“Find a piece of paper and something to write with.” With a smirk, my wife complied and braced herself for what might follow.
The task was simple: Take ten minutes and write down as many names or descriptors of Christ as we could each recall. After ten minutes, we returned together with our lists. As we shared together, we began to worship as the Jewel of unending generations turned and turned and turned before our eyes of faith. Each name, worth a lifetime’s reflection.
Messiah. Master. Teacher. Creator. Friend.
Bridegroom. Savior. Lord. Mediator. Redeemer.
Beloved. Worthy. Our blessed hope. Our propitiation. The Good Shepherd.
Wonderful Counselor. Prince of peace. Image of the invisible God. Ruler of the kings on earth. The Door. The True Vine. The Bread of Life. The Lamb of God. The Way, the Truth, the Life. The rock of offense. The Morning Star. The Holy One. The Beginning.
The King of glory. Lord of the Sabbath. The faithful witness. The Head of the Church. The Lion of Judah. The Suffering Servant. The Prophet greater than Moses. The One who loves us.
The Light of the World. The Author and Perfecter of our faith. The Great High Priest. The Son of David. Son of Man. Son of God. Our Wisdom. Our sanctification. Something greater than Solomon. The firstborn from the dead. The Resurrection and the Life.
The Alpha and Omega. Almighty God. Man of Sorrows. The radiance of the glory of God.
To give just a few.
The One Above His Names
The exercise revealed one simple thing: Jesus Christ lives beyond each sacred name. The Spirit inspires so many names because the reality of Christ towers above each descriptor individually (and as I am hinting, collectively as well). Though Jesus is known truly through human language, he transcends human language.
Take the ancient poets, take the epic storytellers of our time — spare no crafters of language — employ them all, young and old alike, in the singular task of telling the full value and merit of Christ to us, and they shall fail — as children fingerpainting stars fall far below the glory of the galaxies.
He is he of whom there can be no exaggeration: His worth, his significance, his relevance, his power, his kindness, his command, his faithfulness, his beauty soars above human language as the seraphim above the ladybug. The most excellent language we have cannot capture his excellencies.
And that is no slight to the words God himself has given to us.
Christ Beyond Vocabulary
The excellency of language can take us many places: from the frontlines of World War II, to a hobbit hole in the Shire, from plantations in the antebellum South, to a cave in the mountains overlooking Whoville, into the very throne room with John and Isaiah. Language can cause us to feel deeply: from compassion to bravery, from disgust to horror, from love to hatred. Language is a tool, a divine brush that can color transcendent realities within our imaginations and conceptions. God wrote a book.
But with regards to Christ, we fumble with candles in the dark — he is like this, like this, like this. He stands outside the full reach of the vocabulary of this world, dazzling with the strength of ten suns. He is more holy than we can conceive the word “holy” imparts. More lovely than the scent “lovely” can give. Our language, too enfeebled to capture his might, is too hushed to convey his full glory. We truly gaze through faith and the Spirit to see and love him (1 Peter 1:8–9) — yet dimly.
Although the Spirit employs the highest human colors our language affords — analogies, metaphors, titles, types, parables, poetry, and more — the painting is of him whose riches the Spirit himself calls “unsearchable,” him whose love surpasses knowledge (and therefore language), him of whom the world itself is too small a library to contain all the books documenting his wondrous deeds (Ephesians 3:8, 19; John 21:25).
The Stage for Self-Revelation
Now, although Christ, the Transcendent, cannot be finally portrayed or singularly named, we should marvel that God planned to reveal the marvelous names of the Son we have in Scripture.
Although God gives us some names in a moment while others took centuries to unfold in redemptive history, God held all these names in mind before he architected the world — crafting reality and human experience to give context to his Son’s glorious revelation, not vice versa.
In other words, God didn’t work with the props that already existed and do the best he could. From the beginning, God created the stage of human experience to communicate his Son to us. Marriage, as one example, exists to communicate what his Son is for the Church; who he is as “Groom” (Ephesians 5:32).
Or consider that before he created the world, John tells us, God wrote a hardcover entitled, “The Book of Life of the Lamb Who Was Slain” (Revelation 13:8). God did not fumble about and think of books and lambs and blood and sacrifice after the world and sin already existed. These entered the world because, before the world existed, God freely chose to reveal his Son as the Slain Lamb.
The point is that God created the world in order for the eye of faith to behold the Lamb. This is his story, his world — the props on stage were constructed to testify to Jesus.
What’s in a Name?
Is this good news for you? You may wonder with the love-stricken Juliet, what’s in a name?
We could speak of God’s concern for his own name — which communicates his character, his reputation, his praise, his renown — which is at the heart of our salvation:
Thus says the Lord God: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” (Ezekiel 36:22–23)
Yet Christ’s names, on the ground level, provide anchors to our souls, don’t they?
How many sheep have been comforted through the valley of the shadow of death by his name “the Good Shepherd”?
How many have had a cold breeze still their mad lusts at his title “Lord”?
How many in despair have revived from the one who is “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), or endured persecution with eyes fixed on “the Suffering Servant”?
How many deaths has pride died before “the True Vine”? Or how many times have our heads been lifted from the dust by our “Great High Priest”? Or our fears of falling away been quieted by considering “the Author and Perfector of our faith”? How many tempests has this “Prince of Peace” calmed? How many questions does “the Ruler of the Kings on earth” solve? How many regrets and dead hopes rouse at his name “the Beginning”?
The woman with the naked finger can cling to the Bridegroom. The unloved child can grip to “the One who loves us.” The mother who visits the grave of her child, to “the Resurrection and the Life.” The pastor tempted with envy, to “the Head of the Church.” The man or woman dissatisfied with living, to “the Bread of Life.” The one feeling all alone in the world, to the great “Friend.”
His names, above all other names, are dear to us, because he is dear to us. Each provides a different angle, a different snapshot of what we can’t yet behold face-to-face. None overstate Christ. None alone capture him. When we sit on the eternal shore and drink deeply of one, the ocean is never emptied. More always to see. More always to drink. More always to know and enjoy.
The tide ever rises. Our Savior will always remain better than our best thoughts of him.