What’s In A Name…?

Luke 1:31-32 “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

Ordinarily naming a child is something parents put a great deal of thought and discussion into. Maybe the discussion between mom and dad even gets a little tense if they have trouble agreeing on a name. Though we may focus on the sound of the name more than its meaning, naming our children is still meaningful for us. We wouldn’t blame Mary if she was disappointed that she did not have the privilege of naming her first born.

But the name God had chosen was meaningful in the extreme. Jesus, which is the same as the Old Testament “Joshua,” means “the Lord saves.” The angel later explained to Joseph that this was no coincidence. The Lord did not choose this name merely because it sounded nice. “He will save his people from their sins.” The name of Jesus was, and still is, a reminder of his mission and purpose. For those of us who know its meaning, “J-E-S-U-S” preaches God’s grace, the good news that the Lord has saved us from our sins, every time we hear it.

The gracious truths contained in this birth announcement didn’t end there. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” This was a child of distinction. The title “the Great” is not attached to great leaders lightly. In the recorded human history of every nation and empire, perhaps just over 100 people have received the moniker. Few nations have more than one or two “the Greats” in their story. Fewer still have one who is universally recognized–people like Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, or Charles the Great (better known as Charlemagne). We’ve never given the title to an American leader.

Jesus’ greatness dwarfs them all. He is “Son of the Most High”– not a child of God in the same sense we are all his creation. Jesus was and is the unique, one and only, divine Son of God. He was truly and fully human as the child of Mary. But now Luke’s mention that she was a virgin looms large. No human father was involved. This was God’s method for placing himself into our world. Mary’s body was God’s tool for becoming one of us to save us.

Is that a forgotten facet of God’s grace? The truth that this Jesus is God come to earth to save us is more than a theological fact to be learned. It is a gracious truth for our comfort. It would be disturbing, would it not, if God, safely watching from a comfortable distance, had tapped someone else to suffer hell and sacrifice his life to pay for mankind’s sins,? It would be only just for us to suffer for our own sins. But why should one of us be punished for everybody else? What good could that even do? The very suggestion leaves some people questioning God’s fairness.

Jesus was one of us, but he was more. He was the Son of the Most High. He was God clothed in human flesh. This is how much your God loves you. He doesn’t send someone else to save you. He does it himself. He doesn’t send someone else to pay your debt. He does it himself. He doesn’t send someone else to suffer the sentence for your sins. He does it himself.

Yes, God saves us through a substitute, and that might not seem fair. But he makes himself the substitute. He satisfies his own demands. The divinity reflected in Jesus’ names and titles is further proof of the bottomless grace and mercy of our God.

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