There is something about names. Some names strike fear and terror in the heart — the school bully, the abuser, the deadly foe, the arch business rival. Others command respect — the childhood teacher who invested time in us. While still others inspire affection and love — our spouse, or a favourite granny. Even in our modern, often impersonal world of numbers, names are powerful symbols, often invested with deep personal meaning.
As we enter the season of Advent, one name naturally comes to our attention — Jesus. It’s a name we hear daily, whether we’re a Christian or an unbeliever.
But what does the name Jesus mean to you? Many treat it with a casualness today, nothing more than an expletive, devoid of meaning or significance. Yet it is a name overflowing with meaning and significance. The most famous Jesus wasn’t the first to be called Jesus, nor the last. But he was given the name for very good reason.
Before his birth, Joseph, in whose family he grew up, was told what to call him and why. “He shall be called Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18). So when John Newton wrote his hymn “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear” he began the fourth verse “Jesus! Our Saviour, Shepherd, Friend”.
There is no better starting place to get to grips with the name for Jesus and its significance. Whatever respect you may have for the name of Jesus, it is only a believer who has experienced Jesus’ saving work in their life who knows the sweetness of that name.
As we enter Advent and begin to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, we must face the unpalatable truth that the name of Jesus contains. It is sweet in a believer’s ear, but it brings all of us, believers and unbelievers alike, face to face with the dark underbelly of life. If Jesus is a Saviour, then we are in need of saving.
But from what? From our enemies? From ourselves? It is certainly true that we have an Enemy from whom we need saving. And often we are our own worst enemies, thinking and doing things of which we are deeply ashamed.
But Jesus came to save us from something more destructive — our sin. That principle ingrained in us from birth that rebels against God and everything he does and stands for. That principle that means each one of us will one day die, and if it is not dealt with in this life will be the thing that condemns us to eternal death.
That’s the reason Jesus was born: “to save his people from their sins.” Christmas without sin is absolutely meaningless. We might enjoy the tinsel and the trees, the turkey and mince pies, but if we don’t have sin and a Saviour we don’t have Christmas.
What the angel told Joseph, the angel choir announced to the Bethlehem shepherds. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)
The birth of a Saviour is good news only if we face up to the bad news — we are sinners before Almighty God. And it is only good news when we realize that we cannot deal with our sin to God’s satisfaction by ourselves. We are hopeless, helpless sinners.
But the good news that Christmas reminds us about is that God himself has become our Saviour. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem was not simply the Son of Mary, he was “Christ the Lord”. Christ means the Anointed One, and is the title Jews gave (and still give) to their expected deliverer. The Bible proclaims him to be Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of the world.
The truly amazing thing about this Anointed Jesus is that the angels also called him “the Lord”. They do not simply mean he is our superior, to whom we owe allegiance. They mean that he is actually God himself, born in the flesh. The term “the Lord” is used throughout the first part of the Bible (the Old Testament) as the chief title of God. When the angel talked to Joseph before Jesus’ birth he told him exactly the same thing. Jesus was to have a second name — Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).
The Good News of Christmas is that though we are helpless and hopeless sinners, guilty before a holy and perfectly just God, God himself has come to be our Saviour, to die for our sin. Jesus died the death we deserved for our sin, so that we might live.
The Good News of Christmas is that sinners on death row have been reprieved. They can live, and more. They can be part of God’s own family. As Jesus Christ’s beloved disciple, John, put it: “to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13)
In fact, John wrote his Gospel account “so that you may believe that Jesus is The Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Do you believe?
Will you believe?
To have a truly happy Christmas you must believe. Then and only then will Jesus’ name be the sweetest name in your ear.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer's ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole, And calms the troubled breast; 'Tis manna to the hungry soul, And to the weary, rest. Dear Name, the rock on which we build, Our shield and hiding-place, Our never-failing treasury, filled With boundless stores of grace! Jesus! our Saviour, Shepherd, Friend, Prophet and Priest and King, Our Lord, our Life, our Way, our End, Accept the praise we bring. Weak is the effort of our heart, And cold our warmest thought; But when we see thee as thou art, We'll praise thee as we ought. Till then we would thy love proclaim With every fleeting breath; And triumph in that blessed Name Which quells the power of death.
John Newton (1725-1807), 1779
Believer’s Hymn Book, No. 79
This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 26 Oct 2010.