We are familiar with the birth account of Jesus. It’s hard not to know the story — even Charlie Brown’s friend Linus understands the advent of Christ.
But there are details to the story that are easy to overlook and miss. One of the fascinating components to the birth accounts is how Jesus is addressed in them. I have counted at least 13 different names or titles for Jesus in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, all of which reveal the character and purpose of Jesus’ incarnation.
Consider just the appellations given in Matthew 1 and the appearance of the angel to Joseph.
He is Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:18). That designation points to both His human name and identity (Jesus) and His divine responsibility (Christ — the annointed One, the Messiah and King). Thus, the designation refers to Jesus as the infinite God-Man — the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures of Christ. Just this designation would have emphasized to ancient readers the uniqueness of Jesus.
He is the Child (vv. 18, 20) — This is the most commonly used name for Jesus in the birth narratives (it is used at least 13x). This term emphasizes His humanity. He is fully God, but at the same time He is genuinely human. And He did not have a “shortcut” in any part of His humanity — He arrived as a newborn infant and would grow and develop naturally as any other infant. He was subject to the constraints of time and place just like any other person, and had to grow in body and develop skills as an adult like any other person. To emphasize His humanity is a reminder to the readers that He is One with whom we might identify ourselves and One whom we can follow and emulate because in His humanity He is just like us.
He is a Son (v. 21, 25). Certainly He is Mary’s Son, but He is the Son of God (Lk. 1:35) and the Son of Man (Mt. 9:6; 12:40, etc.; this is the key Messianic title of Jesus). His sonship is not merely human, but also divine (cf. Ps. 2:7; Dan. 7:13-14).
He is Jesus (v. 21, 25), the only redeemer of men’s sins. The name Jesus is from the Old Testament name “Joshua,” meaning, “God saves.” The nation was looking for a redeemer from political oppression, but the angel makes clear that Jesus came to save people from their sins. He would save men from God and the penalty of their sins, and He would save men from the power and bondage of their own sins. He is a man, but His human name refers to the remarkable nature of His manhood and work.
Further, this name was a promise to Joseph that this Son would also save Joseph from his sins. He would save Mary from her sins. And He would save the covenant people of Israel from their sins. And the promise that Jesus would save people from sins still stands: 1 Tim. 2:4-5.
Finally, He is also Immanuel (v. 23, “God with us”), the restorer of fellowship with God. God was with Israel in the Old Testament in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple. But when Christ came, He came in a far more intimate and personal way. In the Old Testament, no one could see God and live, but with the incarnation, God is not only seen, but His presence is enjoyed.
This name was a promise to Joseph: “you don’t need to be afraid, for the Lord is with you in the circumstance of Mary’s unique pregnancy.” Even more, it was a promise to the nation of Israel — Jesus is God with US. He is with His covenant people; and in Christ He would never leave or desert His people (14:3). Nor would He forsake the Gentiles who would be folded into the promises God made to Israel (us Gentiles, Rom. 11:25-29; Heb. 13:5-6).
Jesus came to address every need every man has. And even more than that, because of who He is, He is able to do what He came to do. Because (and only because) He is incarnate God, He can accomplish all He has came to don — and those truths are affirmed by the names and titles given to Him at His incarnation.