Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 1:21 - 1:21

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 1:21 - 1:21

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The Name of Jesus

And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.—Mat_1:21.

1. At the beginning of history, names must be invented; in the course of ages, they become hereditary. The Baptist was about to be called Zacharias, for that was his father’s name. But in early times the Hebrews made names for their children. The name was often a memorial of some circumstance connected with the birth, or descriptive of the child’s appearance, or expressive of the hopes entertained of him. In this last case, the name might turn out to be most inappropriate, and become a sad record of blighted expectations. The first child born into the world was called by a name which betokened the fond hope of his mother that he would prove a treasure to her; but the infamy of his evil life bitterly put to flight that bright dream. Our eyes are dim; we cannot see through the mist of the future, and foretell what our children shall be in after years. We may bestow on them beautiful names, but, to use the striking comparison of Solomon, this fine name may be as a “jewel of gold in a swine’s snout,” the symbol of qualities of which they are wholly destitute.

2. Had it been left to human wisdom to invent a name for the Child of the Virgin, we can hardly form a guess of what the result would have been. Not a little friendly discussion is sometimes excited by the difficulty of fixing on a name. But this case was peculiar. Here was a Child unlike any that had ever been born of woman. How perplexing it would have been to find a name sufficiently expressive and obviously appropriate. But the point was settled by God Himself. The right to determine the name of the child belongs to the parent; and how infinitely competent in this case was the Father to give His Son the most suitable name. None knew the Son but the Father, and His decision must be accepted, not only as final, but as the best that could have been come to. The name selected was beautifully simple. A child may be taught to lisp it, and the dullest memory can retain it. Divine greatness is unostentatious. The simplest word in our language is “God,” and the next to it is “Jesus.”

If thou wilt be well with God, and have grace to rule thy life aright; and come to the joy of love: this name Jesus fasten it so fast in thy heart that it never come out of thy thought. And when thou speakest to Him, and sayest “Jesus” through custom, it shall be in thine ears joy, in thy mouth honey, in thy heart melody.1 [Note: Richard Rolle.]


The Associations of the Name

1. The name “Jesus” was no new name, coined in the courts of heaven, and carried to earth for the first time by the lips of the angel messenger. A new name is cold and meaningless, and stirs no memories of the past. There is a warmth about an old familiar name which no new combination of letters can ever hope to rival, and so it was an old name, a name with a history behind it, that the angel gave to the unborn Son of Mary. There was more than one little Jewish boy who bore that name at that very time. In the high priest’s family alone there were no less than three, each of whom would one day be high priest in his turn. There was Jesus, son of Sapphia, who would one day become a famous brigand chief, and, still more famous, Jesus surnamed Barabbas, whom the people would prefer one day to Jesus surnamed Christ. There was Jesus Justus, who would one day become the trusted helper of St. Paul, and Jesus the father of Elymas, the sorcerer, St. Paul’s opponent in Cyprus. There was Jesus the friend of Josephus, and Jesus Thebuti the priest, and Jesus the peasant, who would one day terrify Jerusalem with his cries. Over many a little living Jesus a mother’s head was bending on the day when Mary clasped her new-born baby to her bosom. How came it that so many boys were called by the same name? We know what makes a name popular at the present day; it is because that name is borne by the popular hero of the hour. How many girls were christened Florence, after the lady with the lamp! The Boer war produced a never-ending crop of little Roberts. And so it has always been. Those Jewish boys were all called Jesus after two great national heroes who had borne that name in the past.

2. Who were those heroes? Where do we find the name “Jesus” in the Old Testament? We do not find it anywhere, nor do we expect to find it; for we are all familiar with the way a name changes as it passes from one language to another—how, for example, the Hebrew Johanan becomes in English John, and in German Hans, and in Russian Ivan, and in Spanish Juan, and in Italian Giovanni; the name is the same, but the form varies according to the language. Now the Old Testament and the New Testament were written in different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek; and thus the same names appear under different forms. Elijah, for example, in the New Testament is always called Elias. And so when we search the Hebrew Old Testament for the Greek name Jesus we shall expect to find some change in the spelling.

(1) As a matter of fact we meet the name for the first time in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers and the sixteenth verse, where we read that “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua” (which means “Jehovah is salvation”). Jesus and Joshua are exactly the same name, only one is the Greek form and the other is the Hebrew. Joshua the son of Nun the commander-in-chief of the Lord’s people, under whom they conquered their inheritance, the leader who brought them out of the desert to the land of milk and honey, the captain who ever led them to victory, though foes were strong and crafty, the ruler who settled every family in the precise position which God appointed for it, and there gave it rest—he is the first who bears the name “Jesus” in the pages of history.

(2) But this Jesus died, and the centuries passed on, and a time came when the people lost the land that had been given them, when for their sins they were carried away captive to Babylon, and then, after forty miserable years, the second Jesus came—Jeshua the high priest, who led the people back to the land that had been lost by sin; Jeshua, who rebuilt the Temple and restored the worship of God; Jeshua, who was crowned with gold by the prophet Zechariah, as the type and forerunner of a greater High Priest who was to come; Jeshua, the son of Jehozadak, was the second Jesus in history.

3. And now we can appreciate something of the associations of the name; we can realize a little of what the message, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” would mean to a pious Jew like Joseph. Thou shalt name Him after the great captain who drove the Canaanites from the land. Thou shalt name Him after the great high priest who brought back the people out of bondage. Thou shalt call Him Jesus; for He, too, shall be a Saviour. “He shall save his people from their sins.”

Man is the principle of the religion of the Neo-Hegelians, and intellect is the climax of man. Their religion, then, is the religion of intellect. There you have the two worlds: Christianity brings and preaches salvation by the conversion of the will,—humanism by the emancipation of the mind. One attacks the heart, the other the brain. Both wish to enable man to reach his ideal. But the ideal suffers, if not by its content, at least by the disposition of its content, by the predominance and sovereignty given to this or that inner power. For one, the mind is the organ of the soul; for the other, the soul is an inferior state of the mind; the one wishes to enlighten by making better, the other to make better by enlightening. It is the difference between Socrates and Jesus. The cardinal question is that of sin. The question of immanence or of dualism is secondary. The Trinity, the life to come, paradise and hell, may cease to be dogmas and spiritual realities, the form and the letter may vanish away,—the question of humanity remains: What is it which saves?1 [Note: Amiel’s Journal (trans. by Mrs. Humphry Ward), 11.]


The Meaning of the Name

1. In one sense, there is nothing in a name. The nature of the thing is independent of it. It is not in the power of any name to make evil good, or good evil; and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, would have been what He is, by whatever name He had been called. But in another view there is something in a name. It stands for the thing, and, through frequent use, comes to be identified with it. It is therefore of the highest moment that the name should correspond with the thing, and convey a correct idea of it. Exactness of thought requires exactness of language. Knowledge depends for its accuracy on the right use of words, and the great instructors of mankind are as careful of the expression as of the idea. Words are things. We deal with them, not as sounds but as substances, and look not so much at them as at the verities in them. Names are persons. When one is mentioned in our hearing, it brings the man before us, and awakens the feelings which would be excited if he were present himself.

Now, we may see this, above all, in the adorable name of Jesus. That name, above all others, ought to show us what a name means; for it is the name of the Son of Man, the one perfect and sinless man, the pattern of all men; and therefore it must be a perfect name, and a pattern for all names. And it was given to the Lord not by man, but by God; and therefore it must show and mean not merely some outward accident about Him, something which He seemed to be, or looked like, in men’s eyes; no, the name of Jesus must mean what the Lord was in the sight of His Father in Heaven; what He was in the eternal purpose of God the Father; what He was, really and absolutely, in Himself; it must mean and declare the very substance of His being. And so, indeed, it does; for the adorable name of Jesus means nothing else but God the Saviour—God who saves. This is His name, and was, and ever will be. This name He fulfilled on earth, and proved it to be His character, His exact description, His very name, in short, which made Him different from all other beings in heaven or earth, create or uncreate; and therefore He bears His name to all eternity, for a mark of what He has been, and is, and will be for ever—God the Saviour; and this is the perfect name, the pattern of all other names of men.

When Adam named all the beasts, we read that whatsoever he called any beast, that was the name of it. The names which he gave described each beast; they were taken from something in its appearance, or its ways and habits, and so each was its right name, the name which expressed its nature. And so now, when learned men discover animals or plants in foreign countries, they do not give them names at random, but take care to invent names for them which may describe their natures, and make people understand what they are like. And much more, in old times, had the names of men a meaning. If it was reasonable to give names full of meaning to each kind of dumb animal, much more to each man separately, for each man has a character different from all others, a calling different from all others, and therefore he ought to have his own name separate from all others. Accordingly in old times it was the custom to give each child a separate name, which had a meaning in it which was, as it were, a description of the child, or of something particular about the child.1 [Note: O. Kingsley.]

2. The name “Jesus,” then, means Saviour. What does He save men from?

(1) Jesus saves from ignorance. If we consider the incarnate life of the Son of God as a theophany and a revealing, we see at once what power it had, and still has, to rescue man from the blind error which is a part of sin. In Jesus, man sees God as He is. And awakened by this vision, he sees time and the world as they really are. The false theories of life on which he proceeds are all contradicted in Him. Every falsehood which the world’s enchantment tells, every delusion which it weaves with its Circean spell, finds its refutation in Him. Part of the power of sin lies in its specious delusions. Among these delusions is the lie that the world is all; the lie that sensual pleasure is good, that passion is strong, that pride is majestic, that disobedience is wise. Jesus came and refuted all these immemorial lies.

(2) But if He is only a lawgiver, or a teacher of Divine truth, or a finger-board to direct us in the way of righteousness, He is insufficient for our needs. The man who teaches me the truth is not himself the truth. And if Jesus is only a teacher of the way of salvation, He is not Himself salvation. It is true that man is sadly and fearfully ignorant both of himself and of the infinite God to whom he must give account for the deeds done in the body; and it is also true that by coming to Christ he can be relieved of this ignorance. But if Jesus is only a pedagogue or schoolmaster, He does not touch the deepest necessities of man’s condition. Such a view of Him may improve a man’s morals, and elevate him somewhat in other respects, but it can never save him from the power and consequences of sin. Jesus is Himself the salvation which He taught, and which He commissioned His disciples to preach. He is the wisdom, the grace, the mercy, and the power that save men from their sins.

As Laurence Oliphant lay dying, the dear and sacred name of Jesus was ever on his tongue. There had been times in his life when he had spoken it with an accent of perhaps less reverence than was congenial to listeners probably less devout than he, but holding a more absolute view of our Lord’s position and work—as there had been times when he had called himself not a Christian, in the ordinary meaning of the word. But no one could doubt now of his entire and loving reception of that name as his own highest hope as well as that of all the world. A day or two before his death he called his faithful nurse early in the morning, probably in that rising of the energies which comes with the brightness of the day, and told her that he was “unspeakably happy.” “Christ has touched me. He has held me in His arms. I am changed—He has changed me. Never again can I be the same, for His power has cleansed me; I am a new man.” “Then he looked at me yearningly,” she adds, “and said, ‘Do you understand?’ ” 1 [Note: M. O. W. Oliphant, Memoir of the Life of Laurence Oliphant, 403.]

Many years ago there was a great famine of water in a town in the south of France. It was a hot summer, no rain fell for months, and as the people always suffered from the want of water, this dry, hot season greatly increased their sufferings, and many of them died. A few miles away from the town was a range of hills; in the hills were some beautiful springs of water, but the labour and expense of bringing the water from the springs to the town was so great that very little of it could be brought. In this town there lived a young man whom we shall call Jean. He was industrious and good, and was shortly to be married to a beautiful young woman, whom he dearly loved. But all at once the marriage was put off, the young man began to go about in old clothes, took very little to eat, gave up his pleasant home and went to live in a garret, and, in short, became a thorough miser. He went to bed in the dark to save candle, begged other people’s cast-off clothing, and very soon became changed from a blithe and happy young man into a wretched-looking old one. Nobody loved him now. His charming bride forgot him, and married another man; the children called him names in the streets, and everybody shunned his house. After many years of wretchedness he died. When his relatives went to search his room they found him almost wasted to a skeleton, and all his furniture sold, while the old man’s body was lying upon a heap of straw. Under his head they found a will, and what do you think was in it? This: that in that dreadful summer, forty years ago, Jean had been so saddened by the dreadful suffering of the people—especially of the children—for want of water, that he had given up his young bride, his pleasant home, his happy prospects, and had devoted himself day and night all through the weary years to working and saving, so that the people might have the beautiful water brought to them from the distant springs in the hillside. Oh, how everybody blessed that old man! A reservoir was made in the hills, pipes were laid under the ground, and the water was brought into the town so freely that its inhabitants never thirsted any more. The old man did not create the water, neither did he make the people thirst, he simply brought the living water and the dying people together—and he sacrificed himself in doing it. Now that is just how Jesus saves men. He did not make God love them—God always loved them. He did not create God’s love or mercy—those great springs of blessing were and always are in the great heart of God. He did not make men sinful and sad so that they needed these things; but He brought these springs of love and blessing down to the men that were dying for the need of them. He is the channel through which God’s love comes to us. From God, but through Christ, we receive all the blessings of salvation. Jesus brought all these good things to us, and sacrificed Himself in doing Song of Solomon 1 [Note: J. Colwell.]

(3) But if man is to be saved, he must be saved not only from sin’s guilt, and sin’s defilement, but from sin’s power. If man is to be fully saved, not only must he, in the infinite mercy of God, be treated as righteous, he must become actually righteous and holy and good. This is the ultimate purpose of God. He removes man’s condemnation, He forgives man’s sin, in order that he may become holy. Forgiveness and justification are in order to holiness. But man cannot be personally holy until he is set free from the enslaving power of sin. He, therefore, who would be the Saviour of man must deal with this. How does Jesus deal with it? He deals with it as our Lord and King, dwelling and reigning within us by the Holy Ghost. Remember, the Jesus who shall save His people from their sins is One who lives. He is One who is possessed of all power. He takes men so into union with Himself that they are within the circle of His life. They are in Him as the branch is in the vine. So their weakness is turned into might, by the advent of His strength into their lives. The sin which strives to enslave the believer finds that it has to deal with the believer’s Lord. And by that Lord it is defeated; its power is broken and its dominion for ever overthrown. The disease which we cannot shake off flies before Him; the fire which we could not quench is by Him put out; the evil root is eradicated, the mighty current stemmed. The strong man armed meets the stronger than he, and is despoiled. In Him we conquer sin. His power turns the scale of battle in our favour. Sin has not dominion over us. The law of the spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death. So we not only will the will of God, but also do it. He makes us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The one cure for any organism is to be set right—to have all its parts brought into harmony with each other; the one comfort is to know this cure in process. Rightness alone is cure. The return of the organism to its true self is its only possible ease. To free a man from suffering, he must be set right, put in health; and the health at the root of man’s being, his rightness, is to be free from wrongness, that is, from sin. A man is right when there is no wrong in him. The wrong, the evil, is in him; he must be set free from it. I do not mean set free from the sins he has done; that will follow; I mean the sins he is doing, or is capable of doing; the sins in his being which spoil his nature, the wrongness in him, the evil he consents to; the sin he is, which makes him do the sin he does. To save a man from his sins is to say to him, in sense perfect and eternal, “Rise up and walk. Be at liberty in thy essential being. Be free as the Son of God is free.” To do this for us Jesus was born and remains born to all the ages.1 [Note: George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel, 5.]


The Power of the Name

1. The angel said to Joseph, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” and to-day what name is there so great as this? What other so enduring? It has lived through anarchy and revolution, through storm and change, decay and death. Other names since then, and many of them accounted great—names which held the world in awe, which blanched the cheek, and made men tremble—have passed into oblivion; but this name is as fresh as ever, and far more powerful than it was of old. It is the earliest name that Christian parents breathe into their children’s ears; the first they teach them to lisp, as they lie in their lap, or stand at their knee. It is the gracious name woven into all our prayers and mingling with all our praises.

It is the great name which many a learned and holy man has felt it his highest privilege, his most sacred duty, to proclaim. It is the precious name which the evangelist takes to the poorest and most wretched alleys of our cities and towns, knowing that it can lift the burden of sin and sorrow from the soul, and fill it with peace and purity and strength. It is the all-powerful name which the Church is occupied in sending to the farthest places of the earth, that the nations may be turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” It is the hallowed name in which the civilized peoples of the globe enact their laws, crown their kings, fight their battles, and celebrate their victories. It is the Divine name on whose authority we sanctify the dearest relationships of life, baptize the child at the font, bless the union at the marriage altar, and commit our dead to the grave. And wherever this name is proclaimed, it is inspiring faith, hope, and love. Many who hear it place their trust in the Saviour, and look to Him as the Source of all blessing, the Well-spring of all joy.

Who does not know what is the power of the name of father or mother, sister or brother? What visions they bring back upon us: what a stream of memories; of years long passed away, of careless childhood, bright mornings, lingering twilights, the early dawn, the evening star, and all the long-vanished world of happy, unanxious thoughts, with the loves, hopes, smiles, and tenderness of days gone by. Who does not know what visions of maturer life come and go with the sound of a name, of one familiar word—the symbol of a whole order now no more? The greater part of our consciousness is summed up in memory; the present is but a moment, ever flowing, past almost as soon as come. Our life is either behind us or before; the future in hope and expectation, the past in trial and remembrance. Our life to come is little realized as yet; we have some dim outlines of things unseen, forecastings of realities behind the veil, and objects of faith beyond the grave; but all this is too Divine and high. We can hardly conceive it; at best faintly, often not at all. Our chief consciousness of life is in the past, which yet hangs about us as an atmosphere peopled with forms and memories. They live for us now in names, beloved and blessed.1 [Note: H. E. Manning, Sermons, iv. 46.]

2. There is nothing which His name has not hallowed and glorified. The commonest things of earth have now a higher and holier meaning than they ever had before, or ever could have had without Him. A virtue has flowed out of Him into everything He has touched. Has not labour become nobler since He sat at Nazareth on the carpenter’s bench? Has not childhood become more sacred since He took little children up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them? Has not woman been elevated since He lay in a woman’s arms, and was clasped to a woman’s heart? Has not penitence become more holy since the Magdalen fell at His feet to wash them with her tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head? Has not sorrow been more heavenly since the “Man of Sorrows” wept bitter tears, cried out in the agony of His bloody sweat, and suffered on Calvary? Has not death changed its character since He died and, robbing the arch-fiend of his sting and turning the tide of battle, wrested from the last enemy the victory? Has not the grave become brighter since He lay in the rocky tomb under linen napkin and shroud? The very cross itself, that “accursed tree,” that symbol of shame, has been transfigured into an emblem of all that is dearest to the Christian heart or that is holiest in the Christian faith. And not only things but persons also have been transfigured by contact with Jesus. Sinners have become saints; fishermen, apostles; publicans, disciples. A persecuting and blaspheming Saul has been changed into a holy and loving Paul. It may be recorded of all who drew near Him that “as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

The Saviour of the world must heal not only the breach between God and man, but the sickness of human nature itself. And this He does by implanting in man, through union with His own perfect nature, a supernatural principle of regeneration; a germ of new life which may destroy the cause of corruption, and arrest its progress, and make human nature again capable of union with God. The corrupt nature struggles still, seeks for its separate life away from God, a life that is no life. But the moment the new life is given, the helplessness, the hopelessness of the struggle is past. The cry of human nature, “I cannot do the things that I would,” becomes the thankful utterance of the regenerate soul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”1 [Note: Aubrey L. Moore, Some Aspects of Sin.]

3. The name still works as a charm. As long as there is sin in the world, and sorrow, broken hearts and wounded spirits; as long as there are chambers of sickness and death-beds, so long will the name of Jesus have power. The saving wonders wrought by Him who bears the name are continued to-day. They are continued in the thousands of assemblies which are met in toiling cities, crowded towns and scattered villages, in solitary hamlets and on heath-clad moors, and in lonely ships ploughing the mighty deep. Everywhere where men of like passions with ourselves have gathered to worship God, Christ has thrown open the doors of heaven, and has sent down His Spirit to renew, to sanctify, to strengthen, and to console. Many shall be born again into the Kingdom of God, and be saved from their sins, and, receiving pardon, shall be given power to wrestle down strong temptations, and shall go forth inspired with a new hope and girt with a new strength, to be purer, better, wiser, more humble, more peaceful; and all the week shall be brighter because of the worship of His name on His own day.

It was in the course of these sermons delivered at Venice, and in the cities of Venetia, that Bernardine’s zeal for the propagation of devotion to the holy name of Jesus first began openly to assert itself. This devotion, which may be said to date back to the Pauline saying, In nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur, had been specially fostered by the Franciscan order. We find St. Francis of Assisi making it the theme of many pious exhortations, while the holy name never crossed his lips without his voice faltering as though he were inwardly entranced by a heavenly melody. Nor was his example lost on St. Bonaventure, the author of a leaflet, De laude melliflui nomini Jesu. Bernardine was, therefore, no innovator in striving to rekindle popular fervour towards a devotion which, though heretofore greatly in vogue, had, in his day, been cast somewhat into the shade. In his sermons our saint was for ever extolling the beauty and majesty, the mystery and efficacy of the name of Jesus, and, in order outwardly to embody the sentiments of piety he sought to instil into their hearts, we find him calling upon his hearers to inscribe the holy Name or one of its customary abbreviations on the walls alike of public buildings and of private houses. He himself had adopted the monogram I.H.S., which he loved to see surrounded by a circle of golden rays. And the adoption of this symbol he deemed particularly opportune in a land so overrun by paganism, since he hoped to see the same substituted for the Guelf and Ghibelline emblems with which the walls then literally swarmed, and so to set an outward seal on inward peace of heart. And the practice was adopted, and spread like wildfire throughout Venetia, where both officials and private individuals vied with one another in everywhere printing or carving the sacred monogram, encircled by rays, until it finally became significant of Bernardine’s passage and of the popular assent to his word.1 [Note: P. Thureau-Dangin, Saint Bernardine of Siena (trans. by Baroness G. von Hügel), 66.]

The Name of Jesus


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