The recent story of a Tennessee judge changing the legal name of an infant whose parents took one another to court in a dispute over child support has garnered national attention. The questions raised by the secular media center around a parent’s freedom to name their child whatever they choose, religious liberty and the judicial overreach in this particular case. But the deeper question might be: “What compels a person to name a child Messiah?”
According to the Social Security Administration, the use of the title “Messiah” as a name for children — both male and female — has grown in popularity in recent years in America. Some speculate that the rise in popularity can be attributed to the fact that rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris, who is featured in a reality T.V. show, named his child “Messiah Ya’ Majesty Harris.” In terms of parental role models, if young Americans are modeling themselves after Harris, it is notable that he has six children by three different women. Using titles for names is something he’s known for. In addition to Messiah Ya’ Majesty, Harris has sons named King and Major.
A generation from now there are going to be many adults who bear the name Messiah in our culture. But there are already many people who “claim” to be Messiah, which may be cause for greater concern. There are at least 14 people alive today who claim to be the Messiah, either the second coming of Jesus, God in flesh, or who personally believe they bear the responsibility to save humankind.
Here’s the challenge that Christians face today: God has revealed Himself fully and finally in the person of Jesus Christ (read Hebrews 1) and through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection He demonstrates His power over sin and death. These are the basic truth claims of the Bible and the Christian Church throughout history. So, Jesus is the Messiah not because Joseph and Mary named Him Jesus in accordance with the angel’s instruction (Matthew 1:21) but because He really does “save His people from their sins.” Jesus is Messiah not because of a name but because of an act in history that changed everything.
In America we have to live with the reality that parents name their children all kinds of things that we find offensive. Mr. Campbell in New Jersey has a son whose legal name is Adolf Hitler Campbell. Paying homage to Twitter, a child in 2012 was named Hashtag. There’s a child in America named Jedi I Knight and another named Gaye Males. My mom went to school with a kid named Dwayne Pipe. Seriously, what are these parents thinking? The Bible clearly instructs fathers not to provoke or exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:4). I’m thinking these folks missed that verse.
How then shall we respond to this current cultural debate about the use of Messiah as a name? I propose we pray that children named Messiah would come to know the One whose title they bear and then, by salvation in Him, live into the character, grace and truth of Christ, the Messiah of God. I also propose that we take much more seriously the reality that we who bear the name “Christian” into the world do so as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We are His representatives. If the world, if these parents, don’t know the meaning of the word Messiah and do not know the Christ to whom the title is rightly attached, that is our failure, not theirs. The story of Messiah Martin or Martin McCullough, a little boy in Tennessee, is a tale bearing witness against the church in America that has failed to communicate the beauty of the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so spiritually hungry they would create Messiahs of their own making.