The co-pilot of the Germanwings airliner (name intentionally omitted), who deliberately crashed his plane into a French alpine mountainside killing all 150 people on board, including himself, had done so, according to his former girlfriend (as reported in The Times on Saturday, 28th March 2015) as “a spectacular and unforgettable event.” She remembers that he had told her last year: “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and all will know my name and remember it.”
Certainly his name is in the headlines at present, but not in this blog. It was an horrific event for all involved, especially when the nature of it became known. It is a tragedy for the families and friends of all who lost their lives and it must have been an agonising last few minutes for those on board when it became apparent that the plane was going to crash. But, although air travel per passenger mile is by far the safest form of transport, planes do crash and lives are lost. Not often, but it happens. What is different for us in Europe, is that it is so close to home and the circumstances (pilot suicide combined with mass homicide), if not unique globally, are very unusual, as they touch us.
However, the name of the pilot, and the event itself will quickly fade from the memory of most people – except for the people left behind, who are directly involved – those whose sons and daughter, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters,or just best friends were the victims of this awful crime.
Who remembers now, without being prompted, 3rd June 1998, near Eschede, Germany, when an Inter City Express passenger train travelling at 125 mph crashed into a support pier of an overpass, killing 98. Or who remembers 24th July 2013, at Santiago de Compostela, Spain when a passenger train derailed and crashed killing at least 78 people, with dozens more injured, and 11th March 2004, at Madrid railway station, Spain’s most horrific terrorist attack when 191 people were killed and 1,400 were injured in bombings there, for which a Moroccan affiliate of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. Families and friends will still remember, but not many people will who were not directly connected.
And, as far as road fatalities are concerned, except for the most serious accidents, they slip below the public consciousness, but in 2013 there were 3,399 deaths on Germany’s roads; and Spain’s roads, the safest in Europe, according to official statistics, claimed 1,128 lives, which compared with 5,940 in 1990, which was the worst year ever in Spain.
So, the horror of this air disaster. which took 70 German lives and 51 Spanish lives (with 29 from 17 other countries) will quickly fade from public memory,even though it will remain for those directly affected for a lifetime. But there is one death that has remained in the public consciousness for almost 2,000 years, and there is one name and one life that will never fade from the collective memory of mankind, and that is the name of Jesus.
Jesus Christ, used a swear word by many today, but used with reverence by many more throughout the ages, is the name above all other names (Philippians 2:9). It is “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth…” (Philippians 2:10). And the death of Jesus, not by suicide, not as a consequence of an act of mass murder in the knowledge that He also would be killed, but as a supreme act of love, allowing those who were his enemies to kill him in the most barbaric way that was known at that time, so that our sins might be forgiven, is a death that is still remembered. But not only his death, for Good Friday, when we remember his death, is not the whole story. Two days later on Easter Sunday – “on the third day”, Friday being the first and Sunday being the third day – Christians celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is not a fairy story, not a fantasy. Death could not hold Jesus, God’s eternal Son. He paid the price for sin but was himself sinless, and his own resurrection demonstrated his power over sin and death and that He was indeed God’s own son.
Earlier verses in chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which was quoted above in reference to the abiding name of Jesus, go like this:
Philippians 2: 5-8
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.
And the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, speaks at length to the multi-national crowd of Jews gathered in Jerusalem (for the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Harvest and the Day of Firstfruits), and his words include:
Acts 2: 22-24
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Little wonder then, from that moment on, Jesus’ name became known, not only in Jerusalem and the land where Jesus had walked and talked in his incarnate state, but out to the then known world, first to the lands where Jews had settled and from where they had come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and later taken by the Apostles and other evangelists to many other places.
Today there are few places where the name of Jesus has not been heard but there are some, which is why some Christians are called specifically to take the Good News of Jesus to people in these places, fulfilling the commission of Jesus, himself:
Matthew 28: 18-20
Then Jesus came to them (the eleven disciples by this time) and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
Jesus’ name will be known forever, but will yours be? Can yours be? How can it be?
Jesus said, as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke 10:20, “However, do not rejoice that spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” These words were spoken to the “72 disciples”, the larger group that was sent out during Jesus’ ministry.
In Revelation chapter 21 we find John describing his vision of the New Jerusalem, heaven itself, and in verses 26 and 27 we read, “The glory and the honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those names who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Will your name be found there? If it is, it will only be by the love and mercy of a Holy God expressed to a sinful people through the sacrifice to death, and victory over death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. His name is above every other name, but whose are the other names?
World War One, with its massive casualties, was the first war where there was a systematic effort to register war graves and provide, when hostilities had ended, well-tended cemeteries near the battlefields, with headstones linked to a database, in perpetuity. Even so, there are over 200,000 casualties in cemeteries in 75 countries, the majority in France and Belgium, where no name is known. In these cases there is a headstone, as there is with named burials, but many headstones simply say:
OF THE GREAT WAR
KNOWN UNTO GOD
Is your name “known unto God” in the special sense that Jesus Christ is your Saviour and has made it known?