Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV)
5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
It’s not terribly unusual for parents to put a lot of time into choosing a name. There’s a lot to consider! You don’t want a name that a child will be teased for if you can avoid it. In that regard the middle name is of special note, although you can also use it to hide a somewhat unfashionable name that has otherwise been in the family for several generations. My mother will tell you that you will want to take note of what the initials will ultimately spell, too. Take it, she says, from someone who has spent her entire life with the initials ARF.
We have fun with our names sometimes, but all joking ceases when it comes to the name of that baby in the manger in Bethlehem. You may recall from last night that there was no long, drawn out decision-making process involved in the naming of this child. The angel Gabriel told the young parents precisely what the child’s name would be. It was a nice, traditional Hebrew name as far as that goes. But, more importantly, that name in Hebrew was a sentence—an awesome sentence.
We know it by its Greek spelling: Jesus. In Hebrew it was Yeshua or Y’hoshua. We still use it in English today with the derivative name Joshua. But no matter how you spell it, the underlying sentence, the deep and powerful meaning, remains the same. Jesus means, “The Lord Saves.”
I know they say that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I tell you that no other name for the Savior of mankind could be as sweet as this one. No name could be more appropriate for the deliverer from sin and death that God had promised from the very day of our race’s fall into sin. “The Lord Saves.” No Other Name Would Be As Sweet.
And what makes that name so sweet? It begins, as we see from Exodus, with the personal name that God had chosen for himself to distinguish himself as the one, true God from all the imaginary gods that mankind would invent as alternatives. As the name the distinguishes him from all false gods, he considers it sacred, to be used only for him and for him alone. It is so important that this name not be associated with anyone else but him that right after he declared the First Commandment for the Israelites (that they have no other gods before him), he immediately declared, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7).
What I was saying a minute ago about Jesus’ name, you see, also applied to this special name for God that he chose for himself. We say “the Lord” because we are following an ancient Hebrew tradition of not saying the actual name God chose for himself out loud in order to avoid misusing it. It’s a little bit misguided as traditions go, but even Jesus himself seemed to appreciate the thought behind it to some degree, because he, too, referred to the one, true God as “the Lord” on many occasions.
But, as I said, that’s just the traditional way to refer to God’s name, not the name itself. When God told Moses what his name was back in Exodus 3, he said Ehyeh, which is Hebrew for “I Am.” Elsewhere that same name is rendered Yahweh, which sounds like the Hebrew for “He Is.” Fitting, isn’t it? That name alone is an entire sermon of great comfort for all believers. In fact, it’s our sermon for New Year’s Eve, as it turns out.
But for Christmas morning, the morning of our Savior’s birth, I want to look at more than just what that special name for God is and how a person would normally translate it. I want you to understand Jesus. I want you to understand that special name that God chose for himself as the Messiah in human flesh. I want you to understand the name Jesus and just how sweet “The Lord Saves” is by understanding all that God said to Moses as he expounded on his personal name as the one, true God, The Lord.
Notice first how the request to see the holy God in all his splendor poses a problem: “You cannot see my face,” the Lord told Moses, “for no one may see me and live.”
Many have compared the problem with looking at the holy God in all his brilliance as being something like the problem we have when we want to examine the sun more closely. We can’t actually do that with the eyes God has given us because the intensity of the light that the sun produces is so great that it would actually burn our retinas where the sun would be focused, like an ant being burned up by a child experimenting with a magnifying glass. That’s a scary thought.
Even scarier, though, is the reality of the problem. It’s not just that the Lord’s glory is so bright, like some super-high intensity light bulb. The problem is holiness, his complete separation from all sin, from any and every form of evil. Why’s that a problem? That’s a problem because you and I are evil. Yes, even believers still have sinful minds and hearts, despite the new hearts and renewed minds that God gives us by his Holy Spirit.
You see, it’s a little less like the brightness of the sun and more like a manifestation of power, heat and energy that burns up all impurity. It’s something like a very bright light, but even more like the smelter’s furnace that the prophet Malachi refers to in the last book of the Old Testament. Smelting fire is good for precious metals because the extremely high heat burns off all the impurities inside the metal, leaving you with nothing but pure silver or gold. But understand, brothers and sisters, that a sinful heart, a sinful soul and a sinful mind—these things are impurities. In other words, you, as you are by nature, are an impurity in this universe that needs to be destroyed before Creation can have any value in the eyes of our holy God once again. Lies that you tell, lusts that you feel, selfish ambition, cursing, impatience, anger, worrying, cheating—these things come from our sinful hearts, and they cannot be fixed. They can only be destroyed.
But “The Lord Saves.” The Lord saves! No other name for that little child born in Bethlehem could be sweeter. Do you know what he is? That baby is what Paul called “all the fullness of the Deity liv[ing] in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Do you know what he is? He is God showing us all his goodness, causing all his goodness to pass right in front of us, while that normal, everyday human flesh veils his glory and protects a world of sinners, like the hand of God shielding Moses as he stood in that cleft.
This baby, this Messiah, this Savior, is, as the angel said to the shepherds, “Christ the Lord.” This baby is Yahweh, the great I AM. “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail th’incarnate Deity!”
This, my brothers and sisters, is the ultimate revelation of the name of the Lord. This, my brothers and sisters, is your salvation. This, by brothers and sisters, is very literally the incarnation, the in-flesh-version, of “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Yes, he is even the incarnation of “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Do you understand what I mean? As Jesus himself said it as a full-grown man: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
This baby is not God “going soft” on sin or changing his mind about how serious sin is. Sin—all sin—is rebellion against God, and sin—all sin—hurts people, creates victims and leaves this world broken and aimless. This is true and would be easy enough for us to see if we could overcome our pathetic cowardice and open our eyes to the damage we ourselves have done here.
No, this baby is not a change in God’s judgment against sin and the pain and death that it brings to our world. This the Lord still hates, and he promises in perfect faithfulness to punish all sin fully. But for those who trust in the Lord as a Savior God despite being born in sin, this baby is the sweet, sweet truth that “The Lord Saves.” This baby is forgiveness. This baby is the inconceivable truth that our Father in heaven loves the people in this world so much that he is willing to take personal responsibility for the evil we have done. He will punish sin—has punished sin—but he has punished it in himself. This little baby with the sweet, sweet name, is God born in mortal flesh so that he could be our sacrifice for sin. “The Lord Saves.”
No other name could possibly be as sweet. “The Lord Saves.” The Lord saves! Say it loud and say it proud! We have seen the goodness that passed in front of Moses and we have heard the same sermon preached on God’s holy name. It is Jesus, God prepared for our death, that we may have life in his name. Amen.
Christmas Day No Other Name Would Be As Sweet
December 25, 2009
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Exodus 33:18-23, 34:5-7