Power in the Name

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8, NIV)

It’s dinner time at the Palmas. I lead off with the usual question—“what did everyone learn today at school?” The popular topic of late is what everyone took away from the morning devotional. Under the COVID stay-at-home orders, the kids have the rare chance to kick off their school day with a bible reflection led by the best teacher on the planet, my wife.

The kids take turns sharing first. It’s Theresa’s, one of our five-year-old twin girls, turn. With a little nudge from Mommy, she recalls from the morning talk the story of Joseph. Enter my nine-year old son. Brimming with enthusiasm, he can’t contain himself, and understandably so—his name is Joseph. We motion for him to wait since it’s his sister’s turn, yet he’s chomping at the bit to recite the whole story with every juicy detail.

Someone’s name tells you a great deal about that person. Take my full name—Paul Joseph Palma. Besides the biblical significance of my first name (after Paul the first-century apostle), I was named after my paternal uncle. My middle name tells you something more. In addition to a number of biblical persons with the name—the prisoner-turned-prince of Egypt (about whom my son will tell you everything you need to know!) and Jesus’ dad—my maternal uncle and grandfather were named Joseph.

Finally, my last name is the Italian for “palm” (as in the tree). Well, what’s the big deal about a palm tree—why name something after a tree? The palm tree represents “victory.” In athletic contests in ancient Greece and Rome, the victor was awarded a palm branch. So it is fitting that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, as the anticipated Messiah (the “triumphal entry”), was greeted with a showing of palm branches. When we observe palm Sunday, we’re celebrating victory.

When the Apostle Peter heals the lame beggar in Acts 3, he is very specific. He explains the miracle was accomplished in the power of the name of “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” This three-part name tells us so much about who Jesus is.

His common name comes from the Greek Yesous, a rendition of the Hebrew Yeshua (from where we get the English “Joshua”). The Hebrew Yeshua means to “rescue” or “deliver.” Matthew 1:21 makes this very connection: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, NASB).

The title “Christ” comes from the Greek Christos, meaning the “anointed one.” It’s the equivalent of the Hebrew derivative, “Messiah.” As part of their coronation to rule, the kings of Judah and Israel, alongside pharaohs of Egypt, were anointed with oil drawn from the sacred crocodile (the mashiach). When Peter calls Him “Christ,” he’s implying that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem marks the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecy of the coming ruler and king of Israel.

The last part of the title refers to the place where Jesus grew up. As recounted in Luke’s Gospel, “Nazareth” was the hometown of Jesus’ mother, Mary. It was the site of the “Annunciation”—whereby the angel Gabriel (whom my wife, Gabrielle, is named after!), informed Mary of her soon-to-come miraculous birth. Nazareth was also the city where Jesus and his parents resettled after their flight from Bethlehem.

So someone’s name tells us a lot about who that person is. Even if you’re not named after a biblical figure, your name says something about where you’re from, what your roots are, and perhaps something about your parents who chose it for you. The name Palma does not derive directly from Scripture, but I can appreciate what it means.

Peter’s choice of name in Acts 3:6 tells us a great deal about the identity of Jesus. It calls to mind Jesus’ Hebrew roots, His prophetic role as Savior and Deliverer, and His identity as the Anointed One, chosen to inaugurate and rule God’s kingdom. The additional title, Nazareth, tells us that the Savior and King walked among us, was born into this world, and lived, like anyone, in a specific time and place in history. The one who makes the lame walk, Himself walked in our shoes, even to the Cross, atoning for the sins of the world. There’s comfort in knowing that this Savior King entered into history and, like you and me, had an earthly name. Moreover, He lives today, always to heal and restore the broken.

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. His new book, Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity, is part of the Routledge Studies in Religion series. Paul is a contributing writer for CBN.com and the Pneuma Review. He enjoys spending quality time with his family, whether on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, or work around the yard.

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