Monday, December 9, 2013

Jesus: What's in a name?

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

What is the significance of the name Jesus? The Greek name Jesus is equivalent to the Hebrew name Joshua that meant “Yahweh saves.” The name Jesus therefore points to Yahweh’s willingness and ability to save his people and recalls Joshua’s role in leading God’s people into the possession of the land that God had promised. Jesus was a common name at this time in Jewish history and was generally given to sons as a symbolic way for parents to express their hope that God would one day act to save and rescue his people as he had acted in the past.

The First Christmas

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This statement by the angel finds a counterpart near the end of Matthew’s Gospel at the Lord’s Supper. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt. 26:27–28). Jesus’s death on the cross accomplishes or enables the forgiveness of sins. Matthew anticipates this earlier in the Gospel when he recounts Jesus’s healing of a paralytic.

"And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, 'This man is blaspheming'. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, 'Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise and walk?" But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he said to the paralytic—'Rise, pick up your bed and go home'" (Matt. 9:2–6).

Jesus fulfills the promise of his name, “Yahweh saves,” by saving God’s people from their sins through his death on the cross!