Opinion: What’s in a name?

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Commentary by Michael VandenBerg

Shakespeare once wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” With it, he meant that it is not the name that is important, nor does it change the function or purpose of that which is named. I wonder if that is true. I wonder how many of us would agree, if all of our common names were changed or given new meaning.

Between Christmas and the New Year, my wife and I got to spend a week with our grandson and niece. My grandson calls me Papa, my wife calls me honey, my niece calls me Uncle Mike, my sister and brother calls me brother, my mom calls me son, my congregation calls me Pastor Mike and at the YMCA they call me Chaplain Mike. What an array of names, each slightly different but each in many ways the same. In most cases I am the same but in some, especially professionally, my function may be different.

Christmas is a wonderful story of God’s love for his people and how he is willing to give his own “son” so that we might become known as “Children of God”. But perhaps there are no sweeter names than those by which Jesus came into this world. Jesus is the same name meaning as Joshua, Je’sus, and Yashua, all of which mean “God saves.” Another name by which Jesus was called is Immanuel or Emmanuel which means God with us.

The beauty in the name is not so much the name itself, but that God gave the name, pronounced the meaning and set the purpose. Jesus, son of Joseph, is to deliver God’s salvation to the world, but not in impersonal means but in person. God himself chose to come to earth, take on our flesh and bone, suffer, laugh, cry, hurt and be like us in every way except in sin or the propensity to move away from God instead of toward him. Everything that Jesus did, he did by God’s own power, by God’s own grace, and for God’s own glory. He who counted himself as nothing before God, became everything before God, all to bring us deliverance from the penalties and final sufferings of our sin.

When my wife and I were first married and had our first child, we called him Christopher, or Christ bearer. He has been just that from the time he was born to when he first made claim to his faith at age 6 to the vows he made in marriage and the faith he continues to profess. Our second son came just two years later and we called him Joshua, “God delivers”. While he too has testified to the truth of his name, it was only Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph and Mary, Son of God, that did more than testify to the truth but was the truth, the word, the deliverance of God.

A remarkable tradition of the Bible times was that when a person changed professions or purpose, often they were given a new name; think Abram to Abraham (from exalted father to the father of many) or Jacob, meaning the supplanter or having taken his brothers place to Israel, one who wrestled with God.

Will God change our names as we move closer to his love? Will our new name smell as sweet? Will we find deliverance in God being with us this year 2017?

May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, be with you this year.


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