God with us
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Mt. 1:21
What does this tell us about Christ? I love the fact that the Bible doesn’t leave us to guess. In fact, the names given to our Lord by the angel (v. 21) and by prophesy (v.22-23) make it very clear exactly who was being born of Mary.
First of all, Joseph is told by the angel that Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). The name Jesus means “Savior.” However, it means a bit more than just that. Though there were at least two significant OT figures whose names were Joshua (Hebrew equivalent to “Jesus”), the angel does not refer to them as a reference to what was meant by the name Jesus; rather, he does so by virtually quoting Psalm 130:8, “And he [the LORD, Yahweh] will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” In other words, the one who is to be born of Mary is given a title which properly belongs only to God and a work which only God can perform.
The OT is adamant that God alone can save his people: “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa. 43:11); “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isa. 45:21); “But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hos. 13:4); “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Ps. 3:8). Thus, Jesus is not just another self-proclaimed “savior”; he is the divinely appointed savior from sin, a role uniquely reserved for God in the OT.
Jesus came to save from sin. Notice the particularity of this salvation with respect to sin: “he will save his people from their sins.” He did not come to save from sin in some general sense. He did not defeat sin in abstraction. Rather, he came to save us from the particular sins with which we have sinned against God. And he saves us from them. He does not save men and women in their sin, for that would not be salvation. A person who truly sees their need of forgiveness must necessarily see the ugliness and horror of sin. Such a person will want to be freed, not only from the penalty, but from the power of sin as well. And this Jesus does. He saves us from sin’s guilt, he saves from sin’s dominion, and he will one day free us from sin’s presence and the consequences of it in our broken bodies.
But no one would seriously believe that a mere man could do this. It’s interesting that those who deny that Jesus is God also as a matter of course deny that Jesus saves from sin; at most, they say that Jesus is just a good example of how to live before God. Thus, the proclamation that Jesus saves from sin is also a proclamation of his deity.
And therefore, we can have supreme confidence in his ability to save. As the author of Hebrews puts it: “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Heb. 7:25). Consider how the angel put it: “he will save his people from their sins.” There is no doubt about it. If you belong to Christ, you will be saved. He did not come simply to provide accommodations for salvation, or merely to make salvation vaguely possible and contingent upon autonomous man. Rather, he came to accomplish redemption for his people. As he would put it later, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (Jn. 6:39).
It should not surprise us then, that Matthew (or the angel – it is not entirely clear who is speaking these words) says, “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)” (Mt. 1:22-23).
There has been much discussion over the passage in Isaiah (7:14) from which Matthew is quoting. A lot of debate has taken place over the word in the Hebrew text which is translated “virgin” in our Bibles. Some want to take this to mean merely a woman of marriageable age. J. A. Motyer has made an impressive argument in his commentary on Isaiah that “virgin” is the most appropriate translation. In any case, the translator of the LXX certainly understood it to mean “virgin” (Gk. parthenos) and this is the word that Matthew uses. And he clearly sees this as a prophesy of the virgin birth of Christ.
Another thing debated over is: who is this Immanuel? Again, Motyer makes a good argument that, given the unity of chapters 7-9 of Isaiah, we should identify him with the child promised in 9:6-7. This child is called, among other things, the “Mighty God,” and is the one who will establish the throne of David forever. Therefore, we should not understand the name Immanuel to mean that the child brings with him the promise of God’s blessing, but rather that the child is God with us.
Thus, Matthew is giving us a clear indication who Jesus is. He is the Savior from sin – he does the work of God. And he is Immanuel – he brings the presence of God. One can hardly resist the conclusion that Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is God incarnate. He is human, for he is born of a woman. And he is God, for he who was born is the Savior from sin, and Immanuel, God with us.