The Name Of Jesus

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. What Is In A Name?

What is in a name? What story does it tell? What can be determined from a name? If our names were spread throughout the neighborhood, the community, and the world what be the story that accompanies it?  Can a name tell a story about who we are and what we do? Can it tell our legacy? Well surely as Jesus had done great things in the community, healing people and performing miracles, his name, his name had preceded him.  Word was running through the town about this man, and while they may not have understood the fullest extent of who Jesus was, they knew he was different.  And they knew that lives were being transformed by the things he was doing.  At the mere mention of the name of Jesus people were beginning to hear and become curious about the good news of Christ, the good news that transforms lives and the world.

 II. What Did We Learn

Last week we heard that a prophet is not always appreciated in their own hometown, because sometimes people are so caught up in the systems and things around them, and sometimes they are even believing the lies that society has told them about themselves that they cannot see the glory of Christ in front of them.  People were asking, “Is he not the carpenter?” Well, yes, he is the carpenter, but he is so much more.  He is the savior, the messiah, the king of kings, but the world had yet to fully know this, to fully understand who he was.  But word had gotten out about the things he was doing, and it is likely that the name of Jesus would have begun to spread in the streets. The word of the greatness of Jesus and the great things he was doing had gotten out into the world and people were amazed.  The world still may have not known who he was, but whispers began traveling through the street. Houses and alleyways were filled with mention about the amazing things that this man Jesus was doing in the area of Israel/Palestine. So, while last week the question was, is not this the carpenter? It not this the one we know?  As Jesus begins to spread his ministry the question then morphs into, “Who is this man? Who is he?” These people were not as familiar with this man, but they knew that he was different. Word had traveled in the street about this man who healed, word traveled in the street about this man who performed miracles, word traveled in the street about this man who showed people how to love, word traveled in the street about this man who sat with sinners, word traveled in the street about the man who connected with those society had cast out, word traveled in the street about the man who valued women and children, word traveled in the street about the man who taught about love and how to pray, word traveled about the man who captivated his audience with stories they could relate to, using mannerisms that showed he understood his audience deeply. Word had traveled, but who was this man? Who was Jesus? Who was he? What was he?
Our scripture this morning picks up around where we left off last week.  After Jesus had begun to move through the land, sending out his disciples, and spreading the good news into the world. And yet our scripture this week doesn’t seem to have Jesus as a character at all, much less a main character.  Jesus isn’t even a subject within the narrative at all.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t pay attention, you might miss the mention of Jesus altogether. But he is there.  Only as a mention. Jesus’s name was mentioned because his name had gotten around so far that it reached the ears of Herod, so much so that the name was not just a passing thought, but a name that had become known. He had heard not just the name but the things that he was doing.  Jesus was known to Herod. Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch, or Roman leader, of the occupied territory of Galilee.  Herod was the one who ruled over the Jewish people on behalf of the Emperor in his absence. And as the word spread about Jesus there were rumors running rampant about who he was.  The stories of him were so captivating that all began to speculate who he was. Who was this man? Who was Jesus? Was he Elijah or was he John the Baptist raised from the dead? Who was he?

 III. What Was Herod Afraid of?

Even as Herod heard the word about Jesus from the street, the work that Jesus was doing in Galilee was so fascinating that the only conclusion he could make was that this had to be John the Baptist resurrected.  You see, Herod was likely feeling great guilt, for ordering the death of a man who had done no wrong, ordering the death of a man he knew to be righteous.  Herod knew that John the Baptist was a holy man and had great admiration for him.  But John the Baptist was a holy man, a man who had the audacity to challenge King Herod when he did the unthinkable, when he did the unrighteous thing.  John the Baptist had the audacity to call out Herod’s sin and proclaim the ways he had forsaken God.  But both Herod and his wife Herodias, those in authority were not happy that someone of lesser status would challenge their way of life challenge what they do.  How often do those in authority get upset when those who are perceived as less than, challenge their questionable behavior, their less than righteous behavior, their downright unjust behavior? And the response is to tear down these people who dared to point out injustice or unrighteousness, we vilify those who have dared to stand up for righteousness.  So, Herodias plotted to have John the Baptist killed.  She planned to remove the pebble in her shoe.  To her he was just a minor annoyance that she could get rid of.  Because, maybe, just maybe if she got rid of him, she wouldn’t have to face her sin. Maybe, just maybe, her sin and even the blot of her sin would disappear if her accuser also disappeared. Maybe, just maybe, if he disappeared she would not have to deal with the wrath of God because he wouldn’t be there and all that she had done would be forgotten.  So, she orchestrated a masterful plan with her daughter that they might cause the death of John the Baptist.  Too often we think if no one is there to point out our sin, our indiscretion then maybe, just maybe that sin will never have existed.  We think that if we cover things up, then we can deny their existence.  Sometimes when we have sinned, we have got to admit it, we cannot bury it and pretend it doesn’t exist.  We have to stand before the Lord and repent.   But that was not the plan of Herodias and her daughter. So, they planned to have John the Baptist beheaded.  They coerced Herod into calling for the death of John the Baptist.  And in order to save face, in order to keep his word, and in order to show his authority, he beheaded John the Baptist.  And now he was living in fear, living in guilt, as with the emergence of Jesus, it would seem that his sin had not been buried.  It would seem that his sin did not die with John.  It would seem that his sin had actually risen from the dead, to come back and haunt him.  He had not repented and yet, his sin could not be tucked away.  His sin was now looking him straight in the face, and the name of his challenger Jesus was coming for him as his name and ministry traveled throughout the street.
The thing that Herod had not accounted for, the thing that Herod did not expect was that he may have acknowledged John the Baptist as the Holy man, he may have acknowledged John as the righteous man, he may have even acknowledged him as the messenger of God.  But he did not account for the fact that John was only the one sent ahead to point the way.  John was only the one who directed us to the righteous one.  John was the one who showed us that Jesus was the one, and we did not need to look for another.  John was the one who pointed out that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God, God made flesh.  Christ was the one who was the righteous one.  So, while Herod was afraid of John the Baptist, the one who comes after was the one who was much more of a threat.  While word had spread through the streets about this righteous man Jesus, leaving people with the question Who is this man?  Herod was worried that this man was the resurgence of, the resurrected being of John the Baptist.  But the reality was that he was not John the Baptist.  Jesus was his own self, God made flesh, the epitome of righteousness, the one who would not only point out his failure to lead a righteous life as he inappropriately married the wife of his brother, but also would point out his lack of righteousness in his unfair treatment of the poor, he would point out the oppression of the Jewish people, he would point out the blind subservience to Rome, he would point out the rejection of those with lesser recognition, and he would point out the lack of dedication to the one true God.  Jesus was the one who claimed to be the savior of the world, directly challenging the world Herod understood, challenging the seat of power in the Roman Emperor.  Jesus was the one who would save all of humanity.  Jesus was the one cast out sin and death.  Jesus was the one who died on a cross for the sake of our sin.  Jesus was the one who rose from the dead and granted new life.  No, John the Baptist was not the one that Herod needed to be afraid of, he was just the one who pointed to the Messiah, the Son of God.  The coming message of Jesus was likely to threaten more of Herod’s way of life than just the sin he was trying to cover up.

 IV. At The Mere Mention Of Jesus

You see, what we know about Christ is that, just the mention of the name Jesus begins to transform the world.  Because just at the mention of his name and the things that he can do, the powers and principalities of this world’s darkness get afraid and fearful. Because at the mere mention of his name we are reminded of his ministry, his transformational power, his sacrifice, and his revolutionary resurrection. The Jesus we serve is Lord.  Jesus is the one who challenges the hatred of our world, challenges the violence of our world, challenges the chaos, the instability, the heartache, the pain.  Because Christ taught us love, peace, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked visit the imprisoned, and to love one another.  And all these things are things that combat the struggles of the world we are in.  So just at the mention of Jesus these sinful things around us should break down, these sinful things should begin to tear.  Just at the mention of Jesus the idea of classism should begin to break down, the idea of sexism should begin to break down, the idea of violent war should break down, the idea of racism should break down, the idea of poverty should break down, the idea of oppression should break down, the idea of evil should break down.  Because the teachings of Jesus drastically combat all these things.  So just at the mention of his name, the mention of Jesus they should be counting their days because the ways of Jesus will break each and every one of them down and their days are numbered. Because Jesus is coming, and while John came to challenge some of these things, he was just a precursor.  Jesus is the one who comes and tears down walls, Jesus is the one that transforms, Jesus is the one that makes life new.

 V. What Do We Do?

So, what does that mean for us this morning? Well, the streets had been filled with just the mention of Jesus and Herod Antipas, the one who was the hand of the oppressive power structure of Rome became afraid.  So, that means that we are to spread the mention of our Lord Jesus in the world.  Just the mention of who he is and his was are enough to begin our walk toward the building Beloved Community which exist when we can live together in love with separation due to hatred, violence, separation, and objectification.  When we tell the world about Jesus, the Jesus we know then the world is transformed.  But when I say tell the world about Jesus, I mean, tell them about the Jesus who taught us how to pray, tell them about the Jesus who loved children and told the community to take care of them, tell them about the Jesus who sat with the outcast and saw their need, tell them about the Jesus who healed the sick, tell them about the Jesus who fed the hungry, tell them about the Jesus who challenged not only Rome but the pits of hell themselves that he might grant us life, resurrection, restoration, and redemption. Tell them about that Jesus, because I guarantee you that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.  And all the oppressive structures of our world will be torn down.  So go out, go out into the world.  And tell them about the Christ that you serve, the Christ that loved you, and the Christ that transformed the world. Amen.