His Name is Jesus
During a recent ecumenical/inter-faith service, I found myself getting very frustrated when two top Christian leaders in the community seemed unable or unwilling to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, while offering a prayer and asking God’s blessing on the people gathered for the service. I was amazed at how much creativity went into making vague references to our Lord in the prayer and blessing without actually saying His name. It was all I could do to keep from standing up at the end of the prayer and saying, “His name is Jesus!”
I realize that by its very nature, an inter-faith service is not just for Christians, but often people from a variety of different religious backgrounds are in attendance – Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.. I can appreciate the sensitivity one might feel, especially in this “politically correct” culture in which we live, of not wanting to say or do something that might be regarded as offensive to someone else. Tragically, however, many Christians have come to believe that mentioning Jesus’ name in public, or praying in the name of Jesus Christ during an inter-faith service should be avoided in order not to offend non-Christians.
While called in our Baptismal Covenant to: “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being;” we are also called to: “Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” (BCP 305). The two are not in opposition to one another, but rather point to the way in which we should live out our faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Yes, we need to be respectful of people of different faiths, and not try to beat them up or force our Christian faith on them, however, we should also stand firm in our faith, not hiding our faith in Jesus, but rather sharing it in love.
Contrary to what many Christians have been led to believe, Jewish and Muslim leaders have more respect for Christian leaders who are strong in their faith, than those who hide or deny their Christian faith. During the inter-faith service mentioned above, in which much “tap dancing” was done by Christian leaders to avoid mentioning Jesus by name, the Jewish Rabi and the Muslim Imam shared their faith openly and unapologetically. Should Christians do any less?
As I think about the growing trend of so many Christians who are afraid or unwilling to speak of Jesus in public for fear of offending non-Christians, or being looked down upon by an ever-growing secular anti-Christian society, I am reminded of what Jesus said about those who acknowledge Him and those who disown Him: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) When we purposely remain silent about our faith in Christ, either not wanting to “offend” non-Christians, or be targeted and attacked for being a Christian, are we not in essence “disowning” Him? The Lord calls us to remain strong in our faith, even when it is not popular, or potentially dangerous.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of how Peter and John remained faithful, upholding the name of Jesus, even in the midst of adversity and danger to themselves: “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but who God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed’…Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-10, 12).
In an attempt to silence Peter and John, we are told: “The religious leaders called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to Him? You be the judges. As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:18-20).
There are those in our generation (both within and outside the Church), who like the religious leaders above, are attempting to silence the Church and the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is very blatant through the passage or misinterpretation of laws regarding the separation of Church and state, or the threat of lawsuits designed to intimidate and silence the Christian voice. Often times it is more subtle, under the guise of not wanting to offend or embarrass non-Christians. Whatever form it might take, the result (if successful) is the same — the Good News of Jesus Christ is not being shared.
It is important that we recognize what is going on and not fall further victim to it. Our Christian faith and religious liberties are under attack. Throughout the western world and here in the United States (a country founded on Judeo-Christian values), Christianity is being more and more marginalized. The question is—what will we do about it?
I am reminded of the second stanza from the great Christian Hymn “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” – “Stand up, stand up for Jesus; the trumpet call obey; forth to the mighty conflict in this his glorious day: ye that are his now serve him against unnumbered foes; let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.” May we be inspired by this hymn, and may we like the apostles Peter and John be so filled with the courage, conviction and holy boldness of the Holy Spirit that “we cannot not help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20).
The broken and hurting world in which we live is in desperate need of hearing and receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every day (if we are paying attention) the Lord gives us a multitude of opportunities to share our faith with others, not obnoxiously or in a condemning or judgmental way, but lovingly. Are we taking advantage of those opportunities? Are we sharing the love of Jesus with others, or are we remaining silent, fearful of speaking His name and sharing our faith?
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes: “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 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)
Before Jesus was born, we are told in Matthew’s Gospel, that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary would give birth to a son and “You are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:20-21) The name, “Jesus”, is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “the Lord saves.”
While we need to be respectful of people who come from different religious backgrounds, we also need to be careful not to buy into the lie that all religions are essentially equal and that they all lead to heaven because they don’t. Abraham did not die for the sins of the world. Mohamad did not die for the sins of the world. Buda did not die for the sins of the world. The hundreds of Hindu gods did not die for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God incarnate, is the only One who died on the cross paying the price for the sins of all the world. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we can be saved and share in God’s heavenly kingdom.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Either this statement is true or it isn’t. To say that for Christians Jesus is the way to heaven, but people of other faiths have their own equally valid way to heaven, may sound nice, be inclusive, and the “politically correct” thing to say, but it isn’t true if in fact John 14:6 is true. We can’t have it both ways.
Jesus proclaimed this truth about Himself. As Christians we are called to share that truth, not in a judgmental or condemning way, forcing people to become Christians, but rather in a loving, compassionate way, through the sharing of our faith and all that God has done for us, in and through His Son, Jesus Christ, inviting them into the Body of Christ. Ultimately each person will have to decide for themselves what they believe and how they will live out that believe.
Because of His love for Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, atheists, and people of all other faiths, Jesus has commanded us (the Church, the Body Of Christ) through the Great Commission to go forth in His name, stating: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus has given us the Great Commission commanding us to go forth sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not so that Christians can point to themselves and say how good and superior they are compared to non-Christians, but just the opposite. Christians and non-Christians alike are all sinners in need of God’s love and mercy and redeeming grace. In sharing our faith, we are not to point to ourselves, but rather to the One who loves us beyond our comprehension; the One who died on the cross for us, paying the price for our sins (a price we are incapable of paying ourselves); the One who rose from the grave, conquering the power of sin and death; the One who invites us to share in His new resurrected life in His heavenly kingdom for all eternity.
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we are to be a channel of God’s love and mercy and healing grace, and if we are to share the greatest news the world has ever heard, we must be willing to speak the “Name that is above every name”(Philippians 2:9); the only name in which “Salvation is found.” (Acts4:12) That name is “JESUS.” May the Lord bless you as you go forth in the name of Jesus Christ!
Faithfully Your Brother in Christ,
Bishop of Albany