What’s in a Name?
What’s in a name?” wrote Shakespeare. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps one of the greatest bards of all time, he certainly had some poetic ideas—and some unusual viewpoints on life—like “All the world’s a stage.” Nevertheless he should have consulted the Scriptures. Then he could have known that life is reality, not “playacting,” and he would have learned “what’s” in a name. King Solomon knew. Endowed with the wisdom of God, he wrote, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
What’s in a name? Much! A name involves identity and relationship. Through their surnames children are identified with their fathers, wives with their husbands, buildings and business institutions with their builders and founders. Few individuals choose their own first names either, usually remaining content with those given by their parents. Nor have many legitimate movements named themselves. Most Christian movements were not named by their founders or followers, but by those who resisted their forward direction and set themselves against them.
For example, the Lutherans were so named by those who remained loyal to the pontiff at Rome. The Methodists, who began as a movement within the Church of England, were named by the Anglicans who felt that those followers of Wesley were fanatically methodical. The Jews who first proclaimed Jesus as the risen Messiah merely called themselves “disciples,” but it was at Antioch that they were first called “Christians.” The wording of Acts 11:26 is not that they called themselves by that name, but that the name was given to them, presumably by others who did not necessarily believe.
We Jews for Jesus received our name the same way. We didn’t choose it. Our name, which is truly our identity, began as a simple slogan—one among many. We felt obliged to tell the world that Jews could believe in Jesus and remain Jewish, and the best way to do that was through one short phrase that bore the message. We emblazoned the words on our clothing, tracts and posters in the hope that they would make a memorable impact on the cause-conscious, establishment-weary youth of the early 1970s.
It was the secular press that labeled us “Jews for Jesus.” It’s just as well. The name explains who we are, what we do and what we want to say. We really couldn’t have chosen a better name or description ourselves.
First of all, we are JEWS. We often encounter rejection from our “kinsmen after the flesh” who feel that we are wrong to use the name Jews for Jesus. “Believe whatever you wish,” they say, “but don’t call yourselves Jews!” They don’t want us to be known as Jews because their counter-evangelism strategy says that a Jewish person cannot be a believer in Jesus and remain Jewish. Sometimes they contemptuously call us “former Jews.” Nevertheless, we are still Jews in our hearts and in God’s sight.
We were born of Jewish parents, and that makes us Jews. Nicodemus rightly asked Jesus, “Can (a person) enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus answered him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…” We might paraphrase that to ask our opposition, “Have we, then, entered into a Gentile womb to be born a second time?” Of course not. That’s ridiculous. Physical birth is an established fact that cannot be altered. Furthermore, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not only made us Jews physically, he sealed our Jewishness when we believed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. No man or institution can take that away from us. Even if all the unbelieving Jews and all the Gentiles in the world would get together and issue an edict that said we were no longer Jews, we would remain Jews in God’s sight. If anything, we are more Jewish than ever because we have been made part of the “Israel of God” according to Galatians 6:16.
Besides that, we are Jews FOR. When we accepted Israel’s Messiah, made a commitment to him and gained the abundant life, we did not become against anything except sin. We are not “for” Jesus merely by assent or attitude. Our faith is not a passive condition, but one of active advocacy and involvement. We are for him by our evangelistic lifestyle.
There’s a popular saying: “Put your money where your mouth is.” That’s exactly what we are doing. We are unashamed of the gospel of Christ. We think that everyone should be for Jesus, and we are not afraid to proclaim it. It’s better for the unbelieving world to know of the intensity of our convictions and to consider us fanatics than for them to think that we are merely “good” or “nice” people and miss the message of salvation.
We openly and unashamedly identify ourselves with the Savior so that those who want to know more about him will ask for more information and those who want to avoid him will not seek us or take our literature. And because we are so identified with him, those who feel contempt for him heap that contempt on Jews for Jesus because they recognize his Spirit within us. We do not invite anyone’s contempt; but if and when it comes, we consider ourselves blessed according to Matthew 5:10-12. After all, we’ve been told that we are not to expect better treatment from unbelievers than the Savior himself received (Matthew 10:25).
Most important, we bear the Savior’s name, JESUS. If I had chosen a name for our ministry, I might have chosen a more lofty title like, “JEWS FOR THE ONLY SAVIOR AND KING OF HEAVEN, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO IS THE ONLY WAY OF SALVATION FOR ALL.” But then the simple name “Jesus” means that and more#8212;much more. The angel who heralded his birth said, “…thou shalt call his name JESUS [Yeshua which means God saves] for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). During his earthly ministry the Savior didn’t ask to be called anything more than that. Yet it was those who resisted him who mockingly named him “King of the Jews,” a title that, though true, was not bestowed with honor. They didn’t realize at the time how right they were!
What’s in a name? Everything. Besides identity, a name involves honor and reputation. In being identified with Jesus, we also share his reputation and his honor. We share the reputation of One who always loved, always dealt kindly and unselfishly, always sought to serve, even unto death. Even Pilate could only say, “I find no fault in him.”
Most important of all, the Heavenly Father approved and honored him, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). How can anyone hope to have a better reputation than that? Isn’t it better to have a good name with God than with people? And that’s exactly what we have as we identify ourselves with the blessed name of Jesus.
So you see, the name JEWS FOR JESUS is good for us. We use it as a badge of honor, emblazoned on our traveling vans, our clothing and our stationery. Whenever and wherever it is appropriate we will wear the name Jesus for honor—his honor, not ours.
Come to think of it, why doesn’t someone manufacture a T-shirt that has “_________ FOR JESUS” written on it, with a blank space to be filled in with the wearer’s name? Well, maybe not everyone outside of our organization is emotionally geared to be a walking billboard. But any Christian can identify in some way with the Savior for all to know. Join the adventure of being publicly for Jesus. You’re not ashamed of the gospel, are you?