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By Sigrid Fowler
The incident in Sychar, beginning with the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well and ending with many Samaritans receiving Jesus as Messiah, marks the moment when Jesus gained a new title. It may have beenshocking at the time. but we rather take it for granted. The Samaritans said, “We know that this indeed is the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4: 42). Savior of the world? It’s a given, isn’t it? But these words may have surprised the woman. A Jew would have been thoroughly offended. It would be one thing for them to discuss the Messiah, but for a crowd of Samaritans to suggest that the Jewish Messiah might be interested in the whole world would be quite another. Actually, this title, Savior of the World, is one of manyindications that the mission of Israel’s Messiah was global, not directed just toward Israel. Jesus told Nicodemus as much:“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but will haveeverlasting life” (John 3: 16). This teacher of Israel must have been stunned.
Israel’s Messiah has been called many things. We remember the words of Isaiah, so often read at Christmastime: “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9: 6). Isaiah prophesied during the 8th Century BC, and he wasn’t the first to look for the Messiah or give him a name.
To the serpent, God speaks of the coming deliverer and says: “He shall bruise you on the head” (Gen 3: 15). This promised one is called “her seed”—i.e., the “seed” of Eve—and at Christmas, we remember that the Child was born to a virgin—i.e., not of human generation. Moses received the holy name of God, I AM WHO I AM (EX 3: 14) and after the deliverance from Egypt, God tells Israel, “I the LORD am your healer” (Ex 15: 26). The Hebrew is literally: “I AM, Your Healer.” The word LORD, the conventional indicationof the holy and unspoken name, is here linked to God’spromise to keep the people in health if they listen and obey. In this context, who can forget the healing ministry of Jesus? Indeed, he is “the Lord our Healer.” Near the end of Moses’ life, God said to him, “ I will cause to arise a prophet like you from among their brothers” (Deut 18: 18). Matthew’s gospel is organized to suggest that Jesus came in exactly that role, asa prophet like Moses.
Before the time of King David, a man named Boaz became known as the “kinsman redeemer” by fulfilling the Law requiring a relative of a deceased husband to marry the widow in order to preserve the family line. The title Kinsman Redeemer reflects the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. Isaiah laid out the huge significance of the event (Isa 53), and in Psalm 22 we find an uncanny description of crucifixion long before this form of capital punishment was instituted.
For Jeremiah, the deliverer is the Hope of Israel (Jer 14: 8). Isaiah sees the Messiah as God’s Suffering Servant and as “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isa 53: 7). Isaiah also knows the Messiah as Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa 7: 14), the Holy One of Israel (Isa 41: 20) and the Branch, “ a shoot . . . from the stem of Jesse” (Isa 11: 1). Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, andEzekiel all see the Messiah as the shepherd of God’s people (Isa 40: 11; Mic 5: 4; Zech 13: 7; Ezek 34: 11-12). Daniel sees him “like a Son of Man” who receives from the Ancient of Days a kingdom that will not be destroyed (Dan 7: 13-14). Malachi, whose prophecy ends the Old Testament, says this: “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4: 2). The blazing righteousness of Jesus was apparent even to Pilate, who said, “I find no guilt in him” (John 19: 6). His name from birth means, “the Lord saves” and is a variation of Joshua.
Those who wrote to early Christians about Jesus also spoke his name. He is the Word of God (John 1: 1), the wisdom of God, (1 Cor 1: 24). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29), “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Heb 3: 1), the Alpha and Omega and “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”(Rev 1: 8; 5: 5). And what about us? What name do we give Jesus? He asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16: 15).