Since it’s the day before our church’s Christmas service, and since my sermon has been finished for a couple days (yea!), I thought I’d take some time to blog about a question I get asked every once in a while that is right out of the Christmas Story: Why isn’t Jesus named “Immanuel”?
After all, when speaking about Jesus the Bible says, “they will call him Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23). Then just two verses later it says, “And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:25). Radical Bible skeptics believe this is an obvious contradiction.
So what’s going on with our Savior’s name? Is it supposed to be Immanuel or Jesus? And are the Bible skeptics right?
Let’s dig into this…
In Matthew’s version of the Christmas Story, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him in no uncertain terms, “Mary 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 1:21). So that is why Joseph named Him Jesus.
Sidenote: The name “Jesus” literally means “the LORD saves” and it is the Greek form of the name “Joshua” which would have been pronounced Yay-shoe-uh by Mary and Joseph. And what’s interesting is it was a pretty common name among first century Jewish families.
So if the angel said His name was supposed to be Jesus, how does verse 23 fit: “they will call him Immanuel”?
Verse 23 is actually a quotation from 700 B.C. from the book of Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel means “God with us.” And this was literally true in the person of Jesus.
When it comes to how we should refer to our Savior, the confusion is removed once you realize the difference between what a person is NAMED and what we CALL them. For example, Kellie and I NAMED our firstborn Faith Sophia…but most of the time I CALL her “Fia.” We NAMED our second daughter Evelyn Grace…but I often CALL her “Beautiful Evelyn.” We NAMED our third daughter Elizabeth Juliet…and we are actually still trying to figure out which nickname for her will stick! 🙂
There is oftentimes a difference between what someone is named and what we call them. And the NIV Bible translation points to both truths when it comes to our Savior: They will CALL Him “Immanuel” (verse 23) but they will NAME Him “Jesus” (verse 25). No contradiction.
And the truth is Jesus was Immanuel. He was God with us 2,000 years ago. And He is still Immanuel today.
Jesus has not left us. He has not forsaken us. He has not abandoned us. Even in the midst of life’s storms.
Here’s a poem I remember hearing as a Catholic kid. A plaque of it hung on a wall in our house growing up. It paints a wonderful word picture of this truth. It’s called Footprints in the Sand:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
***Please join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. It’s our Christmas service! It will include a Bible teaching on the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph, communion, singing Christmas carols, as well as a special presentation from our Vineyard Kids that will remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Sunday December 23. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***