The angel tells Joseph, "You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." But is that all there is behind the name? Are we to hear this and think this is the first time that name has ever been used? Would Mary who knew her OT Scriptures so well think nothing more about the name than that it came from an angel? I don't think so. The name Jesus shows up 3 times in the OT and each time the one bearing the name has something to do with salvation.
The first time is in Exodus. There we meet Joshua. Joshua is a Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus. Joshua was the successor to Moses. Moses got Israel to the Promised Land, but it was left to Joshua to conquer it. He would lead a nation into war that 40 years ago had been oppressed slaves and lately had been nothing more than wandering nomads. His opponents were people experienced in war living in fortified cities.
Go home, look through the Book of Joshua. Every time you read the Name "Joshua," put the Name "Jesus." Jesus leads His people against the City of Jericho. Jesus slaughters the five kings. Jesus wins rest for His people by defeating their enemies on every side. When God gives the Child of Mary this name, He wishes to bring to mind all that Joshua did. As Joshua led God's people to victory over their enemies, so Jesus does. You see this in the New Testament. Jesus goes to the devil's stronghold and throws him out. He looks Death in the eye and says, "Boo," and Death releases it's hold on people. He sees Disease boasting of it's victories and says, "Not so fast," and rescues people from it's grasp.
See the feats of General Jesus in your Bibles, and see that He is your general still today. He is Immanuel, that is, God with us. He is with us now as our commanding General. And don't just think of Him as such in a spiritual sense. Don't just think of Jesus as defeating spiritual. No, General Jesus wars against your physical enemies too. You are not alone in the fight against the enemies that surround you. General Jesus is on the battlefield leading the charge against cancer. He is in the trenches with you fighting in favor of your finances. General Jesus is in the command post directing the fight against your family problems.
Isn't this putting health and wealth theology before you? It would be if I promised you that General Jesus will bring you healing or money. What I am promising you is that you're not alone on the battlefield. God Himself has come down from heaven to enter the conflict on your side. I can't promise you that you won't get sick, go broke, or have personal problems, I can promise you that victory is yours even in illness, poverty or sadness.
But remember, General Jesus brings victory like General Joshua did, in weak, foolish ways. Joshua defeats Jericho by marching around it 7 times. Joshua defeats the 5 kings by commanding the sun to stand still. If you were following Joshua, you would have been tempted to give up because it looked like he fought weakly and foolishly. And so it is with General Jesus, He brings you victory through defeat. He brings you peace through war. He brings you health by sickness, wealth by poverty, happiness by sadness.
When you hear Jesus, think General Joshua, but also think Jeshua. Jeshua is another Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus. Jeshua was high priest during the rebuilding of the Temple after the Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah 3, he stands before God as a representative of the people. Satan is there sharply accusing him while he is clothed in filthy garments. The Lord commands the filthy garments be removed and festal garments be put on him as a symbol that the Lord has taken away sins. The Lord goes on to say that this vision took place as a symbol that the Christ is coming who would remove the sins of the land in one day.
That day was Good Friday, and Jesus is our High Priest. He stood before God not only in our flesh but under our sins. He was the Sin Carrier of the world according to John the Baptist. According to Paul, God made Him to BE sin. He carried our sins everyday of His life, but one day, Good Friday, He went to the cross with them and nailed them to it. Because God had made Him to be sin, when He allowed His body to be nailed to the cross the sins were nailed there too. Then our filthy robes were taken off us and put on Christ, and His holy robe was put on us.
His name was to be Jesus because He is our High Priest just like Jeshua. And since He is Immanuel, He is God with us still today. The Bible says that Jesus "ever lives to make intercession for us." He ascended to heaven to intercede, to be our advocate, to be our lawyer in the court of God's justice. You are not alone even in your sinfulness. You don't face the accusing finger of Satan by yourself.
Stop trying to defend yourself against your sins. Stop trying to excuse them saying to Satan, "Yes, but..." Or, "There's more to the story..." What's the first thing a lawyer says to you? "Don't say a thing; I'll do the talking." High Priest Jesus is your mouthpiece. He doesn't plead your innocence before God, but His own. He doesn't offer your blood to satisfy justice but His own. He doesn't silence Satan's accusations against you based on the law by using excuses or reasons. No, Jesus takes the Law right out of Satan's mouth by saying, "You can't lay the law to his or her account because I have already fulfilled and paid for it."
He is named Jesus because He's a General to save you from your enemies as Joshua saved God's people. He is named Jesus because He's a High Priest to save you from your sins as Jeshua showed the people Christ would. But guess what? You can have victory over your enemies and forgiveness of your sins through Jesus and still be miserable. You need to be saved from more than your enemies and your sins; you need to be saved from yourself. You sense that too, don't you? You have a General, you have a High Priest, but you still find yourself troubled by guilt, by fear, by gnawing uncertainty.
What you need is a lover. Jesus is named after not only Joshua and Jeshua but after Hosea. Hosea is another Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus. Hosea is the prophet who showed the unimaginable depths of God's love for sinners. Hosea was commanded by God to love and marry a woman who slept around. He did, had children by her, but she still slept around. Hosea was told to take her back and go on loving her. He did. Don't run quickly over this. This story demands you feel its hurt, its love, its depths. You need to get wrapped up in this story like you do a movie. Hosea loves a no count, no good woman. She becomes a faithful wife only to go back to her adulteries while still in his house. But Hosea takes her back.
In Jesus, our Hosea, the unfathomable depths of God's love touches us. "Love came down at Christmas," says a children's song. Jesus is "of the Father's love begotten," says the hymn. Jesus is God's display of His love for us. Paul says in Romans: "God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And Paul goes on to say that He died not just for sinners but for the ungodly. Jesus died not for the "real sorry" but the real hateful, not for those with traffic tickets but felonies, not for the "not that bad" but for the horrid.
Hosea shows us this kind of love by loving a repeatedly adulterous wife. Hosea loved as God loves. Jesus is our Hosea today because He is God with us. And we need such a lover to save us from ourselves because left to ourselves we turn the whole story of Christmas around. We make it about us changing, about us doing something for God. We look for a Lawgiver not a Lover to come down at Christmas. What's the point of Christmas according to most people? That we love each other and live at peace with each other. These are fine, noble sentiments, but they're not the Christmas Gospel.
God did not send His Son to be another Moses. John 1 makes this clear saying, "The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." God didn't become a Man to show us how to love or live. He became a Man to save us from our enemies, our sins, and ourselves. And the only way to save us sinners hellbent on saving ourselves is to touch us with grace as sweet and deep as Hosea's. But law not grace is natural to us. Law is written in our hearts, so we naturally beliveve that God sent His Son to show us how we should live. We eagerly embrace a lawgiving Jesus: A Jesus who makes Scrooge feel guilty so he finally takes care of Tiny Tim like he should. A Jesus who commands us to take care of the homeless because He was homeless once. A Jesus who works for peace among men.
Well what's wrong with Scrooges taking care of Tiny Tim, or us caring for the homeless, or working for peace among men? Not a thing. These are great, but they aren't the Gospel and they will give you no peace with God or with yourself. Only gracious love, unfathomable, unimaginable, and unknown outside of God with us in Jesus can give peace.
Our consciences think that Jesus could love a woman who maybe had bad thoughts or premarital sex once. They just can't imagine that He is our Hosea. That He came and got us from the brothel. Pulled us out of the arms of another and carried us to His home giving us Water to wash our filth away, Words to send our guilt away, and His very own Body and Blood to feed, strengthen and preserve us.
We think everything can be happy ever after only if our sins are not too bad, maybe a lust or 2 here or there. Well the truth is whether by thought, word or deed, we have left our Husband's bed and went to others, repeatedly. And yet Jesus remains head over heals, over the top, grand slam in love with us! And no it's not our tears of repentance that move Him to such love; it's not our promises to never do it again. It's our Hosea's inexplicably deep love that finds us though we seek Him not.
Am I trying to encourage you to live in your sins? No, I'm begging you to live in the depths of your Savior's love. You've only been in the shallows so far. You've only been where God loves you as long as you do your best, where God loves you proportionate to your sins. That's true; but dive into the deep end now. It's true, but it's the opposite of the way you think. Where your sins are many and heavy there you can be assured God loves you and longs to rescue you all the more.
His name is Jesus. He saves you from your enemies, your sins and even from yourself. Note well I said this all in the present tense. Jesus didn't just do those things in the past. He does them for you today and everyday. Why? Because the Bible says in Jesus God IS with us not in Jesus God WAS with us. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent IV (12-19-04); Matthew 1: 18-25