What’s in a name?

Jonathan Stephen Jonathan Stephen is the Principal of Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST), and the Director of Affinity, an organisation promoting partnership between Bible-Centred churches.
01 December, 2005 3 min read

We choose our children’s names on the basis of some family or other association – or simply because we like the way they sound. In the Bible, however, names were chosen because of what they meant.

The most famous biblical name of all is of course the name ‘Jesus’. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew ‘Joshua’ – and it means ‘the Lord saves’. ‘You are to give him the name Jesus’, an angel told Joseph in a dream, ‘because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Every word in this explanation is important.


Who is he? The angel tells Joseph that Mary’s son ‘is conceived from the Holy Spirit’. He is both human and Divine, the Son of Man and the Son of God. If he were not fully man, he could not be the true substitute we need, in life and in death. If he were not fully God, he could not have paid the price of sin, risen from the dead and defeated Satan himself. No mere religious leader could live up to the name of Jesus!


We are not told he maysave his people or could save them. The good news is that he will save them. Jesus said: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away’ (John 6:37). What confidence that should give us!


Jesus did not come just to make us a little more acceptable to God. And the Bible is certainly not some kind of self-help manual. Christ came to save! Only when we acknowledge just how sinful and helpless we are, will we appreciate what tremendous news that is.


The Bible makes it clear that not everyone will receive salvation. In prayer to his Father, Jesus said: ‘I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours’ (John 17:9). Speaking of himself he said: ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). He said his sheep know him and listen to his voice. Are you one of the sheep for whom the Shepherd died?


Jesus was not born into this world to save a lot of nameless souls, like scalps. He came for his people, whom he has chosen before the creation of the world – and whom he knows and loves with an intensity they can never fully understand or return. A true friend is one who values and cares for you. Even his enemies recognised that Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19).


Jesus did not come to join us inour sins – it was only because he lived a completely blameless life that his sacrifice for sinners on the cross was acceptable to God. Nor did he come to save us withour sins – if we were not separated from them we would compromise the purity of heaven. Gloriously, he came to save us from oursins – from their punishment, guilt and power. ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).


The salvation Jesus brings is a personal matter. Jesus did not come to deal with sin in some general sense. Christ came to save each oneof his people from their own sins. We must accept personal responsibility for them, repenting and putting our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can repent or believe for you. You must do it yourself. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).


Many people turn to Jesus hoping he will save them from unhappiness and failure. But the Saviour is not an emotional or psychological prop. The frustration, pain and emptiness that many feel are symptoms of a deeper malaise – they are not living as they should, because they are far from God.

Remember, it is our sins that separate us from God and prevent us knowing real freedom. Only the Christian can experience true joy and fulfilment. Is this your experience?

Jonathan Stephen is the Principal of Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST), and the Director of Affinity, an organisation promoting partnership between Bible-Centred churches.
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