“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
What’s in a name? In our culture, naming children is a lost art. Typically parents pick names they like. There may be some family or personal significance, but the meaning of a child’s name rarely matters. This was not the case in the ancient world. Names had to do with identity. You are what you’re called. Take Moses for example. His name means “to pull/draw out of water.” Remember Moses’ story? He was sent down the Nile River in a basket and he was pulled out by Pharaoh’s daughter. So she called her new son, “Pulled out of water.” A bit funny if you think about it, but it would remind Moses, every time he heard his name who he was and where he came from.
Fast forward many years to when Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph that Mary will have a baby boy, “And you—Joseph, his adoptive father—shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph is given the privilege of naming this most precious child a name that will proclaim to the world his identity. The name Jesus comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua in English). It literally means “Yahweh [the LORD] saves.”
We see a similar phrase, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh [the LORD]” only twice in the Old Testament (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9). But the concept is on every page. It is clear that only God can deliver his people, and over and over again he does! In the climax of God’s redemptive work, he enters human history as a baby. It only makes sense that his earthly parents would call him, “God saves!”
Yeshua (Jesus) was probably a very common name in the first century. Israel, after all, was waiting for God to save them. There were perhaps many Israelites who named their sons Yeshua in anticipation and hope of God’s redemption. Yet this Yeshua would not simply be another ordinary boy whose name pointed to the God who saves. He would be the God who came to be the Savior of his people and the whole world.
Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Isaiah 43:1-13
- Take a moment to reflect on the name “Yahweh saves!” How does this comfort you today?
- What false saviors do you sometimes turn to for deliverance?
- Jesus obviously fulfills this passage in Isaiah 43—he is the servant (v. 10) and is the perfect representation of God in the flesh (the savior, v. 11). What does it mean that the newborn Jesus is fully God? How does that either challenge or reinforce your belief about the nature and work of God?
- How do you need to cry out, “God save me!” today? Where do you need deliverance?