As Christians we live and move and have our being in the name of Jesus Christ. During His earthly life Jesus even teaches His disciples to pray in His name.
But this does not mean, simply, that we tack on “in Jesus’ name” on the end of each of our prayers. It does not mean that we are going to wear t-shirts with the name “Jesus” on them when we go out and do good works. We can do those things, but there is more to it than that.
There is more to the name of Jesus than simply saying it or wearing it. In Biblical thinking a name is not simply a title, not just what we call people. Names have power, especially the name of God.
Paul models this for us in Acts 17:16-31. In this passage Paul is provoked in his spirit by the fact that there are so many idols in the city of Athens. He is moved, emotionally and spiritually, because there are so many theological lies floating about in this city.
But why does Paul care so much? Is he simply a stickler for the truth? He just can’t stand that blocks of wood and stone would be worshipped? I am sure that is part of it, but the truth is that it is the name of Jesus that provokes Paul.
It is not just that these people are worshipping idols, but that they are not worshipping Jesus. It is not their ignorance of some general spiritual truths, but their ignorance of Jesus that moves Paul to stand up and begin reasoning, arguing, and debating. The name of Jesus lights a fire under Paul to proclaim Him among the myriad of idols littering the streets of Athens.
When Paul speaks, it is not with lofty words of wisdom, although he was certainly capable of it. He did not reason and debate according to the rules of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers around him. Paul proclaimed Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Paul preached the name of Jesus and His resurrection.
The name of Jesus confronts us with our own idolatry, our own fear, love, and trust of anything but the one true God. The name of Jesus beckons us, and all people, to tremble at the feet of the one perfect Man risen from the grave, now ascended into heaven.
Perhaps we could claim ignorance before we knew Him. But now we cannot. We have heard the name of Jesus. He is God and Him alone shall we serve. Anything else is literally damnable behavior.
Let us not, like the people of Athens, hold on to our idols, our trust in money, power, reputation, family, or the powers that be. For not only have we heard the name of Jesus, we have been called by it.
The name of Jesus has called you in your baptism. There He has written His name on you, marked you as His own. With the power of His name He has put to death your idolatrous nature and called you into a new life lived in His name.
It is through His name that Jesus brings His death and resurrection to bear upon your life here and now. The cross is no longer some distance historical event. It is here for you now, given in the name of Jesus, to forgive, renew, and strengthen you in the one true faith.
We continue to receive the name of Jesus in each Divine Service. Every time we crack open our Bibles or sing a hymn, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer or recite the Creed, the name of Jesus comes to bear upon us, forgives our sins, strengthens our trust in Jesus, and builds us up in the hope of life everlasting.
In the name of Jesus you live, and move, and have your being. This name colors and empowers everything that we do as Christians.
The name of Jesus empowers our forgiveness. Without His name our forgiveness is just empty words, a nice sentiment, but nothing with power.
With the name of Jesus it is real forgiveness, loosing the sins of those around us just as our sins have been loosed. There is real power in those words: I forgive you in Jesus’ name. Evil is removed and the devil is defeated. Relationships are restored and strengthened.
The name of Jesus gives us something to teach. Paul was not debating politics, economics, or philosophy. He was proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection. If that is left out there is really nothing worth saying as a Church.
With the name of Jesus, however, we have a life altering message, a life-giving lesson. One that can be passed on to friends and neighbors. One that is a blessing to teach to the next generation. In the name of Jesus the doctrine of the Church becomes a deep and bountiful well from which we may continually draw forth the water of life.
The name of Jesus changes our acts of service and love. If we do not serve in the name of Jesus then we might as well sit back, donate some money, and let the Red Cross handle all the problems of the world.
But we have something more than just money, food, or clothing to share with those in great need. We have the compassion of a Savior who bled and died for us. We have the bleeding charity of Jesus to share with those close to home and those who are far off.
His name is more than a mere title. It has renewed your life. His name has provoked your spirit. It has given you something to talk about.