We are right at the threshold of Christmas! By the time Sunday comes around, it will all be over for another year. Many trees will already be stripped of decorations (having also lost many of their needles!), lying in the gutters outside the houses where they were a focal point of activity just a day before. Gradually, lights will come down from houses and electricity bills will return to more normal levels(!) And we will begin the countdown to the next calendar event which requires us to send cards and buy expensive gifts – Valentines Day, unless there is another one before that!
But before we leave thoughts of Christmas behind and begin to get swept up in the blur of these regular events in 2022, let’s try not to leave Jesus behind too, but to fix in our thinking some of the things we’ve learned or been reminded of as we reflected on the coming of Jesus as a baby all those years ago. We’ll use the names He was given at the time to help us.
Did you know that there are over 100 names in the Bible that are used to refer to Jesus? I think that is because names in the Bible reveal something about character or mission, and how could you ever sum up the character and mission of Christ with just a couple of names? It’s a great study if you want to know Him better! It turns out that just a small subset (around 9-11) names were used to refer to him as He made His entrance into this world:
Luke 1:26–35 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
- Jesus, the Son of the Most High, Holy child, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-35)
The Angel Gabriel uses no less than three names as he tells Mary who this child would be:
- “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew, “Joshua”. It means “Yahweh is salvation”, or “Yahweh the Savior”. The angel who met with Joseph (Matthew 1:21) said that He should be called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins – which clarifies the mission that this child had come to accomplish and that is contained in His name.
- “The Son of the Most High” (and “Son of God”). It was well understood that the Son of God (who would be “great”) was truly God – of the same nature as the Father and very precious to Him.
- “Holy child”. Jesus’ body was to be formed in Mary’s womb by the action of the Holy Spirit, and not as the result of human activity. For this reason, the child would be holy – that is to say He would be set apart from sin from birth, having no sin by relationship to Adam and therefore able to suffer to pay the debt for the sins of others, in their place.
Putting these names together, Mary must have understood that this child was none other than the Divine Savior, God’s only begotten Son, having no sin in Himself.
Luke 1:67–70 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
- A Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69)
Zechariah was speaking by the Holy Spirit and using this name in relation to Jesus. In two places in the Old Testament, this name is given to God (2 Samuel 22:1-4, much of which is repeated in Psalm 18:1-3). David is rejoicing in the fact that God had saved him from his enemies. In these verses, God is also called David’s Rock, Fortress, Deliverer, Shield and Stronghold. The horn was used to denote strength, might and power. So here, “horn of salvation” essentially means a Savior/Redeemer of Divine power, who (as Zechariah points out) God had promised to provide for His people as a descendant of King David.
Luke 2:8–11 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
- A Savior who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8)
- “Savior” – a common theme running through all these verses that told the people involved (and us) Who this baby is.
- “Christ”, as we have seen before, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “Messiah” It means “Anointed” and For Jesus it indicates that He would bear at the same time all three offices into which one was inducted in the Old Testament through anointing with oil – Prophet, Priest and King. The people of Israel knew that God had promised to send them a Prophet like Moses (but better), a Priest in the order of Melchizedek (but better) and a King in the house of David (but greater) – the Messiah. The angel tells the shepherds that their Messiah has come at last!
- But He is also called “the Lord”. This is a title for God and for Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:3). Paul tells us in Philippians 2:9-11 that this is the name that is above every name, at which every knee should bow and which every tongue should confess to the glory of God the Father.
Luke 2:25–26 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
- Consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25)
- “The consolation of Israel” – A term which seems to imply a comforter, and which may be a reference to the beginning of Isaiah 40, where (in a passage that foretells the coming of Christ and the ministry of John the Baptist as His forerunner) God proclaims comfort to His people, tenderly assuring them that their iniquity was going to be pardoned through God’s coming to them.
- “The Lord’s Christ” Again, this means “The Lord’s Messiah”, or “The Lord’s Anointed”. It was used especially as a title in the Old Testament for the kings of Israel, who in turn were shadows of the true Anointed of the Lord. Psalm 2 makes this very clear, and is taken up in the prayer of the disciples in Acts 4, where they expressed their understanding that the kings and rulers of their day had taken counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed (referring to Jesus). Once again, then, this is a Divine title.
Matthew 1:18–23 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
- Immanuel (Matthew 1:23)
Matthew helpfully interprets this name for us, and indicates that it properly belongs to Jesus in view of the miraculous circumstances surrounding His birth of a virgin, fulfilling the 700-year old prophecy of Isaiah. It confirms that this baby is indeed God, and that He has come to be with His people and to save them (as the angel had just indicated).
Matthew 2:1–2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
- King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2)
Again, Israel was expecting a king to come and sit on the throne of David, establishing an everlasting kingdom according to the covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus was descended from David according to the genealogies both of His mother Mary and of Joseph, her husband. As Messiah, He rightly held the office of King over God’s people. Pilate asked Jesus if He was indeed King of the Jews, and Jesus affirmed it (Matthew 27:11). The Roman soldiers used this title in order to mock Him (Matthew 27:29), and ultimately, “King of the Jews” was on the charge sheet that was fixed above Him on the cross (Matthew 27:37).
There is plenty in these names for us to meditate on! See how we can piece together not just Who this baby was, but something of what He was like, and precisely why He had come. Here is an attempt to do this in one paragraph. Jesus is:
The sinless Son of God, the Lord, God’s Anointed Prophet (speaking God’s words to the people), Priest (making a sacrifice of atonement and lifting up intercession for the people to God) and King (in the line of David, ruling eternally over God’s people), who came to be among His people as a mighty Deliverer to bring them pardon from God – the comfort of salvation from their sins.
Is this your understanding of the baby born in Bethlehem? This is Who God clearly says He is. Obviously, no-one else even comes close to being qualified to save people from their sins. Is He your Savior as we begin the New Year?