ONE NAME – MANY DESIGNATIONS

While some understandably think Jesus has two names, the reality is he has only one – Jesus. Christ is not his last name, but it is one of the most used of many designations the Bible gives to him. If we were to write down all the designations for Jesus in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) it would be a long list.

Two of the more prominent designations for Jesus in the New Testament are Son of God and Son of Man. In going to church as a youngster I learned that Son of God underscored the divinity of Jesus and Son of Man his humanity. While one of the basic Christian teachings about  Jesus is that he was fully God and fully man at the same time, Son of Man does not necessarily point to his humanity.

In the Gospels Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. At that time Son of Man was not automatically thought of as a term of divinity, but was rather open to interpretation. Jesus used the term so that through his teaching and actions he could fill it with meaning. By the end of his ministry is was clear that his usage of the term was a claim to a special relationship with God similar to Son of God.

As important as Son of God and Son of Man are as designations for Jesus in the New Testament in terms of his identity, there are three other designations that have become my favorites. To me these three need to be held together in one’s personal understanding of who Jesus is.

The least used in the New Testament of these three is friend. And it is interesting that the label was first given to Jesus by his critics. Reflecting on their dissatisfaction with both John the Baptist and himself Jesus said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18 and 19).

In John 15:13-15 Jesus uses the word friends to describe his followers. In verse 13 he declares, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In verse 14 he adds a condition: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The fullest explanation is in verse 15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

In addition to friend, savior is also one of my favorite three designations for Jesus. While the term is used elsewhere as well, savior is prominent in the Christmas story as told by both Matthew and Luke. Savior speaks to the mission and work Jesus came to accomplish by going to the cross. Our friend is also our savior, and our savior is also our friend.

The third of my favorite designations for Jesus is lord. As a title lord suggests respect, but also authority. In many respects lord is synonymous with master. What is unique about lord as a title for Jesus is that we choose and accept him as Lord, he does not force it on us. Not only that, as our lord he does not use or take advantage of us; he wants only what is best for us.

Is it possible to hold these three designations together in our understanding of Jesus? I think so. All three are important and each contributes much to our relationship with him.

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THE THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS

To alter and borrow from a song many of us sang as children, Christmas means different things to different people. For some it is a winter holiday representing time off from work or school; for others it is a time of special parties, decorations, music, and food; and for many it is an occasion of giving and receiving gifts.

I am not a distant relative of the Grinch as I do not oppose time off, parties, decorations, music, food, or giving and receiving gifts. But as enjoyable and fun as all of these are, none are at what I would call the heart of Christmas. The heart of Christmas is the annual commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus. In this post I want to give an overview of what I call “The Theology of Christmas.”

I hope no one is put off by the word theology. If it suggests to you that we will be challenged to think more deeply than we often do, that is exactly what I have in mind. And why shouldn’t we from time to time wrestle with the more profound aspects of our faith? Not everything about Christianity is simple or easily understood.

 In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus called Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about the birth of Jesus. Matthew and Luke both begin with the birth of Jesus. John doesn’t have a birth account, but John 1:1-18 lays out the theology of Christmas with verse 14 being the cornerstone.

In verse one John writes about the Word pointing out that “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is John’s designation for the second person of the Trinity, the one we know as Jesus. Verse 14 is John’s Christmas verse: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The theology of Christmas is that Jesus was and is God. These verses teach what is called the pre-existence of Jesus. Jesus did not come into existence when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. God has always been—he is eternal. And so is Jesus, because he is God.

The theology of Christmas also is that in Jesus, God became human. That’s the point of John’s Christmas verse declaration in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The theological term for this, for God becoming a man, is incarnation. And that is not easy for us to comprehend. But just because it is difficult to comprehend does not mean we don’t believe it.

In the words of Bible commentator Leon Morris, “John is writing about a genuine incarnation.  The Word took upon himself our flesh, with all that that means.  He accepted the limitations that are a part and parcel of human existence.” Jesus became weary and he needed sleep; he became hungry and he became thirsty, he felt both anger, joy, and sorrow; and in the Garden of Gethsemane he was troubled and desired companionship.

Here’s the bottom line of the theology of Christmas: in Jesus, God became a man; yet when he became a man he did not cease being God. He was both God and man.

The theology of Christmas means we have a Savior. That was the message of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 and the message of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 and 11. You and I need a Savior.

The theology of Christmas also means we have a Savior who understands us. Because God became man in Jesus we have a Savior who identifies with us in our needs. The writer of Hebrews makes that clear in Hebrews 2:17 and 18 and again in 4:14-16. Because Jesus understands He wants to and can help us when we are tempted. (I encourage you, if possible, to grab your Bible and read those two passages right now.)

The theology of Christmas is not simple and easily understood; but challenging, deeply profound, and immensely meaningful.

This year enjoy your time off, parties, decorations, music, food, and giving and receiving gifts; but make sure you don’t overlook the heart of Christmas.

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