Sunday, December 25, 2011


What’s in a name? Do names carry certain meaning? We had no choice over the names that were given to us. Some of you like your names and others may wish that you had never gotten that name especially if your name is Jabez which means “pain.” I like my name Francis which means “a free man” In the days when the Bible was being written, the Israelites often chose names for their babies based on the child’s character or appearance, i.e., Esau (hairy) and Korah (bald). Some babies were named because of an incident at their birth or their names were based on some hope or prayer of the parent, as in Zechariah’s name (God has remembered), as in Samuel (God has heard). Sometimes babies received the name of an everyday object, like Tamar (palm tree), and Tabitha (gazelle). Parents often named their children by the time of day they were born. For example: Shaharaim (dawn), Hodesh (new moon). The condition of the mother also frequently inspired a name: Leah (exhausted) and Mahli (sick).[1]

Some were named to fulfill a certain purpose for example John the cousin of Jesus, he considered himself as the forerunner of Christ and his purpose was to bear witness of the light. When God wanted to fulfill his purpose of saving the world he sent his only son and named him Jesus. A boy named Jesus is the main reason for this season of Christmas.. Why did God choose to name his son Jesus? Do the titles and names of Jesus hold any significance or are they just like any other names? What are the meanings of those titles? Let us read the Christmas story to find out their true meaning and how that could affect our lives today. Matt 1:18-25. In this passage we read about two distinct names, one is Jesus and the other is Emmanuel. They explain the real reason why we celebrate Christmas. Let’s look at what these two names mean.

The naming of the child is an important part of the scripture before us. In fact two important names were given to the same person and they both help us to know about him. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said that the child that Mary conceived was of the Holy Spirit and he was to name him Jesus. Why Jesus? What does the name Jesus mean?

Jesus was a common name. It was the Bob of the first century. We know of one other person in the New Testament itself named Jesus. He was a companion to the apostle Paul and is mentioned in Colossi ans 4:11 in a list of people sending greetings to the church at Colossae. And Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, mentions no fewer than 20 different men named Jesus. The child whom God sent to be the Savior of the world was given a name common to the time and place. The name Jesus could be easily uttered by any common man of his time.

During Jesus’ time on earth some addressed him teacher but many called him simply “Jesus” Even little children could easily run to him, the poor were at ease in his presence, the sick were healed, the hungry were fed above all sinners were saved. Jesus was called the friend of sinners.

What does Jesus mean? It is from a Greek word Joshua meaning, “The Lord Saves” The angel who appears to Joseph alludes to that meaning when he says, “... you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” True to his name Jesus died so that we might live. In Romans 5:6-8 "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7- For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8- But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This child was given a name that would be a constant reminder of the saving grace of God. If Jesus means God will save his people, what does Emmanuel mean?


In Vs 22, we read, “ Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which translated means, God with us.”

After recording what the angel said to Joseph, the gospel writer Matthew referred to a prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 which was fulfilled in 8th century BC. In this context Isaiah was offering Judah’s king Ahaz a sign of encouragement and perhaps even of punishment; should he not act on faith. Ahaz was concerned with pressure being put on him by Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel, so he wanted to appeal for help from Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria( II Kings 16:5-7). Isaiah directed Ahaz to trust in the Lord, not in a foreign king, and offered him a sign of God’s help. A woman was to conceive and bear a son, whom she would name Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. Unfortunately Ahaz did not head the advice of Isaiah and paid heavily.

Though this prophecy was meant for Ahaz, but it also carried a future fulfillment. But Matthew, looking at it through the lens of what he knew about Jesus, saw it also as prophecy. And thus he took the name given to that child born in Isaiah’s time, Emmanuel, and applied it symbolically to Jesus. And that name, Emmanuel, as Matthew hastens to tell us, means “God is with us.” Between his given name, Jesus, and his symbolic name, Emmanuel, this child to be born to Mary makes two important affirmations about God — that he saves us and that he is with us. As commentator Eugene Boring points outs in The New Interpreter’s Bible, “For Matthew, the story of Jesus is a way of talking about God.”) The name Jesus means, “The Lord Saves. What does he save us from? One way to understand it is to grasp that God created us to have connection, close association, communion with him. But due to our sin we have lost that connection. In other words we have become unfit to have communion with God.

Among the things that make us unfit are the sins of self-centeredness and rebellion, but when we turn to God, he makes it possible through Jesus for us to change, and become fit for communion with God. God is our salvation and Jesus is the way God provided for salvation to come to us. Salvation is a gift from God, you don’t have to earn it but just receive it by faith.

Jesus’ other symbolic name, Emmanuel, adds a further dimension to our understanding of God. “God is with us” is a message we need to hear today more than ever. Our world has layer upon layer of troubles and our own encounters with life are not all sweetness and light either. So the reality of God-being with us is critical. It is one thing to know that God saves us through Jesus but it is another thing to live with a realization that God is indeed with us.

Emmanuel, God with us! What an assuring name of God. Let’s ponder on it for a while. As we talk millions of North Koreans are mourning the death of their dear leader Kim Jong il who was in their eyes like a god. They are devastated not to have their leader with them, but would they ever understand that there is truly a God whose name is Emmanuel; God with us? Who will tell them of this wonderful good news? We must pray that somehow God will make this truth dawn upon them during this Christmas season.

Recently I lost my father. It is hard to believe that he is not with us this Christmas. When I heard of the news of my fathers’ death I felt for the first time in my life like an orphan. Both my parents have gone to be with the Lord. In my distress I turned to God’s word for comfort. He spoke to me through this scripture where Jesus said to his disciples before he departed from this world. God comforted me with these words of Jesus, John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you.” What assuring words; those were the exact words I needed to hear. That is the message of Christmas; God did not abandon this world; but so loved the world and sent his son Emmanuel God with us, so that the world might be saved through Him.

The scriptures give us wonderful promises of God’s nearness and his presence, to name a few: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”(Psalm 34:18). “God has said, Never will I leave you never will I forsake you.”(Heb 13:5) Jesus promised his frightened disciples saying, “And surely I am with you always; to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20. Dear friends; no matter who is with you today or not; whatever you might be going through in your life be assured that Emmanuel; God is with you. He will never let you go.

The two names that were given to a boy named Jesus affirm two important truths about God: that he saves us and that he is with us. Not only is God everywhere present but more specifically He is with you where you are. I would like to close with these words of Paul in 2 Cor 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” Amen

[1] Retrieved June 13, 2007.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A MODEL FOR CHURCH RESTORATION -III (Restoring Communion) 2 Chronicles 30

The First Sunday of each month we as a Church come together to celebrate communion, the Lord’s Supper. Together we take the elements of grape juice and bread. But did you every think how the grape juice got to replace the wine that was initially served at communion? Here is the story: Dentist Thomas Welch was the Communion Steward for the congregation of the First Methodist Church of Vineland, New Jersey, in 1869. During that summer, to his great dismay, the communion wine used by the church set one of his houseguests off on quite a binge. Determined to do something about this, he and his family spent the following September picking and pressing about forty pounds of grapes. In an attempt to repress the natural fermentation properties in the fruit, he heated the juice, pasteurizing it before sealing it in bottles. For the next few weeks he listened anxiously for the sounds of exploding bottles, but nothing happened. When Welch opened the containers, he found nothing but sweet, unfermented grape juice. Dubbed unfermented wine, this beverage was an instant hit. After introducing it to his own church, Dr. Welch began selling it to various other congregations and denominations. By 1890 Dr. Welch's Grape Juice had become a staple on communion tables, where for many congregations it remains so today.[1]

The true essence of communion is not so much about the wine, or grape juice and bread, as it is about the hope that is found in Christ our redeemer. In order to find out its true meaning, where it all started and to restore communion to its right place, we will look at the third restoration of King Hezekiah after restoring the temple and the temple worship in 2 Chron 30.


The Passover was the first of the three great festivals of the people of Israel. It referred to the sacrifice of a lamb in Egypt when the people of Israel were slaves. Remember, the night they were finally made free from their slavery they were to smear the blood of the lamb on their doorposts as a signal to God that He should “pass over” their houses when he destroyed all the first born of Egypt? (Ex 12:13) God commanded the Israelites, “Observe the month of Abib (first month) and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by Night.” (Deu 16:1)

God instituted the celebration of the Passover in order to remind the people of Israel how He delivered them from their bondage of slavery in the land of Egypt. It is a time of rejoicing in their freedom by giving thanks as they sacrificed each year the sacrificial lamb. In our text we read King Hezekiah after he restored the temple and the worship in the temple restored the most important festival the Passover. How did he bring about that restoration?

Just to remind you until that point in history, the nation of Israel was widely divided. It was divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. Hezekiah ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of his father King Ahaz. What have we learned about King Ahaz? He was a very bad king, he did detestable things to displease God. He built altars to false gods throughout Jerusalem and offered sacrifices on those altars. He shut the doors of the temple in Jerusalem, which means there were no sacrifices in the temple, no worship and definitely there were no celebrations of Passover and other feasts. No one knows for how long the doors were shut. Here comes Hezekiah, reopens the temple, consecrates it and restores the worship. Life in Judah became normal; and the glory days were back again. But one thing was lacking that was the celebration of the Passover festival.

II. RESTORATION OF PASSOVER: (2 Chronicles 30:1-27)

It must have been a long time since the Passover was celebrated in great numbers. Hezekiah wanted to invite all of Israel to come together and join the festivities. The couriers got busy; they went throughout all Israel and Judah with the invitation letters from the King and the princes. The content included, “O sons of Israel return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped and are left from the Hand of the kings of Assyria.” (Vs 6). It was a call for repentance and restoration and a homecoming to God.

I was reminded of another call to attend a wedding feast from one of the parables that Jesus told in order to explain what the Kingdom of God looks like. Here is the parable: A king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come. He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, “Look everything is on the table; the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast. They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them.”(Matt 22:1-5 (The Message) What a sad story of missed opportunity.

Today the King of the universe is sending his couriers throughout the earth calling people with the message of repentance and of restoration so that they can enjoy the heavenly banquet. But sadly, how many are hearing and responding to that call? In the Church we send out e-mail, make announcements to attend certain important meetings or church services. Even today many seem to have other priorities rather than entering in to all that God has.

Coming back to our text; did the whole of Israel respond to the King’s invitation? I wish I could say yes! Sadly, the answer is No!! Many refused; some even laughed at and scorned the one who carried the invitation.

Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.(Vs 11) That is how it works even today, God invites every one to come to him and worship Him. Many refuse, some laugh and scorn at the invitation at their own peril, but thank God there are others who humble themselves and accept the invitation and enjoy the eternal blessings.

What keeps you away from coming to God? Nothing can keep you away from God except your pride. Humility must precede access to God. Listen to what God says about humility; “For this is what the high and lofty One says; he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”(Isaiah 57:15) Many of us are not seeing breakthroughs in our lives simply because we are too proud to ask God to help us in our situation. God will let us struggle as long as we remain proud but when we humble ourselves and come to him with a contrite spirit then he will revive our hearts and come and dwell in our hearts.

We see another example of humility in the birth, life, and death of Christ. If Christ could humble himself even to the point of death on the cross, are we greater than Christ where we don’t see the need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God?

In our text we read; all those who humbled themselves came together as a very large assembly and celebrated the Passover with great joy. It is recorded, that the King contributed thousands of animals for the sacrifice. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. When the priests blessed the people, “their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven. That indicates that God was pleased with the restoration of the Passover.

You may be wondering what significance does this event of thousands of years ago have for me today? Isn’t the Passover only meant for the Jewish community? Or does it have any connection with the communion in the Church? What is the significance of communion?


There is a direct connection, between the Passover and the Christian communion. We see rich symbolism and parallels in both. What is called the "Last Supper or the Lord’s supper" in Christianity was in fact the Passover Sedar. The meeting in the upper room was specifically to observe this appointed day observance. We see this account in Mar 14:13-16, “So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, God in the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there. The disciples went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.”

In Luke 22:14-20 we read the words of Jesus, “‘I have looked forward to this hour with deep longing, anxious to eat this Passover meal with you....’ Then He took a loaf of bread; and when He had thanked God for it, He broke it apart and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, given for you. Eat it in remembrance of me.“ After supper He gave them another glass of wine, saying, ‘This wine is the token of God’s new agreement to save you - an agreement sealed with the blood I shall pour out to purchase back your souls’” (Luke 22: 14-20 Living Bible Translation). By celebrating the Passover, Jesus followed the age old Jewish tradition. He also commanded his disciples to continue this tradition until he returns. How did the early Church establish and carry on this tradition? How did they call this tradition? What are the parallels between the Jewish Passover and the Christian communion?


In the early Church, worship consisted of both Word and Table. The Word proclaimed the saving deed of God in Jesus Christ, and the table was the response of thanksgiving (Eucharist is the Greek word for thanks). The New Testament uses four terms to describe worship at the table: Breaking of bread(Acts 2:42) The Lord’s Supper( I Cor 11:17-34), Communion( I Cor 10:16) The word communion means participation, and refers to the Thanksgiving God’s people give for the death and resurrection of Christ. Eucharist (John 6:11, I Cor 11:24)

What parallels do we see between the Passover and Communion? The Passover was instituted by God as a thanksgiving feast of his great redemption of his people from the bondage of slavery. The word redeem means, “to obtain release by means of payment” It was a reminder, so that parents would educate their children with its significance and meaning. It was a community event where much preparation is needed before they could participate. It was a yearly event where a sacrificial lamb was sacrificed symbolizing the first Passover before the exodus. It was a great time of celebration and rejoicing.

We see this parallelism in Christian Communion. Christ was offered himself as the sacrificial lamb once for all, not only for the Jewish community but for the whole world. By doing so he became our redeemer. By believing in the redemptive work of Christ we are set free from the slavery of sin. As the Jewish community needed to consecrate themselves before observing the Passover we too are required to examine our hearts before we partake in communion.(I Cor 11:28) Passover was a reminder, in the same way we need to remember to participate in communion. Finally, we need to educate our children regarding the importance and significance of communion. Each time when we come to the table to partake communion we are thanking God for his redemption and also celebrating our Jewish heritage. Amen.

[1] From Holston United Methodist Reporter, Vol. No. 31.