“I believe in Jesus…” Just like other names, we use the name “Jesus” to single out a specific person. The man called Jesus, born 2000 years ago, who lived in Nazareth and later in Capernaum, who was a famous preacher for some years—that is the person we believe to be the Son of God.
But the name “Jesus” itself is also significant. That is why the catechism, in LD 11, has us think about the meaning of that name. And it takes the opportunity to talk about our worship: do we worship in the name of Jesus alone, or do others play a role as well?
No other Name.
1. The meaning of “Jesus”
2. Our need of Jesus
3. The worship of Jesus
The meaning of “Jesus”
There was nothing unusual about the first name of Jesus of Nazareth. In the New Testament we find other people with the same name, e.g. in Col. 4:11. Boys were often named after heroes of the Old Testament, like Jacob or Joseph. In the same way, Jesus was named after Joshua.
Two men in the Old Testament were called Joshua. The best-known is Joshua, son of Nun, who was Moses’ successor and led the Israelites across the Jordan river into the Promised Land. Another Joshua was the son of Jehozadak the priest, one of the men who led a group of Israelites from exile back to Jerusalem. The fact that our Lord Jesus has the same name suggests that he, too, brings people into the Promised Land on God’s behalf. The Bible fleshes this out in Hebrews 4, by insisting that he is the “greater” Joshua: while Joshua the son of Nun could not give the Israelites definitive peace, Jesus the Son of God brings perfect rest and peace.
Why do we say “Jesus” and not “Joshua”? Because the New Testament was written in Greek. The Hebrew name Joshua (or Yehoshua`), when spelled out in Greek, becomes Iêsous, pronounced as “Yeah-soos” or “Yee-soos”. In English the first letter name was then spelled with “J”, which shifted its pronunciation over time so that it became “Jesus”.
Who gave Jesus his name? Both Joseph and Mary were told to call the child “Jesus” (Mat. 1:21; Luke 1:31). Told by an angel, a messenger from heaven. That means that God himself gave our savior his name, “Jesus”. He didn’t leave it up to the parents. He gave his Chosen One a specific, meaningful name.
Literally, “Joshua” or Yeho-shua` means “the LORD saves”. This fits well with the explanation the angel gave who appeared to Joseph in Mat. 1: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The LORD saves his people; he saves them through Jesus Christ. Even his first name, short as it is, tells us clearly who he is. He is Jesus, that is, Saviour. Whenever we use the name “Jesus”, we confess very briefly why he came, and what the Lord did when he sent him into this world.
There are many aspects to the person and work of Jesus Christ. He came to reveal God more fully. He came to fulfill prophecy. He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. He came to build his church. But all of that is part of that one specific calling and task he had. To save God’s people. There is much to say about how he is and what he came to do, but it can all be summarized in that one name:
Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Saviour? Because he saves us from all our sins.
Our need of Jesus
He saves us from all our sins. The catechism wants us to take the meaning of Jesus’ name and apply it to ourselves. In fact, the Bible gives Jesus a second name, a nickname if you will, from the prophecy of Isaiah. “They shall call his name Immanuel, which is God with us.” The coming of Jesus means that God came close to in his saving love and power. Close to us—especially to those “belong to Jesus”, as the catechism said in q&a 1.
When we confess the name of Jesus, we are also saying something about ourselves. We need saving. During his ministry on earth, many people came to Jesus and were blessed by him, with words of forgiveness and miracles of healing. They came with their needs. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “If you want, Lord, you can cleanse me.” “Lord, help my unbelief!” When we take the name of Jesus on our lips, we too should come with empty hands, asking for his mercy, asking to be saved.
As fallen human beings, we have offended God. We are guilty and deserve the punishment of hell. Jesus the Saviour atoned for us and reconciled us with God.
We were in the power of the devil and by nature unable to do what is right. Jesus the Saviour sets us free from the power of the devil and gives us true freedom.
In ourselves, we are inclined to hate God and our fellow man. Our hearts are dark and rebellious. Jesus the Saviour shines light in our hearts, so that we learn once again to love our God and maker; and he points the way to a life of love and care for others.
In all these things, we have nothing to offer. The Lord Jesus Christ does it all.
— He is the unique Saviour. He is the only one who can save us. Salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else, says the catechism. It is quoting Peter’s words in Acts 4:12. Peter added: “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” When Jesus’ disciples were arrested for their preaching, that was their answer: We must preach Jesus because there is no other Saviour. It is either him, or no one.
Jesus himself declared: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) To his disciples he said: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Likewise, Paul reminds us in 1 Tim. 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
Why is Jesus so unique? The catechism already explained this in Lord’s Day 6. We can only be saved from sin and hell by someone who is a true and righteous man, yet at the same time also true God. That is only true for Jesus Christ. Therefore he is the only possible Saviour. The Bible brings this out powerfully when it compares Jesus to the priests of the Old Testament in Heb. 7. The priests administered God’s grace and forgiveness of sins to the people, but their jobs were never finished, the cycle of sacrifices never stopped, and in fact, these priestly rituals and animal sacrifices could not truly save anyone; they were a picture and sacrament of salvation, but not the thing itself. But Jesus is both the ultimate High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice. His special identity as the Son of God and his life of perfect love and obedience uniquely qualify him as the real Saviour.
— Jesus is also a complete Saviour. Everything necessary for our salvation comes from him alone. He does not solve our needs in a superficial way. He does not forgive us our sin of yesterday while leaving us to fend for ourselves tomorrow. The Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper says beautifully that “he has removed the cause of our eternal hunger and misery.” He has dealt with our sin at the root level, by waging war against Satan himself and conquering the very grave. And when he left, he left his church with his Holy Spirit, who applies all of these things to our hearts and lives, from day to day.
In q&a 30, the catechism asks about those who seek their salvation of well-being in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else. It is not talking about atheists or pagans, but about people who call themselves Christians. People who say that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour, but at the same time rely on more than just him. Here the catechism takes aim especially at the Roman Catholic church, where there was a misunderstanding about the relationship between good works and salvation. Jesus saves, people would say or think, but my good deeds make me worthy of that salvation. Jesus saves, but I will ask Mary or Peter or another saint if they will intercede for me, so that their holiness and good works count as mine. Jesus saves, but in order to access that salvation, I should visit a shrine in Rome and perform certain rituals of prayer.
But there is no need for any of this; in fact, the focus on good works and the custom of praying to the saints undermines the clear teaching of the Bible that Jesus is the Saviour, and nobody else. When he saves you, you need nothing and nobody else; you don’t even get to contribute anything of your own.
All that there is to do for us—and you can’t even really call it a “good work”—is to accept the Saviour by true faith, and find in him all that is necessary for salvation. We need to be saved; without a Saviour we are lost. But thanks be to God: We have the perfect Saviour, who does the work from beginning to end, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The worship of Jesus
In Jesus Christ, God accomplished the most amazing thing, the salvation of his people. In fact, Jesus is God himself. There is no contradiction between “Jesus saves” and “Yahweh, the Lord saves”, because Jesus is the Lord. He is not merely a teacher of faith, but he is the object of our faith; in other words, as Christians we don’t merely believe what he believed, but we believe in him.
And so the ordinary name of Jesus has become a name of worship for us. From the very beginning, the apostles baptized people in the name of Jesus. They prayed in the name of Jesus. They even drove out demons in the name of Jesus.
There are Christians who always address their prayers to “God” in general, or to “God the Father”. Even at the end of their prayer, they say: “In your name, amen.” They don’t even mention the Lord Jesus. But our prayers become much richer when they are specifically in the name of Jesus, the one who saves us. We pray as saved people who know that Jesus is the one who now has the name above all names, and in whose name everyone will bow and worship. There is nothing wrong with praying to Jesus and praising him. This gives us a great opportunity to thank him specifically for the way in which he gave his life on our behalf.
The name of Jesus is at the heart of our faith. It singles him out as the one and only Saviour of his people. When Paul preached to the church in Corinth, he deliberately “resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) We cannot effectively bring the good news of God’s Kingdom to the world unless we speak much about Jesus, who is the King of that Kingdom.
The simple name, Jesus, is a powerful summary of who he is: our God, who saves us, and who is with us from the beginning to the end. Let us be faithful in worshipping Jesus Christ, and living our lives in his name.
- After which Old Testament person was Jesus named? What does that name mean?
- What is the meaning of the name Immanuel?
- Name two aspects of Jesus’ saving work.
- Where does the Bible emphasize that Jesus is the only Saviour? List at least two verses.
- Do we worship Jesus as our God? Why, or why not?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Numbers 13:1 – 14:10. Jesus is not the first to be deliberately given this name! Moses renames Hoshea (“salvation”) to Joshua (“the LORD saves”). What qualities does Joshua show here that we also find in our Lord Jesus?|
|Tuesday||Matthew 18:1-20. In this teaching about the Kingdom and church, what is the importance of Jesus’ name?|
|Wednesday||Acts 4:1-22. What do the disciples claim about Jesus’ name? What is the response of unbelieving leaders?|
|Thursday||John 20:19-31. List five names or titles this passage uses for our Saviour in this passage. How does Thomas respond to Jesus? How does John want us to respond?|
|Friday||Philippians 2:1-13. What “name” did Jesus receive? What is the purpose of that name?|
|Saturday||Hebrews 7:11-28. What aspect of Jesus’ work is discussed here? What makes Jesus unique in this task? What makes him perfect to do it?|