What’s in a Name?, Matthew 1 – An Advent Sermon

What’s in a Name?

Matthew 1

A sermon preached at Howick Baptist Church in 2012. You can listen to the audio here.


Christmas is a wonderful time of year, a time often associated with joy, cheer and the “good things in life.” At the same time, for some, Christmas is often depressing and painful. We remember painful Christmases of our past, or lonely Christmases of our present/future. Sometimes to help, some will try to get beyond the commercialism and tack on “Oh, yeah Christmas is ‘Jesus Birthday’” to give themselves some kind of comfort that is bigger than themselves. However, that still falls significantly short of what Christmas is – Christmas is the time we specifically celebrate the event where God became flesh. It is the Truth of the Incarnation that makes Christmas earth shaking, historically significant and soul shattering. There is a joy that Christmas celebrates which is only possible if the Incarnation is True. And the reason every other pursuit of happiness falls short of this real joy is because the Incarnation is Absolutely necessary.

In order to help us in this, this morning we are going to look at Matthew 1 and ask the question, “What’s in a name?”

What about you? What about your name? Kids have you ever asked your parents where your name came from, or why they named you what they did? It could be a funny discussion…

I knew two sisters who had agreed since childhood they would name their first daughters after each other. (I always wondered if they were planning to discuss this with their future husbands – the father of these some-day daughters.)

Son’s names can sometimes be significant – Gavin…

For many immigrants having their children in New Zealand there is always the question, “do we given the child a Western first name and a Chinese second name?” and often there are extended family expectations.

For many of us today, though we pick our children’s names because we like the name and it doesn’t stir up any negative childhood memories!

The passage before us is all about names. A list of names and then the name of a particular child whose birth isn’t even described here, just his name.

Let’s read the chapter…

Why all the names?

Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience. For a Jew, their family history, their lineage, their genealogy has always been if immense significance.

Initially it was due to the land inheritance as the promise land was divided up by tribe and family.

However since the time of their return to the land from Babylonian captivity, genealogies were significant to establish one’s position within the Jewish community. And most significant of all was the promises of God to send the Messiah, the Christ, the promised One through the family of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon, etc.

This list of names establishes Joseph’s direct decent from David.

But what comes next shows so much more. God is about to fulfil not only His promises to David and even Abraham, but all of His promises since Genesis 3:15 when he promised Adam and Eve that He would send a Redeemer as a seed of the woman to undo and set right all that was ruined due to Adam’s sin.

Jesus: “For He shall save His people from their sins.”

Jesus was a common name. It is a Greek name, from the Hebrew name Joshua which basically means, “Yahweh Saves: God Saves.” Parents would name their sons this as a reminder of the truth that it is God who saves.

Yet, there is something of immense significance with what the angel tells Joseph here.

This Jesus will be called Jesus not simply as a reminder that it is God who saves…

Notice the language. “He will be called Jesus for He will save…”

It is this baby, this child, this man Who will save…

Who will He save?

His people… The salvation provided by this baby will not be known by, enjoyed by, experienced by all.

What will he save His people from?

“Their sin!”

This is a true Saviour. This isn’t going to be just some political deliverer. This isn’t going to be just some great leader that God will use to aid Israel in their time of need.

He will accomplish far more than any other king is Israel’s history could ever accomplish.

He will come to deal with sin. This puts him in the category of a priest. Yet he is in the line of the king.

Who is this child? How is this possible?

Not even the priest of the Old Testament could take away sins.

The angel tells us how this is possible.

Jesus’ birth is a direct, miraculous act of God. He is conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. (This is not that hard to believe when we remember God created everything from nothing!)

Not only that, but this birth is to fulfil one of the great promises/prophecies of the Old Testament. This Jesus is Immanuel.

Immanuel: “God with Us”

Sam Storms also reflects on the paradoxes:

The Word became flesh!
God became human!
the invisible became visible!
the untouchable became touchable!
eternal life experienced temporal death!
the transcendent one descended and drew near!
the unlimited became limited!
the infinite became finite!
the immutable became mutable!
the unbreakable became fragile!
spirit became matter!
eternity entered time!
the independent became dependent!
the almighty became weak!
the loved became the hated!
the exalted was humbled!
glory was subjected to shame!
fame turned into obscurity!
from inexpressible joy to tears of unimaginable grief!
from a throne to a cross!
from ruler to being ruled!
from power to weakness!

What real difference does this truth: Jesus was both God and man, make in my daily life?

  1. It is the difference between heaven and hell. It makes an eternal difference!

Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

“That God would take human flesh, and that not of one of the great and the good but of a child born of apparently dubious parentage to a young woman scarcely more than a child herself, that he would be delivered in a stable – these are things that are an affront to us as human beings.  That God would make himself weak and helpless, vulnerable to all of the things that plague this fallen world is outrageous.  That he would risk his person through being born in a stable, without even the most rudimentary of medical assistance then available, is ridiculous.  Indeed, had one stood at the door of the stable in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, and seen the tiny mite lying in a manger, it is very doubtful that anyone could have persuaded you that you were gazing upon the very fulfillment of history, the arrival of the last Adam, and were thus in the presence of God himself.

If we are to be rescued and redeemed, we want it to be on our terms, by a redeemer worthy of us: a great and mighty one, powerful in word and deed, one who strikes instant fear and commands immediate respect.  It is an insult to us that we should be rescued by one weaker than ourselves.  And yet that is the glory of the gospel.  Of course, as Paul points out, this gospel foolishness culminates in the cross on Calvary; but it is foreshadowed in the absurdity of the manger.   God needs no advice from us; he does not pander to our expectations; the eternal explodes into time, not with a bang, but with the whimper of a new born infant.”

  1. This truth gives great confidence in the trustworthiness of God for your present circumstances. God can be trusted. He is worthy of your trust & obedience.

It had that effect on Joseph… He was facing an extremely difficult, complicated, embarrassing, and awkward situation. Yet, this truth – that God was fulfilling His promises, that he was coming in the flesh, was enough for Joseph to trust & obey.

(This truth does not provide a paradigm for ministry and/or missions. There is a popular term “incarnational ministry” which is generally meant to communicate something like, “live your Christian life out in front of those to whom you are trying to reach.” One problem is “some” (not all) who advocate this approach leave out the Gospel and simply encourage living the Christian life in front of the lost without actually speaking the Gospel as though that is the gospel. For others though who are faithful to still proclaim the Gospel this term “incarnational ministry” still says too much. By definition you are saying that, up to now you have been living as a non-flesh, non-human and now you are going to become a human, take on flesh. You see the only person the term “incarnation”, by definition, can apply to is God.)

  1. This truth, when applied to our hearts and minds is all satisfying.

Think about it…

What do you want for Christmas? What do you want out of life? Whatever it is, if it is not Christ, it is designed to disappoint.

What greater gift could there be than God the Son coming as Jesus in the form of an embryo, born a humble, helpless baby, living a humble life all for the purpose of dying on the cross for your sins.

  1. This truth gives great hope for the future. We can trust God. We can rest our hope in Him. He will keep His Word.

We live in a fallen world, full of sin and the destruction sin brings. We ourselves struggle with the basics of trusting God, loving Him, obeying Him, and loving those around us. Sin is ever present; in us and all around us.

So what is our hope?

That Jesus would come again!

And He will…

He has promised to return. He has promised to come again as the saviour of His people and the judge of all those who reject Him.

He will come bearing a sword. He will not be a babe in a manger. He will be a Conquering King. His sword will be healing and restoration to His people, while at the same time bringing ultimately judgement on sin.

Our hope is not in this world. It is not in ourselves, our politics, our economies, our armies, our education, our jobs, our things, our families.

Our hop is in One Who came and the One Who will come again!

Because of Christmas. Because we see in Jesus’ birth the fulfilment of all of God’s promises of old. We can trust in His promises for the future and we can sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

[1] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/12/15/the-glorious-pardoxes-of-god-incarnate