Savior of Sinners
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21NKJ
Question 41 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Why was our Mediator called Jesus?” It gives the answer, “Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.” Last week we saw why it was necessary that our Mediator be God and man in one person, this week we consider the significance of the name He bore, the name that the angel commanded both His earthly parents to call Him, “Jesus.”
What’s in a name? In our verse above, Matthew’s gospel presents the command to call the Mediator’s name “Jesus,” because He would save His people from their sins. The name “Jesus” is based on the Hebrew word for savior, or as some scholars think, “the LORD saves.” “Joshua” is the Old Testament equivalent. Thus, Joseph is here commanded to call Mary’s child “Jesus” (think Savior) because of what He will do – save His people. The one coming to save will be named Savior. That makes sense. But the very next verse explains that a further reason the One coming to save His people from their sins was to be called Jesus was “to fulfill” (v. 22) the prophecy of Isaiah, which says “they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’ “ (v. 23). Why should the one coming to save His people from their sins be called Jesus, in order to fulfill the prophecy that His name would be called Immanuel?
Here we notice that Jesus did not come to save His people from some earthly enemy; such as the Egyptians, Midianites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.; but He came to save His people from their sins. Sin is the true enemy of man. It is the slayer of the world. Sin brought death to all mankind, for all men sinned in Adam, our representative in the Covenant of Works. Paul says that “the sting of death is sin,” (1 Cor. 15:56). In other words, death kills us by sin. Sin is the means by which death defeats us. The nation of Israel had many earthly enemies, on account of which God raised up for her many “saviors,” yet not one of these saviors could deliver the people of God from the power of their greatest enemy – sin. Every judge, every prophet, every king, and every priest was also a sinner. Each one could bring the nation a measure of earthly relief, a temporal respite from some fleshly tormentor, but he could not even save himself from sin, much less the rest of the people of God.
Consequently, the hope of the true Israelite was never in these fading episodes of peace, periodically brought by transitory saviors. Since sin was the ultimate reason for all of their hardships, God’s ultimate promise to them was to deliver them from their sins: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool,’” (Isa. 1:18). Moreover, the Savior who was promised to come and deliver them from their sins was prophesied in Isaiah (and other places) to be God Himself. In fact, the section of Isaiah referenced by Matthew, beginning with the prophecy of the virgin bearing Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), clearly indicates that this child will not only be the Spirit-filled seed of David: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD,” (Isa. 11:1-2); but also God Himself: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isa. 9:6).
Thus, the reason that He came to save His people from their sins and, therefore, be called Jesus was to fulfill the promise that God Himself would someday come and deliver His people fully and finally from the power of sin. It was to fulfill the prophecy that He would not only be called Jesus, but Immanuel, “God with us,” because God alone was able to secure the victory over sin. This truth is also why Isaiah closes this section of His prophecy with the people praising God, the LORD, who has saved them (12:2); by His mighty deeds known in all the earth (12:4-5); for He Himself is “the Holy One of Israel in your midst,” (12:6). We know He is Immanuel, “God with us,” because He is Jesus, who has saved us from our sins!