Why do you have your name? For many people, a name is simply a label or a handle. It’s something that your parents gave you because everyone gets a name. It is something that others use to get our attention so that they can talk to us: “Hey, Reginald! How are you doing?” Our names may be colorful and are also very practical but are they significant in their meaning? This morning we resume our study of the Heidelberg Catechism’s discussion of the Apostles’ Creed. We have been looking at God the Father and providence. Now we look at what the Catechism says about God the Son, first by examining more closely some of the names of Jesus. Why is it important to study the names of Jesus? The names of the Son of God are not only handles so that we can address him in prayer. The names of the Son of God are also a description of who the Son of God is and what He does. This morning, we look at the name of Jesus and specifically how the Samaritans used that name and what that means for us. Let’s read John 4:27-42.
I. Let’s look first at the Samaritans’ faith.
In John 4, John relates the story of the Samaritan woman. Recall that the Samaritan woman came seeking water to drink and Jesus told her about himself as the “living water;” a spiritual water that would take care of all her needs. Then Jesus told her everything about her from her past. This so impressed the woman that she went back to town to tell her friends. When His disciples return, Jesus tells them to prepare for an abundant harvest for now the town’s people were returning. I want to focus on the Samaritans people’s response of belief in verses 39-42.
The Samaritans come to believe in Jesus through the Samaritan woman. They heard about Jesus’ ability to tell everything from the woman’s past. She was evidently very excited as she told her friends and neighbors of Jesus. Which leads me to ask: “Do others see that we are thrilled to know Jesus?” If you were to meet President Obama, you’d be excited and eager to tell others. Are we excited to tell others that we know Jesus? In verse 40, we read that they urged Jesus to stay longer and teach them more. After they hear Jesus himself, they believe in Him because of His words to them. In fact, in verse 42, they say that he is more than just a miracle worker or a teacher; they say, “We know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
“Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Yeshua” or “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh saves.” Now, of course, others were called the name “Jesus” before, but God gave his Son this special name because it describes who he is and what God sent him to do. For example, my last name is “Hoek,” which in Dutch means “corner.” At one time, one of my forefathers, whose name was likely “Klaas,” must have lived on a corner: Klaas Hoek or “Klaas on the Corner.” The name described him but the name “Hoek” doesn’t describe anything about me now. I don’t live on a corner or have anything to do with corners. Jesus’ name says or describes who he really is. That is why in Matthew 1:21, when Jesus’ birth is announced by the angel, the name “Jesus” is given because “He will save His people from their sins.”
But what does it mean to “save?” It does not mean merely to “collect” like we may save or try to conserve our money. When I was growing up, people used to save “green stamps.” After you bought your groceries, the clerk would hand you a number of stamps which were proportional to the amount you spent. You would save these stamps in a special book and after you had accumulated enough of them, [S-19] you could go to the “Green stamp store,” turn them in and get a new toaster or radio. That is one idea of “saving;” you collect things like stamps or money. However, in the New Testament to save means to rescue someone from death. If there was a car accident and the car is on fire, if you reach in to drag the unconscious driver from the burning car, you have saved them. The biblical idea of saving means to remove someone from certain death. Jesus, as Savior, removes the threat of death from us.
Now in some way, however limited, the Samaritans grasped this fact. The witness of the Samaritan woman led them to hear Jesus’ own words and that convinced them that Jesus would indeed remove the threat of death from their lives. Yet their confession of “Savior of the world” reveals that they knew something more.
III. They somehow knew that Jesus is the only Savior.
The title “Savior of the world” was a common title for an emperor or king. The emperor as “Savior of the world” was the one who would do things that would rescue the people from physical harm – as long as you went along with him. The Samaritans called Jesus “Savior of the world “because they believed that Jesus had great power to save. Yet they could not have realized how sweeping Jesus’ power to save really was. They knew Jesus would save, but not how and how many he would save. However, John is not only recording the words of the Samaritans; he is also stating his own belief as well from the point of view of after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For John, “Savior of the world” means that Jesus alone is the one who will rescue all who are in rebellion against God. The “world” here represents all of sinful mankind. John is saying that Jesus will save the whole world from death!
The Samaritans couldn’t understand this fully, but they somehow realized that Jesus was the only Savior for them; He was their only hope. What is true for them is also true for everyone: Jesus is the only Savior of the world. We all sin horribly, but Jesus saves us from our deserved punishment of death. We must remember that even the most righteous Christian needs to be saved.
Question and answer 29 in the Heidelberg Catechism addresses this issue very directly. The question asks, “Why is the Son of God called ‘Jesus,’ meaning ‘Savior.’” Answer: “Because he saves us from our sins. Salvation cannot be found in anyone else; it is futile to look for any salvation elsewhere.” It is Jesus alone, not what we or anyone else does, that saves us.
IV. It is not a “Jesus and something else” that saves us.
Throughout history, people have attempted to blur or water down Jesus alone who saves. In the New Testament already, some Jewish Christians were saying, “Yes, we believe in Jesus for salvation, but we must still follow all the Old Testament regulations as well.” It’s a “Jesus and __________” means of salvation and people fill in the blank. In the early church, it was belief and obeying the Law that was needed to be truly saved. Later on in history when the Heidelberg Catechism was written, the Roman Catholic Church was teaching that “you must believe in Jesus, but you must also have: The virgin Mary and other saints that are part of your salvation. You must also follow various traditions as well in addition to belief in Jesus.
We must remember that we are not immune to this way of thinking either for we tend to fill in the blank with our own things. We believe that Jesus is our only Savior, but we had better do things to make sure. We had better make sure we go to church or teach Sunday School or pray. We better not swear or drink or other things or else we’ll be in trouble. Now, of course, we have to be very careful here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t come to church or go to Sunday School or pray. These things are clearly important in the life of a Christian. But we must be certain that we do these things not to earn credit with God but rather as a way to express our love to God and learn more about Him. I also am not saying that we can live sinful lives or do whatever we want to do. To live immoral lives is wrong, but the purpose of living a good life is not to “show God how good we are.” Whatever our actions are, we do them to show gratitude for God’s grace.
We have to be very clear on that because it has been the tendency throughout history for works-based righteousness to try to work its way back into the church. Question and answer 30 brings the point home even more pointedly. Question: “Do those who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere really believe in the only savior Jesus?” Answer: “No. Although they boast of being his, by their deeds they deny the only savior and deliverer, Jesus. Either Jesus is not a perfect savior, or those who in true faith accept this savior have in him all they need for their salvation.” It’s a clear “either/or” issue. It’s Jesus alone or what He did was imperfect and thus meaningless. It is Jesus alone for our salvation!
And that, my friends, is liberating beyond what we can imagine! Some people believe in Jesus but they are always worried if they have done enough of the right things to make them acceptable to God. One morning, I listened to two talk-radio morning show guys who were debating what the best way to use 30 million dollars was. The one said, “I don’t know. If I had 30 million dollars and I spent it on myself, what would that say to the one above. I mean would that be what he wanted so that we could get in?” People want to have something to do with obtaining their salvation. But the fact of the matter is that the only thing we have to do, the only thing we can do, is accept, through faith, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. And even that acceptance, that faith, is something God gives us.