A Christmas Baby
On a Christmas day, 54 years ago, I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Two nuns cleaned me up and brought me to my mom and dad in a Christmas stocking.
My birth meant a lot to my mom and dad (or so they have led me to believe over the years). But our country didn’t rejoice at my birth. The state of North Carolina didn’t rejoice at my birth. In fact, the city of Asheville didn’t rejoice at my birth. It didn’t make the national papers. It didn’t even make the local paper. There were no geopolitical implications that came from my being born into this world. (But it’s ok… I’ve gotten over it.)
But there were huge implications when Princess Lalla Salma gave birth to a daughter named, Lalla Khadija. Her husband, King Mohammed the 6th of Morocco, was so excited when his daughter was born, he wanted to celebrate in a big way. Instead of giving out cigars, he pardoned 8,836 prisoners and reduced the sentences of 24,218 others. The Justice Ministry said the pardons were a humanitarian gesture. (from the Preaching Today website).
Talk about setting the captives free.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Not Mean
Well, the birth of Jesus also had a few implications. A few major implications, in fact. The problem was, it just wasn’t what the people were expecting.
The first part of the beautiful words from Isaiah 9:6 reminds us,
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
You see, the promised Messiah was supposed to ride in on a mighty horse, bearing a sword, to overturn the political and military structures and put Israel back on top. At least that’s how many first century Jews understood that text and others like it.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Mean
Let’s take a look at one verse in Matthew’s Gospel to see what it says about why Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 says,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (emphases mine)
Joseph’s Marching Orders
The Gospel of Luke records the angel’s announcement and conversation with Mary about giving birth to Jesus. But in Matthew, the angel is addressing Joseph. This is important because it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David.
Luke gives us Mary’s genealogy to show us she was a biological descendant of David. But there’s something a little different going on in Matthew’s Gospel. In that Gospel, Joseph is never called Jesus’ father. Joseph is his adoptive-father, so to speak. Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus was a great miracle of the Holy Spirit. And so, God was the Father of Jesus.
But the key to this part of verse 21 is this – by giving Jesus his name, Joseph was accepting responsibility for raising Jesus as his own. “YOU shall call his name Jesus…” In that culture, the act of naming a baby gave the child legal status in the family. And so, Jesus was biologically linked to King David through Mary and legally related to David through Joseph.
Name Him “Jesus”
Now here’s what didn’t happen: God didn’t say to Mary and Joseph, “Go down to the Bethlehem Barnes and Noble and pick up a baby name book. The couple didn’t consult Great Baby Names of Hebrew History, 3rd Edition.
God, through the angel said, You shall, you will, you must, you are to call this baby boy, “Jesus.” And so, God told Mary and Joseph what to name their son.
Something About That Name
In a recent children’s Christmas Eve service at the church I serve, the service featured a story called, “Operation: No More Tears!” It began with Isaiah foretelling God’s “rescue plan” to save his people. Well, we find the fulfillment of that prophecy in the birth and naming of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus,” was the Greek form of the name, “Joshua.” It was a common name in Israel. It literally means, “Jehovah is salvation” or “God saves.” The angel told Joseph the baby boy was to be named “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.
Again, however, the salvation most of the first century Jews had in mind was a national liberation. They wanted to be freed from those who oppressed them. In this case, it was the Romans. They wanted a kingly figure in the style of King David to ride into town, with sword drawn, and take out their enemies.
But the prophecy that best points to the kind of salvation Jesus would bring is found in Psalm 130:8, which says,
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The salvation Jesus would bring would primarily be spiritual, though it would certainly have implications for every sphere of life. As the words to an old hymn remind us, there is something powerful indeed about the name of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus” represents our deliverance from sin and our reconciliation with God. Acts 4:12 says this about the name of Jesus,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:10, puts it this way,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (emphasis mine)
And who did Jesus come to save? “His people.” “His people” certainly meant Israel. We know he came first to “his own” as John 1:11 puts it. “His own” meant the Jews.
But we also know there’s a wider context. Undoubtedly Matthew, the same Gospel writer who gave us the Great Commission, which commands us to go into all the world to make disciples of every nation, understood it was not only Israel Jesus came to save.
The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came for Jew and Gentile. Paul writes this in Romans 1:16,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
For a Jew, the word “Gentile” or “Greek” simply meant everyone else… everyone who’s not Jewish. In other words, Jesus came to save everyone who would believe… Jew and Gentile alike.
Now think about that – Jesus came to save his people from their sins. “His people” would have included a lot of very, so-called, “religious” people, not just those who were described as “sinners.” Jesus came to say that no one can be delivered from their sin by their own religious works, no matter how good. We’re all born in sin and our sins can never be atoned for by our religious works, whether they’re Jewish or Gentile good works.
So, here’s the question for us. Maybe you’ve asked this yourself. Why couldn’t Jesus just parachute out of heaven as an adult and go straight to the Cross. The answer: because he had to be truly God and truly human.
As God, he would be able to atone for the infinite transgression of sin and bridge the infinite gulf between God and us. As human, he would live a life, be tempted just like the rest of us, yet remain without sin.
And as a sinless human, a lamb without blemish, as John the Baptist called him, he could die in our place and take the punishment we deserved. You see, his life of perfect righteousness was just as important as his sacrificial death. Because if he were a sinner like the rest of us, then his death would not have even saved his life, much less ours.
By taking on human flesh and living among us, God revealed just how much he loves those he came to save. In one of my favorite hymns, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley reminds us of this piercing truth,
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we may no more may die,
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Read Matthew 1:21 again,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, becausehe will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus was born for this. Talk about implications!
The birth of Jesus has eternal implications. It has temporal implications. It has implications for every sphere of your life.
Have you called out to Jesus to save you from your sins? And have you entrusted your life – given your whole existence to him? If not, let today be the day.
Thanks be to God for his holy and sacrificial love.
- What are some of the eternal implications of the birth of Jesus? How have those implications impacted your life, personally?
- What are some of the temporal implications of the birth of Jesus? How have those implications impacted your life, personally?
- What parts of your life are you still holding back from God? Why you think that is?
- What one thing will you do this week to turn those areas over to God so you can experience his transforming power in them?
- Spend some time this week praising and thanking God for the coming of Jesus. Find some hymns in a hymnal or online and sing or read them to celebrate what the birth of Jesus has meant for our world and for you personally.