Read these lines taken from a song by Bill Gaither: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name ... let all heaven and earth proclaim, kings and kingdoms may all pass away, but there’s just something about that name.”
We know him as Jesus Christ. However, Jesus of Nazareth is his given name, and “Christ,” meaning the anointed one, is his title.
Some make a distinction between Jesus of Nazareth, the historical figure who lived in first-century Palestine, and Christ, who became the object of faith and worship. Jesus is both an historical person and the object of faith.
We know Jesus Christ through the four canonical Gospels that have come down to us through the centuries. In these Gospels there are some verifiable facts, such as that a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, existed. However, the canonical Gospels were not intended as historical biographies. They are documents of faith to inspire, in its readers, faith in Jesus the Christ.
John’s Gospel puts it very succinctly: “These (signs) are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may life through his name,” (John 20: 31).
And so the Gospel accounts were written by people of faith to inspire faith in those reading them. How does this work?
It works because Jesus is not just a dead hero whose life offers inspiring memories and deeds. It works because Jesus is more than just a teacher of morals, like Socrates, whose teaching lives on beyond his death. It works because Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, is resurrected.
Resurrection is something that defies description but something that points to the fact that God has revealed Jesus as the Christ. Resurrection is something known more by its effects than its description. Some of these effects of the risen Christ include lives of heroic virtue and sacrifice, communities of faith, a moral message that inspires many to feed the poor and clothe the naked. And his Spirit has led billions to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
It is this Spirit of God that breathes life into both the words of the Gospel and into those who come to the text with faith. So that “believing this you may have life in his name.”
The Gospels and faith in Jesus Christ were first born in communities of believers and not simply the products of individual authors. The authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John lived in and were inspired by communities of faith. Those communities of faith, called “churches” today, are still inspired by Jesus’ Spirit to read, proclaim, celebrate and live the Gospels, as well as the entire Bible.
It must be admitted that those who profess faith in Jesus the Christ have not always given evidence of that faith. From the crusades and the inquisition, to the scandals of clerical pedophilia and the division among churches, we have not always been the best of witnesses to his name.
But that notwithstanding, he is risen, and though kings and kingdoms may all pass away, there’s just something about that name.
The Rev. Fred Nijem is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins.