There was quite a buzz this summer over the birth of a baby, a royal baby. Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, born to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Prince George’s parents opted for a more traditional name as opposed to something with “21st century flair.”
Today, we look to the birth of another royal child – although his birth received far less press at the time. No camera crew, no paparazzi. This child was born in a manger, his birth announcement came to lowly shepherds. But his name carries more significance than any other name in human history. His name, of course, is Jesus.
Today I want to look at 4 Names or Titles given to Jesus in these birth stories we find on the first few pages of the Gospels:
The name is found first in Matthew 1. In the opening scene of the New Testament, Matthew begins with a genealogy that carries us all the way from Abraham to Jesus. Why?
For Matthew, Jesus enters into history in order to complete Israel’s story. Matthew sees the entire Old Testament as pointing toward Jesus. This truth impacts the way he understands prophecy (which we’ll discuss shortly); this genealogy represents the unfolding redemptive plan of God from Abraham to Jesus.
After the opening credits roll, the New Testament begins with a scene predicting the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-21. Mary and Joseph are betrothed, but Mary turns up pregnant. This, of course, is a big deal in Jewish culture, a sign of shame and dishonor. As a “righteous man”, one would expect Joseph to put Mary away quietly and preserve his hard-earned reputation. But an angel appears and tells Joseph the child is from God. Yes, Mary is pregnant, but what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit!
And this is where we are first introduced to the name: She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.
Jesus is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua; in English, of course, this name is Joshua. It was a very common name in Jewish culture. It simply means, “God saves.” In the period that followed Alexander the Great, the Greek language dominated the Mediterranean world, which meant that the name appeared as “Jesus” in much of the literature of the day. This common name could be found adorning many ancient tombs and graves. Even others in the Bible shared this name: at Colossians 4:11, for instance, Paul speaks of a “Jesus, who is called Justus.”
But by the end of the first century, this extremely common name became rare as a personal name. By this time, the name came to be associated with one man to the degree that it was deemed to be uniquely his.
In Jesus, God is acting to save his people. Through Jesus, it will be possible for us to be saved from our sins. But Matthew tells us a little more about what the birth of Jesus means.
At Matthew 1:22-23, Matthew informs us that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. 700 years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah was sent to King Ahaz to encourage him and tell him not to be afraid of Syria and Israel. God’s word through Isaiah to Ahaz was basically, “Be not afraid, for I am with you.”
But Ahaz wavers. Specifically, he looks to Assyria to help instead of looking to the Lord. And so, in Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah issues this prophecy: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. And he goes on to say that before this child is old enough to choose between good and evil, the land of Israel and Syria will be deserted. This child’s birth will remind the people that God is still with them.
700 years later, Matthew understands this passage as primarily referring to Jesus. Although it had a meaning that was significant to the original audience in Isaiah’s day, Matthew sees the birth of Jesus as bringing this prophecy to the fullness of meaning, to “fill full” of significance these ancient words. Matthew receives this kind of understanding from Jesus himself, who taught that all Scripture ultimately pointed toward him:
- You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! (John 5:39, NLT)
- Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matt. 5:17)
- Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew seems to understand that all the ancient texts were, in one way or another, pointing toward Jesus. And he sees Jesus as the clear expression of God’s promise of Immanuel, a promise to be present with His people.
From the burning bush (Exodus 3:12) to the ministry of Joshua (Joshua 1:5), God’s promise was consistent: I will be with you. But the birth of Jesus signals the beginning of a new era. God has entered history in a personal way, wrapped in flesh, making it unmistakably clear that He is on our side, doing everything possible to save us.
There is tremendous comfort in knowing that you’re not alone, in knowing that someone promises to be with you.
Nearly every evening at bedtime, my youngest child still wants to be near us. We’ll tell him to go to bed and he’ll say, “But I just want to be with you and Mommy.” In a way, aren’t we all crying out like this? Aren’t we all afraid of being alone? If only this were something we grew out of as we got older…
Are you missing someone? Whether it’s military families dealing with deployment or Moms and Dads sending kids off to college, our lives are filled with estrangement; some inevitable, some uninvited. But this is the reality that Scripture testifies to: all creation is missing the presence of God. In Romans, Paul talks about how creation is groaning out, awaiting a coming day of redemption and renewal. Sin has violated the sacred relationship that once existed between Creator and created. But now, in Jesus, we have God taking the initiative to restore the relationship.
In Jesus, God is truly with us and for us; God on our side.
So here are our names so far:
Jesus = “God Saves”
Immanuel = “God With Us”