(THIS POST begins a new study in the Gospel of Matthew)
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
There is much more than a Christmas card meaning behind this instruction from the angel to Joseph. The ESV Study Bible notes shed some light on the importance of the name given to Jesus:
"Jesus (Gk. Iesous) was the historical, everyday name, and is Yeshua'/Yehoshua' (Joshua) in Hebrew, meaning "Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7; cf. Matt. 1:21). The name Jesus was given to sons as a symbolic hope for the Lord's anticipated sending of salvation through a Messiah who would purify his people and save them from oppression (see note on v. 1). But the angel points to a more important theme: to save his people from their sins. Salvation from sins was a repeated promise in OT prophets (e.g., Isa. 40:2; 53:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-27; Dan. 9:24; Zech. 13:1)."
Sometimes liberal criticism of the gospels tends to downplay the name of Jesus. They insist it was such a common name in the day and that we should not be surprised to see it. Yet the gospel of Matthew goes out of the way to let us know that no less than an angel of the Most High God commanded the earthly stepfather of Jesus to give Him that name. Yes, the common name meant "Yahweh saves". And a common hope in the Palestine of the First Century was that a deliverer would come to end the scourge of Roman oppression. Yet the angel has a much broader view of the hope that would come in Jesus: He would save His people from their sins, not from an outside political occupation. This is a greater hope than anyone else in Israel could have possibly had for their little child named Yeshua. Jesus would be different.
So as I spend some time now working through the gospel of Matthew (about the next six weeks or so), I will see if what the angel said is indeed born up in the testimony about Jesus. And I can't help but wonder if that reality of Jesus as a Sin-Savior might be the most important understanding I need of Him. Many evangelicals in America are distressed to see a current political climate that seems to be moving away at faster-than-light speed from solid Judeo-Christian underpinnings. That may be true. And some political oppression may be possible in the years ahead. But even then, we do not need a conservative politician to meet society's greatest of needs. We need a Savior. And Jesus is the One.