Friday, December 12, 2008

What's in a Name?

During the Christmas season we become preoccupied with a myriad of details pertaining to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. American culture has added many dimensions completely unrelated to the actual historical event around which the holiday is based.

There is no better way of explaining the central significance of Christmas than by noting the meaning of the name of the One whose birth we remember and celebrate. It was no accident that Mary’s baby boy was named Jesus. Prior to His birth, an angel appeared to Joseph, instructing him to name the child Jesus.

Along with choosing the name, the angel added the reason for the name selection: “for He will save His people from their sins.” The coming Child was charged with a particular mission: saving His people from their sins. Thus we observe that beyond the quaint details of His birth is the spectacle of the cross.

Adding to the complexity of the event is the fact that the name Jesus is actually the Greek version of the name Joshua, which means literally, “Yahweh is salvation.” Putting these details together adds an element of mystery. If Mary’s child is to save His people from their sins, and His name means “Yahweh is salvation,” how can both be true?

The only logical conclusion is that the one named Jesus was in fact God (Yahweh) born in human form. Indeed, this is a parallel element of the Christmas story. The Gospel of Matthew quotes the ancient prophet Isaiah when he predicted 700 years earlier that a virgin would give birth to one called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

So a proper celebration of Christmas is rejoicing in the reality that God Himself assumed human form to be the Savior of His people. Is He your Savior? If not, all of the peripheral aspects of the Christmas season will quickly fade away into insignificance.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Highway to Heaven

Recently I had to take an unexpected trip to an office in downtown Baltimore. Not being familiar with that area, other than knowing that it is difficult to navigate for the uninitiated, I consulted two different Internet mapping sites to plan my way. Thankfully, the directions were flawless, and the trip was accomplished without great difficulty.

Twenty-first century travel has been transformed by computer technology from the days of relying on state roadmaps or simply asking for directions. These days, those with access to a computer, or a GPS system in their vehicle, have little excuse for getting lost.

But there is one destination that cannot be charted by a digitized program. There is no satellite-based technology that can point the way to heaven. Utilizing poetic imagery, the prophet Isaiah declared: “A highway shall be there, and a road. And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.” He describes this highway as free from predatory dangers; even those lacking wisdom will reach their heavenly home when they stick to this road. Travelers on this highway will be filled with great joy as “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Who are these blessed pilgrims? How does one get on this “limited access” highway? Isaiah writes, “the unclean shall not pass over it.” “The ransomed of the Lord” are those populating the pathway to heaven.

The reality is that no person gains entrance on his own merits. We are all disqualified by our own spiritual uncleanness. Only those whose hearts God has cleansed are worthy to walk this road. Earlier Isaiah wrote of these travelers, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

If guilt is weighing on your conscience, turn to Him for renewal and cleansing. God’s Son has paid the toll for the travelers on this thoroughfare, and there is no other way to get there.