Formations 12.20.2020: The Honor Christ Deserves

Isaiah 9:2-7; Matthew 1:18-25

My wife and I got married over my school’s Thanksgiving break one year. I was a newly minted Ph.D., with little as of yet to show for it. We arrived at the hotel before our room was ready, so we gave them our luggage and went out to explore the French Quarter of New Orleans.

We got back, got into our room, and called down for our bags. When they were slow in coming, I called again. And then I called again. I don’t remember exactly what I said on that last call, but I identified myself as “Dr. Pursiful,” and there was probably at least a little bit of frustration in my voice.

We had our bags in about five minutes. Ever after, my wife has joked that when we need something done, we should call on “Dr. Pursiful” to handle it!

Now, I can’t prove that the good folks at the bell station worked harder or faster for a “doctor” than they did for just the guy in room 315. I do know, however, that sometimes people are swayed by a title. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

And this would have been especially true in ancient times, when questions of honor and status were far more central to social interactions than they are for most of us today. An ancient audience would be primed to pay attention to titles and accolades.

Your honor, your reputation, was wrapped up in your name. In fact, this is still part of our language. When we say someone has a good name, we don’t mean it sounds nice or is easy to pronounce, we mean they are a good person. If somebody messes up, we might say, “Your name is mud.”

The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “A child has been born for us” (9:6). In its original context, the words of praise that follow point toward God’s gift of a new Davidic heir in the latter half of the eighth century BC. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”—these titles describe the prophet’s hopes and dreams for a king on David’s throne who would live up to lofty expectations. Such a king would establish justice and usher in a reign of peace for the people of Judah. You pay attention to a king who bears titles like those. Those are some good and mighty names indeed!

It isn’t difficult to see why early Christians quickly began to apply these titles to Jesus, the ultimate heir of King David. More than that, in Matthew’s Gospel the angel gives Jesus an even greater title: he is Emmanuel, “God is with us” (1:23).

It’s clear who Jesus is to Matthew. He is the embodiment of all the hopes of Israel for a king who would finally get it right. He is the fulfillment of centuries of longing, reaching all the way back to Abraham and enduring through all the highs and lows of Old Testament history.

This week’s lesson asks me to ponder who Jesus is to me. How shall I name him so as to give him the honor he deserves?

Discussion

• Are you careful to address people by their titles? Why or why not?
• Apart from formal titles such as Doctor or Reverend, what other accolades do we use to express praise? (For example, “King of Pop,” “America’s Sweetheart,” or “Greatest of All Time.”)
• How are the titles in Isaiah and Matthew like or unlike the ones we most often attribute to Jesus?
• What do these texts tell us about God’s plans for Israel and for the world?
• What should Christians do in response to these words of praise?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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