The perfect name for a perfect child

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Steven J. Pagels

My wife was totally exhausted, but it was totally worth it. After more than 12 hours of labor, God had given us our first child, a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

Like many expectant parents, we had spent the previous nine months talking about baby names. We couldn’t agree on a boy name. I’ll take the blame for that, because I wanted to name our first son Otto after my grandfather. But we had our girl name all picked out: Hannah.

But later that night in the hospital, something didn’t feel quite right. We looked at our daughter, and she did not look like a Hannah. And so when we left the hospital three days later, the tiny band on her wrist identified the baby cradled in my wife’s arms as Claire.


Mary and Joseph didn’t go through this parental rite of passage as they prepared for the birth of their first child. There was no need to consult any baby name books. There was no discussion about naming their child after someone on either side of the family. They didn’t have to come up with a list of possible names and narrow it down to one they could agree on because that important decision had been taken out of their hands.

The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce the coming birth of a son. An angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain what was happening to Mary. That angel told Joseph that his firstborn would be a son, and he told Joseph to give him the name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was not just a nice-sounding name. It was a prophetic name, a name that had been chosen by God himself, a name that predicted what this special child would eventually do.


Forty-two years ago my parents named their firstborn son Steven, which means “crowned one,” but it didn’t take them long to figure out that I was no prince. When I was a baby, I fussed and cried. As a toddler I threw toys and tantrums. There were many times in my childhood when my behavior disappointed my parents, but it didn’t surprise them. Even before I was born, they knew I wouldn’t be perfect because they weren’t perfect either. Every parent, every child, every person on earth is sinful. Every one of us is fatally flawed. Every one of us desperately needs a Savior.

That is what makes our celebration of Christmas so wonderful. That is what makes the Son whom God entrusted to Joseph and Mary so special. And that is what makes this child’s name so meaningful. Jesus came into this world to save the world from sin. Jesus was born into this world for you and me, to live a perfect life for us, to forgive all of our imperfections, to give us peace on earth and the sure hope of eternal life in heaven.

You and I know the Son whom Mary gave birth to in Bethlehem by many different names. We call him Lord, Teacher, Redeemer, Messiah . . . the list goes on. But there is one name for this holy child that rises above the rest, a name that was given to him by God himself, the perfect name for our perfect Savior: Jesus.

Contributing editor Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.




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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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