"How sweet and delightful is the name of Jesus!," writes the great seventeenth century Lutheran theologian John Gerhard in his Sacred Meditations. Indeed the name of Jesus is the sweetest thing that can reach our ears. It was the name given by the angel before he was conceived in Mary's womb. Sure many people throughout history have been named Jesus, but God chose this name for our Lord for an explicit purpose. The angel told Joseph, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) He will be called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. The name Jesus means The Lord Saves. This is why Gerhard writes, "How sweet and delightful is the name of Jesus! For what is Jesus but Savior?"
Yes, Jesus was born to save. That is why his name quite literally means Savior. St. Paul writes, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Timothy 1:15) So the name Jesus is very fitting. Yet it's not simply a fitting name. It is a powerful name. The name of Jesus actually saves us. St Peter preached, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) In Luke 10 Christ's disciples marveled as they returned from their first missionary journey exclaiming to Jesus, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" (Luke 10:17) In the Book of Acts St. Peter says to a lame man, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (Acts 3:6) And immediately the man got up and walked, leaping and praising God! And St. Peter also preached, "To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43) So we see that Jesus' name is not like any ordinary name, but it has God's power to save.
Jesus' name has power, because he is God himself. God's name is powerful. The Psalmist writes, "As your name, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth." (Psalm 29:2) Where God's name is, there is God with his power, judgment, and blessing. This is why the Aaronic benediction, which we heard in our Old Testament lesson is so wonderful. "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26) This is how God puts his name upon his people and blesses them.
So, since Jesus is God and with his name he saves, the Second Commandment also applies to Jesus' name. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain." (Exodus 20:7) So it is blasphemous to use Jesus' name as an expletive or a common filler. Not only does this show a lack of vocabulary, but a lack of respect for Christ Jesus and his Gospel.
But you don't avoid misusing Jesus' name simply by not speaking it. God wants us to use Jesus' name, to cherish it, and trust in it. This means we should pray in Jesus' name. We should worship in Jesus' name. And we should rejoice in Jesus' name. But what does it mean to do all this in Jesus' name? To do anything in Jesus' name means to do it in faith, trusting in Christ Jesus. You pray in Jesus' name by praying according to the promises revealed to you in his Word and trusting that God will do it. When Jesus says, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" he doesn't mean that he will give you a million dollars if you say, "In Jesus' name" at the end of your prayer. He is teaching his disciples to pray for what he has promised to give; daily bread, defense from the devil, forgiveness of sins and to believe that he will indeed do it!
You worship in Jesus' name not by singing Jesus' name over and over again. Rather, to worship in Jesus' name is to listen to his Word and believe it. Worship doesn't always consist of our doing anyway. In fact, most of Christian worship is receiving from God. You worshipped in Jesus' name when you were baptized. You worship in Jesus' name when you hear and believe the forgiveness of sins spoken by the pastor. Jesus has attached his name to his Word and Promises. This centers first and foremost on what Jesus' name means, "the Lord saves." The message of Christ's incarnation, obedience in life and on the cross is the blessing of Jesus' name.
Our Savior was named Jesus when he was circumcised. God first commanded circumcision of all boys in Abraham's household beginning at eight days old to mark a covenant between God and Abraham and all his descendants. When a boy was circumcised he was cut and scarred for life. This removal of flesh was a sign. It demonstrated that God would send a redeemer through Abraham's line. It was the law that boys had to be circumcised, but the mark of circumcision pointed to the faith of the circumcised and the faithfulness of God to his promise.
Jesus did not get circumcised for himself. He was circumcised for you, for all those Jewish boys who were circumcised before him, indeed for the whole world. In Jesus' circumcision he placed himself at eight days old under the Law. In fact, Jesus fulfilled circumcision. There is no theological reason for circumcision to continue. Circumcision points to Jesus. Jesus has come.
Circumcision had the opposite effect on Jesus as it had for those millions of boys before him. For them it marked God's favor toward them. It marked them as God's own special people. But for Jesus, it cut him off from God. Christ, who was begotten above the Law by the Father before there ever was a Law now places himself under it, not for himself, but for sinners. In his circumcision Jesus joins himself to sinners, as Isaiah prophesied, "and [he] was numbered with the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12)
This marks the first act of obedience by our Savior and gives us an opportunity to learn how in fact this Jesus saves. He saves by taking our place. Jesus is your substitute, not only on the cross where he suffered for your sins. Jesus is your substitute in every station of your life under the Law. He does what the Law commands of you and he gives you the credit, while he himself takes your blame, as Isaiah again predicted, "and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) Everything Christ did in his earthly life he did for you and for your salvation.
His circumcision marks the first time Christ shed his blood for you. While the shedding of blood in circumcision pointed to the passion of the future Christ, Jesus' circumcision points to his own passion, his shedding of blood for your salvation. Indeed, what Christ did in his circumcision fits his name quite well, because he was circumcised to save you.
Circumcision is no longer required by God, at least not that of the flesh. Christ fulfilled the promise of circumcision. And yet God does require, or rather promises a circumcision of the heart, one done without hands. St. Paul calls this circumcision without hands Baptism, by which Christ makes us alive in him through faith in the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 2:11-14)
Baptism replaces circumcision. It is greater than circumcision, not only because it includes women as well as men, but because this circumcision is spiritual. It forgives sins by placing them on Jesus. Most importantly, Baptism places Jesus' name on you. Each of you is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is a baptism in Jesus' name, because Jesus himself commands us to Baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity and he promises salvation by it. Like circumcision, Baptism marks us. Perhaps we can't see it, but God does. And we do experience it. We experience our Baptism when we live life in Jesus' name.
Baptism places Jesus' name on you. It marks you as one saved by the Lord. Your baptism is also a confession that Jesus does in fact save. Yes, he saved you by his circumcision, his obedience to father and mother, his baptism, every act of obedience done by him throughout his life, his suffering and death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. And Jesus saves you today, through Absolution, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the Lord's Supper. The name Jesus is a sentence, "The Lord saves." So every proclamation of the Gospel is to hear the sweet name of Jesus.
And not only in church during worship do you hear this blessed name. You take it home with you. Every prayer you do in faith is to confess Jesus' name to your Father in heaven. There is nothing better you can speak of to your children, your husband or wife, your friends and strangers than the name of Jesus. You should wake up to the name of Jesus, think and pray it, speak it. The name of Jesus should urge you to go to church and hear this glorious name more, let it cover you. Because when Jesus' name is yours, so is salvation.
"What if the propagation of original sin in me condemns me, yet Thou art my Jesus. What if my conception in sin condemns me, still Thou art my Jesus. What if my creation in sin and under the curse condemns me, nevertheless Thou art my Savior. What if my corrupted birth condemns me, yet art Thou my Salvation. What if the sins of my youth condemn me, still art Thou my Jesus. What if the course of my whole life, defiled with most grievous sin, condemns me, yet Thou remainest still my Jesus! What if the penalty of death to be inflicted upon me for my sins and various transgressions condemns me, yet art Thou still my Savior! What if the awful sentence of the last judgment rise up against me, yet will I trust Thee, and fly to Thee as my Jesus, my Savior!" Amen.