we must be saved. This name is shared by God and Man—the One who is one person in two natures wears this name and reveals the divine will of God: your salvation. His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable. He will save you from that. But this word save means more than deliverance, it also implies healing. Jesus wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom that belongs to the children of God.
That is what Peter preached to the Sanhedrin. To the very Jews who put to death the Son of God he proclaimed freedom and life. He confronts them for their sin, for their rejection of the Chief Cornerstone. Though we did not plot against the Son of God like the Sanhedrin, we have committed the same sins as they. Every sin is a rejection of Jesus Christ, every sin is idolatry—making our sinful desires our god, that which we long for and in which we put our hope.
But there is salvation! That salvation, that freedom and life is found only in the Name of Jesus. In the Name of Jesus is His work, His purpose. His Name is Jesus, for He is your Savior from sin. His holy Name was nailed to the cross, just above His head. That’s where He saved you. That’s where His Name was fulfilled. He died for your sins. He rose from the dead. Believing in Him, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Name, eternal life from the great I Am.
In mercy, in grace, to bring the very salvation that His Name promises, God places His holy Name upon you. The holy Name of the Triune God marks you because you are Baptized into Him, Baptized into life and light, forgiveness and salvation. You, dear Christian, created by God, redeemed by God, sanctified by God, bask in the grace of His countless gifts. You hear Christ. You eat and drink Christ. You confess Christ. Because Christ has made His dwelling in you and has made you a part of His Body, you are saved from your sin because He is true to His holy Name.
And because His Name is upon you, you can call upon that Name at all times. In whatever situation you find yourself—in trouble, in want, in thanksgiving—you can call upon the Name of Jesus and He will hear you, He will answer you, and He will be with you. That’s because there’s so much more to a name than we may think. The very Name of Jesus promises salvation. With all that He is, Jesus promises you forgiveness and life, for He has saved you from your sin.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.