Summary: Understanding the name Jesus helps us understand Christmas and why He came. We can see this in: 1) THE GIVER OF THE NAME 2) THE MEANING OF THE NAME 3) THE FOCUS OF THE NAME
There is a lot you can know about someone from their name. In the news this week, because of the high birth rate among Muslim families, the name Mohammed is on track to become the most popular boy’s name in England and Wales by next year. Muhammad is regularly cited as the most common name in the world. It means “one who is praiseworthy,” and is often given to boys as an honorary prefix and is followed by the name by which they are commonly known. Muhammad Anwar, professor of ethnic relations at Warwick University, said: “Muslim parents like to have something that shows a link with their religion or with the Prophet.” The name was second only to Jack in 2007, which has been top for the past 13 years. (Source: National Post. Thursday December 20th 2007. A2)
Naming children in biblical times was important business. Names were not given to children just because they sounded good or was a popular name of the day. Names for children in past days had great significance and strong meaning. The names placed upon children had power to set a child’s character or even his future. Some names were a result of explanation of an event at the time of the child’s birth. For Example, the name Ichabod signified God’s Spirit had departed. Jacob meant deceiver and a prophecy of his deceiving personality. Later, his name was changed to Israel meaning prince of God.
God chose the name Jesus for His Son because its basic meaning defined the fundamental, overarching purpose for the Son’s coming to earth. Understanding the name Jesus helps us understand Christmas and why He came.
1) THE GIVER OF THE NAME (Matthew 1:18-20)
Matthew 1:18-20 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. (ESV)
It is possible that both Joseph and Mary were quite young when they were betrothed. Girls were often betrothed as young as twelve or thirteen, and boys when they were several years older than that.
By Jewish custom, a betrothal signified more than an engagement in the modern sense. A Hebrew marriage involved two stages, the kiddushin (betrothal) and the huppah (marriage ceremony). The marriage was almost always arranged by the families of the bride and groom, often without consulting them. A contract was made and was sealed by payment of the mohar, the dowry or bride price, which was paid by the groom or his family to the bride’s father. The mohar served to compensate the father for wedding expenses and to provide a type of insurance for the bride in the event the groom became dissatisfied and divorced her. The contract was considered binding as soon as it was made, and the man and woman were considered legally married, even though the marriage ceremony (huppah) and consummation often did not occur until as much as a year later. That is why for all intensive purposes Joseph was called her husband (v.19) and Mary is called Joseph’s wife (V. 20). The betrothal period served as a time of probation and testing of fidelity. During that period the bride and groom usually had little, if any, social contact with each other.
Joseph and Mary had experienced no sexual contact with each other, as the phrase before they came together indicates. Mary’s reason for questioning Gabriel’s announcement of her conception was the fact that she knew she was a virgin (Luke 1:34). This testimony protects from accusation that Jesus was born of some other man.
But Mary’s virginity protected a great deal more than her own moral character, reputation, and the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth. It protected the nature of the divine Son of God. The child is never called the son of Joseph; Joseph is never called Jesus’ father.
This is exactly as prophesied:
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
In a technical sense the seed belongs to the man, and Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Spirit is the only instance in human history that a woman had a seed within her that did not come from a man.