Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Name of The Promise is Jesus - Matt 1:21-22

Audio available here.

Throughout the Bible we find that God’s people have chosen special and meaningful names for their children. That practice continues for many today. Before our children were ever born, God brought us through a difficult season of ministry through a study of the life of David, and we decided then that if God ever gave us a son, we would call him Solomon. As we considered names for Salem, I was in my third semester of Hebrew at Seminary, and having studied the significance of the word Shalom in some detail, we decided to use a derivative of that word for her name. In fact, both Solomon and Salem are derived from that important Hebrew word. Their names became the foundation of our prayers for our children. For Solomon, we have prayed the words of 1 Kings 10:24, “All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.” And for Salem we have prayed the words of Psalm 76:2, “His tabernacle is in Salem.”

For some parents, the choosing of a name means making lists of choices, consulting books, and endless wrestling with possibilities. But for Joseph and Mary, there was no such process. They were not given the opportunity to choose the name of the child. God Himself chose this child’s name. This is fitting, for in reality, the child’s name was chosen by His true Father. And as with other children in the Bible, this child’s name communicated a divine message from God to humanity. God does not wait for the child to grow up and proclaim the message. The child is the message, and His name bears the message to humanity.

I. The Meaning of His Name

The angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus.” It was a common name for Jewish children in that day. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew names Joshua and Hosea, two significant Old Testament figures. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, to disambiguate Him from the many others named Jesus at that time. But this Jesus was not just one among many. In fact, so significant was this Jesus, that shortly after His lifetime, the name ceased to be as popular. Some avoided the name out of reverence for this Jesus, and others out of contempt for Him.

The name means “Yahweh is salvation.” Yahweh is the pronunciation we give to the unpronounceable name of God that was revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush. It is the name that communicates the essence of His nature and the name by which the people of His covenant know Him. Because of the commandment to not take the name of the Lord in vain, pious Hebrew scholars inserted vowels into this name from the more generic word for Lord, Adonai, indicating to them as they come to this name in Scripture to not even utter it out of reverence for the name. The combination of this name with the vowels from Adonai give us the name Jehovah.
In the giving of this name to this child, God was announcing to the world that humanity could be reconciled to God and made right with Him. He was announcing the nature of God, that God is gracious and loving, and mighty to save. This is His nature. This is why it so serious a matter to take His name in vain and associate Him only with damning. His nature is to save, because of His mercy and grace. But when His offer of mercy and grace are refused, only then does He condemn, and He does so justly and righteously because He is infinitely holy. But we mustn’t separate His holiness and His mercy, and thereby to fail to understand His nature of reaching out to redeem fallen humanity.

There are people who think of God as a cosmic policeman who is bent on finding all the fun in the world and putting an end to it at once. There are people who think of God only in terms of His judgment, a vengeful being ready to pour out wrath upon human beings. There are those who think that He isn’t there at all, and if He is, we can know nothing about Him. But the meaning of the name Jesus proclaims a message to us about the nature of God: “Yahweh is Salvation.”

II. The Mission of His Name

The angel told Joseph to call the child Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins.” This is the reason for calling Him Jesus. His name signifies His mission. His name means “salvation” because that is why He came – to save us from sin. From the earliest pages of Scripture when man first fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, God had promised to send a redeemer to bring salvation. In Genesis 3:15, He promised to bring forth one born of a woman who would crush the head of the serpent, indicating that He would destroy the power of Satan that had led humanity into sin. From that point on, the Scriptures reveal more and more about the coming of this Savior, the Messiah. We learn in Genesis 12 that He will be a descendant of Abraham; we learn in 2 Samuel 7 that He will be a descendant of David. We learn in Isaiah 7 that He will be born of a virgin, and in Micah 5 that He will be born in Bethlehem. And in Isaiah 53 we learn that He will bring salvation through His own suffering for the sins of the people. These, and many other Old Testament prophecies, point the way to the first Christmas when Jesus was born. It is as if the shadow of the cross loomed over the manger where He lay. Here was the one who would live the sinless life that completely satisfied the holy and righteous will of God. Here was the one who would be crucified, though He did not deserve it, that our sins might be punished in Him. He became our substitute in death, that we might be forgiven and who conquered death for us that we might be made righteous in Him and receive eternal life. Here was the one who would save us.

The salvation that Jesus has come to bring us is sufficient for all of humanity, but all of humanity will not receive it. Jesus has come, not to save all people, but to save His people, from their sins. Who are His people? His people are those who will come to Him in faith and trust and believe upon Him to save them. These are they who recognize that they are indeed sinners in need of a Savior, and who come to Him for that salvation. It may be very bad news to say that you are a sinner, but it is the best news of all to say that Jesus came to save just that sort of person. Not everyone is willing to admit that he or she is a sinner in need of saving. Now, just because they don’t admit it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. The Bible tells us that all human beings are born in a state of sinfulness, and human nature bears out the truth of it. Those who refuse to admit that they are sinners will seek neither Jesus nor His salvation and if they do not find salvation in Him, there is none elsewhere to be found.

The baby in the manger came into this world on a rescue mission. His name signifies that mission. His name means salvation, and through His life, death, and resurrection, He has come to provide it for sinners who turn to Him in repentance and in faith.

III. The Mystery of His Name

So far, we have said that the meaning of the name “Jesus” is “Yahweh is salvation.” And we have said that the reason He was given this name was that He would save His people from their sins. Now, if Yahweh, God, is the one who is salvation, and Jesus has come to save us, then who must Jesus be? Matthew tells us here, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, which translated means, ‘GOD WITH US.’” The prophet is Isaiah, and the prophecy that is quoted here (in the capital letters) is Isaiah 7:14, spoken over 700 years before the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.

You see, our state of sinfulness is so great, that it requires God Himself to act on our behalf to save us. And He has done so. Here in the person of Jesus, God has come to dwell among His people in the flesh. He is “God with us,” Immanuel. He is not merely a good man, nor even a godly man. Jesus Christ is the God-Man, not half-God and half-man, but fully God, and in the miracle of the incarnation, fully man. God did not merely send a representative to us. He became one of us, so that He might live the life that we cannot live, that He might die the death we deserve, and purchase by His very own blood the salvation that we could never otherwise obtain.

I had a conversation with a Muslim man on one occasion, and he accused me of being an idolater because I worshiped a man as God. I explained my belief that Jesus was not just a man, but that in Him, God became a man. He said, “God cannot do that.” I said, “Can God do anything He wants to do?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Can he become a man?” He said, “No.” I said, “OK, let’s try this again: Can God do anything He wants to do?” Again he said yes. I said, “Then can God become a man?” And again He said no. This went on and on for some time, and ultimately it came down to the fact that my Muslim friend did not believe that God would ever want to become a man. He could not fathom that an infinitely holy God would ever desire to lower himself to humanity’s level. Why would God want to become a man? The only possible reason is that God loves us, and desires to save us from our sins.

God is holy and righteous and therefore must punish sin. But God is also loving and just and desires to save sinners so that they would not perish eternally. For a human being, this would pose a dilemma. How could we ever resolve the tension of that conundrum? But it is no dilemma for God. His thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than ours. For God, this would-be dilemma is resolved in one action planned out from the beginning. God would become one of us, satisfy His own demands on our behalf, receive our penalty in Himself on our behalf, and conquer death forever on our behalf, and offer the salvation that He has purchased for us to all who will come to Him by faith.

We find ourselves here three days after Christmas, and three days before New Year’s. And in a sense, that is a symbolic position. In reality, we are living between the first coming of Christ into the world, and the New Era that will be ushered in at His second coming. We do not know what 2009 will bring, much less what the time beyond that holds for us. But we know this: Because of what God has done for us in Christmas, we can have a brand new future that is secure and certain in His hands. Our past failures and sins can be put beneath the saving blood of Jesus and each new day offers us a clean start to live for Christ. The question is, before you can get ready for the New that God has in store for us in the coming year and those that will follow it if He prolongs the days, have you received the gift of His salvation? God is salvation. Jesus is God in the flesh who has came to save sinners. And the promise of God is that all sinners who turn to Him in repentance and faith and believe that He died on the cross for your sins and rose again will be forgiven and saved. That is God’s promise. And the name of the promise is Jesus.

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