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What's In a Name? (Advent Blog 1)

Luke 1: 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

I find names and the meaning of names to be fascinating. Some people know the meaning of their name and some don’t. My wife is Donna, her name means “lady of honor.” It was a very popular name around 1960, then by 2010 it had dropped out of use. But I still like it.

I met a girl once whose name was Marah. I remember thinking, “did your parents ever read Exodus 15, or Ruth 1?” Marah means “bitter.” Now, if you are named Marah – I assure you that your parents weren’t Old Testament scholars – they didn’t know. It’s ok. You’ll be fine.

And then there’s the name Adolph. Google “Popularity of the name Adolph” and you’ll see chart after chart that shows that it virtually disappeared around 1930. (If you don’t know why, I’m not sure I can help you).

But, as far as names go, there is no other name like the name Jesus. Jesus is the Greek translation of Joshua which means “God saves.”

Now, think with me about the history of the Jewish people. If you were alive in 1st century Palestine you were part of a nation that had been subjugated by foreign nations for over 700 years. First it was Assyria attacking northern Israel in 722, then it was Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon taking thousands of Israel’s best and brightest into Babylonian captivity (605 BC). Then it was Persia, then it was Greece, then, in the 1st century, it was Rome who oppressed the Jews. All that to say, that when Jewish parents named their sons Jesus (“God saves”) – they were looking forward to the day God would send another Joshua through whom He would save them.

“God Saves” (Joshua) was a perfect name for the faithful, bold and brave man that bears his name in the Old Testament. He led the nation into the Promised Land so they could experience rest.

Jesus (“God saves”) is a perfect name for the Savior – for he too, conquered and provides rest. Eternal rest. He came – born of a virgin – lived a sinless life – suffered and died for all sins – rose from the dead to provide salvation! Israel, and all the world, was finally saved.

I’ve read that based on burial boxes (ossuaries) in Judea, the name Jesus was very popular in the first century. About 20% of names inscribed on these ossuaries are Jesus. That popularity is evidence for their suffering and longing for deliverance. Yet something interesting happens to the frequency of this name after the death and resurrection of Jesus – the name disappears. No one used it anymore.

Why? The name was forever associated with the history altering sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It seems Hebrew parents just didn’t feel it was right to call their sons by the same name. Whereas Adolph was so bad, parents quit using his name, Jesus was so good, they refrained from naming sons after him.

As far as names go, there is no other name like the name Jesus. That’s why God told the angel to tell his parents, “you shall call his name Jesus.”

He is the savior everyone has been looking for.

I trust will enjoy celebrating his birth and deliverance from sin this Christmas season.


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