This is the first article in my 2017 Christmas series, ‘The Christmas Names of Jesus‘, in which I’ll spend the last few weeks before Christmas looking at the various names for Jesus we find in the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke, starting with ‘Son of the Most High’ which is coupled with ‘Son of God’.
Names mean something. My name, for example, is Joshua Stephen. The name Joshua is a Jewish name, and means “Yahweh is salvation”, while Stephen stems from a Greek name which carried the meaning “wreath, crown”. My brother is named Benjamin Paul, and his names together mean “Son of my right hand” and “humble, small”.
Names are not just the names given to us by our parents, though. Titles, descriptions, and positions can become important names as well. One of my favourite TV quotes is President Jed Bartlet, from The West Wing, referring to Will Bailey, who will soon become his new Deputy Communications Director. The President, in describing Bailey to his senior staff, says, “Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe.”
Now that’s a name.
With Christmas fast approaching I was reminded of the many names by which we remember Jesus Christ. The Bible is full of them – and would take a year or three to tackle them all. Given the time of year, however, I wanted to look at just a few of His Christmas names, starting with two names given by the angel Gabriel to Mary, the young girl who would go down as history as the mother of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A Distressingly Divine Discovery
In Luke’s account of Gabriel’s visitation with Mary – an event known by some as the Annunciation, found in Luke 1:26-38 – the angel appears “to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” named Mary and says, “Rejoice, favoured woman! The Lord is with you.”
As introductions go, I would rather a little more time to acclimatise to the fact there’s an angel standing in front of me before he begins showering me with unlooked-for praise. We can all relate to the fact that Mary “was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be.” Gabriel, however, carries on by telling her to “not be afraid … for you have found favour with God” – which, in my opinion, would only have deepened Mary’s original concerns. The fact that this angel who has appeared out of nowhere then goes on to say that “You will conceive and give birth to a son” would surely have only made matters worse for most of us – though, as we see at the end of the exchange, Mary replies, “I am the Lord’s slave. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Gabriel announces that Mary will “give birth to a son” and then goes on to inform her that “you will call His name Jesus” and that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
Here is where I want to stop and address the first of Jesus’ Christmas names (we’ll be saving Jesus for last). Gabriel’s brief Annunciation is split in two by a single question from Mary: “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” Gabriel’s naming of the child Mary will give birth to is, in a way, an answer to this question, for this child will be both “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God” – though, as Darrel L. Bock and most other commentators will tell you, Son of the Most High “is simply another way of saying ‘Son of God’.”
Consider that, for a moment. Mary, all of maybe-sixteen years old has just been told that her firstborn son will be called the Son of God – because He would be the Son of God. Mary may have been a young girl in a patriarchal society, but it was a society hanging on the hope that the promises and covenants God made with their forefathers promising a Messiah would soon come to fruition. No matter your status or position or gender, if you were a Jew around this time you knew of the Messiah and longed for his arrival.
Mary has just been told in no uncertain terms that she will give birth to her people’s Messiah, a promise long in the coming.
A Promise Long in the Coming
A thousand years earlier, when King David had recently ascended the throne of Israel, the prophet Nathan went to David and related Gods message – a message that conveyed God’s own covenant with David, promising that from his lineage would come a king whose throne God would establish to reign forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-16/1 Chronicles 17:10b-14).
As with many of the prophecies from the Old Testament there is both an initial and future fulfilment. King Solomon, David’s own son, was the initial fulfilment of this promise and he did indeed “build a house” for God after he became the next King of Israel. However, Solomon was but a foreshadowing of a larger fulfilment – a foretaste of a greater kingdom which God would raise up, and a foretaste of a much greater king. Nathan’s words to King David promised not only a descendant whose kingdom would reign forever, but that God would “be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me.”
These words became a promise to the people of Israel that God would raise up a Messiah, a Saviour, who would be God’s son, and who would call God Father.
But God’s plan was not the same as the plan envisioned by His people, as Mary was soon to find out.
Your Ways Are Not My Ways
The Messiah the Jews had imagined would come and rescue them from Rome’s might and set up a Jewish kingdom which would reign forever. A human kingdom. God’s plans, however, were to set up a kingdom which would bring salvation to all people for all eternity. It was a plan well beyond the imagination of any of us, one that would surpass all expectations at each moment.
For example, who would have imagined that the coming Messiah would be born to a nobody couple in a stable in Bethlehem?
More than that, however, who would have thought that the Messiah to come would not simply inherit a human title and be labelled as God’s son, but would actually be God’s Son – the divine incarnation of God Himself. That God, the Most High – “an exclusive name for the one true God, emphasizing his majesty and supremacy over all” – would take the form of a squalling baby boy, born to a virgin in a stable.
God Came Down
There is no doubt in my mind that Gabriel and Mary were both aware of the importance of what was being communicated. Gabriel’s words were not simply referencing a human Messiah but reflected the divinity of this child to be born to Mary. “The mention of Jesus’ divine sonship before mention of his Davidic messiahship in the next part of the verse indicates that the latter is grounded in the former and that Jesus’ messiahship should be interpreted in terms of his sonship.”
In other words, Jesus is the Messiah, but before that He is God’s Son, and God Himself, and as such the Messiah is God – the only salvation for humanity cannot come from humanity, but from God alone. Further, “Jesus cannot be described simply in messianic terms such as the Son of David. He is more than this, and the title “Son of God” carries with it other implications as well.”
This is God’s Son who is divine, the incarnate God, the Son of God and God Himself come in human form. From the very first announcement of His birth His divinity is key. He is the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.
We can sometimes forget the true meaning of Christmas through all the hustle and bustle of presents, Santas, the year coming to a close, and even the numerous church events we attend. We can remember the birth of Jesus Christ but forget that this was not just the birth of a special boy who had come to save us, but was in fact the incarnation of God!
When we celebrate Christmas this year, when we remember the birth of Jesus Christ, let us also remember the name Son of the Most High, the Son of God.
 Luke 1:1-9:50, Darrell L. Bock, p. 113 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
 The Gospel According to Luke, James. R Edwards, p. 47 (The Pillar New Testament Commentary)
 Luke, Robert H. Stein, p. 84
 ibid, p. 86