Yesterday, I spent some time pondering the implication of Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecy to Ahaz, specifically what it meant that Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. We know, of course, that when push came to shove, and despite Matthew’s attempt to shove a round theological peg into the square hole of reality, Mary and Joseph did not name the child born in Bethlehem “God with us.” No, they named him the name that was given to Joseph in a dream in this week’s appointed lesson from Matthew’s Gospel, the same name given to Mary by the Angel Gabriel in Luke’s version of the Nativity story.
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel that appeared to Joseph in his dream gives us insight into the meaning of Jesus’ given name. Yeshua, the Hebrew original that gets bastardized into Jesus, means “to save” or “to deliver.” According to that great theological resource, Wikipedia, it is a late Hebrew rendition of Yehoshua, which carries a stronger tie to God, as in “God saves” or “God delivers,” which is precisely the ministry of Jesus.
The promise of God’s deliverance of his people is not new in the person of Jesus. By the turn of the Common Era, God had repeatedly stepped into salvation history to save and deliver his people. From the time of Noah, God shows a track record of being unwilling to let humanity destroy itself in sinfulness and self-gratification. On the ark, God saved a faithful remnant. In Abraham, God chose a nation through which he would bring all nations into his saving embrace. Through Moses, God delivered the Israelites from the bondage that came from Joseph’s brother’s unfair dealings and subsequent self-serving Pharaohs. The prophets, Isaiah certainly included, again and again called the people of Israel to forsake their sins and be saved. When it seemed clear that was not going to happen, God promised both punishment and redemption to his people.
There is never a point at which God is willing to give up on his hopes of restoring humanity to right relationship, which brings God ultimately to the person of Jesus, Yeshua, Yehoshua, God saves.