Jesus the Savior

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (vv. 20–21).

- Matthew 1:18–21

Moving on in its exposition of the gospel via the Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism turns to the second major section of that ancient creed in question and answer 29: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” The question focuses on Christ’s role as Savior, looking to the name Jesus and its significance.

Today’s passage is one of the proof texts for seeing Jesus’ role as Savior revealed in the name given at His birth. We read in this familiar passage how an angel of the Lord came to Joseph, a descendant of King David, to assuage Joseph’s fears that Mary had been unfaithful and to reveal the true meaning of her pregnancy. The angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus, explaining that it was the proper name for the boy because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Iēsous, the Greek name for “Jesus,” is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua, or “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh is salvation.” Being a faithful Jew and a “just man” (vv. 18–19), Joseph certainly would have known the meaning of this name, although at the time he may not have been fully aware of the significance of giving it to Mary’s son. In that child, the name “Yahweh is salvation” reached its fulfillment because it was given to the incarnation of Yahweh Himself.

When the angel said that Jesus would save His people from their sins, he was speaking of two aspects of salvation. First, Jesus saves His people from the penalty of their sins in their justification. Bearing the wrath of God against sinners on the cross, Jesus took the condemnation we deserved so that by faith alone His righteousness might be imputed to us, granting us eternal life (John 3:16; Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1). Second, Jesus saves His people from the power of sin in their sanctification. Having been exalted to the Father’s right hand, Christ pours out His Holy Spirit on His brethren that they might receive new hearts, empowering them to stare down sin and live in holiness (Acts 2:32–33; Rom. 8:1–11; Gal. 5:16; 6:8).

Finally, let us note that the phrase his people in today’s passage is one of the key texts on the intent and extent of the atonement. Jesus’ died for a particular people, not to atone for every person who will ever live. If He had atoned for every person, then all people would be forgiven and God could not justly send anyone to hell.

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments that Jesus saves His people “from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery here and hereafter.” We often focus on the role of Jesus’ death in saving us from guilt, but let us never forget that He also died so that by His Spirit we might be empowered to live in a manner that pleases Him.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 59:15b–21
Luke 1:67–79
John 10:11
1 Thessalonians 5:9–10

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