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Converge Bible Studies Who is Jesus?
By Adam Thomas
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
THE NAMES OF JESUS CHRIST'S PRESENCE AND SALVATION
SCRIPTURE MATTHEW 1:18-25; ISAIAH 7:13-14; GENESIS 2:7
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn't want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means "God with us.")
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn't have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
13 Then Isaiah said, "Listen, house of David! Isn't it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God? 14 Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
7 The Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life's breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
By way of introduction in this first lesson, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my own birth narrative. No, it's not peculiar or noteworthy in any way; but it's mine, and I'd like to share it with you.
When my mother discovered that she was going to have a second child, she began thinking up names for the tiny person growing within her. Since she didn't know until I was born whether I was a boy or a girl, she tried all manner of names on for size. She spoke them loudly and softly, lovingly and reprovingly. She paired them with my sister Melinda's name. She let them roll off her tongue, and she wrote them down to see how they looked on paper. Finally, she settled on a boy's name—a real winner. Lying in bed one morning, she struck up a conversation with my father: "I think we should name him Tristram."
My father sat bolt upright in bed. "Absolutely not," he said. And so with a mixture of brainstorming, cajoling, and bargaining, my parents settled on Adam, thinking the name to be a good, strong one.
Sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like had my dad agreed with my mother's initial offering. Tristram is certainly less common than Adam—not that Adam is on a top ten baby name list. Tristram comes from the word sad in Latin or tumult in Gaelic. The variant Tristan was one of King Arthur's knights, the subject of stories and songs, and a title character in Wagner's great opera Tristan and Isolde. You know where Adam comes from. When God sculpted the dust into a form and breathed life into the body, what God made was my name. The second creation story in the Book of Genesis tells the story like this:
On the day the Lord God made earth and sky—before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the LORD God hadn't yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land—the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life's breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. (Genesis 2:5-7)
Notice that Adam isn't in there—well, not as a name at least. Originally, my name wasn't a name at all. Rather, Adam—ha adam, in Hebrew—was the word for "human being." "Person of earth" might be the most expressive translation.
DO NAMES MATTER?
Would my life be any different had I been named Tristram rather than Adam? Could I have traced a different path with a different name? Does a name really matter in the grand scheme of things? Judging by the opening chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, the answer is yes. The Gospel starts with a long list of names, all of the generations from Abraham up to Joseph, husband of Mary. Three sets of fourteen generations: forty-seven names in all, since Matthew mentions the names of a few special women. Then in the very next passage, an angel from the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream and directs Joseph's naming procedure.
In Matthew 1:18-25, we see that the right name is significant enough for an angel to tell Joseph just what to call the child growing in his fiancée's womb. But just one name won't do: Matthew recalls a second name for this child, from the words of the great prophet Isaiah. And these names—Jesus and Emmanuel—these names are more than just names. They are mission statements. They are explanations of the life that God sent God's only Son to live.
The angel in Joseph's dream tells him to name Mary's child Jesus, because "he will save his people from their sins" (verse 21). Jesus (Iesous) is the Greek way of writing the Hebrew name Yeshua, which we render in English as Joshua. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses grooms Joshua to be his successor because Moses knows that he's not going to reach the Promised Land. Moses makes sure that all of the Israelites know that Joshua is his choice.
Then Moses called Joshua and, with all Israel watching, said to him: "Be strong and fearless because you are the one who will lead this people to the land the LORD swore to their ancestors to give to them; you are the one who will divide up the land for them. But the LORD is the one who is marching before you! He is the one who will be with you! He won't let you down. He won't abandon you. So don't be afraid or scared!" (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)
After Moses dies, Joshua leads the people of Israel out of the wilderness, which had encompassed them for forty years. This hero of the old stories, which were told at the Temple and in the synagogue and around the dinner table for hundreds of years, finishes the work of bringing the people into the Promised Land. Forty years from God's initial rescue of God's people from slavery in Egypt, Joshua helps God close that chapter of Israel's history.
God saves Israel. This is the mission statement found in Joshua's name, which means "God saves." The life that Mary's child will live years after Joseph gives the boy Joshua's name accomplishes the same mission. Jesus, the angel says, "will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Jesus takes the people out of the new wilderness in which they are wandering. This new wilderness takes up no space on a map. There is no Promised Land a month's hard trudging through the desert. Rather, the wilderness from which Jesus saves the people is the emotional, psychological, and spiritual desolation that they wrought for themselves. They created deserts around and within themselves through misplaced priorities and apathy toward the less fortunate and worship of all manner of idols, including the very Law that was supposed to connect them to God.
Sound familiar? The desolation that the people of Jesus' time brought upon themselves is the same desolation that affects people today. Our idols might be shiny and new, but our deference to them is unchanged. Notice, however, that the mission statement found in Jesus' Hebrew name is not "God saved," but "God saves." With his resurrection, Jesus signals to people of all times that nothing in all creation—not even death—can keep God from bringing people back to God. We are some of those people.
Nothing in all creation can keep Jesus from being in relationship with us. Recall Paul's triumphant words to the church in Rome:
"I'm convinced that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created." (Romans 8:38-39)
When we embrace this joyous truth, we can participate with the saving acts of God, which Jesus' name makes known. We can participate with Jesus in turning our desolate deserts into Promised Lands.
GOD WITH US
This constant relationship, this promise kept through the power of the resurrection, brings us to the mission statement found in Jesus' other name: Emmanuel. For this name, the angel in Matthew's Gospel reaches back to the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Then Isaiah said, "Listen, house of David! Isn't it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God? Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:13-14)
Matthew helps out his non-Hebrew readers by translating this name right there in the text. Emmanuel means "God with us." Just as God was with Moses and Joshua and the rest of Israel during their forty-year journey through the wilderness, God was still with the people of Israel during their own self-imposed desolation. After all, God is the God of the desert and the Promised Land. But their desolation kept them from seeing the truth that God was with them. In Jesus' life, the reality of Emmanuel—God with us—found flesh and blood.
After centuries of captivity and occupation, after the life-giving words of the prophets had begun to fade from the collective memory, God's people needed the immediacy, the physicality of the Incarnation—of the embodiment of God-with-us—to bring them back to God. This flesh and blood reality of Emmanuel shocked some folks out of their desolation. They told others and those others told more, and pretty soon, followers of Jesus Christ were spreading to the ends of the earth his good news of abundant life lived for God.
But just as "God saves" is not simply a past event, "God-with-us" emanates from Jesus' life on earth through the presence of the Holy Spirit down to us. At the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus echoes his second name when he says to the disciples: "Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age" (Matthew 28:20b). Here Jesus promises to continue to fulfill his name's mission statement. That present age is still present. We, too, can encounter Emmanuel in our lives.
Every moment of every day, we have the opportunity of encountering the presence of God-with-us. We have the ability to participate with the God who saves in turning our desolation into a place of springs, where the "desert and the dry land will be glad" and "the wilderness will rejoice and blossom" (Isaiah 35:1). In the very names of our Savior Jesus Christ, we find the good news of God for all people. When we discover the presence of Emmanuel and embrace the forgiveness and salvation of Yeshua, of Jesus, we can then begin to ask God what our missions shall be. We can pray, "O God, what would you have our names mean?"
1. What does Scripture mean by righteous (Matthew 1:19)? What was Joseph's original plan when he discovered that Mary was pregnant?
2. Imagine the conversation when Mary first told Joseph about her pregnancy. How might have sounded? Why, do you think, did God wait to speak to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20)?
3. The angel instructed Joseph to name the baby Jesus. What was the significance of names in the first century? How important are names now?
4. In connection with Christ's mission, how does the name Emmanuel complement the name Jesus?
5. Joshua is the English rendering of the name Jesus. How does Jesus' ministry and mission compare with Joshua's in the Old Testament?
6. Why is the fact that Jesus is "God-with-us" so extraordinary?
7. How is Jesus' dual mission (God saves and God with us) still relevant in the twenty-first century? How do we communicate this effectively to a modern audience?
8. First Corinthians 15:45 calls Jesus "the last Adam." What does this mean?
9. What does your name mean? (You can find out using a baby name book or by searching online for name meanings.) Do you believe that your name has played a role in who you are today?
10. Out of what desert or wilderness are you journeying through that you need Jesus to lead you?CHAPTER 2
THE VOICE OF JESUS LISTENING TO THE SHEPHERD
SCRIPTURE JOHN 10:1-30
1 I assure you that whoever doesn't enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. 2 The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They won't follow a stranger but will run away because they don't know the stranger's voice." 6 Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn't understand what he was saying.
7 So Jesus spoke again, "I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn't listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life— indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away. That's because he isn't the shepherd; the sheep aren't really his. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 13 He's only a hired hand and the sheep don't matter to him.
14 "I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that don't belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.
17 "This is why the Father loves me: I give up my life so that I can take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father."
19 There was another division among the Jews because of Jesus' words. 20 Many of them said, "He has a demon and has lost his mind. Why listen to him?" 21 Others said, "These aren't the words of someone who has a demon. Can a demon heal the eyes of people who are blind?"
22 The time came for the Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple, walking in the covered porch named for Solomon. 24 The Jewish opposition circled around him and asked, "How long will you test our patience? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
25 Jesus answered, "I have told you, but you don't believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify about me, 26 but you don't believe because you don't belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one."
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
I'm sure that we can all agree that making a real audible connection with Jesus is difficult. After all, our Lord ascended into heaven two thousand years ago, give or take a few years. You can't download his parables from iTunes. You can't watch the Sermon on the Mount on YouTube. You can't get a podcast of the Last Supper. As Judas sings at the end of Jesus Christ Superstar: "If you'd come today, you could have reached the whole nation. Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication."
With no way to make that real audible connection with Jesus, we might be tempted to disregard the first sixteen verses of John 10 as an antiquated relic of Jesus' own time. In this section, John records Jesus discussing his identity as the good shepherd who takes care of the sheep. This is as close to a standard parable as John gets; rather, for John, Jesus is the parable. So it makes sense when a few verses later, John makes sure we know that Jesus is talking about himself when discussing the art of shepherding. Here Jesus is speaking with some of his opponents, who get ready to stone him for these words:
"My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30)
"My sheep listen to my voice," says Jesus. The fact that you are engaging in this Bible study tells me that on some level you identify as a member of Jesus' flock. So with no person to speak or recording to play, how do we, his sheep, hear Jesus' voice? How do we listen to someone who lived twenty centuries ago and who inhabited the other side of the world and who spoke a language that no longer exists?
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies Who is Jesus? by Adam Thomas. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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