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Why did they call him ‘Jesus’?

December 2001 | by Geoff Thomas

As the time approaches for a baby to be born, the parental debate over the name of the child gets more focused. Maybe there are three names left, but sooner or later the choice must be finalised.

The name is important. The parents are going to say it, and the child is going to hear it, throughout their lifetimes. Does it sound pleasing when you say it aloud? Do the initials spell or represent something funny or undesirable?

Will the name be abbreviated or altered to a nickname? Care is needed. If you call the child ‘Christian’ he may be nicknamed ‘Heathen’. ‘Gale’ might be nicknamed ‘Windy’. But if the name lends itself to positive nicknames that is a definite plus.

There is a balance between finding an unusual name and one that does not sound strange. There are benefits either way. Common names are easily spelled and recognised, but a unique name makes your child stand out.

Names tend to follow trends and cycles of popularity. When choosing a baby’s name we try to choose one that will sound as good in fifty years as it does today.

Then there are names that conjure up positive and meaningful associations. What do you think when you hear the name? Does it remind you of a place or an occasion that is significant to you?

Name with a meaning

What of the meaning of the name? In Bible times parents often gave their children names which had a clear meaning. One mother even called her poor child ‘Ichabod’ meaning ‘the glory has departed’ (1 Samuel 4:21).

But Joseph and Mary never discussed what they would name their first-born son. Neither of them chose the name.

Instead, God sent a messenger who told Joseph: ‘You are to give him the name Jesus’ (Matthew 1:21). This is a Latin version of the Greek ‘Iesous’ which in turn corresponds to the Hebrew ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Jehoshua’.

What does it mean? It means ‘Jehovah is salvation’, with the stress on the word ‘salvation’. The name emphasises the Bible’s glorious claim that Jesus Christ ‘is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him’ (Hebrews 7:25).

Title with a meaning

Some people think that ‘Christ’ is his second name, but it is not a name at all. It is his title – ‘the anointed One’. In Bible times people were often anointed with oil when they were set apart for a special task or role (kings, for example, were anointed when they ascended to the throne).

In the same way, God has set apart Jesus, son of Mary, to be our prophet, priest and king.

Others were given the name ‘Jesus’ (for example, Colossians 4:11 mentions ‘Jesus who was called Justus’). But only Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, God’s chosen servant sent to deliver men from the power and injustice of their sin (Isaiah 42:1).

God revealed

This is what Christmas is all about. The true and living God, the maker and sustainer of the universe, has revealed himself through his Son, the anointed Jesus.

The Bible proclaims to the world: ‘Here is God – and he is for you!’ Christ was no mere man; he was the incarnate God. And his name is Jesus because he saves all who trust him from the guilt, shame, ignorance, lostness and condemnation of sin.

How does he save? By becoming firstly our teacher, revealing the things of God; then our sacrificial Lamb, bearing our sins in his own body on the cross; thirdly, our risen Lord, justifying the ungodly; and finally our Shepherd King, bringing us safely through life and death to heaven. That is why he was named Jesus.

Good news

In Jesus Christ, the one and only God has done everything necessary for the salvation of his people, whom he ‘chose … in [Christ] before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4).

As we tell the world this good news, our powerful and loving God gives sinners the knowledge of who and what he is. And as men and women learn and receive Jesus into their hearts, he also imparts forgiveness and eternal life.

Christmas is a great time to be told the good news of the one born long ago; the one of whom God said: ‘Call him Jesus’.

We can say to all men: ‘We have good news for you’. For the eternal Son of God took on human flesh, living, dying and rising again to save us from our sins.

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Evangelistic