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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THAT NAME

New Year’s Day


On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Luke 2:21



Jesus Christ!


Today these words are most frequently used as swear words. We utter them in order to vent our anger or frustration. 80 years ago it would have been seen as blasphemy to use His name that way. But now it is commonplace. Isn’t it remarkable that the name of the man who founded the world’s largest religion should be most familiar as a term of abuse? That doesn’t happen to Muhammad or Buddha, or for that matter, to Lenin or Marx.


Modern people in the West are embarrassed about Jesus. It isn’t fashionable to talk about Him. To mention His name at a party is a sure conversation-stopper. That doesn’t happen with the other leaders of the world’s religions. Nobody is embarrassed to talk about them. But we could go farther. There’s something in us that is deeply hostile to Jesus. You only have to go to a party and start talking about Him. The reaction will be immediate. You will be made to feel very uncomfortable to say the least. You may even be shouted down. But you could talk about Mahatma Gandhi or the Dalai Lama to your heart’s content. At worst you might seem a bit odd.


If Jesus had been a bad man, if He’d been cruel and vindictive, if He’d been a mass murderer or a Don Juan, such reactions would be easy to understand. But He was nothing of the kind. He was the most dynamic, attractive, and genuinely good person who ever lived.


An anonymous writer has captured the heart of the matter brilliantly in a little piece called, “One Solitary Life.” It runs like this:


“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.

He grew up in still another village, where He worked in a carpenter’s shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He did not go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.

He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone and today He remains the central figure of the human race, and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this planet so much as that one solitary life.”


Just imagine not wanting to know about the one solitary life that has affected this world more than any other. Just suppose someone was invited to meet a close associate of a great athlete, or a famous actor, or a brilliant scientist. Wouldn’t they be happy to meet such a person and feel privileged to find out as much as they could about that famous person? Why then, do people shy away from Jesus? Why are people embarrassed, antagonistic even, when someone wants to talk about Him? Doesn’t it seem strange?


Plato maintained that humankind can’t help but love the highest when he sees it. Plato was wrong. The highest example of what it means to be human is Jesus. His story is superbly recounted in the four Gospels. But although the Bible that contains them is the world’s best-seller, it’s been called “the book nobody knows” and although it’s central figure, Jesus Christ, is the most influential person in the history of the world, He could aptly be called “the man nobody knows.”


Why are people so reluctant to take a fresh look at Jesus? Is it because of the church? The society Jesus founded has been so unlike Jesus. Think of the bloodthirsty Crusades, the cruel Inquisition, and the history of religious persecution. The church is still so unlike Jesus, and people may have been scarred by its hypocrisy, or bored by its blandness. They recall, maybe, that dreary local church to which they were dragged, protesting, when they were young. Or they reflect on the divisions of the church, the failures of its leadership, and the small difference it seems to make to the lives of its members. Is that why they don’t want to know about Jesus?


Or is it because the very brightness of Jesus’ life shows up the dark corners of their own? They don’t want to get too close to Him for fear that He would expect some changes in their lifestyle.


These reasons may be partial explanations of the reluctance to take a closer look at Jesus, the Jesus people threw out as children. But since something like one-third of humankind maintains that this same Jesus is alive today, they might be wise to think again. The name of Jesus may challenge people about the ultimate issues of life and death, but those issues have to be faced.


The name of Jesus – what’s in a name?


What’s in a name? Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” made this question famous. They fall in love before learning they bear the names of rival families. Romeo is a Montague and Juliet a Capulet. Willing to deny name before love, Juliet cries out, “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” A few lines later, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”


But a name is important. From the day of our birth our parents use our name to link us to their preferences and values. People name their sons Peter and Paul, and their dogs Nero and Brutus. But no one uses the name Judas – not even for a dog.


The significance of a name was particularly true in Biblical times. In both Old and New Testaments, names were used to reflect personal experience or to express or influence character.


For example, do you remember Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Probably not. Their names had good meanings: “Hananiah” meant “Beloved of the Lord”; “Mishael” meant “Who is Like God”; and “Azariah” meant “The Lord is My Help”. All good names.


But when they were taken into captivity in Babylon, the chief official gave them new names. Hananiah became “Shadrach”, meaning “Command of Aku”, the moon god; Mishael became “Meshach”, meaning ‘Who is What Aku is”; and Azariah became Abed’nego”, meaning “Servant of Nego”, the god of fire.


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego – now you remember them! These godly young men no doubt resented these new names. They didn’t complain, but they did take a stand against the false gods. They refused to fall down and worship a 90 foot tall golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar so they were thrown into a fiery furnace. And how did “Beloved of the Lord”, “Who is Like God”, and “The Lord is My Help” do? They were all saved by God, with an angel protecting them in the furnace!


And don’t forget their friend, Daniel. He got the new name of “Belteshazzar”, meaning “Favored by Bel-Marduk”, their chief god. But “Daniel” means “God is My Judge”. Well, Daniel broke the law by praying to God during a time when people could only pray to Nebuchadnezzar, and he was thrown into a lion’s den. The next day when the king came to the lion’s den, Daniel didn’t have a scratch on him, and he told the king, “My God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me because I was found innocent in His sight.” His name meant “God is My Judge” and God found him to be innocent. Good examples of what’s in a name!


Names are important to the people of the Bible. Nowhere is this more significant than in the one who has a name meaning “God Saves”, or “God Our Savior”. The scriptures honor the name “Jesus” for several reasons. According to them:


· It is the name by which we must be saved. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

· It is the name that is to set the tone for everything a Christian does. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

· It is the name at which, one day in the future, every knee shall bow, those eternally saved and those eternally lost. “Christ Jesus… being in very nature God, did not consider equality with god something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)


Jesus – there’s something about that name!


Amen

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