Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.5—”And in Jesus Christ: What Does it Mean to Call Jesus ‘Christ’?”

“Tenn. judge: Parents can name their baby ‘Messiah’”

WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tenn.

Published 10:54 a.m. ET Sept. 18, 2013

Well. That will get your attention! Here are some of the details:

NEWPORT, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge reversed a ruling Wednesday ordering a mother to change her 8-month-old’s name from “Messiah.”

The boy’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, and father could not agree on a last name, which is how they ended up at a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court last month.

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the baby’s name be “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” His name included both parents’ last names but left out Messiah.

So the parents go before the judge concerning the last name but the judge, in making her ruling, tries to make them drop the first name, “Messiah.” Now, the magistrates ruling would be overturned by virtue of the fact that the parents were not there to discuss the first name but rather the last name and, it was decided, making them drop the first name was unconstitutional. Even so, the judge’s explanation was interesting.

“The word ‘Messiah’ is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person—and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew said.

The mother, commenting later, said:

“I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God and I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs,” said Martin.

The child’s name is now Messiah DeShawn McCollough. McCollough is the father’s name.

Martin said she’s relieved.[1]

Whew! There is a lot going on here! Quite apart from the legal angle, I am intrigued by a few things.

The judge actually is correct that the word “Messiah” is a title. But then so is the name “Judge” and I had a great uncle named Judge Reynolds, so…

And I am still chewing on the Judge’s argument that Jesus “earned” the title “Messiah.” Earned? That invokes an image of a person not having something and then getting something because he worked for that something. If that is what is meant, it is a problem. Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed redeemer, by virtue of what He did, yes (perhaps “fulfilled” instead of “earned”?) but more so He was the Messiah because He bore the divine anointing as such in His person. You do not have to “earn” what you “are.” Yet, He did show in His words and work that He was the Messiah.

Anyway, regardless of what you think of the legalities or semantics of the judge’s reasoning, it is a bit eyebrow-raising to name one’s child “Messiah.”

To some, the word “Messiah” may sound like a strange or exotic Old Testament word. But you need to understand that every time you say the word “Christ” you are saying Messiah.

Theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. explains.

The Hebrew word māšî(a)ḥ, meaning “anointed one,” was transliterated into Greek as messias and translated into Greek as Christos, a substantive derived from the Greek verb chriein, meaning “to anoint.” The Latin translation is Christus, and hence we have the English “Christ.”[2]

That is to say that as the word “Messiah” travels from a Hebrew tongue to an English tongue it tends to become “Christ” along the way.

We also refer to “Messiah” every time we say “Christian.” Alister McGrath writes:

The Roman historian Tacitus refers to Christians’ deriving their name from “Christ, who was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.”[3]

So in a sense we have all taken on the name “Messiah,” though, for us, we mean that we are followers of or disciples of the Christ.

In the Apostles’ Creed way proclaim believe in “Jesus Christ.” But when we say this, what are we saying?

To call Jesus “Christ” is to say that He is the fulfillment of a promise.

The first point about Jesus being called Christ is that in doing this we are asserting that Jesus fulfills a promise, a prophecy from the Old Testament. The promise was that an anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ, would come and save Israel. Thomas Rausch has written wisely that:

            While there is no unified concept of messiah in the Old Testament, a trajectory of images contributed to its becoming an important expression of Jewish hope still strong in the time of Jesus.

Rausch includes in this “trajectory of images” the Old Testament idea of a descendant of David who would be “begotten by God (Ps 110:3; cf. 89:27) and can be called God’s son (Ps 2:7).” Furthermore, “he will judge the nations (Ps 110), shepherd them (Ps 2), bring light to those who walk in darkness (Isa 9:1-5), ‘govern wisely’ (Jer 23:5), and bring justice to the poor, an important characteristic of the messianic age (Isa 11:1-11).”[4]

As you can see, then, the idea of “the Christ” was laden with powerful hopes and expectations! You can feel this in the last book of the Bible, Malachi 3, where we find two promises:

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

The first promise is that a messenger would come. And the second promise is that this messenger would prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival. The Lord would come in the person of the Messiah, the Christ.

This helps us understand what is happening in the amazing scene we find in Matthew 16 when Jesus questions the disciples about their understanding of who He is.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“You are the Christ! You are the Messiah! You are the anointed one!” Jesus’ response is telling:

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

This is powerful confirmation from Jesus that what Peter has said is true: Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah. Which is to say that Jesus is the one the Jews and, indeed, the world had been waiting for!

When we say this today—“I believe in God, the Father almighty; and in Jesus Christ…”—what we are saying is that Jesus is not merely the fulfillment of a promise in the abstract, He is also the fulfillment of the hopes of our own hearts. This God with whom we desire a relationship has come to us in the Messiah, the Christ, anointed one, the promised one: Jesus! He is the one we have been looking for, waiting for.

To call Jesus “Christ” is to say that He has special authority.

It also means that this Jesus who is the Christ comes bearing a special and unique authority. He is able to do that which no other person can do, and He can do this because He is Christ!

This becomes evident in John 11, where we read of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Jesus travels to Bethany, where Lazarus was buried, and, there, encounters Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus then has a conversation with Martha. In this conversation, the following exchange occurs:

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This is fascinating and illuminating concerning how we should understand what it means to call Jesus Christ. Martha proclaims her belief “that you are the Christ” in answer to the following observations that Jesus makes about Himself:

  • He is the resurrection.
  • He is the life.
  • Those who believe in Him will have eternal life.
  • Those who believe in Him will not have eternal death.

In answer to Jesus’ question, “Do you believe this?” (i.e., Do you believe that all of these things about me are true), Martha says, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

In other words, Martha’s understanding of “the Christ” is that it includes these realities about Jesus:

  • He is the resurrection.
  • He is the life.
  • Those who believe in Him will have eternal life.
  • Those who believe in Him will not have eternal death.

Which is to say that Martha recognized that Jesus, as the Christ, ultimately had authority over death and the eternal destinies of humanity! It is not simply that Jesus fulfills a promise. It is also that Jesus comes with inexhaustible power!

When we stand alongside Martha and say what she said in the third line of the Creed—“I believe in Jesus Christ…”—what we are saying is nothing less than what she said: “I believe that Jesus the Christ is the resurrection, is the life, and is the way to eternal life for all who believe!”

It is a line and a name and a title laden with power and authority! This name, “Jesus Christ,” is brimming over with divine authority. He is no mere man, though a man He is. He is also “the Christ,” the God-man, who identifies with us in His humanity yet is able to save us because He is also God-with-us!

To call Jesus “Christ” is to say that He is the suffering and saving servant.

But how does Jesus the Christ save? To answer this we must understand that, in Christ, two powerful images come together: the image of Messiah and the image of the Suffering Servant. We have seen what it is to call Jesus the Messiah, the Christ. And we have seen that Jesus the Christ is mighty and able to save! Note what John says as he approaches the conclusion of his gospel in John 20.

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

This is an astonishing thing to say! John says that his entire gospel was written so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” And why does that matter? Because, “by believing you may have life in his name.” So it is “in his name” that we are saved and this is because His name is mighty and able to save! But that name, Jesus, and that title, the Christ, also points to a great work that Jesus has accomplished!

The Messiah is also the Suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah 53.

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

This, too, is astonishing! This, too, is startling! Can it really be that this Messiah, this Christ, the Jesus of authority and power, this Jesus who fulfills the promise, is also the promised Suffering Servant who would:

  • be despised and rejected by men;
  • be a man of sorrows and grief;
  • bear our griefs;
  • carry our sorrows;
  • be stricken, smitten by God;
  • be afflicted;
  • be pierced for our transgressions;
  • be crushed for our iniquities;
  • take upon Himself the chastisement that brings us peace;
  • heal us through His wounds;
  • and take our iniquity upon Himself?

Is this Christ of power also the Suffering Servant who bears our griefs? Yes! Yes He is! And these two are connected in this way: it is through His sufferings, His death on the cross, that He pays the price for our sins, and it is through His rising again, His resurrection, that death is ultimately defeated! He fulfills not only the promise of a coming person of power but also the promise of a coming sufferer who by His suffering will save us!

Hans Urs von Balthasar writes, “In our creed, we speak of God’s only Son as ‘Jesus Christ,’ which translates as ‘the messianically anointed Redeemer.’”[5] Yes, and this is how the Messiah “redeems” us: through His cross!

Let us go back for a minute to the story of the parents who named their child “Messiah.” Again, I am not concerned about the legal issues. But the CBS story on this case pointed to the written ruling of the judge when she attempted to stop the parents from naming their child “Messiah.” The article says:

Ballew surprised both parents by ordering that the baby’s name change to Martin Deshawn McCullough, saying that the name Messiah was not in the baby’s best interest. Her written order stated that “`Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ,” and “Labeling this child `Messiah’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill.”[6]

Regardless of the legal issues, I will say this: she is certainly correct that no human being could possibly do what the one true Messiah, the Christ, did! Only Christ can save us! Only Christ can lay down His life for the sin of the world! Only Christ is able to pluck us from hell and give us heaven! Only Christ could suffer in our stead! Only Christ has the authority to save! Only Christ! Only Jesus! Only Jesus is truly “the Christ”!

“I believe in Jesus Christ…”



[2] Garrett, James Leo, Jr. Systematic Theology. Vol.1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock)

[3] McGrath, Alister. I believe (p. 37). IVP. Kindle Edition.

[4] Rausch, Thomas P. I Believe in God. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008), p.66.

[5] Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Credo. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.


1 thought on “Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.5—”And in Jesus Christ: What Does it Mean to Call Jesus ‘Christ’?”

  1. Thank YOU for putting your sermon notes here @ WTM. Some of us benefit greatly with written notes long after the “heat of the moment” of preaching has passed. We are grateful for places/spaces/formats that are NOT integrated into the current “fast life” format of digital everything. 🙂 turtles win races now and then…….. ZOOM!!!!!!

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