Calling him Jesus
Right from the outset of the gospels the importance of the name of Jesus is underlined. The name was revealed to both Mary and Joseph independently and its significance clearly made known:
Mt.1:21 “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
So the name simply describes the mission that Jesus came to accomplish. His coming into the world involved him coming as a Saviour, indeed as the Saviour of the World. Given the importance of this mission we are not surprised that this name was subsequently made a central plank of the preaching of the Christian church. For example early in the development of the early church Peter and John were arrested for teaching the people about Jesus after they had healed a crippled man in the temple precincts. Here is what Peter said:
Acts 4:11-12 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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.”
As we read our way through the gospels the name “Jesus” regularly appears. In fact it is used nearly 600 times. Most of the time the name is used to introduce what Jesus did or said but it is also used to refer to the way in which people related to him or thought about him.
When I looked more closely into the way in which the name was used I was surprised to discover that the name itself does not appear particularly frequently in direct speech.
The gospels do record the words of many different people who spoke about him using his name, Jesus but there are only a few examples of people speaking to him and calling him Jesus as they do so.
Speaking about Jesus
I want to begin by seeing how people spoke about the man whose name they used.
Early on in John’s gospel as Jesus was only just entering into his public ministry Philip went in search of Nathanael to excitedly share the news that they had found the Messiah:
Jn.1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
This identification of Jesus with the Messiah is important. The Messiah was expected to come and deliver or save his people from their enemies. He was thus expected to be one who could bring help in times of difficulty, a man who could bring relief to those whose lives needed it.
Several chapters later, John recounted the story of just such a man who stood in real need of this kind of help. The man in question had been blind from birth but on a wonderful day in his life he met Jesus and had his sight restored. Not everyone was happy about this however. Some of the religious leaders quizzed him to find out just how it was that he could now see. The man spoke out clearly and carefully explained what had happened to him – he knew how great his need had been and he knew exactly who had met that need:
Jn.9:11 ““The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
The man with this name of “Jesus” was obviously a powerful man and word of what he could do, and was doing, soon spread. His ability to cast out demons and his way of healing the sick was a popular subject of conversation:
Mk.6:14 “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.”
It seems that everyone was becoming familiar with the man from Nazareth.
Later as his ministry life was reaching its climax, Jesus entered Jerusalem to widespread acclaim – we refer to this event as the triumphal entry and we find the crowds are openly talking about him:
Mt.21:11 “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
And as his renown continued to grow others came wanting to meet him. John tells us of some Greeks who approached Philip seeking an introduction to him. We don’t know why they wanted to meet: did they have special needs or were they just full of curiosity? Whatever it was this is how they expressed their desire:
Jn.12:21 “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Early on the resurrection morning the name Jesus is once again spoken out loud only this time not on the lips of mortals but on the lips of an angel who spoke to encourage a bunch of disoriented and anxious women at the tomb:
Mt.28:5 “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”
So far we have been thinking about those folk who were on the whole positive about Jesus but it wasn’t only those who were sympathetic to him who used his personal name to refer to the man come to save his people from their sins.
Some of his early followers became critical of him when they found his teaching a little too difficult to accept. After all, they thought they knew enough about him to evaluate him and his worth. They had his number, or so they thought, and they decided to dismiss his claims:
Jn.6:42 “They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
It is clear that knowing and using the name of Jesus is not sufficient for a person to benefit from the ministry he came to carry out. These early followers might even be able to tell you a lot about the man but what they knew did not bring them personal benefit. You know the name “Jesus” don’t you – but has the man who bore that name brought salvation into your life?
When the time of Jesus’ arrest came those who had come looking for him were obviously struggling to recognise him in the darkness. In the exchange that followed Jesus spoke to them asking them just who it was they were looking for. Twice they declared that they were looking for:
Jn.18:5, 7 “Jesus of Nazareth.”
They were seeking out the Saviour but for an entirely wrong set of reasons. How different they were from those Greeks we thought about a moment ago! Those men had come with personal interest but these men hunting down Jesus as a criminal in the garden were merely doing their duty, looking for Jesus because someone else told them to. They were amazed by him for when he answered them telling them that he was the man they were looking for they fell over in shock! It is possible to be very impressed with this man Jesus without being saved by him.
Well the arresting party finally did carry out their arrest and Jesus was taken away to the high priest’s residence. Peter followed him there. It was while he was sitting nervously in the courtyard of the high priest that Peter’s world began to fall apart. It did so as a couple of servant girls spoke up:
Mt.26:69, 71 “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”... And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
You know what happened, don’t you? Peter folded. These two girls referred to Jesus by name and Peter denied knowing the man he had followed for the preceding three years. He was frightened. He thought that he would be in danger there in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence if his relationship with Jesus was to become publicly recognised. Soon he would be cursing in his desperate attempts at self-preservation. Many have faced similar pressures down through the years – owning up to being “with Jesus” one of his followers can still be dangerous but how much more dangerous it is to be without him! How much more dangerous to not benefit from his salvation! Even though Peter didn’t completely fall from grace during those few minutes of panic and denial, how much sadness did his faithlessness cause him!
Pilate used Jesus’ name as he tried to secure his release. (Another clear example that mouthing the name of Jesus does not imply faith.) Knowing that many identified Jesus with the figure of the Messiah Pilate made his enquiries of the crowd asking them some questions:
Mt.27:20, 22 ““Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”... Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”
So people were happy enough it seems to use the name of Jesus as they spoke about him but when it came to speaking directly to him that was a different matter.
Speaking to Jesus
Most often we find that when people spoke to him they did so by addressing him as Lord. This was a term of respect though it did not necessarily imply anything more than “Sir” though obviously for many it did mean much more than that! People also spoke to him calling him Master, teacher, Rabbi and a few other titles. Only rarely however are we told that they directly addressed him by his name, Jesus.
For the remainder of our time this morning we’re going to look together at the five occasions when they did.
1. The first example is recorded by both Mark and Luke as they describe Jesus’ encounter with man with an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue:
Mk.1:24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Lk.4:34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Things to note in this episode:
· confusion of self-identity. Is it the man himself speaking or is it a combination of him and the unclean spirit? Us or I?
· Why should a man like this want to be in the synagogue?
· True knowledge of Jesus’ and his identity
· Fear/distrust of what Jesus might do to him
· He needs to be delivered/saved
2. The second example is perhaps a more extreme version of what we have just been considering. Again the person concerned is a possessed man. The case is more extreme because this man is possessed by a large number of evil spirits and they have already had a serious and obvious negative effect upon his life. The man is unable to enjoy a normal social life and is obliged to live on the edge of society where he frequently does himself real physical harm. His influence on those who live in the same region is entirely negative causing them to oscillate between fear and repression and control.
When Jesus and his disciples arrived, as they were getting out of their boat, this sorry individual ran up:
Mk.5:7 “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.””
Lk.8:28 “When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.””
Things to note in this episode:
· The same confusion of identity exists
· He too has a clear understanding as to who Jesus is
· But this time emphasis is placed upon the state to which this man has been reduced
· Here is a man is desperate need of deliverance – no-one else has been able to do anything to control him. He appears to be a hopeless case.
· He too expresses his fears that Jesus has come to do him harm while being unaware of the harm the spirits have already inflicted upon him.
How many people act in similar ways to these two men? Living pitiable lives yet fearful that Jesus wants to harm them. They obviously recognise that he has power to alter their lives but they can only envisage Jesus making things take a turn for the worse. I wonder if any of you know a good deal about Jesus but are fearful of what he might do to you. Both these men found by personal experience that Jesus went about “doing good” as their lives were transformed for the better.
3. Ten Lepers
Lk.17:13 “and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Leprosy was an awful scourge in Bible times. Not only was it an incurable disease it also carried both religious and social stigma along with it. Not only did being a leper bring with it exclusion from normal everyday life which was replaced by life lived on the fringes of society, to be a leper also meant to be spiritually unclean and thus to be excluded from the religious and spiritual life of God’s chosen people as well. You really did not want to be a leper in the first century AD. The only folk who would be happy to mix with you would be those who were also excluded from society because they too were lepers. Lepers then tended to live in leper sub-communities which explains why there were ten lepers who called out to Jesus as he entered a village when on his way towards Jerusalem.
These men had an obvious need. They were lepers and they needed cleansing – they simply couldn’t turn to anyone else for help but they could and did turn to the teacher from Nazareth and they cried out for compassion. Do you remember how in our OT reading the king of Israel reacted when Naaman came to him to be cured of his leprosy? The king knew that God alone could do that. Yet these men called out to Jesus!
Things to note in this episode:
· Maybe they saw this as their last chance but their appeal is nevertheless revealing – they were convinced that he could help them and that precisely where no-one else could!
· Their cry for mercy to be shown to them is a cry to the Saviour to rescue and deliver them from their dreadful condition.
Again we should pause and ask ourselves whether or not we have realised just who dire our state outside of Christ really is. We can’t solve the problem of our own uncleanness due to our sin any more than these 10 lepers could scrub away the mark of their own leprosy. As they had to cast themselves entirely upon Jesus’ mercy for their cleansing so do we for ours. Have you done that?
It is impossible to discuss this episode without reflecting upon the differing reactions of those 10 men. If you know your Bibles you’ll know that all 10 were cleansed that day but only one of them returned to humbly give thanks to Jesus for what he had done for him. And this would teach us that it is possible to enjoy many blessings from the hand of Jesus without ever entering into a proper relationship with him. Do you take for granted the good things in life that come your way or do you find time to fall at Jesus’ feet to thank him for what he has done for you?
4. Blind Bartimaeus
The story concerning the blind man known as Bartimaeus takes place at Jericho. There are differences in the gospel record. Matthew tells us two blind men were healed whereas Mark and Luke both focus their attention on just one man. But what matters is that blindness is experienced and cured. Once again it is very clear that a genuine deep need is both experienced and felt. The blind man/men didn’t want to carry on being blind – he/they wanted to see again so the cry addressed to Jesus was for him to exercise compassion towards them:
Mk.10:47 “And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!””
Lk.18:38 “And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!””
Things to note in this episode:
· Need is again recognised
· An underlying belief exists that Jesus, the Saviour, is able to help and deliver him/them from their sightless plight
· Jesus is recognised to be special – he is the Son of David, that is he is the long expected human Messiah, the coming king who is well able to restore eyesight to the blind.
I wonder if you remember how Jesus responded to the question which John the Baptist sent his followers to ask?
The question was:
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Lk.7:20
And the answer was crystal clear:
Lk.7:22-23 “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
I sincerely hope that none of us are “offended” by Jesus but that we too will call out to him in our need too.
5. Thief on the Cross
As we spend some time last week thinking about this man we won’t dwell on him long here but let me remind you of just what he said:
Lk.23:42 “Jesus” he said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
His situation was grim. In a few hours his life was going to end and he was going to die. In the final finishing straight he was however keenly aware of eternity and he made his appeal to the one who had come to save his people from their sins. Could there be any hope for him a condemned criminal who was justly paying the price of his crimes? How could he know?
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
There is yet one more constant factor in each of the episodes that we have been considering. We have seen five different situations, five needs and five appeals made directly to Jesus. In each case Jesus responded to the need with what was needed. Cleansing, healing, restoration and promise. Jesus the Saviour brought salvation to each of those who called out personally to him.
And Jesus doesn’t change! He is still listening to hear sinners call out to him. He is still able and willing to cleanse sinners and to forgive them their sin. He still promises repenting sinners a place in paradise having gone to prepare that place for them. You can know Jesus as this merciful, compassionate Saviour, you too can have your sin forgiven and your eternity destiny settled for a glorious future but you must do what these people all did – they made their humble appeal to him. None of them claimed to deserve anything but they all asked him and he gave.
Mt.7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Rom.10:13 “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””