Posted: December 1st, 2014

It’s the Most Wonderful Name in the World

By, Fr. Mark Sietsema

The greatest Christmas gift of all is a name.

There was a time when parents gave a lot of consideration to naming their children.  Nowadays, it seems, the trend is to spill a bowl of alphabet soup and see what you come up with.  Traditional names all have meanings, and there was a time when people concerned themselves with such things.


“Mark,” for example, is an interesting name.  It was a common name among the Romans as Marcus, and its meaning related to Mars, the god of war.  It would be a wonderful coincidence if the first astronaut to land on Mars were named Mark: he would be someone who made his “mark” (wink, wink) in history by landing on the planet named for the Roman god of war.


With a little knowledge of names and their origins, you find are able to see some beautiful coincidences in the Bible.  The name “John” goes back to the Hebrew name “Johanan,” which means “gift of God.”  John the Baptist was given this name by his father, not because it was a name in the family line, but because the angel said so.  John certainly was an unexpected gift to his parents in their old age.  John baptized in the Jordan River.  “Jordan” comes from the Hebrew word for “it descends.”  The Jordan River indeed descends quite a ways in elevation until it empties far below sea level into the Dead Sea.  Put John and the Jordan together, and you get “the gift of God descends.”  And when Jesus came to be baptized, that’s exactly what happened! The Holy Spirit—God’s gift for humanity—descended on Jesus in the form of a dove.


Speaking of coincidental names, the early Christians were fascinated by the name of God’s incarnate Son.  They knew from the Scriptures that Jesus was from the Aramaic name Yeshuah, meaning “The LORD is salvation.”  But when you put that name into Greek, it must be adjusted.  The ‘h’ at the end of the word had a very rough enunciation, and the best approximation in Greek would be the sound ‘s’.  Greek had no way to spell the ‘sh’ sound, so that also gets rendered as ‘s’.  Long story short, what starts in Aramaic as Yeshuah winds up in Greek as Iesous. 


And this is where the fascination comes in.  As a Greek name, Iesous picks up a new meaning.  It could be a name derived from iaso or ieso, meaning “healer.”  Saint Cyril of Jerusalem writes in his Catechetical Lecture 10, Section 13:


Jesus then means according to the Hebrew Savior, but in the Greek tongue The Healer; since He is physician of souls and bodies, curer of spirits, curing the blind in body , and leading minds into light, healing the visibly lame, and guiding sinners' steps to repentance, saying to the palsied, Sin no more, and, Take up your bed and walk. For since the body was palsied for the sin of the soul, He ministered first to the soul that He might extend the healing to the body.”


The church historian Eusebius of Caesarea says the same in his Demonstration of the Gospel, Book 4, chapter 10:


So, then, God the Word was called the Son of Man, and was named Jesus, because He made His approach to us to cure and to heal the souls of men.”     


Of like opinion were other Church Fathers like Epiphanius of Salamis, Justin Martyr, and Clement of Alexandria.  For them also, this name Jesus was not a mere linguistic accident, but an intentional revelation of God.  His name reveals His mission: to save the fallen soul from sin, and to save the broken body from illness and suffering.  It’s even better than a Martian astronaut named Mark!


Saint Paul was perhaps the first to realize the astounding beauty of the name Jesus.  And so he wrote to the Philippians (2:9-11): “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


When the Son of God came into our world on Christmas Day, He brought to all mankind a wonderful gift—this name of immeasurable power, Iesous.  In the name of Jesus, our prayers reach heaven.  By the name of Jesus, fevers are quenched.  At the name of Jesus, demons are dispelled.  With the name of Jesus, signs and wonders are wrought.  Through the name of Jesus, sins are confessed and absolved.  The very name is a blessing, for it is the name Jesus Christ that the priest’s fingers are spelling out (in Greek) as he signs the Cross over you.


His name not only means salvation and healing … His name itself IS salvation and healing.  “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved … And His name, by faith in His name, has made this man strong” (Acts 4:12, 3:16).    The Book of Acts tells us that even non-Christians recognized the marvelous might of this name, and tried to use it for their own purposes (Acts 19:13). 


In the year ahead, we should resolve never to use this great name in vain, as so many in our society do, and as we hear so often on the airwaves.  In the year ahead, we should resolve to speak this name reverently and prayerfully, and so to gain all the benefits that these sacred syllables hold for us.


Blessed be the Name of the Lord, from this time forth, and unto the ages of ages! 


A Blessed Christmas to you and yours, and a Happy and Holy New Year in the name of Jesus our King.

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