Day 9: Call His Name “God Saves!”

“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

  1. Take a moment to reflect on the name “Yahweh saves!” How does this comfort you today?
  2. What false saviors do you sometimes turn to for deliverance?
  3. 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?
  4. How do you need to cry out, “God save me!” today? Where do you need deliverance?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

Life Theology

Jesus Is More Than a Marriage Ref

When we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 (or Mark 10:1-12), it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of who can get divorced for what reason. I did that extensively once—I wrote a position paper on divorce in seminary. But I think in the context of what Matthew (and Mark, of course) is doing in his Gospel, this passage goes beyond petty details. After all, the major Pharisaical schools of thought liked to quibble over details. That was their speciality.

But Jesus is more than a marriage ref. He is attacking the very heart of Pharisaism. That’s one of Matthew’s goals throughout the gospels. Look at what Jesus does.

After some Pharisees ask about what constitutes a legitimate divorce (v. 3), Jesus starts by saying, “Have you not read?” Jesus challenges them on the authority of the Scriptures. Haven’t you ever read what God said? Of course they’ve read it. They have it memorized. Every word. But Jesus isn’t looking for information. He knows they’ve read it. But do they obey it? Jesus’ question pierces through their me-centered approach to marriage and everything else for that matter. It’s one thing to affirm the Bible is God’s word. It’s another to obey it.

Then Jesus tells them the word they most certainly have read: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” The climax of creation is God making humans “male and female.” It’s not one gender or the other.  God’s creative design was for a man and woman to be joined, not separated. “Can I divorce my wife for any cause?” (see v. 3) shows that the Pharisees get God, creation, image of God, and marriage all wrong.

Then Jesus goes for the jugular. The Pharisees appeal to Moses. Well, why did Moses command men to give divorce certificates to their wives? Jesus answers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” At the heart of Pharisee belief was not self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It was ruthless justice and self-justification through strict adherence to the law. Moses’ law never commanded divorce, but allowed it and did so to keep vulnerable women safe in a society full of sinful Pharisee-type husbands.

This me-centered theology led to me-centered practice: what is the minimum she can do to me so that I can get out of this? That’s the crux. Jesus does say that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual immorality (v. 9), but his point is not so much to preside over divorce proceedings as it is cutting to the heart of a selfless, religious people who think they are honoring God’s law when, in fact, they are breaking his heart.

What’s going on in the bigger picture? The Pharisees are a microcosm of Israel who left their true Husband, Yahweh. And Jesus is going to show them that he is that true Husband. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, after all (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) to die for his Bride, forgive her (even of grievous sin!), wash her clean, and work mightily for her holiness—not kick her out in the cold. This is what Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.

To the Pharisees, marriage was not about giving yourself up for the good of your spouse. It was about demanding and taking from your spouse so that you would be served. Jesus flips this on its head and shows that the religious elite truly have hard hearts, not obedient ones. Jesus will give himself up so that we come to see what marriage is all about—one man and one woman joined together before God in a loving, harmonious union of self-giving, forbearance, and forgiveness that points to a greater marriage: God’s with his people (cf. Hosea 1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).

Now the application for us becomes a bit more obvious—even for those of us with good marriages. I have never asked what’s the minimum Carly can do to me so I can send her away. But there’s a slice (sometimes a big one) of Pharisaism in my heart—and probably in yours. I too often make my marriage about me and what I can get out of it rather than about us and what I can give to my wife. I confess that my heart (which is Jesus’ point, after all) is all too ready to “send her away.” Not with divorce papers. But in the subtle, mini-divorces of angered silence, frustrated tones, sarcastic comments, and blame shifting.

If you think Jesus’ teaching about divorce is only for those with a marriage on the rocks you are fooling yourself. While we are asking what’s the minimum our spouse can do so we are justified in our literal divorces or metaphorical mini-ones, Jesus goes the distance to love his Bride by giving himself up for her. He’s saying, “It’s your hard heart that moves you send your spouse away when they wrong you. But I’m moved to run toward you and lay down my life for you, though you have wronged me.”

From the beginning, marriage was meant to be a living drama of God’s love for his people. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always, and forever love,” as someone once wrote. That’s the kind of love he has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants in our marriages.


What’s the Point of the Gospels?

It would, perhaps, be a seemingly great advantage had God simply inspired one, long, comprehensive and exhaustive account of Jesus life from birth to resurrection with every detail recorded.  However, that is not what seemed best to God. Unlike parts of a modern day biography, the gospel accounts of Jesus do not exist primarily tell us about the menial aspects of his life (as if the God-man had anything menial about his life), particularly childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, details that don’t seem to add up between the four gospels are most likely attributed to the perspective and emphasis the author has.  Upon deeper examination, of course, those details will more often than not complement, not contradict, each other.

If the gospels are not an exhaustive biography of Jesus’ life, what is their point? They were mainly written to show how Jesus revealed the Father to the world and how and why he came to save sinners and reconcile them to God.  In short, they were written so that we would believe Jesus as Lord and Savior.

At the end of his gospel, John wrote his purpose statement. It would be fair to say that John’s purpose is the same purpose God intends for all four gospels and the Bible itself. What was the purpose? It was not so that you might know everything about Jesus’ life, but rather that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Moreover, to begin his gospel, Luke said that he wrote his account for Theophilus so that he “may have certainly concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).

Father, help us believe and be certain about this God-man, your Son, Jesus!



Daily I am reminded of how careless I am with words. Thankfully, Christ died for the sins of my tongue just as much as any other sin.

Here is a “Bible verse poem” compiled from Proverbs 10:19, Ephesians 4:29, Luke, 6:45, and Matthew 12:36-37. Lord, remind us of the power of our words


When words are many,
transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good,
and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil,
for out of the abundance of the heart
his mouth speaks.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for building up,
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account
for every careless word they speak,
for by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned.


If the Bible Says it Once, It’s True

Some Christians believe in annihilationism, that is, that those who do not receive Jesus will not suffer in  hell, but will actually cease to exist.

But Matthew 25:46, plain as day, says that people will be punished forever if they are not saved.  It would be hard to reconcile annihilationism with these words of Jesus.  In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem wrote, “The Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true.”

Eternal punishment in hell is a terrible doctrine, indeed.  But if the Bible teaches it, then we must believe it, and hard as this seems, learn to love it in a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, non-vengeful way.