What’s In A Name?


The Name of Jesus – January 1, 2017

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverb 18:10)

What’s in a name? Have you ever thought to ask? Every name, every title, every label has meaning. What does your name mean? One example of a name from around here is “Harold”, a name which means “power” or “leader.” The name “James” comes from the Hebrew name “Jacob” and means “heal grabber.” Another popular name around here is “Ruth” which means “friend.”

Maybe you already know the meaning of your name. If so, you know that the meaning of a name can be both a blessing and a curse. If you know anyone named “Eden”, you should know that the name means “perfect.” That can be a difficult name to live up to. The opposite of that is the name “Mary” which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “bitter.”

We might not often think about the meaning behind our name, but in Biblical times, names and their meanings, meant everything. God gave the first man he ever created the name “Adam”, which means “man.” Adam got to name his wife. He called her “Eve”, and the Bible tells us why. “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”

Years later, God called a man by the name of “Abram” and God changed his name to “Abraham” because he was to be “a father of many nations.” Abraham’s son was named “Isaac” because Sarah laughed when she heard she was going to have a baby at the age of 90. On through the Old Testament God gave fitting names to his people. Each one had meaning.

And then there was the name of God himself. It was a name that was not to be trifled with. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush he revealed his all-important name right then and there. “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” The name sounds odd to our ears, but to Israel, it was literally the perfect name. With that name God was reminding his people that he has always been and always will be. He was reminding his people that he is powerful. He was reminding his people that he is a God of free and faithful grace.

All of that was wrapped up in that one name: “I AM.” The name became so revered among the Israelites that it eventually was not even spoken at all. The name is pronounced “Yahweh” and to this day you will not hear a Jew say it. If only God’s Old Testament people had revered God himself as much as they revered the name he gave them.

In our first lesson the prophet Jeremiah reminded his people how far they had fallen. “Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good.” While God’s people were to honor and praise his name, they had instead turned to the names of false gods. Jeremiah names those idols for what they really are. “Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” The very name of the God that had saved Israel was the name Israel had rejected.

What’s in a name? According to the Lord, quite a bit. God’s name is so important that he has given it to us. But what have we been doing with the names that God has revealed to us? God labeled himself “ever-present”, but we often wonder if he is around at all. God calls himself “El-Shaddai” which means “all-powerful”, yet we question that power to help in our every-day life. And God has used that ever-important name “Yahweh” or “I AM”, and yet instead of faithfully going to that name in prayer we rather trust in ourselves and our own names.

No sooner does God give us something than we are tempted to misuse it. That is also true with his name. We have misused God’s name to curse, to swear, to lie and to deceive. We have not used that name to pray to him trustingly, to praise him faithfully, or to always give him thanks. And so we deserve to be labeled with the condemned.

But the names of God continue, even when we have failed to use those names the way we should. Perhaps one of God’s most beautiful names is the one we often overlook. When God prophesied that he would send a Savior, he also promised to give him a very special name. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” The Gospel of Matthew tells us what that is such a beautiful name. “[It] means God with us.”

After that promised baby was born, he was brought to the temple to fulfill the law. “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus.” Of all the names for our Lord, this one is probably the most familiar. It also might be the most accurate. The name “Jesus” means “Savior.” And that is exactly why Jesus came.

He came to be named a “Rabbi” and “Teacher.” He was called “a prophet” and “a miracle-worker.” He called himself “the Good Shepherd” and “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And yet the crowds eventually called him a criminal. Pontius Pilate, who could have named him “innocent” instead labeled him “guilty.” And willingly Immanuel, the great I AM, became the Lamb, who was sacrificed on the cross. In so doing, he fulfilled his name Jesus. He became your Savior from sin.

Our second lesson tells us what happened next. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” And that name certainly has meaning. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

God’s Old Testament people didn’t often understand the importance of God’s name. They turned away from it, misused it, or completely forgot it. That is why God promised his prophet Jeremiah that he would do something different with his name. “Therefore I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.”

You know that name, and knowing that name makes all the difference in your life. As you begin another year – 2017 – remember your Lord became Immanuel, “God with us.” He became the Messiah, the Christ, which means “the anointed one.” Your Lord came to be named “Jesus”, which means he came to be your Savior from sin.

Remember those names every day. Remember that “the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” This year hold on to that powerful, loving name. Hold on, to Jesus. Amen.

Exultavit Cor Meum


1 Samuel 2:1-11

 Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. 2 “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3 “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. 

4 “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. 5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. 6 The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. 

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world. 9 He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails; 10 those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” 11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.

Fourth Sunday in Advent Sermon

King Solomon once wrote in a psalm, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” They were wise words from Israel’s wisest king. Children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord. So why were so many women in the Bible unable to have children? Abraham’s wife, Sarah, lived over a hundred years. For most of that time she was unable to have children, even though the Lord promised a nation from Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. The Lord finally did give them a son, Isaac. When he was grown, he married Rebekah, who also was unable to have children. Eventually, the Lord blessed Isaac and Rebekah with twin boys.

Years later, during the period of the Judges, another woman was unable to have children. The Angel of the Lord came to her and told her she was going to have a son. By the grace and power of God she did! She named him Samson. God also miraculously blessed couples with children in the New Testament. An angel came to a man named Zechariah and told him his wife, Elizabeth would give birth to a son. Again, this was quite a surprise. Zechariah even said why, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Yet there was more to each of these accounts. All of these wives wanting to be mothers had a problem. None of them were able to have children. Every single one of them was barren. This morning we heard about another woman with the same sad problem as Sarah and Rebekah, as Manoah’s wife and Elizabeth. Her name was Hannah, and her strife was worse than all of these other women.

The book of 1 Samuel tells us, “There was a certain man from Ramathaim…He had two wives; one was called hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” This was especially bad for Hannah. “[Hannah’s] rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her…till she wept and would not eat.” It was sad enough for Hannah to be barren. It must have been even worse to watch her husband’s other wife give birth to many children. But the worst part of all was the provoking from the other wife, Peninnah.

And then we get the saddest detail of all. We are told “the Lord had closed her womb.” Now we have to ask the question Hannah asked every day: Why? If children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord, why would the Lord close a woman’s womb? Was it a personal punishment for something Hannah did? Certainly not. Was it because God thought Hannah would be bad with children? Clearly not, because the other wife, Peninnah, didn’t seem especially nice and she had multiple children! So again, why?

Bad things are so prevalently in our lives that we ask that question more than any other. Why would God keep his blessings from me and my family? Why would God give me hardship at work, or at home? Why would God allow sickness and suffering and death?

God’s people in the Old Testament asked those questions, too. Why would God send enemy armies to defeat the people he loved? Why would the Lord send his people off into captivity? Why would God leave his people feeling antagonized, alone, and barren?

For all of her sadness, Hannah did the right thing. She took her grief and problem to the Lord in prayer. “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly…’Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.’” Hannah completely unloaded her misery, her sadness, her grief on the Lord in prayer as she asked him for a son.

Then we hear the beautiful, loving response of the Lord to Hannah’s prayer. “The Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.’”

The barren woman had prayed to the Lord for a son, and the Lord gave her Samuel. All at once, Hannah knew in full what Solomon would later write about: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” Her boy would go on to be one of the greatest leaders Israel had ever known. In response Hannah sang one of the most beautiful songs of Scripture. Our sermon theme is the Latin title for it: “Exultavit for meum” – “My heart rejoices in the Lord.” She calls God her “Rock” who “sends poverty and wealth” who “humbles and exalts” And even more than that, “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” And finally, Hannah looked ahead to Christmas, when God would send his Anointed One: “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

In many ways Hannah’s personal strife summed up Israel’s suffering. Like Hannah, God’s people had felt antagonized, alone, and barren. And like he did with Hannah, God heard the prayers of his people, too. Although it looked as though Israel would be unable to have a Savior in their midst, the Lord promised one with beautiful imagery. He told his people, “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy…my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.”

This Christmas we celebrate God’s gift of a child that fulfilled that “covenant of peace.” And to fulfill that promise, God performed a miracle he had never done before. He enabled a virgin, Mary, to give birth to the Son of God.

For all those women who have had children, for those who haven’t, and for those who can’t, God gave his One and Only Son. He gave his Son to live perfectly because you and your children couldn’t. He gave his Son to preach and teach, to give you and your family faith. He gave his One and Only Son as a gift…to die. He gave his Son to rise again, to be your Resurrection and your Life.

After Hannah was blessed with the gift of a son, she praise the Lord with her beautiful song: “Exultavit cor meum.” After Mary was told she would be blessed to give birth to the Savior, she sang her beautiful song: “Magnificat.” You and I have also been blessed with a Son. He is Christ the Lord. Let us join with mothers and fathers, sons and daughters throughout the ages in singing “Exultavit cor meum”, “Magnificat”, “My heart rejoices in the Lord.” Amen.