In the recent Marvel series “Loki,” a character refers to the master of the universe as “He Who Remains.” That is all: the one who out-endures all else.
In other fiction, the Supreme Being is often portrayed as saying something like this: “People have called me many names: Baal, Brahman, Jehovah, Allah…”—as if it really doesn’t matter.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. What a difference a name makes.
I’ll be teaching my course on World Religions again soon at Crandall University. I’ve been teaching world religions for several decades now, and as I introduce students to such divinities as Brahman, Vishnu, Devi, the Unmoved Mover, Zeus, T’ian, Odin, Amaterasu, Allah, and, my personal favourite, Baxbakwalanuksiwae (don’t ask), I inwardly rejoice in a very different name: Jesus.
Names, properly chosen, sum up the person named. Throughout the Bible people are named, or renamed, to indicate their part in God’s plan. Sarah is indeed a princess, and Abraham becomes the father of a multitude. Israel wrestles with God—over and over. James and John do keep making loud noises. And Paul, the mightiest of missionaries, is truly humble “in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8).
When God’s messenger told the parents of his incarnate Son to name the child a particular name, God passed over all the grand options. This Son was named according to his driving purpose, his literal raison d’être: “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Jesus means simply “salvation,” which for Hebrews would mean “God saves,” or, perhaps, “Please save us, God!”
Jesus doesn’t mean “Impressive Lord in front of whom you had better bow down.” That’s what “Allah” means. Jesus doesn’t mean “The Structuring Principle of the Universe.” That’s what “Logos” means. Jesus doesn’t mean “The Creator and Destroyer of All.” That’s what “Shiva” means.
Jesus means this: God saves. The Supreme Being doesn’t remain aloof, let alone furiously demanding human homage. The Creator of all reaches down to become the Saviour of all. In fact, he names himself “Saviour”—as if that is God’s Main Thing, God’s central trait, God’s defining characteristic.
One finds oneself, as in a dream, suddenly walking into a vast temple. Huge choirs sing strange sounds. Candles and torches provide dim illumination. Front and centre is a towering figure, the God.
What sort of deity will it be? How should you act? What is your destiny in the presence of this lord?
Your happiness, your health, your very existence hangs in the balance as the God seems to notice you and turns the divine visage toward you. And someone suddenly appears at your side. And he says one amazing word.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.
O Jesus, shepherd, guardian, friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.
How weak the effort of my heart,
how cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you as you are,
I’ll praise you as I ought.
Till then I would your love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of your name
refresh my soul in death.