We call Jesus many things. We call him Lord, which means master. We call him Christ, which means anointed one (Messiah in Hebrew). We call him savior because he brings salvation from sins.
Before Jesus was born the angel told both Mary (Lk 1:31) and Joseph (Mt 1:20-21) that they were to name him Jesus, “you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the Greek form of Yeshua in Hebrew meaning YHWH saves. Our anglicized version of that is Joshua.
Matthew 1 ends like this,
“24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.“
It is easy to read over something that is less noticeable to us than it was to them. Joseph naming Jesus is the customary way of Joseph accepting Jesus as his very own son. This is his commitment to raising Jesus. Joseph named him Jesus in obedience to the command of God and acknowledging him as his son.
Mary and Joseph weren’t the only two people to “name” Jesus. We see in the Gospels that the evil spirits name Jesus. They don’t give him a name but they call him by name. In their world, you had better odds of controlling the spiritual forces in the world if you knew their name. We get a hint of this when Jesus asks the name of the demons in the demoniac of the Gerasenes.
When the demons call Jesus by name, some believe it is their attempt to control him. It is their attempt to exert power over him by using his name. This may explain why Jesus tells them to be quiet,
“23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” – Mark 1:23-26
Jesus has so much power and authority that he doesn’t require using their name to drive them out and the crowds take note. Jesus did his miracles in the name of the Father (John 10:25).
Jesus’ name is powerful. In Acts 4 the religious authorities are furious over the miracles of the disciples. They drag Peter and John in to court and ask them this,
“By what power or what name did you do this?” – Acts 4:7
Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and replies,
“Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
John 20:30-31 tells us something similar,
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.“
Now what about us? How do we use Jesus’ name? Do we use it in obedience to God’s command as Mary and Joseph did? Do we use it identifying Jesus as our brother, as part of the family of God? Or do we subtly use the name of Jesus more like the demons?
If we use the name of Jesus in the demonic way we are using Jesus’ name in a more magical sense. Someone prays a prayer asking for selfish and godless things “in Jesus’ name” because Jesus said in John 14:13 that he will give his disciples what they ask for in his name. When we “ask in his name” it means we ask for things that are in line with who we know Jesus to be. It doesn’t mean ask for whatever you want, tack Jesus’ name on the end, and now Jesus has to do it because he said so. Jesus’ name is not a lucky rabbit foot. It is not a magical totem or an 8 ball that we manipulate for our own selfish reasons.
The name of Jesus is powerful. Let us recognize this and submit our will to the power of his name. Let us call out to him, by name, when we are in distress. Let us praise him, by name, when we are thankful. Let his name be always on our lips in a way that glorifies him, rather than tries to manipulate or control him.