The Gospel in Hebrew: How Ten Hebrew Words Preach Christ and His Work
When the Christian church began, virtually every believer knew Hebrew. It was the language of prayer, song, and faith among the first followers of our Lord. It was the language in which the vast majority of their Scriptures were written. In Hebrew the prophecies of the Messiah were preached, the psalms of His suffering composed, the hope of coming redemption spelled out.
Journey with me then, if you will, through these ten Hebrew words to hear this story of salvation told in Jesus’ native tongue. These words sum up the whole person and work of our Messiah. Here is the Gospel in Hebrew.
We spell it Joshua, but this Hebrew name is pronounced Yehoshua. It means “the LORD is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” When Mary needed a name for her infant, she didn’t page through 100,000+ Baby Names to find one that tickled her fancy. She left the name-choosing to the baby’s Father. He said to name the boy Jesus, which is the Greek equivalent of Joshua (Luke 1:31). That name is a promise, a prophesy, a preaching of who He is and what He does. As the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins,” (Matt 1:21). As Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, so this new and better Joshua saves us from the wilderness of sin and death by transporting us across the river of baptism into the promised land of His Father’s kingdom.
Just as Mary didn’t get to choose Jesus’ human name, so we don’t get to choose His divine name. That’s His prerogative. He told Moses, “I am who I am…Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you,’” (Exod 3:14). That “I am” is the basis for the name Yahweh (which is sometimes written without vowels, simply as YHWH). Yahweh is the third-person form of “I am,” so it really means, “He is who He is.” So God says “I am who I am” and we confess, “He is who He is.” Okay, then, who is He? He is the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush to announce that He would save His people from slavery in Egypt. And Yahweh is the God who was born of the virgin Mary and given the name Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. Who, then, really is Yahweh and what does His name mean? Simply this: Jesus is who Jesus is.
Mashiach or Messiah
If Yehoshua is the human name of our Savior, and Yahweh is His divine name, then Mashiach is His divine office or title. Mashiach comes into English as Messiah; it means “anointed one.” Since the Greek word “Christ” means the same thing, when we confess Jesus is the Christ we are saying Jesus is the Messiah. The Christian church is thus the Messianic Church, and Christians are Messianics. Kings and priests were anointed with oil in the OT, but it’s the oil of the Holy Spirit that flows over, into, and from this Messiah onto His people. This saving Mashiach anoints us with the Holy Spirit through water and the word to make us priests and kings before God our Father.
Nothing happens willy-nilly in the life of our Lord. Even the tiny dot on the map marking His birthplace is pregnant with meaning, because Bethlehem means “house of bread.” How fitting, for here was born the manna from above, the bread of God who comes down out of heaven to give life to the world by feeding us His own flesh in the bread of His supper (John 6). Just as He was swaddled and placed in the manger in Bethlehem, so now He is swaddled in bread and placed into our mouths in the house of bread called the church. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. We, like the shepherds and wise men, journey to the House of Bread when we kneel before the altar to worship this child who is Yehoshua-Yahweh-Mashiach, born to save us from our sins, and to feed us forgiveness and life in His flesh and blood.
Torah is often translated into English simply as “law,” but it’s much more than law. Derived from the verb “to instruct,” the Torah is “the teaching of God.” When God opens His lips to speak, Torah is what comes forth. It is the will of the Father put into words. And in the fullness of time, the Torah took on an entirely new form. The Torah became flesh and dwelt among us. Isaiah had prophesied that the Torah would go forth from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem (2:3). This word-become-flesh, the Torah of body and bones and blood named Jesus, is the revelation of the Father, the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:2). He comes not as a law-giver but as a law-keeper, to fulfill for us what we could not fulfill on our own. Jesus is the Torah incarnate, the teaching of God made manifest, who shows us the heart of the Father who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
On the night God’s people were freed from slavery in Egypt, the Lord’s angel passed over every home in which the doorposts and lintel were painted with blood (Exodus 12:27). This divine “passing over” is celebrated at the Pesach or Passover, which has Jesus written all over it. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7), the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), whose blood is painted on our bodies and souls so that we are made white in the blood of the lamb. His body, roasted on the cross, is fed to us in His own supper, so that we eat the very price of our redemption. His blood, poured out for the remission of sins, is painted onto our lips with the brush of the chalice. The Lord sees the blood of the lamb upon us, but does not merely pass over us in mercy. He passes into us in grace. He comes into our homes not to destroy but to heal, to enliven, to forgive.
Since the Hebrew verb satan means “to accuse, to oppose, to be an adversary,” it became the infamous noun with the capital “S.” This Satan is the adversary whom the Lord allowed to inflict untold pain upon Job (1:1-22). He is the serpentine deceiver who tempted our first parents into that ruinous fall in Eden’s orchard (Gen 3; Rev 12:9). But “this accuser of our brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down,” (Rev 12:10). When he fell like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18), the thunder of his fall resounded in hell. The Messiah resisted Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11); overcame him by His lamb-like blood of sacrifice on the cross (Rev 12:11); and sent “an angel to lay hold of this dragon, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (Rev 20:1-3). This prosecuting attorney from hell can accuse us no longer, because Christ, who knew no sin, became our sin on the cross, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).
Because Jesus, our Yehoshua, has led us across the river of Baptism into the promised land of grace; because Jesus, our Yahweh, is the God whose power is made manifest in love; because Jesus, our Mashiach, has been anointed from eternity to win redemption for us; because Jesus is the vivifying bread of God, the incarnate Torah of God, the sacrificial Pesach, and the victorious warrior over Satan—because He is all of this and more, we have shalom. Shalom is more than peace. It is wellness, wholeness, restoration, goodness. To have Jesus is to have a shalom that is not of this world (John 14:27). It is the shalom that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7). Having been justified by faith, we have shalom with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, our Yahweh Yehoshua Mashiach (Rom 5:1). We are more than right with God. We are members of His family, brothers of the Messiah, part of His very own body. The Messiah Himself is our shalom (Eph 2:14).
Since we have shalom with God through the Messiah, we cannot keep silent. Indeed, the Lord opens our lips so that our mouths may declare His praise (Ps 51:15). This praise of Yahweh is what Hallelujah (or Alleluia) means, literally, “praise of Yah.” To praise the Lord does not merely mean to shout “Praise!” over and over, but to praise who He is, what He has done for us, and what He will do for us. The creeds of the church, in which we confess the nature and works of God in Christ, are a Hallelujah. They “praise Yah” by echoing His own self-revelation. Every creed, ever psalm, every hymn is a Hallelujah, for in these we praise the Father who has sent Yehoshua to become our enfleshed Yahweh, the God who has won for us shalom with heaven by His crucifixion and resurrection.
Amen does not mean “this prayer is over; let’s eat.” It is the ultimate word of faith, for Amen means “yes, yes, it shall be so.” It is the word that means “truly, certainly, without a doubt, I believe that God is listening and will respond to what I say in mercy and grace.” We can say Amen with such certainty because Jesus is “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God,” (Rev 3:14). Christ is the assurance we have that God hears us, for He is the great and merciful high priest who prays in us and for us before the Father’s throne of grace (Heb 2:14-18). Amen is thus simply another name for the Messiah, for He is the one who has embodied fidelity and truth for us. To end a prayer, “…in Jesus’ name, Amen,” is to say, “Amen is the name of Jesus, the name that sanctifies this prayer and makes it acceptable before our Father in heaven.”
This is the Good News in Hebrew, the Gospel of Yahweh, who in these ten words sums up all He is for us in Jesus Christ.
If you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!
The poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com. Thank you!