What’s in a name?
Shakespeare, speaking through Juliet in the play Romeo and Juliet, suggests that there is nothing in a name. And maybe, if you are speaking of a rose as Juliet was, you could call that flower by many other names and it would still smell as sweet as if you were calling it simply a “rose”.
But as beautiful and sweet-smelling as a rose is, it is nothing compared to the amazing beauty and fragrance given off by the life that God gives in the life that He offers to us. As a result, I have to take exception with Shakespeare on this issue. As it turns out, there is quite a lot in a name.
I mentioned previously that I am working on a talk at our Italian church for Christmas Day 2016 and thinking about Elizabeth giving birth to John the Baptist and Mary giving birth to Jesus. It is interesting that there are similar accounts in the way that God approaches both Zechariah and Mary through the angel Gabriel, but one of the specific things that I noticed is that it was God who actually names these babies. Yes, the parents ultimately give the names to the children, but they are taking their direction from the message that has been given to them by God through Gabriel.
For most things in life, men have given objects their names, but I think if God specifically decides that He will give something a name, we had probably better pay attention to that name and its meaning. So, let’s take a look:
The name John: Elizabeth knew what her child’s name was to be, but her neighbors and relatives were pretty sure that they knew better than her. Zechariah knew what he had heard from God though and stepped in to make sure that there would be no doubt. Everyone was astonished, but the child’s name would be John.
According to Behind the Name, the meaning of the name John is “Yahweh is gracious”. I think that meaning probably provides a clue to both the historical context of this time as well as God’s intent for the future. Gabriel had said that John would make ready a people prepared for the Lord, so I think what we are seeing is that, even in the name given to him by God, there is an indication of how the people should understand God’s upcoming actions in the next child to be named by God in Jesus.
The name Jesus: Like John, God gave Jesus his name through Gabriel’s direction, but this time in instructions to Mary. Looking again at Behind the Name, we see that the name Jesus in Aramaic is actually a contracted form of the name Joshua, so looking at the meaning of Joshua, we see that the name Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”.
From the naming of these two children – names given by God Himself – we can see that God has come to the conclusion that He wants to be gracious to His people, and that He will be, as He has always been, the salvation for His people. God is getting ready to do something amazing through His people, something that even His people weren’t ready for and couldn’t fully understand but would alter the course of all of history.