Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in December 2012.
Naming a baby is always an important decision. I remember when we decided to name our first son “Andrew.” Andrew is my middle name, but that wasn’t a good enough reason to name him that. At one point, we were trying to decide between Andrew and Caleb. What pushed me finally toward Andrew was the fact that Andrew is the first person in the Gospel of John to bring someone to Jesus. In fact, it is Andrew who brings his brother Peter to Jesus in John 1:41-42. Since our son’s name is Andrew John, I thought this was perfect.
Months later, as Andrew was lying in the NICU, having been born more than nine weeks early and weighing less than three pounds, the meaning of the name “Andrew” became important to me. Andrew means “strong and manly.” I was praying to God to make Andrew strong and to allow him to grow to be a man.
Joseph and Mary did not have to wrestle with the decision of what to name their baby boy. God, the true Father of Jesus, told Joseph what to name His Son. “You are to give him the name Jesus,” He said. He even explained why: “Because he will save his people from their sins.”
Of course, we know that God picked the perfect name for His only begotten Son to bear when He came into this world, but I’d like to reflect for a few minutes on just how wonderful the name of Jesus really is.
The Name Means Salvation
First of all, the name of Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua, which means “salvation.” It’s a variation of the name Joshua. In the Old Testament, two famous Joshuas stand out at two very important points in Israel’s history.
The most famous Joshua of all was the man who led the Israelites into the Promised Land and to victory over the Canaanites. He was a man whose life proved that the Lord saves — the Lord led His people. This Joshua’s name in Hebrew was Yeho-shua, which literally means “YaHWeH is salvation.” Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land and in triumphant victory over their enemies. Jesus, our Greater Joshua, leads us into God’s eternal Promised Land and secures for us victory over the greatest enemies — Satan our accuser, sin our enslaver, and death our terrorizer. By taking our sins upon Himself on the cross and then rising again from the dead, Jesus removes sin, defeats Satan, and disarms death forever.
The second most famous Joshua in the Old Testament is the man who served as the first high priest in the new Temple, the Second Temple, built in Jerusalem after the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon. His Hebrew name is exactly the same as Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua.
Listen to what God says about this High Priest Yeshua in Zechariah 6:11-13: “Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. 12 Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’”
So this High Priest Joshua, Yeshua, is given a crown and told to sit on a throne and is charged with building the Temple of the LORD. We are told that he will be clothed with majesty and will sit on his throne.
I don’t want you to miss this: High Priest Yeshua — given a crown and a throne, clothed in majesty to build the Temple — is a picture of Jesus. He points beyond Himself to Jesus, the baby who bears the same name.
In fact, both Old Testament Joshuas are pictures of Jesus leading God’s people to victory over their enemies and ruling over God’s people in majesty as the Great High Priest. This is Jesus. In fact, just so we don’t miss it, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint — made 200 to 300 years before Jesus’ birth — both men are named what? Jesus.
Every detail, every person, every event, and every unfolding promise point us to one person, one name, one fulfillment of every promise — Jesus.
If you don’t think God weaves the whole story of the Bible together beautifully and perfectly to show us Jesus, you need to pay more careful attention. Every detail, every person, every event, and every unfolding promise point us to one person, one name, one fulfillment of every promise — Jesus.
But let’s turn our attention back to the name Jesus and the reason God gave Joseph for this name — “because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was given the name Jesus so people would know His mission, His purpose in coming to earth from heaven. He came to be our Savior, our salvation — to save us from our sins.
This shows us, first and foremost, that sin is our primary and deepest problem. It is sin which separates us from God and condemns us before His holy justice.
If our biggest problem was a lack of education, God would have sent us a teacher, one who could enlighten us with the truth. Jesus was a teacher and the very embodiment of truth. He taught the truth, but the core of His mission is not found in His teaching. He came not just to teach but to save.
If our biggest problem was a lack of self-esteem, God would have sent us an encourager, a motivational speaker. Now Jesus certainly does bring encouragement and hope into our lives, but His mission was not to make us feel better about ourselves as we are but to save us from ourselves and to transform us into His likeness!
If our biggest problems were political in nature — the government — then God would have sent us an earthly king to fix the government. Now the Bible does tell us that “the government is on His shoulders” and that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” but Jesus was not interested in an earthly throne. His throne is far above all earthly powers. And His greatest work was not done on a throne but on the cross.
No, when we consider that God named His Son “Jesus,” we see that Jesus’ whole life will be leading up to the cross. It is on the cross that Jesus will do His greatest work, for on the cross He will take the sins of His people on Himself and bear our guilt and take upon Himself the wrath of God.
So even as Jesus is named — and He is named when He is circumcised, as His flesh is cut and He bleeds and cries — the name He bears points ahead to the reality of the cross.
Jesus comes to save His people from their sins by becoming sin for them on the cross. He comes to save us because we need saving more than information, education, inspiration, and motivation. We need salvation, and only Jesus can bring it to us.
He brings us salvation by perfectly keeping the law on our behalf, earning us a perfect righteousness we could never earn ourselves.
He brings us salvation by willingly taking upon Himself the wrath of God and dying in our place, our substitute sacrifice.
He brings salvation by being our enthroned High Priest, the One who reigns over God’s people and God’s universe with perfect justice, love, and wisdom and makes continual intercession for us.
He brings us salvation by conquering death — “the last enemy” — and bringing the precious gift of eternal life, a sin-free and glorious eternal life, to His people.
He brings us salvation by preparing a home for us, an eternal home in the heavens, not made by human hands.He brings salvation by being our enthroned High Priest, the One who reigns over God’s people and God’s universe with perfect justice, love, and wisdom and makes continual intercession for us.
The final thing for us to consider about the name of Jesus on this Christmas Eve is what Paul says in Philippians 2: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
One day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. On that day, Jesus will bring a final end to this fallen world and usher us into the New Heavens and the New Earth forever — into our Promised Land, like the real and eternal Joshua that He is.
The question for us is a simple one: On that day, will you bow your knee as a grateful child of God who is thrilled and relieved to see your Savior, or will you bow the knee as a conquered enemy of Christ? There is no middle ground.
Jason Van Bemmel is pastor of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Forest Hill, MD.