- Call His Name Jesus
“I believe in Jesus”
Hebrews 2:14-18 & 4:14-16, Matthew 1:18-25, Isaiah 9:6-7
Those that have studied the Apostles’ Creed have noticed the oddity of its structure.
The Creed is arranged into three major sections:
- • The first segment on the Father and His work for us, gets 2 lines, for a total of 12 words
• The third segment on the Holy Spirit & his work in us, gets 6 lines for a total of 29 words
• The central segment on Jesus and his work among us, gets 10 of the 18 lines, for a total of 73 words.
- • The first segment on the Father and His work for us, gets 2 lines, for a total of 12 words
It is obvious that the creed is focused on Jesus.
And here is one of the sharper edges of the creed:
- Judaism, out of which the Christian church was born, would be quite prepared to say, “we too believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven & earth.” But they cannot agree with believing in Jesus.
- Islam can also buy into the first two lines of the creed about the Father, but balk immediately at the words that follow, about Jesus.
- There are also many in North America and around the world who say, “I can believe in God, but please do not ask me to believe in the unbelievable. Let my creed simply read, ‘I believe in God and in life everlasting’ and have done with it.” But the Christian community insists that God and everlasting life cannot be understood without placing Jesus in the equation.
So here is a first great scandal of Christianity. We place Jesus in the center of all things, and claim that we will never understand God or ourselves, or life or death, or sin and salvation until we have placed Jesus at the center of things. And so during the next few chapters we are going to take a close look at the person that the creed calls “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”
But let me begin with one word only. It is the name of a man we know from the annals of history. His name was Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Jew, Jesus the carpenter. One of the most profound people the world ever encountered, and one who changed the face of the world more than any other person that ever lived.
The Naming of the child
We first meet the name Jesus in the months before he is born. Both Mathew and Luke record the event. Mary & Joseph are informed by God what the child will be named. “Call his name Jesus!”
Now most Jewish children were named with a name that expressed the hopes and dreams of the parents. Often the name was chosen to honor a previous member of the family. Mary and Joseph, however, were not allowed to select the name for their son. God Himself had chosen a name, and through an angel, told both Mary and Joseph what they were to name the child. The name chosen was “Joshua”. Or “YESHUA” A good Hebrew name, that translates into the Greek language as “Jesus”. It was a name taken from that early Hebrew leader who had led the Nation of Israel into the Promised Land, where the nation could get a new start; begin a new day in a new land.
But, just in case Mary & Joseph might be prone to think of the earlier Joshua stories of military conquest and killing Canaanites, the angel who delivers the birth announcement defines what the name means. The name Joshua and the name Jesus is based on the two Hebrew words “God Saves!” But there is needed further clarification. He has not come to save us from Gentile powers, or difficult circumstances. The angel says, “You shall call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” A very different kind of salvation than most mortals dreamed of. But more of that on another day.
The Humanity of the Man
Here I want to focus our attention on the deep humanity of this man named Jesus. It is a human name, a normal name, the name of a mortal man who lived in history.
It is interesting that when Jesus begins his work as a traveling teacher that he calls himself, “The Son of Man.” There has been centuries of debate about why he chooses his title to refer to himself, but one thing is clear, He sees himself as a man among men.
The Book of Hebrews tells us that he was like us in every respect, except for sin. He was tempted just as we are. He suffered just as we do. He had to go to work, just as we do. He was born as we were, died like we shall. He cried, he laughed, he got tired and prayed a lot to his heavenly father.
When it is Paul’s turn to talk about Jesus, he calls him the New Adam. He is man like Adam was. But with again, this distinction; he did not sin as our first parents did.
But in the time when the creeds were being written, a new controversy was rising within the church. The question was: “Was Jesus fully God, or, was he fully man? Or “Was he half-God and half-Man – a hybrid?”
The Apostle’s creed is written at the beginning of that debate. It simply asserts that he was born, lived, suffered, died and was raised. It presumes that Jesus was at least a mortal man. It never calls Jesus God, only that he was The Son of God. Listen to its words again:
We believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose again from the dead;
But some years later some voices wanted to remove that ambiguity. They ask the question, “Was Jesus really God? Perhaps he was just a good man, adopted by God and made his son. Jesus was a man like us. Nothing more. But he was a good man, a wise man, a man worthy of imitation and worth being followed.”
The Nicene Creed responds:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of His Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us, and for our salvation,
He came down from heaven,
And by the power of the Holy Spirit
became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
And was made man.
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
In this creed the emphasis is upon the fact that Jesus was God among us, with only a minor note that “he was made man.”
And it looks like the debate is solved. Jesus the man was God among us. But a few years later the teeter-totter has shifted, and pious voices from new cults begin to say, “Jesus was God among us. He was not really human. He only seemed to be. He pretended to be a man, but he was God traveling incognito. God was in disguise. He looked like a man, but he was no mortal. He was God who either borrowed a man’s body, or created a hologram of one. Some even said that he didn’t really die, because God could not die. So he faked his death, and his resurrection was proof that he had not really died.”
In response the church gathered in a new council at Chalcedon to answer back with further precision.
Following the holy fathers we teach with one voice
that the Son (of God) and our Lord Jesus Christ
is to be confessed as one and the same person,
that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood,
very God and very man,
consisting of a reasonable soul and body,
of one substance with the Father as touching his Godhead,
and at he same time of one substance with us as touching his manhood;
made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted;
begotten of His Father before the worlds according to His Godhead;
but in these last days for us men and for our salvation
born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God [Theotokos]
according to His manhood.
The three creeds are agreed: Fully divine, but as the very same time fully human.
Why did God become man?
But as the years rolled on there came another question to the fore. Why did God become a man? If he wanted to redeem us why bother becoming human. Why not just come as God and defeat all evil in one fell swoop and have done with it!
1. He is the Image of true humanity.
It has been noted that Saint Paul focuses upon Jesus Christ as Lord. He lays his emphasis upon the death & resurrection of Jesus, with hardly a word about his life. He is interested in The Resurrected Christ who by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit leads his people into their future.
But the four Gospels, written later than Paul’s letters, tell us the story of how Jesus was born, and lived and died among us. It is said that Mark’s gospel was specifically written to show us an example in Jesus of how we should live. Matthew’s Jesus is a teacher who instructs us in the way we should live. It is the message of the Gospels that Jesus did not come only to get us into heaven after we die, but to show us how to live life every day of our lives and how to face death when it comes.
Some years ago there was a skirmish in the church over the letters, WWJD – “What Would Jesus Do.” Young people wanted to take Jesus on as their mentor, as their role model. They didn’t want to be “just like Mike,” they wanted to be just like Jesus. Older voices often inferred that we should just be glad to be “saved by him”, and that doing good works which might make us self-righteous.
A few years earlier there had been the same debate over a book by Sidney Sheldon, In His Steps, which described a group of people who decided to do what they thought Jesus would do in their circumstances. The book was criticized by those who said, “We need to believe in a savior not follow an example.” But I am convinced it us both/and, not just either/or.
Why did God become fully human? To show us how we should live.
2. To show us ourselves
But there is a second response to the question ‘Why did God become man?”
God became mortal so that he would share our vulnerability. Instead of coming among us as God in his power, he came as man in his weakness. And when this good man came among us, we distrusted him, questioned his motives, tried him, tortured him, and killed him.
And like Peter and Judas and many others we felt the shame in what we had done, and knew what kind of people we had become. It is often said, that if Jesus came back to earth as he came that first time, we would do the very same thing in our day.
The hymn writer in the poem, “Beneath the cross of Jesus” underscores these truths;
Upon the cross of Jesus
My eye at times can see,
The very dying form of one
Who suffered there for me.
And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love
And my unworthiness.
The coming of Jesus told us what God was really like, (He is the Loving Father)
And at the same time his coming revealed to us what we are really like (deeply damaged and deeply sinful).
But wait. Jesus also shows us what it means to be fully human, and what we could be like if we would live by the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit, following the example of Jesus of Nazareth.