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The Longest Name


We each bear a name that tells a lengthy story.

The longest name in recorded history belonged to a man who went by “Hubert B. Wolfe + 988 Sr.” This was merely a shortening of his full name which included twenty-six ordinary names followed by a 988-letter surname. I would guess that most of us go by three names, although perhaps some have four; certainly, none come near to the length of Hubert’s name. But, in a way, we can all claim to have a name that is much longer than even his. In the book The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, a tree-like creature says about his name, “I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate. . . . For one thing, it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.” Similarly, we each bear a name that tells a lengthy story. It’s the name Christian.
For some, the name Christian is simply a trite way to describe a nice person. For others, the name indicates a stodgy, self-righteous individual. But, in truth, the name Christian isn’t simply a name. It is a shortened form of the history of God’s relationship with sinful mankind; though only nine letters, this is a name as long as time itself. This name tells the story of God, Who would not allow Adam and Eve to die mired in their sin and so graciously provided a ray of hope. It tells the story of God providing salvation for His people through the flood, keeping alive the promise of the Savior. It tells the story of God remembering His children in Egypt, guiding them safely through various waters, and strengthening them through their wilderness wanderings on the way to a homeland.
But if the story ended there, then the name Christian would best be used to describe only the truly pathetic. As Paul writes, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20) Christ continued the story by walking in His people’s shoes. He came up from Egypt. He stood in the waters of the Jordan. He wandered in the wilderness. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) He wrote the next chapter in His own blood, carrying sin to the cross and death. And then came His masterful twist—He rose. The grave could not contain God.
And now it cannot contain you either, because the story that the name Christian tells continues down to you. For God saved you also in a flood, providing salvation through the waters of your Baptism. Paul connects this washing with Christ’s Easter victory: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Through this sacrament, God transports you back to the events of that first Easter weekend—to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. And God makes it all yours. He says to you, dear Christian, that your sin and eventual death will not separate you from Him. For you see, the name Christian means “belonging to Christ.” You belong to the One who tailored human history for the purpose of freeing you from your sin and guilt, and now you will live free of death’s chains forever. Blessed are you, fellow Christian!
Samuel Rodebaugh is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winter Haven, Florida.