By Mike Willis
The birth narrative of Jesus concisely tells the dramatic unfolding of the fulfillment of the Messianic promises. The events began to unfold in a perfectly natural way: a young man named Joseph fell in love with a young woman named Mary. Soon thereafter, the Lord intervened. The virgin Mary conceived a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. Some months later when Joseph realized that Mary was expecting and knowing that the child was not his own, he decided to divorce her privately. An angel appeared to Joseph reassuring him that Mary had not been guilty of fornication and explaining to him that she was with child by the Holy Ghost. He then said,
Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matt. 1:20-23).
The virgin birth of Jesus was a miracle through which God the Son became flesh. The Lord divinely revealed to Joseph the name of the child born to Mary. He shall be called Jesus.
A Common Name
The name Jesus was a common name in the first century. It was worn by Jesus Justus (Col. 4:11) and the father of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6) in the New Testament. Josephus mentions some twenty persons who bore this name and three of 70 translators of the Septuagint wore this name (TDNT III:285). To distinguish Jesus, the son of Mary, from the others, he frequently was called “Jesus of Nazareth. “
The name Jesus had a rich history. It is the Grecian form of the Hebrew name Joshua, the second great leader of Israel who led Israel into the promised land (see Acts 7:45 and Heb. 4:8 where Joshua is called “Jesus”). The name means “Jehovah is salvation.” Many a young Hebrew boy was given the name of Joshua in honor of the captain of Israel who won the battle of Jericho. How appropriate that the “captain of our salvation” (Heb. 2:10) should bear this name.
The name was also worn by another great leader of Israel – Jeshua, the high priest who assisted in the restoration of the children of Israel from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 3:2). He was one of several prominent leaders who restored the nation to its land, rebuilt the temple and the city of Jerusalem. How appropriate that our “high priest” should also wear this honorable name (Heb. 3:1).
The name Jesus was chosen for the child born to Mary by God himself (Matt. 1:21). It means “Jehovah is salvation” in a deeper sense for Jesus than with any other.
The Name Affirms the Humanity of Jesus
The Lord’s Christ bore the name of Jesus. This was the name given at birth. It therefore affirms the humanity of Lord’s messiah. Jesus was no mythological figure; he had real historical existence. His body was not a mere appearance, as the docetics might have affirmed; he had a real body.
Yet, the child which was born was in the most real sense Immanuel – “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). The virgin birth is the explanation of how deity became a man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a woman. The child who was born was the same person who “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). The incarnation was described by the Paul in these words:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
We cannot completely understand how deity became flesh and certainly we cannot improve on the language of Scripture to describe it. This much is revealed: God the Son took upon himself the form of a man and lived among us. As a man he experienced the same temptations as we experience (Heb. 4:15). When we speak of Jesus, we are reminded that God became flesh.
The Name Jesus Means Savior
The name Jesus which means “Jehovah is salvation” certinly reaches its deepest level of meaning when we realize that Jehovah came to save his people from their sins. Jesus came on a mission when he came to this world; he came to “seek and save that which is lost” (Lk. 19:10).
From what did Jesus intend to save his people? His contemporaries thought that we would save his people from Roman domination by organizing an army to overthrow the government and establish a Jewish commonwealth. Some might mistakenly think that Jesus came to rid the world of poverty, racism, civil injustice, and such like things. Some might conclude he came to heal the sick of the world. Yet, none of these was Jesus’ mission.
He came to save men from their sins. His deliverance is four-fold: (a) He saves us from the guilt of sin by granting forgiveness; (b) He saves us from the power of sin by enabling us to break its enslaving yoke; (c) He saves us from the darkness of sin by bringing us into the light of revealed truth; (d) He saves us from the punishment of sin by granting us entrance into heaven.
He is adequate for the task he came to perform. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews said, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (7:25).
The New Testament also affirms that salvation from sin is available nowhere else. Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The salvation is limited to “his people.” The Lord’s people are not limited to the physical descendants of Abraham. The Lord’s people are those who have obedient faith in Christ. These are the only people he has promised to save from their sins.
The Name of Jesus Is Above Every Name
Having accomplished his mission through his sacrificial death on Calvary, Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. Paul wrote, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). John saw the creatures of heaven “saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:12-13).
Indeed, the name of Jesus has been exalted and is worthy to be praised. He not only is the sovereign creator, he is the savior and judge of man. We should glorify his majestic name.
We pause to praise the Father who loved us enough to send his Son to die for our sins. We praise Jesus – the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. Is Jesus your Savior?
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, pp. 546, 566-567
September 17, 1992