Named Before Birth – Jesus

Named Before Birth – Jesus

Named Before Birth – Jesus.

“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that). Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.  While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus – ‘God saves’ – because he will save his people from their sins.’ Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream. He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.”  (Matthew 1:18-25, Message; also notice a description of the conception process in Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit will fall upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you with the bright cloud of His presence.” Notice that in both Scriptures, the first with Joseph, and the second with Mary, the angel told them both to name the boy Jesus).

Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus. It means salvation, or savior/rescuer. So, Jesus means Yahweh who saves, or the Lord to the rescue. Yeshua is the name used by Hebrew-speaking Christians in Israel and followers of Messianic Judaism. The name Yeshua represents His Hebrew identity, and anyone who called Jesus by His Hebrew name while He was on earth would have called Him Yeshua. I will attempt to approach the Person and ministry of Jesus by unpacking his special Hebrew name.

Y – Yahweh

E – Exorcist

S – Story-Teller

H – Healer

UUnorthodox

A – Audacious

Y is for Yahweh, the self-revealed Name God provided Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. It is God’s unspeakably holy Name, seen by many as too sacred to be sullied by human speech. Faithful Jews refuse to pronounce it for any reason. For a personal name, Yahweh is rather abstract and elusive. The word, or non-word, given at the burning bush, YHWH, has no vowels or real consonants. Y, H and W in Hebrew are actually blowing sounds, and are rushings of air through the mouth. The unpronounceable Name could mean I AM WHAT I AM, or I AM THE ONE WHO EXISTS, or even I AM HE WHO IS. It is connected with the Hebrew word hayah, which means to be, to become, to happen. Yahweh is the Name God gave Himself, alluding perhaps to His uncreated existence, His eternal Personhood, His quality of Being, His Self-sufficiency. In many ways, Yahweh is a spiritual version of an act of being verb, which just may be beyond our imagination.

One important method that Jesus used to reveal Himself as the Son of God was to claim the Name I AM. When uttering this phrase, Jesus claimed to be on equal footing with the Great I AM, Yahweh. With this outrageous claim, Jesus declares that He has eternal kinship with God. When Jesus says I AM, He is claiming divinity, He is connecting His personhood with the most sacred Name in Judaism. In using this abbreviated form of the Great I AM, He is claiming heavenly blood, using the I AM declaration about twenty times in the Gospel of John. To the spiritual elite at the time, this was scandalous and blasphemous. It certainly was startling and unexpected to His listening audience.

When God said to Moses His Name was I AM WHAT I AM, any curious person might follow that up with… I AM what, exactly? The Great I AM is mysterious, impersonal and abstract. Jesus anticipated this question by offering to fill in the blanks with seven homespun metaphors in the I AM tradition. All seven are in John:

  • I AM the Bread of Life (6:35) who nourishes you with solid, spiritual food;
  • I AM the Light of the World (8:12) who enables you to shine in purity, goodness and truth;
  • I AM the Door (10:7) to the sheep pen who will welcome you to God’s flock;
  • I AM the Good Shepherd (10:14) who will guide, feed and protect you as a member of His flock;
  • I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25) who will raise you from the dead into eternal life;
  • I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6) who will provide the way to truth and abundant life;
  • I AM the True Vine (15:1) who will provide what is needed to bear good fruit in your life.

Serving as mini-parables, these common, plain-spoken sayings of Jesus made it more difficult to complain about the lack of clarity about the Great I AM. Jesus, by expanding the Name of Yahweh, went a long way towards clarifying the nature of God. By claiming to be in union with the Father, Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t merely a super-prophet, a master teacher, a miracle-worker, or a story-teller. With His I AM declarations, Jesus is claiming divinity. By saying I AM, Jesus claimed the holy Name of Yahweh as His own.

E is for Exorcist. Many scholars have noted that Jesus conducted more exorcisms than any historical figure on record. Casting out demons seemed to take up just as much of His time as physical healings, and in fact, His ministry usually included both forms of healings together. “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons…”  (Mark 1:32-34). Jesus revealed His authority over physical ailments and over spiritual possession. In the spiritual realm, not one demon ever successfully resisted the commands of Jesus. As soon as the demons saw it was Jesus, they knew their days were numbered. It is heartening to see that Jesus was just as concerned with the spiritual world as He was the physical world.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus cast out demons to show His power over the Devil, to bring spiritual wholeness to the afflicted person, and to advance the kingdom of God. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matt. 12:28). Wherever Christ’s kingdom spread, Satan’s realm diminished. The power of Christ overwhelmed the power of the Evil One. It was also significant that Jesus gave the spiritual power to cast out demons to His disciples. “Jesus summoned together His twelve disciples and imparted to them authority over every demon and the power to heal every disease.” (Luke 9:1). Sure enough, “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6:13). Jesus’ power and authority in the spiritual realm was absolute, and in order to understand Jesus, we need to understand that. Peter said as much when he tried to explain to Cornelius who Jesus was: “Jesus of Nazareth was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with great power. He did wonderful things for others and divinely healed all who were under the tyranny of the Devil; He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was harassed by the Devil.” (Acts 10:38). When Peter tried to help the Roman Gentile Cornelius understand Jesus, he put His exorcisms and power over demon-possession right at the top of the list. And so should we.

S is for Story-Teller. One could say that the imagination is the intellect at play. Or that it is reason listening to a story. Of course Jesus, who invented the human mind, planned the learning process to include the capturing of the imagination. The master teacher, Jesus loved to express His vivid and inspired imagination whenever He could. He loved to tell stories, all kinds of stories, depending on the audience and the situation. At one point in His ministry, He evidently told nothing but stories to the crowds (Matt. 13:34). His favorite method of teaching seemed to be through parables, extended metaphors. These parables included simple, everyday realities, which had universal appeal and drew the audience in, wherever He was, whoever He was with.

God in the flesh loved to teach through the imagination, to speak the truth indirectly. Rather than simply stating a spiritual fact or principle, Jesus often came at the truth sideways to get their attention, to slip past defenses, to tell the truth at a slant, as Emily Dickenson once said. Believers need to develop a vivid imagination, because it seems that a chief element of faith itself is the ability to draw an image in your mind, to paint a picture, to imagine the seen as coming from the unseen (Heb. 11:1-2). How can we believe in the unseen without an active imagination?

Jesus intended His stories to be provocative, and to shrewdly slip in a main point, or many main points. Sometimes His stories were like firecrackers, the indirection thrown into the midst of the hearers in order to stir things up, pointedly aimed at people who need to take the story personally. Other times, the story hits more like a smoke bomb, the main point being clouded over and confusing, forcing the hearers to dig deeper and try to figure it out. This primary teaching strategy of Jesus is actually a fulfillment of an OT prophecy found in Ps. 78:2, mentioned in Matthew 13:35: “Give ear O my people to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth and tell stories. I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.”

One can make the case therefore, as Kenneth Bailey does, that Jesus was in fact teaching theology through His parables: “Jesus was a metaphorical theologian. That is, His primary method of creating meaning was through metaphor, simile, parable and dramatic action rather than through logic and reasoning. He created meaning like a dramatist and a poet rather than like a philosopher.”  Some of His stories were simpler than others, but all of his parables were rich with kingdom meaning, and were in Bailey’s words, “serious theology.” Therefore, parables are deep theology, learned indirectly, through a divinely inspired imagination and a winsome, compelling personality. Jesus proved to be a seriously playful theologian who effectively used His imaginative stories to teach the truth, throwing them into the mix of people he encountered.

H is for Healer. We know that Jesus healed people, all the time, but here’s a question… why? Why did Jesus heal people? Was it some moral obligation He felt? Did He compel Himself to heal because the people expected Him to do so? It’s clear that, from the start of His public ministry, Jesus was a healer far beyond what the people had ever seen.  But why did He heal? Here are some thoughts on why…

  • He is love. “And Jesus went around doing good, doing wonderful things for others and helping them wherever he went…” (Acts 10:38). He couldn’t seem to help Himself. Mercy is in His spiritual DNA. God is love, so Jesus is the Son of Love. His inherent nature is pure compassion, so He gravitated to love-in-action. If He sees someone broken, He jumps at the chance to bring wholeness. Healing was His natural form of self-expression as the Anointed One of God.
  • Healings are personalJesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the Good News about the kingdom. And He healed every kind of disease and illness.” (Matt. 4:23). Jesus proved that God is not distant or abstract. Through Jesus, God is intensely personal and in the flesh. He didn’t just want to talk about love, He wanted to demonstrate it.  Jesus proved that long-distance interaction is no longer sufficient. And healing was the most kind-hearted, most personally helpful thing He could do. Jesus was all about making things whole, and healings of the body was a good place to start.
  • Healings are proof.  When John the Baptist had some moments of doubt, and sent some of his disciples to ask if Jesus is the One, how did Jesus answer that question? Jesus replied that they should go and tell John that the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. (Luke 7:20-22). The Hebrew Scriptures state that miraculous healings would be a sign of the Messianic Age. Healings were prophesied to be vivid pictures of the New Kingdom (eg, Isaiah 26:19, 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1-2). Through His healings, Jesus confirmed that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. The healings authenticated His role as the anointed Son of God.

Jesus the healer. We can’t put Him in a box with this part of His ministry. There is no can’t-miss formula; no magic words; no consistent style; no lack of variety of people and occasion and brokenness. His mercy is deep and sometimes mysterious. Sometimes faith seems to be needed for a healing. Other times faith didn’t seem to be a part of the action at all. Sometimes he touched, sometimes He was touched. Sometimes He spit, sometimes He just spoke the healing into existence. Sometimes He forgave sins during the healing, and sometimes He didn’t. Sometimes he was thanked, and often enough He was forgotten soon after the healing. Sometimes He told everyone not to say a word about the healing, and sometimes He told them to spread the word. Most of the healings were immediate, but there was a time when there seemed to be more of a gradual process (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus was an equal opportunity healer, confidently healing unexpected people in unpredictable ways. He loved to heal, to bring wholeness, whenever He had the opportunity. He still does. After all, Jesus is love.

U is for Unorthodox. Jesus was highly unorthodox for His time regarding social relationships. His various friendships drove the spiritual elite wild. He was anointed by the tears of a repentant prostitute in the home of a Pharisee. He invited Himself to dinner with a notorious tax collector. He was a friend of sinners, a companion of women, a welcomer of children. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard. “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him teach, and the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!‘ (Luke 15:1-2). This in itself was scandalous, since eating with someone in that culture was a sign of acceptance, an offer of friendship and trust. Jesus welcomed the lost sheep and befriended them, of all things. And Jesus remained the Good Shepherd to all those lost sheep who were living outside of the flock.

Unlike most men in that society, Jesus befriended women. In acquiring the friendship of many women, Jesus broke social barriers aplenty. Despite the limits put on women, Jesus turned the culture on its head by publicly honoring women, by giving them His undivided attention, by holding up their dignity as a full person made in the image of God. Unlike the rabbinic tradition in the 1st century, Jesus respected a woman’s intelligence, whether talking theology with the woman at the well, or teaching Torah to Mary of Bethany. He strengthened women’s status in the home by His teaching on adultery, divorce and marriage. He encouraged women to be His disciples, even though women were not allowed to be taught by a rabbi during that time. He would touch and heal women without hesitation. He would make up stories and parables with women as the main characters, which was unheard of, and highlighted their importance in God’s narrative. His attitude toward women was countercultural at the time, and he was comfortable inviting women wholeheartedly into His life and ministry.

Another social barrier Jesus enjoyed breaking regarded children. He loved them. He was known to embrace a child in the presence of impatient adults, taking the child up in His arms, and saying to the crowd that whoever receives one of these children in His name in fact welcomes Him (Mark 9:36-37). Jesus so closely identified with children that He paraded them as an example of faith. As co-creator of children, He had a hand in designing their DNA, inventing their nervous system, in knitting them together in the womb. Jesus loved children in an age that tended to take them for granted and give them second place. Jesus honored them as worthy of respect, being made in God’s image. Significantly, Jesus knew what it was like to be a child, to be overlooked and undervalued. So it was important to Jesus to dignify the children in His midst.

A is for Audacious. Jesus was an unpredictable, audacious bundle of extreme qualities. He would ignore His mother, berate the religious, forgive the adulterous, befriend the rip-off artist, kiss His betrayer, stare down a storm, call His most faithful apprentice a name from hell, weep at a death, tend bar at a wedding reception, whip the tar out of unwelcome salesmen, hug the children, touch the untouchable, welcome the lepers and lunatics. In fact, many considered Jesus so audacious as to be a lunatic himself, including His own family at one point. Well, they thought, if he didn’t suffer from temporary insanity, he certainly acted the fool. As it turned out, a holy fool, for during His life, he somehow learned to successfully juggle grace and truth.

When Jesus was tender, He seemed to almost wilt. When He was angry, there was a scary flash of fire in His eyes. When He mourned, He was a puddle of tears. And he often aroused those same extremes in others. In fact, He started His ministry by igniting His hometown with flammable speech; He continued it by answering somber questions with bewildering stories which often bordered on the comic; and close to the end, He irked His accusers with unflappable silence. Throughout His life, His version of sainthood was never sanctimonious.

In the earliest days of His earthly life, Jesus was a Savior fetus in a teenager’s womb. Then soon a God who wet diapers, a Co-Creator needing to be burped, the Lord of the universe nursing at his young mother’s breast. A few years later, He was the heavenly King with seared flesh and punctured scalp, passively facing mockery and torture. It’s a toss-up as to which of those two mysteries, the Manger Messiah or the Dead God, are the most incomprehensible and scandalous. Fortunately, this holy fool’s last juggling act was of life and death, and He somehow managed to juggle both. When the juggling act was over, He gladly performed a lively courtroom dance before the King that will last forever.

YESHUA: “There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.”  (John 21:25).