What’s in a Name?
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What’s in a Name?

Matthew 1:18–25  (ID: 3579)

Parents generally put considerable thought into choosing their children’s names. Not so with Mary and Joseph’s firstborn! Instead, an angelic messenger declared they would have a son and name Him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” In a special Christmas message, Alistair Begg explains how Christ’s birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of the long-awaited Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus promises to save all who come to Him in repentance and faith. Have you trusted Him as your Savior?

Sermon Transcript: Print

Matthew 1:18. This is Matthew’s record:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Well, the birth of a baby is always the occasion of great excitement, in anticipation, and then in the day itself. There are two questions that immediately emerge. The first question concerns gender: Is it a boy, or is it a girl? Contrary to much that is going on in our present climate, the places where the babies arrive are not surrounded by nurses and doctors saying to one another, “Oh, look, it’s a person.” They are actually saying, “No, this is a boy,” or “This is a girl.” And secondarily, the question is: What is the baby’s name to be? And that, of course, is of great importance. It’s probably the most important question of all. I know that it’s customary for people to put out little pieces of paper telling you how the baby weighed, how long the baby was, whether it had a lot of hair or anything else. Thank you for all of that, but I just want to know: Does it have a name? What is the name?

Without a name, it’s somehow incomplete. And that’s why a tremendous amount of time is spent in considering names, and why there are lists all around the world of the most popular names for boys and for girls. At the moment, apparently, in the United States, the top five of the girls are Olivia, Emma, Amelia, Ava, and Sophia. The boys: Liam, Noah, Oliver, Elijah, Mateo. I’m not sure we have any takers in that list. And when the naming is taking place, some are named after somebody in the family—after old Uncle Abe or old Aunt Elspeth, whoever it might be. Some people give names in anticipation of what the child might become. For example, for a boy, Legend. As Calvin used to say, good luck on that one. Or Serenity. Serenity. Are you brave enough to call your daughter Serenity, and then get that number coming up on the screen that says, “Come and get her out of the nursery”? I don’t recommend that. One of our own pastoral team, one of our missionaries in training, Samuel Sanya, who is from Nigeria—I said, “I’m sure Samuel has a Yoruba name that was given to him,” and I checked, and I was right. In fact, he has two: Opeyemi, which means “Gratitude is suitable for me,” and Oluwafemi, “The Lord loves me.”

Now, whether the baby’s name is chosen before or after the birth, almost without exception, the parents choose the name. In fact, as much as grandparents and aunts and uncles want to interfere, really, we ought just to be quiet. Just leave them alone; let them choose their own names. That would be fine. But in the case of this birth, Mary and Joseph did not choose the name. They didn’t choose the name.

Now, imagine for a moment that we lived in Nazareth, and a new young couple had moved into one of the places down the road. And we said to one another, “I wonder who that young couple is. They seem to have a little boy. Perhaps we’ll meet them.” And we met them. They were at the playground. And we said to Mary, “Who is this little lad?” And Mary said, “Well, his name is Jesus.” And we said, “Oh, is that a family name? Or was it just a name that you liked?” And Joseph said, “Well, actually, no, it was neither. It was quite a surprise. It was an angelic messenger that declared the name—came and said to me that ‘she’s going to bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” And we said, “Oh, a name kind of like Joshua in the Old Testament?” “Yes, actually, the same name.” The dawn of a whole new era.

The Bible tells us that Jesus promised to save all who will trust in him.

Now, here we are this morning. We’re a long way away from all of this, historically and geographically. Despite all of the calls to say, “Come to Bethlehem and see,” you can’t get to Bethlehem from Bainbridge—at least not without a tremendous amount of effort. And so the idea that somehow or another, the way to understand Christmas is to get yourself there, as enjoyable as that may be, is the wrong route. We are not there, then; we are here, now.

And so it is with our Bibles open that we’re able then to understand just what has taken place, why it has taken place, and why it actually matters. Matthew, who is describing this here, explains that the name that was revealed to Joseph—and actually to Mary, too, in Luke’s Gospel—was a fulfillment of a prophecy that went back some six hundred years. And in fact, he quotes from it: “Behold, [a] virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they [will] call his name Immanuel.” So, once again, they didn’t choose these names. They were given.

And what Matthew and the Gospel writers are saying is that what has taken place is the most astonishing miracle in all of human history, without question. And I want to suggest to you that these two names, taken in reverse order, allow us to answer two basic questions. And I’m not going to elaborate on it, so you have to stay with me.

Question number one: Who is he, the holy child born of the virgin? Answer: he is Immanuel. He is Immanuel. So when people say, “Well, I wonder who Jesus is?”… And I saw in Time magazine in Barnes & Noble yesterday the big question about Jesus—you know, “Who do you say that I am?”[1] the question was. Well, that’s a good question. It’s a question posed by Jesus. But it’s answered for us in the Scriptures: he’s the Word of God incarnate, before the world began. When John writes of it, he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[2] It’s phenomenal, isn’t it? The Creator coming into the world he has created—born, actually, in the same way as each of us has been born, but he was God’s eternal Son. Mary was his mother, but he had no human father. Hence, Mary was a virgin. Jesus had to grow up just in the exact same way as these wee boys were here a moment or two ago and all little boys and girls have had to grow up, just in the same way as we did. But unlike each of us, he didn’t start to exist just a few months before he was born. He was God’s eternal Son—and in him a unique beginning. In fact, Jesus, you remember, he says to the people who are listening to him, “I [came] down from heaven.”[3] “He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.”[4] We just sang it.

So, that’s the question: Who is he? It’s answered in a name: Immanuel.

The second question: Why should God come to us clothed in humanity? Why would he come? And the answer is found in the other name: Jesus. Who is he? Immanuel. Why did he come? Jesus. “He didn’t come to judge the world, He didn’t come to blame [people], He didn’t only come to seek[5]—although he did come to seek. He’s the Good Shepherd, looking out there for the sheep. He came to his own; his own didn’t receive him.[6] No, he actually came to save. What does that mean? Well, he came to take away our sins. That’s why he died on the cross: in order that we might have eternal life. In short order, he is Jesus because he is Immanuel. You get that? Who is he? Immanuel. Why did he come? Jesus: to save.

I got one final question. Since Jesus came to save, here’s a question: “Will Jesus then be my Savior?” There’s boys and girls here. Listen carefully: “Will Jesus be my Savior?” That’s a question for you to ask. Not just the children. All of us! “Will Jesus be my Savior?”

Well, the Bible tells us that Jesus promised to save all who will trust in him. You see, we all need a Savior, because we all are sinful. And God can’t simply say to us, “Well, we just won’t worry about these things. We won’t worry about the fact that you don’t really listen to me, or you’re indifferent to me, or you rebel against me—whatever it might be. No, we’ll just let all that go.” No. Sin had to be dealt with. That’s why all the way in the Old Testament, you have all of these sacrifices. And people say, “What in the world is all that about?” Well, it’s leading to this one great sacrifice: that the day that Jesus Christ was born preceded the day when he would leave, because he was bearing our sins.

Jesus is able to take the weight of all our sin.

So the real question at Christmas is this, I suppose: Well, who is he? He’s Immanuel, God with us. Why did he come? Well, he came to save us. So has he saved you? You say, “Well, how does this happen?” Well, it’s just to trust Jesus—to take him at his word. He promises that he saves all who will come and trust in him.

Trusting is very important. You think of this stool here that little Luke stood on. And I was thinking I would stand on it, ’cause I’d see what it would feel like to be this tall. It’s actually pretty good. But of course, I could have really made a fool of myself when I stood up here just now if it wasn’t sufficient for somebody of my weight—just good enough for Luke but not good enough for me. Jesus is able to take the weight of all of our sin—baby sin, little boy/girl sin, grown-up sin.

Have you ever come to Jesus and said something like this: “Lord Jesus, thank you for the way that you draw me to seek you and to find you. I trust you as my Savior. I bow before you as my Lord. Today I offer you the only present you want and the only one that I can give: myself. Take me as I am, and make me what you want me to be. And I ask this for your name’s sake, Jesus.”

If that is your prayer, you will be forgiven. If you really will trust in Jesus in that way, then you will find him to be the very Savior that you need. And then you will have the opportunity to go out and tell others the same amazing story—hopefully in a clearer way, perhaps, than I have done, perhaps in a briefer way than I have done, but nevertheless to tell the story.

[1] Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20 (ESV).

[2] John 1:1 (ESV).

[3] John 6:38 (ESV).

[4] Cecil Frances Alexander, “Once in Royal David’s City” (1848).

[5] Dora Greenwell, “A Good Confession,” in Songs of Salvation (London, 1874), 27.

[6] See John 1:11.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.