3) How Jesus got his name and what it means
For many people Christmas is simply a time of fun and parties. They forget Jesus is the reason for the season. For Christians Jesus is the centre of our joy. In fact, he should be the overflow of our joy. Do you remember how amazed the shepherds were at seeing the new born Messiah? As we celebrate the Saviour’s birth let us rejoice like the shepherds. May we also be so full of joy that it overflows in sharing the Good News with others.
Over these last few years the world has seen unprecedented numbers of terrorist attacks by radical Muslims which have spawned higher numbers of refugees than at any time in recorded history. Many of them are Muslims, now seeking asylum in so-called Christian nations. The momentous shaking of nations that we are seeing in our day is a wake-up call challenging us to complete the unfinished task of the Great Commission which includes reaching Muslims who are the largest cluster of unreached peoples on earth.
Let’s do our part by loving our Muslim neighbors and sharing the Gospel with them. Christmas is an opportune time to do this, partly because this celebration focuses on the birth of Christ. Interestingly, the Qur’an records the virgin birth of the Messiah (Al Masih). On the other hand, there are many reasons why we may feel daunted by the prospect of witnessing to a Muslim. One reason is because the Qur’an emphatically denies two foundational truths of the Bible: 1) Jesus is the Son of God, and 2) He died on the cross to save us from our sins. Is there a way to overcome these barriers and answer their objections?
A wise approach is to begin by taking a closer look at the story of Christ’s birth, noting especially how he was named. According to the Qur’an and the Bible the name given to Mary’s baby came from an angel of God. Obviously God did not choose this name randomly but purposely. So we can ask our friend, “Why do you think God chose this particular name, Yeshua?” (Jesus, Isa) “Did you know there’s a prophecy that correlates with his name? Do you know the meaning of the name Yeshua?”
By asking intriguing questions like these we can engage Muslims in conversations that are “full of grace, seasoned with salt.” A booklet titled, “Signposts to Paradise” is available online that explores these questions more fully. Ultimately, of course, Jesus name is the cornerstone truth of the Bible, as it is written,“by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth … this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected … [he] has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:11-12) A fuller discussion of this theme is available here.
4) Star that signalled the Messiah’s birth
The prophet Isaiah described Messiah’s birth as a “sign” and Balaam foresaw the rising of a Messianic star/sceptre. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that wise men in the east interpreted the appearance of a special star as a sign that aKingwas born in Israel. Christ’s identity asKingis a vital part of the Christmas story and it is an important aspect of the Good News of thekingdomthat we are commanded to proclaim to the whole world.
How then can we start a conversation with unbelieving friends about the star of Christmas and then trace this theme from the OT prophets through to the NT? You could say something like this, “We often see a star at the top of a Christmas tree or a bright star above the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a cradle. But do you know the meaning behind this star?” Here is another question you might pose if your talking with a refugee from Iran/Iraq/Syria, “Have you heard of a Jewish wise man named Daniel (Danyal) who held a prominent position in your part of the world (the Kingdom of Babylon) about 1500 years ago?” There is an interesting prophecy about a star that Danyal probably knew which explains how the star became such an important symbol in the celebration of Christ’s birth which we call Christmas. If your friend is curious to know more, you may tell the story of the wise men, or better yet, read Matthew 2:1-12. After reading this story ask your friend, “It’s interesting to consider, ‘Why did these astrologers (magi) believe this star signalled the birth of a Jewish King?”
Show from the passage how the religious leaders identified the Messiah’s birth place by quoting what the prophets foretold in Micah 5:2-5. After reading these verses I suggest that you look at Numbers 24:17, a prophecy by a Gentile seer which links the imagery of a star with a scepter, i.e. a King. Nearly one thousand years later, an Israelite prophet Daniel rose to prominence among the wise men (and astrologers) in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. He probably knew about Balaam’s prophecy of a star. The likelihood that he knew this prophecy is increased when we consider how brilliant and godly Daniel was.