Matthew 1:21

Sermon preached on December 20, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In the late 1940's and 1950's the greatest hockey scorer was Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens. He was called, "The Rocket". Often his nickname was used in place of his first name and he was referred to as, "Rocket Richard". His nickname came from the fact that he was able to speed around opposing defensemen. Some really good hockey players have the ability to deceive their opponents with their speed. The opposing defenseman would think that Richard was going full speed and so he would match his speed so as to cut him off. But Richard had the uncanny ability to turn on the afterburners at the last second and so speed around the surprised defenseman. That's the way it was with Richard. He would seemingly rocket around opposing defensemen and so he became known as, "The Rocket".

Some of you may remember Bernie Geoffrion, who was widely known as "Boom Boom Geoffrion". He got his nickname from his thundering slapshot, which he claimed to have invented when he was a youngster. If his shot missed the net and hit the boards behind it would make a loud noise like a boom. I'm not sure why they put two booms in his name, but it could be from the fact that when his stick hit the puck it also made a loud noise—so in fact there were two booms associated with a lot of his shots.

I love nicknames, especially the ones that are really descriptive. Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz was known as "The Mailman" because he delivered. You could pass him the ball and many times he would score. The basketball player, Pete Maravich was known as "Pistol Pete". It was because of the unusual way that he sometimes released the basketball. He was like a gunslinger, taking the ball off his hip to start the shot.

General Thomas Jackson became forever known as "Stonewall Jackson" at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The Confederate lines because to crumble under a heavy Union assault. But one part of the Confederate line that held was the part that was held by General Jackson. A fellow Confederate General, Barnard Bee, exhorted his own troops to stand and fight by shouting,

"There is Jackson standing like a stone wall."

So Jackson became known as Stonewall Jackson for his unflinching defensive line.

Our text tells us that the name "Jesus" is also descriptive. When the angel appeared to Joseph he told Joseph why the baby should be named, 'Jesus'. The angel said, (Matthew 1:21)

"She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people
from their sins."

He was to be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. There is so much in this name. It tells us about Jesus' mission, His goal, His character, and His power.

So let's look at these great words of the angel and see what implications they have for us.

The great truth we see here is that

Jesus' great work was saving His people from their sins—His great work was being a Savior.

The name Jesus means, "Savior". Herman Ridderbos says that this name, Jesus summarizes, (The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 211)

"the whole of his significance.…”

Jesus was primarily a Savior. His very name tells it all. It tells us what His great work was about—saving His people from their sins.

There are at least
three things we should note about the angel's words.

First, the name Jesus, that is used in the Greek New Testament, is
a transliteration of the Old Testament name, Joshua, and as such has

typological significance.

In the Old Testament, Joshua, son of Nun, led the people into the promised land. In this regard, He was pointing to Jesus, who would save His people and lead His people into heaven. The Promised Land of old was type of heaven. As Patrick Fairbairn writes of God, (The Typology of Scripture, p. 413)

"What He sought in Canaan was an inheritance,—a place of rest and blessing for His people, but still only a temporary inheritance, and as such a type and pledge of that final rest which remains for the people of God."

Joshua of the Old Testament, with God's power, led the people of old into the Promised Land. He was their leader. But it was clear even from the beginning of the book of Joshua that was not himself their Savior. Indeed, Joshua was merely a servant of the 'commander of the Lord's army' who appeared in Joshua 5:13f. But nevertheless, Joshua pointed us to the great Savior who would come and bring His people into heaven.

The angel, by commanding Joseph to give the baby the name, Jesus, was pointing back to Joshua and the conquest of the promised land. He was pointing to the fact that Jesus would lead His people into eternal glory.

Secondly, the angel's words point out a certain uniqueness and greatness about the baby—that He would be divine.

Leon Morris (The Gospel According to Matthew (PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) points out about the word "He" in the phrase, "He will save his people from their sins", is emphatic, giving the sense of

"(He and no other') will save his people from their sins."

This is noteworthy because in the Old Testament salvation is attributed to God alone. As Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, (Jonah 2:9)

"Salvation comes from the Lord."

What we should understand here is that by giving the baby the name Jesus, the baby was being associated with God. The name "Joshua" literally means, "Yahweh is help" or "Yahweh is salvation", (NIDNTT) or "Yahweh is Savior". Geerhardus Vos writes, (Biblical Theology, p. 308)

"Some intimation of the identity between Jehovah and the Messiah seems to be contained in the words of the angel."

Other men have had this name and it didn't mean that they were identified with Yahweh, but the fact that the angel says that Jesus bears this name because He saves His people from their sins points to His absolute uniqueness. Vos continues,

"We have, therefore, in close succession the statements that Jehovah is salvation, and that Jesus saves, that Israel, (Jehovah's people), are Jesus' people."

K. H. Rengstorf says of Matthew's words,

"their originality is obvious: they attribute to Jesus what was formerly reserved for God."

We see this expressed the following words of the angel, when he tells Joseph that the child will be called,

"Immanuel, which means, God with us."

We see this distinction of divinity being given to the baby in the angel's announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:11 as well. He said,

"Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

So as given to Jesus, this is a divine name. It denotes that He is God.

This is confirmed by the third thing that relates to the name.

His mission was only something that God could accomplish.

The baby was to be given the name, Jesus, because,

"He will save His people from their sins."

What is significant about this is that only God can save people from sin. You'll remember in Mark 2:5–7 that Jesus said to the paralytic,

"Son, your sins are forgiven."

Mark continues,

"Now some teachers of the law
were sitting there,
thinking to themselves,
'Why does this fellow talk like that?
He's blaspheming!
Who can forgive sins but God alone?'"

Only God can deliver from sins. Jesus' mission was to save sinners.

Now what all this means is that Jesus great mission was to be a Savior. Jesus was first and foremost a Savior of sinners.

This has great implications.

The first is that

Jesus did not come primarily to be a great teacher.

That's what some people will tell you. Even some professing Christians will tell you that Jesus' primary mission was as a teacher. But especially other religions say that they have great respect for Jesus in this regard. The Koran refers to Jesus as, "Kalimat Allah", which means the 'Word of God'. According to Islam, Jesus is the second highest prophet. But they do not believe that He was God or was a Savior. He was a great prophet.

Now it is quite true that Jesus was a great prophet and a great teacher. I certainly don't want to downplay that in any sense.
He was the greatest teacher the world has ever known.

In John 1:1 He is called the 'Word' because He came to tell us about God, about how to live, about the way of salvation. In John 14:9 Jesus told Philip that if he had seen Him, he had seen the Father. When Pilate was questioning Him, and suggested that He was a king, Jesus replied, (John 18:37)

"You are right in saying I am a king.
In fact, for this reason I was born,
and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth."

One of the great reasons Jesus came into the world was to testify to the truth.

But the great question is: what did Jesus teach?

ironic that those who think that Jesus was primarily a great teacher ignore much of His teaching. They ignore His teaching about His atoning death and how people have to have faith in Him. Did Jesus teach that He was just a Teacher? No. In His teaching Jesus pointed people to His work as Savior. In John 14:6 Jesus declared,

"I am the way
and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

Jesus' teaching was that people needed to believe in Him in order to be saved. In John 3:14–18 Jesus said,

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert,
so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
that everyone who believes in him
may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe
stands condemned already
because he has not believed
in the name of God's one and only Son.

In teaching this way Jesus was right in line with the great emphasis of the Old Testament prophecies that relate to the work of the Messiah in being a Savior. We see this in the very first prophecy of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15 has to do with the redemptive work of the Messiah. God said to Satan,

"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

The Messiah was not merely going to be a teacher—but a warrior to do battle with Satan. We see this in Psalm 22, Psalm 69 and also in Isaiah 53. In Isaiah 53:4-11 we read,

"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep,
have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him
and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light[of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant
will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities."

Or consider Jesus' teaching to the woman at the well. In John 4:10,13–14 Jesus said to her,

"If you knew the gift of God
and who it is that asks you for a drink,
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living waterÖ
Everyone who drinks this water
will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water
I give him will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give him
will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life."

And consider what He said to the people in John 6:28–29. They asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered,

"The work of God is this:
to believe in the one he has sent."

(John 6:47–58)

"I tell you the truth,
he who believes has everlasting life.
I am the bread of life.
Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert,
yet they died.
But here is the bread
that comes down from heaven,
which a man may eat and not die.
I am the living bread
that came down from heaven.
If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
This bread is my flesh,
which I will give for the life of the worldÖ
I tell you the truth,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever eats my flesh
and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Whoever eats my flesh
and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I live because of the Father,
so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Your forefathers ate manna and died,
but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."

Jesus taught that people needed Him as a Savior.

So I urge anyone here who thinks that Jesus was merely a great teacher to actually do what He taught. You need to believe in Him.

The second application we should see from our text is that

Jesus did not come primarily to be a great and inspirational example to us.

Some people will tell you that that was the main mission of Jesus—to give us a great example of faith in God that we are to imitate. It's interesting such people will use many of the words of Christianity, like 'faith', but they don't mean 'faith in Jesus' but rather that you are to have, "faith like Jesus'".

It's absolutely true that Jesus was a great example to us. For example, in 1 Peter 2:20–23, the apostle wrote,

"But if you suffer for doing good
and you endure it,
this is commendable before God.
To this you were called,
because Christ suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.
He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.
When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered, he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly."

But Peter didn't stop there. Peter went on and showed us that Jesus was much more than a mere example—that even His example was subservient to His work of saving us. Indeed, Peter showed that our being able to follow His example rests on having faith in Him.

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed."

Both the ideas of Jesus being merely a great prophet or Him being a great example reject the idea of Him being a Savior. They reject the idea of Him taking our place and dying for our sins. But this is exactly what we see in the angel's words to Joseph. The angel gave Joseph the meaning of the name, Jesus.

The last point of doctrine I want you to see from our text is that

there's a definitiveness to the angel's words.

Jesus is not presented as a 'possible Savior' but as a real Savior who would in fact save His people from their sins.

Much of evangelical Christianity presents Jesus as a possible Savior. They will tell you that God has done everything He can in order to save people. He sent Jesus to die and He has made salvation possible. But it's really up to people to decide to accept or reject Him.

I guess they would interpret the angel's words as mere bravado. That's the way that they do it in some political speeches today. When Sarah Palin was running for the Republicans last year, in at least one speech she referred to her running mate this way,

"The next President of the United States, John McCain."

Many politicians do that. I think it's a way to build confidence. But it was nothing but wishful thinking. It didn't happen. Looking back on it you could say that it was presumptuous, mistaken and foolish.

What the angel said wasn't like that. The angel's words weren't mere bravado like Sarah's. The angel said,

"you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."

This was not mere wishful thinking. According to the angel, Jesus was divine. He would save "His people".

I certainly wouldn't base the doctrines of Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace on this verse—but it is written in a way that is certainly supports these doctrines. The angel's words have a definitiveness to them.

There are two applications from this.

First, for those of you who are not Christians,

this means that Jesus can save you.

You should go to the One who can save you. His very name means, "Savior". Hi is divine. He can save you. Don't be in doubt about that. Don't be like the man whose son was demon possessed and when he saw Jesus he said, (Mark 9:22–23)

"if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

Jesus was taken back by the man's statement. He replied quoting the man's words back to him. He said,

"'If you can'? said Jesus.
'Everything is possible for him who believes.'"

You need to go to the only One who can save you. Go to Hi today.

For Christians, for those of you who have gone to Jesus for salvation, you should take great comfort in this.

Jesus can save you. I love how the ESV translates Hebrews 7:25. It says of Jesus,

"he is able to save to the uttermost
those who draw near to God through him,"

What a Savior you have in Jesus. He is a Savior. He has saved us. We are safe in His hands. He is leading us to glory. As Jude said, (Jude 1:24–25)

"To him who is able to keep you from falling
and to present you before his glorious presence
without fault and with great joy
— to the only God our Savior be glory,
majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages,
now and forevermore! Amen."

Rejoice in Him!