Names are always important. Whether it’s parents choosing a name for their child or the launch of a new business, a name says something. The internet age has brought us a new generation of sassy and witty company names, designed to express the ethos of the brand, to be easily remembered and to appear at the top of the search engine lists. Back in New Testament times, names were no less important.
In ancient Jewish culture many people were given names that were a complete sentence in themselves, in much the same way that some on-line businesses do today.
In English, the name ‘Jesus’ doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a word. But if you scroll back through the Latin (Iesus) and the Greek (Iesous), you get to the name that Mary and Joseph actually called their son: Yeshuah. They didn’t choose the name themselves; it was picked by God, who gave specific instructions through Archangel Gabriel. “You shall call him Yeshuah”.
To an English speaker, the name Yeshuah has no more meaning than the name Jesus, but Mary and Joseph weren’t English speakers. To them the archangel’s instruction was, “You shall call him ‘God Rescues’". Just like many companies today, God chose a name that went straight to the point.
Imagine the scene: on a hot, sunny day in ancient Nazareth - countless times - Mary must have stepped out of her kitchen and shouted for all the village to hear, “God Rescues, your supper’s ready!” Years later - also countless times - Mary’s son would have done the ancient equivalent of offering an introductory handshake while saying, “I’m God Rescues.”
God’s choice of name doesn't specify what he rescues us from. Like much of Jesus’ teaching, that is left open ended. It is enough for his name to assure us that God is on our side, and cares for us, and doesn’t want to leave us in the mess or a muddle of our lives.
God chose a powerful brand name. It's rather a shame that we have lost its impact through the meandering journey between languages.