TEXT: Psalm 67; Exodus 15:1-2; Psalm 14:7; Matthew 1:20-21
Do any of you have names or have given names to children that carry a specific meaning that was important to you? What are some examples?
[Thomas, Samuel – biblical names….. Michael – “gift of God”]
Our names are important! We sometimes choose names to honor our family, so I’m Robert Milam Austell, Jr., named after my father. Similarly, we chose Walker’s name to honor a family name. But other times we pick names that mean something either in English or another language. We chose Abby’s name – Abigail – because it is a Hebrew name that means “my Father’s joy.” In the Bible names almost always had a meaning. Abraham and Sarah named their son Isaac, which means ‘laughter’ because Sarah laughed when God first told them they were going to have a baby. We don’t have a lot of names that mean the same in English; usually the names are from another language. But here’s one you might recognize: Duane “the Rock” Johnson. Or ‘Rocky’ Balboa – the English word communicates what you need to know: toughness, strength, like a rock!
Sometimes in the Bible names were even changed to mark a significant event. So when God established the covenant with Abram, he changed his name to Abraham, inserting the short form of God’s name, ‘Yah’ or ‘Ha’ into his name. And when the persecutor of the early church, Saul, met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus changed his name to ‘Paul’ because the change was so significant. I have two friends who changed their given name to something new (even legally changing it) to mark extremely significant events that changed their lives.
Today we are continuing our summer series entitled “Words Matter.” We are looking at a number of words that carry significant meaning throughout scripture. Today we are looking at the word yeshua, which means salvation. The root word yasha (to save) shows up nearly 500x in the Old Testament. In addition to the verb ‘to save’ and the noun ‘salvation’, it forms the basis of many Hebrew names like Joshua, Elisha, Isaiah, and Hosea. Each of them is some name of God combined with the root yasha. So Joshua is ‘yah’ + ‘yeshua’ or “God is salvation.” It was also the name given to Jesus.
I want to look with you today at the meaning of yeshua as salvation, then look at how Jesus was connected to that name and why.
Exodus 15 – Exodus is the story of God delivering or saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God brings them through the Red Sea and delivers them from slavery and death. It is the foundational meaning of ‘salvation’ in scripture and you see the word used in the “Song of Moses” recorded in Exodus 15:
1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said,
“I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.
2 “The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will extol Him.
There in verse two is the word yshua(h), or ‘salvation’. It describes that rescue and deliverance from slavery and from death at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh and army.
Psalm 67 (and 14) – That salvation story from Exodus would continue to be told year after year in the Passover meal and still is today among Jewish people. But God’s salvation is broader than that specific, if definitive, event. In the songs of Israel, the Psalms, we see it used in connection with God’s covenant to Abraham (which preceded Moses and the Exodus). Remember, that covenant was to give Abraham children, land, and blessing; and through Abraham and his children God was bless the nations of the world. In Psalm 67 we see ‘salvation’ used in conjunction with that broad vision of God’s work:
1 God be gracious to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us
2 That Your way may be known on the earth,
Your salvation yeshua(t) among all nations.
7 God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.
God’s salvation is not just deliverance of enslaved Israel, but the blessing of Israel and all nations. It is the restoration of sinful humanity, that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would again know and worship the God of Creation. We see this story arc completed in Revelation where those nations are gathered in worship before the throne of God.
Psalm 14 provides an example of how this broad promise and salvation of God will find focus more narrowly in one to come. The Psalmist exclaims:
7 Oh, that the salvation yeshua(t) of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
Zion is Jerusalem. Those who heard and sang this Psalm envisioned a new and mighty king rising up to restore the power and glory of the old Kingdom under David. This became one foundation of the hope in a Messiah, one God would anoint to bring salvation to Israel. As I’ve shared before, this hope in God’s salvation endured and grew through the hundreds of years of Exile after the great kings and kingdoms of Israel fell. That hope in God’s salvation endured through the rise of the Roman Empire and the Roman occupation of Israel. One day God would again bring salvation to His people and it would bless the world.
And so in the midst of this period of Roman occupation and enduring hope God sent an angel messenger to a young couple named Mary and Joseph. Matthew records the angel’s words, which Joseph heard in a dream. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as a wife. She had become pregnant and had not known a man. The Angel tells Joseph that the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. That’s all a lot to take in, but is not our focus this morning. The angel also tells Joseph that this child will save his people from their sins. He will be a rescuer, a deliverer, one who saves; so the angel tells Joseph to name him Jesus. But that’s the Greek-Latin version of the name because Matthew wrote this account in Greek and it came to us via Latin and English (basically Hebrew and Greek ‘Y’ becomes ‘J’ in Latin and English). Mary and Joseph would have spoken Hebrew or the very similar Aramaic. The name the angel would have said to them in their language was Yeshua, literally “salvation.” Name your baby “salvation” because he will save his people from their sins!
And that is what Jesus did. And Jesus’ salvation is as broad as God’s Old Testament salvation (because it’s the same salvation!). It is for the world to fulfill the covenant with Abraham, and I’ve already noted the portrayal of this in Revelation with redeemed from all the nations before the throne of God. Jesus also connected his salvation to freeing from slavery and captivity, healing from sickness, and justice for the oppressed, as he proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Luke 4 and throughout his teaching and ministry.
Jesus is God’s salvation from sin in all its manifestations, from the narrow and specific sins of individuals to the broad impact of sin on communities, cultures, and nations. And Jesus is not a new thing, but the fulfillment of the work God has been doing all along. Yasha is God’s salvation and it is embodied and enacted in Yeshua/Jesus; it’s the same salvation described in Genesis, in Psalms, in the Gospels, and in Revelation.
There are two things I’d challenge you to take from all this.
The first is a broader understanding of salvation and sin. It is not only individual work. It is that, but it is also community, culture, and nations. That’s why scripture speaks so much to justice, mercy, compassion, and love of neighbor from cover to cover. That’s the work God is doing and it’s an essential part of the message and work of Jesus.
Secondly, each of you who trust in Jesus Christ bear a name in addition to the one you were given at birth. You are also named “Christian” which means follower of Christ. Literally it means “little Christ” not unlike the Jr. on Robert, Jr. We are to bear the name of Christ in the world in a way that honors that name. And God says that means being a part of the salvation work God is doing through Jesus. That not only means telling people about Jesus, but also being a part of that community-redemptive work of compassion, mercy, justice, and love of neighbor. That’s why I keep talking about it! In some form or another it’s on every page and in every verse. Last week we talked about agape-love and were reminded from 1 John that we love because God has loved us. The Great Commandment is to love God and love our neighbor.
If we are Christians we have not only received God’s salvation, but we are salvation-bearing people, participants in bearing and living out the Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Let’s honor the name! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Hear the Call of the Kingdom
- Shine on Us
- Wonderful, Merciful Savior
- Mighty to Save
- Salvation’s Song
- Hallelujah, What a Savior