What’s in a Name?

. . .an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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. (Matthew 1:20-21)

If you’ve ever been to a carol service or nativity play, you have probably heard this passage from Mathew’s account of the Christmas story. Yet sometimes “familiarity breeds contempt”, and we can struggle to feel the impact and significance of  these truths because we’ve heard them so often. Or perhaps you’re reading this and you’re actually not that familiar with what it’s all about? You’ve heard it, but you don’t understand it.

Naming a child is a pretty important task – the name that they are given may be meaningful to the family, or it may say something about who the child might grow up to be, or it might communicate more about the parent who named them (Like the mother in Wales who was prevented from naming her child “Cyanide”!)

Joseph and Mary are instructed by God to name the baby “Jesus”, it’s not a decision that they make themselves. This name was important because it pointed to who this child would be and what he would do.

Rescue from Sin for All People

Jesus means “God saves”. But it’s more than that really, because in the Hebrew it’s not the generic word for a deity. God’s personal name “Yahweh” is used. This is a stunning act of powerful yet personal connection with human beings from the God who made the universe! But at this point its significance is still obscured. Who and what needs saving, and why? The angel says that they are to give him this name, because “he will save his people from their sins.”

Sin: An Unpopular Concept

There is a verse in the Bible which says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) I don’t have space to give a full biblical explanation of what sin is, but it combines objective moral failure with rebellion against God, whether through wilful opposition or a simple failure to acknowledge his existence or authority over us. This failure places us right in the crosshairs of God’s just judgement of all that is wrong.

Sin isn’t a popular concept in contemporary society. We don’t like the idea that we are accountable to standards outside our own choosing. And yet  we also like to think that there remains an objective standard of right and wrong in this world  by which child abusers and people traffickers will be judged. Yet the Bible presses us to acknowledge that not even “nice people” receive a passing grade! We don’t match up to God’s standards. We don’t love or worship him, and we don’t love others well.  Our good deeds are always outweighed by our sinful failures.We need the rescue that Jesus brings.

“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.

And so the Christmas message is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. For Jesus, saving us would lead him to a cruel Roman crucifixion. His rescue of sinners would be a priceless gift, given freely and lovingly to the undeserving.

And for those who doubted that this salvation could be true, who thought that God was too distant, or this world too troubled, or their sin too bad, his name would be a constant reminder and commitment. Jesus: “The Lord Saves”. There is no greater gift than the rescue from sin that we are offered in Jesus Christ – and its attendant peace and restored relationship. Have you received it?

Wishing you a joyful Christmas

Nim

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Loving Kindness

In my previous post I quoted some verses from Ephesians 2. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since, although my thoughts have moved in another direction – God’s word is packed with goodness! And it’s not that I’ve learnt something new, but it has hit me with fresh impact, so here are some thoughts on the kindness of God towards us:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7

These are truly incredible verses!

Paul explains to the Ephesian Christians and to us that 1) our merciful God loves us with a great love. (He loved us even when we were “dead” in our sin)

2) Because of his love he has rescued us from sin and death through Jesus’ sacrifice in our place,

3) We have been raised and seated with Christ in heaven (spiritually for now, but one day physically too!)

4) The reason for this is so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us”

WOW.

It’s easy to miss that last part amidst all the other amazing things that Paul says, but it is an incredible truth.

Most people whether Christians or not, know that Jesus came to die on a cross for sinful people. But how often do we reflect on his motivations and feelings in doing so?

We’re grateful, and amazed at such a painful, generous sacrifice. But perhaps we sometimes think that God’s forgiveness is him hauling us out of trouble because he is merciful and good, but that he views us as trouble makers whom he cares for semi- reluctantly. ‘We’re more trouble than we’re worth, but what’s a loving God to do but keep on loving us?

But this verse explodes that theory.

the incomparable riches of his grace” 

The Besotted Bridegroom

God’s purpose? Not a grudging one-time rescue, but an enthusiastic resolve and determination to love you and I, and keep on showing his kindness to us for the rest of eternity!! He can’t wait to show us greater depths of his love in Christ Jesus, like a bridegroom who looks past the wedding to a lifetime of finding new ways to love his bride.

This is not a reluctant love, or an abstract, theoretical, ‘textbook’ love. This is real, sacrificial, passionate, unfailingly kind love.

Please don’t misunderstand me, we are not at the centre of the universe as we like to imagine. He is! God is not like us, and first and foremost he glorifies himself. Nevertheless this is a biblical picture of how he feels about us. It is even more wonderful a truth when we consider how ‘other’ God is, how far above us in every way, and how undeserving we are!

Christ's Bride Ephesians 2

The Blushing Bride

The more I consider this, the more I feel like the blushing bride that scripture says I am! (Is 62.5, Rev 19.7) His love for us is so undeserved!

Perhaps I seem ‘spiritual’ writing this blog, but trust me that the depths of my heart show my great need of Jesus Christ every single day. To hear that this good and holy God loves me and wants to show unfailing kindness to me, gives me confidence to draw near to him. How can I help but respond to this kind of undeserved, freely given, frankly declared love?

We are blessed people with an eternally loving God, I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing in his love.

Nim

Bread Not Eaten

I came across this Charles Spurgeon quote the other day while preparing a Bible study.

“Christ as bread, yet not eaten, becomes Christ dishonoured

It prompted me to ask myself this question: Do I always take the bread he offers me?

Jesus says to us “Take, eat, this is my body broken for you” (Matthew 26:26) We often hear his words repeated as we take communion, and remember his death on the cross that redeemed us.

But so often I act day to day like I can find my own bread to eat – I start believing that my own shaky acts of righteousness and good works are enough to fill me.

And yet the bread that Jesus offers is eternal nourishment for our endless filling and salvation. It’s essential eating for sinful people who will die without its sustenance! We need to eat up this grace gift like the starving sinners that we are, not tell him that ‘we’re fine thanks’.

Have you eaten your fill of what Jesus offers you? His bodily sacrifice alone, without a collection of your own crumbs? Will you honour him by continuing to enthusiastically eat this bread that gives eternal life?

Hallelujah, what grace he has shown us!

Nim

P.S If you would like to read Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on Matthew 26:26 you can find it here