New Year's Day: The Name of Jesus

Preached: January 1, 2012

Jesus: The Only Name That Saves
Acts 4:8-12

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, our Savior is Acts 4.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Leaders of the people and elders, if today we are being interrogated about a good deed for a disabled man as to how he was made well, let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead -- by him this man stands before you healthy. He is the Stone -- rejected by you the builders, but made into the Cornerstone. And there is no salvation in any other name at all, for there’s not another name under heaven, given among mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12).

This is the word of our Lord.

Gabriel had told Mary nine months earlier. An angel in a dream had told Joseph the same. So on the eighth day one week after his birth, there was no discussion on what to name this child. On that day they brought him to be circumcised, probably to a synagogue in Bethlehem. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham some twenty centuries earlier, the promise to one day send the Savior through Abraham’s family line, the Savior through whom all peoples on earth would be blessed. And as the priest performed the ceremony, this baby was given the name Jesus.

Now this was not the only baby called Jesus. For example in Colossians 4:11 we hear of another man named Jesus. In fact, Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which is still common today. The name means, “The Lord saves.”

But how different this name is for this baby! It wasn’t only a reminder that salvation comes from the Lord. But this baby is the Lord himself, who had come to save.

When you, dear friends, hear the name Jesus, it’s more than a sequence of sounds for you. It’s more than an identifier for this particular baby. What comes into your heart at the name of Jesus? Would echo the words of that slave-trader turned preacher, John Newton, who wrote, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, And drives away all fear” (‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds’, Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 358:1)? It’s the name that has seen you through the year ended. It’s the name that will see you through the year we’ve entered. It’s the only name that saves, which is the theme today.

But what does it mean that he saves? It means that he has rescued us by his blood and he blesses us by his resurrection. Those are the two parts for us to ponder as we cherish the name Jesus, the only name that saves.

A. Rescued by his blood

The words you heard the Apostle Peter speaking in the text were given to him by the Holy Spirit as he and John were questioned by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. These events happened some time after Pentecost. They had healed a cripple, but it wasn’t really them who had healed him but Jesus. They made that clear as they preached to the crowd that ran to see what had happened. And that led to their arrest.

Now standing before the same Jewish council that had sentenced Jesus to death, they testify. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified …” (Acts 4:10 NIV1984). How the name of Jesus both confronts us and comforts us!

Last week we knelt at the manger. Such a humble birth! Such lowly surroundings! Such poverty and weakness! How should we feel about this scene? Some use the nativity to elicit feelings of sympathy. Look at that poor couple, turned away from the inn! Look at that poor baby laid in a feeding trough! Yes, we are to show mercy to those in need. But don’t come to the manger feeling sorry for this baby. He is the mighty God. He doesn’t need your sympathy.

Rather look at the shepherds’ reaction. They “returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20 NIV1984). What joy! Yes, joy is what we feel as we kneel at the manger. But not just any kind of joy. This is not the joy so many mean when they wish you a merry Christmas. Rather it’s the joy of being rescued through this Child. It’s the joy that knows that no one else could have done it, but this Child did. He did it for you. He alone saves.

Now the joy of being rescued only comes when we know how much we needed to be rescued in the first place. We must be confronted with how helpless we were. Listen again what the Holy Spirit says through Peter, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified …” (Acts 4:10 NIV1984). Those words accuse not only the Jewish council; they accuse you and me. Whose sins were counted against Jesus? Whose sins brought the death sentence down on him, not simply from a human court but from God himself? Whose sins did he carry from the moment of his conception until his death on the cross? Your sins and mine. We’re the guilty ones. Our sinfulness confronts us. Recall what Jesus said to the women who mourned for him as he was led to Golgotha. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28 NIV1984). He doesn’t want our sympathy. We were the ones lost and condemned. We were the ones drowning in our own guilt. We were the ones who needed to be rescued. Only he can save.

The lowliness of his birth isn’t to elicit sympathy from us but to begin to help us realize how far God’s Son would go to rescue us. So also on the eighth day as he is circumcised, we marvel at how far our God goes to rescue us. He, who is Lord over all, places himself under the law for you, submitting to circumcision, for he came to take your place. We see the first drops of his blood that later would be poured out on the cross for you. His blood rescues you.

What joy and comfort come from Jesus’ name as we grasp what he has rescued us from! The mire of our sin. The dark pit of death. The fiery depths of hell. He has rescued you, dear friend. He has rescued you. That’s the joy of Christmas.

So as you look back on the year past, rejoice. As you look back, you know that you were far from perfect. Your sin, your failure, your guilt accuse you. But Jesus has rescued you. Rejoice. As you look back each year as its share of heartaches, loses, and pains as we travel through this earthly wilderness. But Jesus has rescued you. Rejoice. My family knows some of that lose first hand with my wife’s mother passing away on Christmas Day. But Jesus has rescued us. His name saves. For he came and poured out his blood on the cross, crucified for you. Only his name saves. Only Jesus could rescue you. And that’s what he has done. So rejoice.

Notice, though, we usually call Jesus Savior instead of Rescuer. For you see, he not only rescued us; he also keeps us safe for the blessedness he's prepared for us. The name Savior includes both, both the rescue and the blessedness that follows. How blessed we are for our Savior lives, risen from the dead! He lives to keep us safe -- eternally safe, eternally blessed. That brings us to the second part.

B. Blessed by his resurrection

As the Apostle Peter testified, he didn’t stop at Jesus’ death. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead …” (Acts 4:10 NIV1984). Jesus is the Capstone on which we lean. He is the Cornerstone on which we are built. He is our Hope and Courage for the year ahead. For he is our living Savior, risen from the dead. How blessed we are by his resurrection!

Look at the uncertainty Peter and John faced. They’d already been arrested. What would the council now do? Humiliate them? Imprison them? Beat them? Execute them? But there hope and courage were in Jesus, the only name that saves. He had conquered death itself. He had risen. Not even death could separate them from their Head, their Cornerstone. So no troubles or losses, no hardships or crosses would separate them from him either. That connection to Jesus is what makes us blessed.

Think of Mary and Joseph on that eighth day when they brought Jesus to be circumcised. Even with the prophecies of the Old Testament in their hearts and the announcement of the angel echoing in their ears, do you think they really knew much of what lay ahead of them? They faced the uncertainties of the future with the additional weight of knowing that God had entrusted them with the care of the baby Messiah.

Dear Christian friends, I don’t know what 2012 holds for you or your family. But I do know, and so do you, that Jesus is still the only name that saves -- the only name that brings true blessings. Hold on to his name for hope and courage.

So even if this new year is filled with hardships and tragedies it is still a year of blessing. For Jesus is with you, as you live this year in his name. He shepherds you, directing you as his sheep and lambs, feeding you with his promises, strengthening you to resist temptation. No matter what happens this year face it with a living hope built on the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, your risen Savior, in whom you are blessed.

In fact, with Jesus in our hearts and minds, we not only have hope but we also have courage to go forward in Christ. Keep Jesus in your thoughts as you make your plans for this new year. And I don’t only mean planning time to spend with Jesus, which of course we want to do. Don’t segregate Jesus to just a portion of the new year. Keep him in your thoughts in all the plans you make: your family plans, your personal goals, your business decisions, your financial planning, and so on. Keep him in your thoughts no matter what day of the week you’re planning for. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3, “{W}hatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 NIV1984).

Now this doesn’t mean all your plans are going to succeed. Even good plans fail. But as you plan in Jesus’ name building your hope on him, you know his blessing will be there for you, but maybe not in the way you’re expecting. His blessings go far beyond any earthly prosperity or personal gain. But his eternal blessings will not fail. For he has risen from the dead and reigns over all for the good of you his people, his believers, his saints. As you make sour plans, keep your heart and mind focused on him, your risen Savior. The Apostle Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set you hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV1984). What blessing as we focus on Jesus!

As your risen Savior, Jesus will bring you his blessings in the year ahead. With your heart fixed on him and your minds set on things above you will better recognize those blessings and rejoice in them. What joy and hope the name of Jesus brings as we look back at the year and look forward to the next! Only his name saves, for his blood has rescued you and his resurrections brings you his blessings now and forever. May his name be on your lips throughout this new year as you pray in the words of the hymn we just sang: “Jesus, be with me and direct me; Jesus, my plans and hopes inspire; Jesus, from tempting thoughts protect me; Jesus, be all my heart’s desire; Jesus be in my thoughts all day And never let me fall away.” (‘Help Us, O Lord, for Now We Enter’, Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 70:4).

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313