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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 (New International Version)
No name in human history has evoked such a range of conversation and emotion as the name Jesus Christ.
Deified, demonized or defied, “Jesus” evokes some sort of response (even curiosity) among the most casual respondent. You’re likely to hear or see the name Jesus more this week as public observations about his life are presented as Easter approaches – the calendar date that commemorates the morning his followers believe he returned to life, three days after being entombed following his execution by crucifixion. Crucifixion, nailing a person a cross until he asphyxiated, was the Roman equivalent of lethal injection. In other words, capital punishment.
To those who witnessed and believed then, and who have believed the accounts of that weekend in the centuries since, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the climactic part of the Christmas story of his birth to Mary, the Virgin. To those believers these collective events prove that God – creator of the universe — was incarnated on earth as a human, lived among mankind, physically died and returned to life to demonstrate that life has eternal qualities; life beyond what we know, something to which many aspire. That eternal life, the followers say, starts with belief about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
This tome is less about agreeing or disagreeing with the belief than an encouragement to embrace your curious gene.
There’s a bevy of research noting that Easter Sunday has the highest attendance of any church services of the year. More than Christmas. There are various, ageless running jokes about people who only go to church twice a year, any where from “Chreasters” to “Chriseastians” to CEOs – Christmas & Easter Onlys. For anti-defamation sake, these designations have been most often heard in these ears from the voices of those who categorize themselves thusly.
So, there’s a question of why? Why does Easter attendance skyrocket? Why are there so many Jesus Resurrection-themed programs – films and documentaries – available for our viewing pleasure this week? Why is there such a quandary in many government offices and schools throughout the U.S. about whether or not to be open on Friday – the day Jesus was put to death, the day revered as Good Friday among those who believe his death was the beginning of life?
We cannot overlook answers such as “because Jesus programs make money,” or “church on Easter seems to be the right thing.” (Akin to when avowed atheist W.C. Fields purportedly was caught reading a Bible during his final days and when asked why purported intoned, “Looking for loopholes.” He died Christmas Day, 1946.)
It’s likely that many people are drawn to Jesus more than they’ll admit, and that even more are willing to confess that Jesus is who he said he is, The Son of God, who said, “No one comes to the Father but through me.”
ALLURE AND ASSAULT
That the person of Jesus is attractive in many circles is widely admitted. That the life of Jesus – his commands, his examples, his teachings – has been sullied and misappropriated by poorly educated humans “in the name of Jesus” for centuries is undeniable. Mahatma Ghandi was impressed by Christ, but not Christians. Muslims recognize Jesus as a revered prophet, noting so in the Koran, but a revered prophet among many. Dan Kimball, pastor and author, created a popular curriculum of writings and interviews with a title that best summarizes the two-faced Christian image among those who may be CEOs. Kimball’s curriculum: “They Like Jesus, But Not the Church.”
At the same time, Jesus is cursed – as in loathed – in many circles for the very reasons that made him attractive. Cursed so much so that even saying his name is likely to invoke serious injury, or death. His name is so despised among many who share his Jewish lineage that “Jesus Christ” may be used as a purposeful pejorative, particularly in his homeland. It’s the kind of atmosphere that existed in the last days he walked the earth – noted this week. Holy Week was the start of Passover and began with Jesus’ kingly entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, a coronation of sorts that subsequently dissipated into Jesus’ tantrum over commercialization in the temple, a political murder conspiracy, and a fateful yet hopeful final meal before his mid-night trial, conviction and gruesome killing by week’s end.
Still…after he was resurrected, say his followers… the name of Jesus and reference to these events would land someone in jail, or worse. One of those men Was the apostle Paul, an early supervisor of Christ-followers killings, who wrote the quote at the top of this article while he was imprisoned for teaching that Jesus was God Incarnate as he claimed. The verse cited is a lesson learned. Paul contended that ultimately mankind would discover what he experienced while en route to slay more Christ-followers. Walking on the road, Paul wrote, he was blinded by a light, knocked to his knees and had a personal conversation with the slain-but-not-dead Jesus. This encounter changed Paul’s life – saving him, he says, from spiritual separation from the God in whom he believed. To Paul separation from God was eternal death, while embracing God because he believed Jesus was eternal life. He continued preaching this belief until he was beheaded some 30 years after Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
SYRIA: FOREVER IN THE NEWS
This meeting between Paul and Jesus has taken added significance to this Holy Week, for the encounter occurred on the road to Damascus, Syria…the latest locale of recent political upheaval that has resurrected interest in end-times scriptures as “wars and rumors of wars” and other passages in Revelation pointing toward the Second Christmas – the prophesied return of Jesus.
Is that return true? That’s why people search. And write songs. Of the countless numbers of songs that have been written about Jesus, perhaps the one that best encapsulates the multi-faceted impact of “Jesus Christ” is “There’s Something About That Name” written by Gloria Gaither. While Gaither’s lyrics embrace the attributes of Christ as Savior, at the same time they infer the irritating quality of “Jesus” that leads to its use as a profanity, rash reactions when mentioned in non-religious public discourse, requests to not pray in “Jesus’ name,” or his followers to be bombed while worshipping him in a church — overseas and stateside.
There’s also something about that name that draws the CEOs to learn more about him in such seasons as this.
For the reader who is curious about the life of Christ – for spiritual, academic or just cultural curiosity – the bevy of Holy Week programs – on television, at church, in theaters – provides ample opportunity to have that curiosity sated. For those who already believe, these opportunities provide a challenge to re-examine why you believe what you believe…perhaps to converse with those unbelievers why the name of Jesus is a special something.