Larger Catechism #41 - Dr. William Young
Q. 41. Why was our Mediator called Jesus?
A. Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.
May the Lord be pleased to grant his indispensible aid, as we endeavor to consider the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew at the twenty-first verse; “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Scripture gives many names and titles to the Mediator. He is called among other things; “the root of David,” “the “Son of man”; “the mighty God,” and “Jehovah our Righteousness”. His fullness cannot be exhausted by any one of these titles. Nay, his fullness cannot be exhausted by the whole multitude of these titles, for all of the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily. Each one of these titles sets forth an aspect of the glory of the Redeemer. Of all these names and titles there is none that is more precious to the believer than the name, Jesus. That is the name that we have mentioned in our text.
And it is with respect to this name that Question 41 of our Larger Catechism asks this great question: “Why is our Mediator called Jesus?” And the answer is given: “Our Mediator was called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins.” The wording of this catechism answer repeats the very words of the angel to Joseph that we find in our text, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” We notice that the future tense is used in the words of the angel, “he shall save”, but the catechism answer uses the present tense, “because he saves his people from their sins”. It is true that which was once future when the angel spoke to Joseph is now present. It is also true that salvation has both a present and a future aspect.
The word of the angel is recorded here in connection with the narrative of the conception and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is preceded by the genealogy which we find in the first sixteen verses of the chapter. In these verses our Lord Jesus Christ is set forth as the son of David, as well as the son of Abraham. His descent from Abraham with whom the covenant of grace was made, and from David the king with whom the covenant of royalty was made. Our Savior’s genealogy has in particular these two ancestors, but there are also a number of other significant features in the genealogy of our Lord that have very remarkable references. There are a number of women mentioned: Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Gentile maiden, and Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Among other things, these references remind us that the Savior did come in order to save sinners.
The word of the angel informed Joseph of the miraculous conception and birth of Mary’s child, and that he was to give a name to the child, the name Jesus. The angel also spoke of the significance of the name given in the explanation of the significance of it, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” And so, with the Lord’s help, may we endeavour to consider the name first of all, and then its meaning.
The name Jesus is derived directly in English from the Greek, Ἰησοῦς, (ee-ay-sooce). This Greek form corresponds and answers to the Hebrew name, Joshua. That name Joshua in Hebrew has two portions: The first is the abbreviated form of the name “Jehovah,” and then the word “salvation.” Sometimes one simply has the name signifying salvation. It is interesting that you read in Numbers, the 13th chapter of the 16th verse, “And Moses called Oshea, the son of Nun Jehoshua.” You see, the original name was simply Oshea meaning, “salvation.” Moses added the name for Jehovah at the beginning of it, and the name became Jehoshua. So, when that name was abbreviated, it became simply Joshua which in the Greek form we have come to know as the name, Jesus.
And I rather think that in Hebrews 4 and verse 8, where we find the name Jesus, the reference is really to Joshua, and that not directly to our Savior… Reading there, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” The reference I think is rather clearly to Joshua leading the people of Israel into the promised land, but he did not give them this rest that was promised; the rest that remains to the people of God. Indeed, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ who is able to give that rest.
In the New Testament times the name of Jesus was a common Hebrew name. But in the person of our Mediator that name has a unique significance, for he is the only one that has come into this world as Jehovah, and as Savior. For we find that the Savior is also salvation itself when we read in Isaiah 62nd chapter, “Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation is cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.” The fact that the person is referred to here, when we read of his reward and his work, would indicate that the person is also referred to by the word “salvation.” The text says, “Behold thy salvation is cometh…” And this is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world with his reward and his work.
We might also think of Simeon holding the infant Jesus in his arms, blessing God, and saying, “…now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” (Luke 2:28-30), And the believer can triumphantly say, “…The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee,” as we have it in Isaiah, the 26th chapter, at the 8th verse.
Well, we turn to the meaning of this name, Jesus, as the meaning had been declared to Joseph by the angel. The meaning appears then in these words, “…and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Now, that explanation does not explicitly make mention of the significance of the appended denomination of Jehovah, but that One who is named Jesus is God and that he is God incarnate is indicated in the further explanation that is given when it is stated in Matthew 1 verse 22, that “…all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,” and then we have the quotation from the seventh of Isaiah, verse 14, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” So that the explanation of the name of Jesus is here identified with the explanation of the name Emmanuel; of the virgin’s child of whom Isaiah prophesied. And that name Emmanuel means, God with us: so that the deity of Jesus is set forth in this, and also amazingly that he is not only God, but that he is God with us! He is God who has take on himself the nature of Abraham. And being of the seed of Abraham he took not on himself the nature of angels for he did not come into this world to save angels, but rather he came to save sinners of Adam’s race, and he was therefore descended from Abraham.
Now a special emphasis is laid in our text upon the word Mediator. Though I would not at all exclude a reference to his divine Person, to the appearance of his divine Person in human nature, I would not exclude that at all; but we see a special reference to the work of Christ, the reason for which he came into the world in the words, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” Now, we know there are two aspects of salvation. Salvation can be thought of as being positive and salvation can also be thought as being negative. It is positive in that it is designed for the enjoyment of God as the supreme rule. The positive aspect of salvation here concerns the glorious end to which those who are saved are brought. It is true that God may have designed such a glorious end even apart from salvation from sin. We may think of that as being the case with regard to the angels that never sinned. They do have the full enjoyment of God as their supreme end and so it might be said that the elect angels were also predestined to eternal “salvation”. But not taken in the negative sense of salvation after being sinners, but rather taken in the positive sense, that salvation resulted in their eternal fellowship and communion with the blessed God as the source of their holiness and of their happiness.
But for sinners salvation has not only this positive side, but it has the negative character of being salvation from sin. And to have that character you may say first of all that a sinner must be concerned that he be delivered from sin and from the consequences of sin. Now, salvation from sin includes the deliverance from the guilt of sin, from the power of sin, and from the presence of sin.
First of all, there comes salvation from the guilt of sin. This has been accomplished by Jesus the Savior by his paying the penalty that our sins had brought upon us. We know that God threatened Adam even in the Garden of Eden, “The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” and that threat is repeated in the words of the holy law of Moses; “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are in written in the book of the law to do them.” The wrath and the curse of God have been entailed by sin. And it is just this that the Savior bore in the room and in the stead of those whom he came to save. So that the believer in Christ is fully justified, wherein he cannot be justified in any way by the law of Moses. The believer must recognize that he deserves nothing else but the severest judgment of God. But at the same time, he recognizes that this judgment has been borne by his Substitute. And for this reason there is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. There is deliverance, first of all from the guilt of sin.
But there is also deliverance from the power of sin, from the dominion of sin. The sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans makes this very clear and very emphatic in setting forth the fact that those who are in Christ have a perfect righteousness imputed to them, and a full pardon of all of their sins. But they are not thereby given the license to wallow in sin, but because of the union that there is with Christ, Christ’s righteousness is theirs. They have died to sin and they live to righteousness because of that union with Christ and therefore; sin is not to have dominion over you, because you are not under the law, but under grace. That is the argument of the apostle Paul. It is not just something that ought to be the case, but this is something that actually is the case with respect to those who truly believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and whose sins are fully forgiven. They are free from the tyranny and from the bondage of sin; yet, they are not made perfect in this life, because there is no sinless perfection to be found among the redeemed as long as they continue in this world.
So, that there is a further aspect of salvation, a glorious aspect of salvation that is future. It is salvation from the very presence of sin itself. It is a salvation that the Lord’s people come to experience first at death when their souls are made perfect in holiness and received immediately into the glory. And finally even for the body itself there is this glorification at the last resurrection.
Now we may notice that those whom Jesus is said to save in our text are spoken of as, “his people”: “He shall save his people from their sins.” It does not say that he will save every sinner from their sins; it says that he will his people from their sins. The Lord Jesus Christ has a people. The Great Shepherd has a flock. And this is a people, this is a flock that was given to him by the Father, as he intimates it in his great high priestly prayer: “…Thine they were, and thou gavest them unto me.” (John 17: 6b) In the councils of eternity an elect people were given to the Son by the Father, and in the Covenant of Redemption for that people, the Mediator undertook the work. He declared that he willingly came in the room and in the stead of that people in order to do the will of God, in order to obey the law, in order to pay the penalty.
And it was for them that he came into this fallen world, was made in the likeness of sinful flesh; for them he obeyed the broken law; for them he shed his blood to pay the price of their redemption. He sends forth his Spirit in order to call them effectually from darkness into light, from death into life, from bondage into liberty. He does not merely make this salvation possible; but he actually saves them. The text does not just say that he shall make it possible for his people to be saved from their sins, but he shall save his people from their sins. He actually saves them. The Lord Jesus is a successful Savior, and we need not be ashamed to proclaim this to be the case. We need not to be among the number of those who would conceal these elements of the whole counsel of God. But it honors, it glorifies, the Lord Jesus Christ that he should be set forth as being in a fullest sense of the term the Savior of those whom he came to save.
I say a few closing words by way of application: First of all, let no one suppose that free grace is a license to sin. As we were singing in Psalm 85: 6-8, “That in thee may thy people joy, wilt thou not us revive? Show us thy mercy, Lord, to us do thy salvation give. I’ll hear what God the Lord will speak: to his folk he’ll speak peace, And to his saints; but let them not return to foolishness.” And our Lord Jesus himself exemplifies this when he declared to the sinful woman who repented, “…Neither do I condemn thee: go in peace”; but he added the words, “And sin no more.” (John 8:11b) And so, our text does not say that he shall save his people in their sins; it says, “He shall save his people from their sins.” It is deliverance from sin that is promised in the gospel, and this is the deliverance that is wrought by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We may also observe that we have an answer given here for the the greatest of all questions. What is the greatest of all questions? The greatest of all questions is; What think ye of Christ? A further question is added in the gospel; Whose son is he? (Matt 22:42) We know that mere acknowledgement in words, “that Christ is the Son of God” is not sufficient; but rather we must have the true recognition of Christ as the Son of God to include a recognition of the work the Savior came to perform; that he should save his people from their sins. It is only those who know Jesus as their Savior who can give a satisfactory answer to the great question; What think ye of Christ? Then flee from the wrath to come; confess your sins, and take refuge under the shadow of the cross of the One who says, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth…” (Isaiah 45:22) May he be pleased to grant his blessing and enable us to call upon his name in prayer.
[Prayer]: Blessed One, we would give unto thee humble and hearty thanks for the great redemption which thou hast wrought. We acknowledge and confess that we are sinners exceedingly before thy sight, and that though thou has made us upright and has bestowed upon us abundance of good things, yet we have rebelled against thee, turned unto thee our backs and not our faces, we have despised thy counsel. But thou O Lord in thy greatness, thou has been pleased to spare; thou hast been pleased to open the way of life and of salvation. Thou didst not spare even thy only begotten Son, but delivered him up for us all. Do thou grant then that with a true and saving faith we would look away from ourselves and look only unto him, placing our trust entirely in his perfect righteousness, and in that blood that he has poured out for the remission of sins.
Do thou, O Lord, grant thy blessing upon those who have with the outward ear heard that word, that they might hear inwardly also and might hearken to thy voice in the day in which thou dost call. Do thou, O Lord, grant thy blessing particularly upon the children of thy children, that they might seek thee early; that they might recognize thee as their Creator in the days of their youth; and that they would also recognize thee as their Redeemer; that they might be found walking in the way of the One who has bought them with his precious blood. And remember also those who rule over us, that they might be found walking in conformity with the precepts of thy revealed will and thy holy law. Do thou grant that both publicly and also privately they might be conformed to thy revealed will; and that our people might as a nation might acknowledge thee to be the Lord of all and be subject to thy desire, and not to be moved by the considerations of the flesh, which we confess, we are prone indeed to follow contrary to that which thou hast conjoined upon us. Do thou, O Lord, look upon us then in thy great mercy and heal our souls, for we have transgressed against thee. Do thou wash us in the fountain once opened for sin and for uncleanness. We ask it all in Jesus, thy Son’s name, Lord, Amen!