“What’s In a Name?”
Names are important today, primarily because they give us ways to identify one another. Watch new parents and see how much they agonize over getting the “right” name. Much is at stake when it comes to naming a newborn.
In the Bible days, names were even more important because of how they also served as a way for the parents to convey their hopes for the newborn child. Parents didn’t name their children based on how the name sounded; parents named their children based on what the name meant. Names conveyed promise and hope.
We see that factor in play in the birth of Jesus. Because Matthew was writing predominantly for an audience that was Jewish in makeup, he begins his account of the Jesus story with a lengthy genealogy that traces Jesus’ family ties to Abraham, the original father of God’s covenant people, and through David, father of the Messianic promise. As you will see in your reading of this gospel, Matthew’s primary aim is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s messianic hopes and the one in whom God’s covenant promises find completion.
What’s unusual about Jesus’ birth narratives in Matthew is that they tell us how Joseph, the husband of Mary, fits in the picture. When Joseph discovers that Mary, his betrothed, is great with child, he plans on divorcing her, because he is a righteous man and he has the Law of Moses on his side. But when the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and assures him that this pregnancy is God’s doing, he also gives Joseph specific instructions on what the child is to be named. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus (which means ‘God is our salvation’), because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Joseph then awakens from his dream and does precisely what he has been told. Clearly, God chose a righteous man in Joseph to participate in His act of redemption. While Mary “gave” birth to the Christ child, Joseph “gave” him a name, and a name that is above all other names (Acts 4:12).
As you begin your reading of the gospel, don’t miss the manner in which no part of God’s redemptive plan is left to chance. Marvel at the details of the Jesus story, beginning with His covenant lineage and extending on to His obedient earthly father, one who could bring Jesus up to appreciate the necessity of doing what God gives one to do. Most of all, find comfort in your confession that Jesus is the promised Messiah, whom God indeed sent to be the means to our salvation, and be certain that, as the old hymn puts it, there is indeed something about that name.
Matthew 1 (ESV):
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah,9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.