“In Jesus’ Name, Amen”
April 16, 2000
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
These words of Jesus contain a remarkable promise. They tell us that whatever we ask—anything at all!—if we ask it in the name of Jesus, he will do it for us. It would be hard to find a promise broader than that. “Whatever you ask…in my name…I will do it.”
Our problem is not with the promise but with the condition. What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name?” I will tell you right up front that it means much more than we have assumed. In our tradition praying in Jesus’ name refers to a certain formula we add at the end of our prayers. In fact we are so used to hearing “in Jesus’ name, Amen” that we feel uncomfortable if we don’t hear it when someone prays. We mumble to ourselves and wonder if the person is somehow ashamed of Jesus’ name. And we also suspect that the prayer is a bit “illegal” because it doesn’t end the way we think it should.
One part of that insight is absolutely correct. True Christian praying is always “in Jesus’ name.” If we deliberately drop the name of Jesus, then our prayers can hardly be called Christian at all. So there is a sense in which every prayer we pray should always be offered in the name of Jesus.
But that still doesn’t tell us what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” Perhaps the best way to attack that question is to consider first what it doesn’t mean.
I. What it doesn’t mean
I have already hinted at the basic answer. Praying in Jesus’ name means more than simply adding a phrase at the end of your prayers. Here’s a bit of Bible trivia that may surprise you. Go back and read all the prayers of the New Testament. Not a single one ends with the phrase “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Yet surely those prayers were being offered according to the promise of our text. That tells us that this promise deals with much more than saying a few words and then saying Amen.
For many of us “in Jesus’ name, Amen” means that the prayer is almost over and it’s time to eat dinner. Or we think of it as a kind of spiritual “Open Sesame” or “Abracadabra,” as if by saying words we are doing the Christian equivalent of rubbing Aladdin’s lamp. But it’s easy to see the fallacy of that thinking. Suppose that I pray publicly along these lines: “Heavenly Father, I ask you to give me $10 million in small, unmarked bills, in three medium-sized suitcases, and I’d like the money at my front door tomorrow morning. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Now I could pray that way, and I might even be sincere, but we all understand that to pray like that is a misuse of prayer and also a misuse of the name of Jesus.
II. The importance of names in the Bible
It will help us to spend a few moments thinking about the meaning of names in the Bible. In our day names don’t have an intrinsic meaning. You might be Joe or Jack or Mike or Bob or Bill, but those names don’t automatically convey any particular message about who you are. But it was different in Bible times.
First, names in the Bible often represent the character, personality, origin, or destiny of different people. Jacob means cheater, Nabal means fool, and Peter means rock. What about the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Lord means Master, Jesus means Savior, and Christ means the Anointed One sent from God. When you call out to the Lord Jesus Christ, you are declaring that he is your Master, your Savior, and the Anointed One sent from God.
Second, names also represent authority. Perhaps you recall those old crime shows where the police officers knock on a door and say, “Open up in the name of the law.” Why did they say that? Because the officers had no authority in themselves to compel anyone to open the door. But when they knocked “in the name of the law,” they were claiming the full authority of the government of the United States standing behind them and backing them up. We see this principle at work in the great confrontation between David and Goliath. Just before the battle begins, David boldly tells Goliath where his power is coming from: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). David was saying to Goliath, “I’m not impressed by your weapons or by your great size. The Lord God is on my side and he’s about to lay your body down on the ground.” And that’s exactly what happened. David claimed God’s authority on his side, and armed with God plus one smooth stone, he killed the mighty Goliath.
Third, names represent a person’s reputation. We see this clearly in reference to the name of the Lord. The very first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Hallowed be your name.” To “hallow” something is to treat it as being of great worth. You hallow God’s name when you treat it with the respect it deserves.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray based on who he is, with his authority, in order that his reputation might be enhanced in the world.
“Jesus told me to pray this prayer”
Let me illustrate. Suppose that I go to a local bank and ask for $10 million in small, unmarked bills in three medium-size suitcases. After the teller stops laughing, I’ll be quickly shown the door because I don’t have $10 million to my name or anything close to it. Now suppose that I go back with a check made out to Ray Pritchard in the amount of $10 million and signed by Bill Gates, the richest man in the world. Once the bank determines the signature is genuine, I’ll get my money because Bill Gates is a multi-billionaire. He probably gains or loses $10 million a dozen times a day. That’s like pocket change to him. If I go to the bank in my own name, they’ll laugh at me, but if I go in the name of Bill Gates, they will honor the check and give me the money.
Praying in Jesus’ name is like signing his name to your prayers. In a sense you are saying to God, “Jesus told me to pray this prayer.” And what do you think the Father will do with a prayer truly signed by his Son. He’ll grant it, of course, because he always honors what the Son wants.
Let’s turn that truth around for a moment. What do we call the act of fraudulently signing a person’s name? It’s called forgery. Many of our prayers are spiritual forgeries because we are signing Jesus’ name to prayers he has not approved.
III. What it means to pray “In Jesus’ Name”
So what does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus? Here are six answers to that question.
A. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are confessing your faith that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us that we now have confidence (the Greek word means “boldness” or “freedom”) to come into the very presence of God by virtue of the blood of Jesus. By the offering of his own body, he has made a way past the veil into the throne room of God. In the Old Testament a thick curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, which only the High Priest could enter and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. That thick curtain constantly reminded the people that they could not approach God directly but only through a priestly mediator. But now in his death Christ has rent the veil and entered God’s presence. And because we are united with him by faith, wherever he goes, we go with him.
It is precisely in this sense that every Christian prayer is offered in Jesus’ name for it is only by virtue of what Jesus has accomplished that any of us may come into the presence of God. To approach God apart from Jesus Christ is to guarantee that we will be turned away. You may pray in the name of Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, or you may claim that your faith in Mohammed somehow ensures that God will hear you. You may come to God in the name of Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy or any other religious leader you choose to follow. But it will do you no good. The only One who can bring you into God’s presence is the Lord Jesus Christ. “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If you do not come to God through him, you cannot come at all.
With that truth in mind, it might be better to start our prayers by referring to Jesus’ name. The precise formula isn’t crucial, but you could say something like this; “Heavenly Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my Savior. I claim no merit of my own and I acknowledge that I cannot stand in your presence apart from the merits of my Redeemer who shed his blood for me. I claim nothing but the blood of Jesus as the ground for my prayer to you.” By starting a prayer this way, you are establishing up front the fact that it is only by virtue of Jesus Christ that you are able to pray at all.
B. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are acknowledging that his name is the supreme name in the universe.
Philippians 2:9-11 is very clear on this point: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” How important is the name of Jesus? By virtue of his victorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, God has exalted him to the very highest place in the universe. He has the greatest name in the universe. No one can be compared to him. He’s Number One and there is no Number Two. It’s not as if Jesus is at the top of the heap and everyone else is at the bottom. No! He stands alone. He is a category unto himself. His name is the greatest name of all.
C. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are admitting there is no power to answer your prayers in any other name, including your own.
After all, if you could answer your own prayers, why bother praying at all? The whole point of prayer is to admit our total dependence on God. And we come to God in Jesus’ name because “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Here’s a useful experiment that will bring the point home. Sometime this week, during your private prayer time, offer all your requests to God in your own name. That is, pour out your heart for yourself, your loved ones, for your church, your friends, the missionaries you know, and for the hurting people of the world. Then end it like this: “Father, today I offer this prayer in my own name. I do this because my name is a great name and I have the power and authority to do the things I ask. Amen.” Try praying like that just once and see what happens. If you are a Christian, that thumping sound you hear will be your prayers bouncing off the ceiling and back onto your head. True Christians pray in Jesus’ name because there is no power in any other name to answer our prayers.
Dr. Tony Evans, noted pastor, author, and radio speaker from Dallas, was asked to give the opening prayer for the Texas State Legislature in Austin. Before he prayed, he was asked not to mention the name of Jesus because it might offend the non-Christians who were in attendance. Dr. Evans replied that when he prayed to God, he was praying to Jesus and in Jesus’ name because Jesus Christ is indeed God incarnate. He also pointed out that he was about to ask God to do some specific things in the legislature and in the state of Texas. “Who’s gonna answer that prayer if I don’t pray in Jesus’ name? He’s the only One with the power to do what I ask.” Tony Evans was exactly right. If we don’t pray in Jesus’ name, why bother praying at all?
Yesterday I had the unique experience of taking part in a “prayer walk” around the United Center in Chicago. For those who don’t know, the United Center is the huge arena where the Chicago Bulls play basketball and the Chicago Blackhawks play hockey. It’s also the site of many concerts and other gatherings, including the 1996 Democratic convention. We went there to pray that in that great meeting place, the name of Jesus would become as famous as the name of Michael Jordan. You may have seen the sculpture of Michael Jordan that is situated near the north entrance of the United Center. It’s an amazing, awe-inspiring bronze recreation of Michael Jordan dunking the ball over several defenders. As you study it, he seems almost like a Greek god suspended in mid-air. Around the base of the statue, MJ’s many basketball achievements are engraved in stone. As you walk up to the statue, the caption at the bottom reads, simply, “The greatest there ever was. The greatest there ever will be.” The overall feeling is like standing before a religious shrine. But as magnificent as Michael Jordan was, he has already retired from basketball. Who’s to say that someone won’t come along in a few years to shatter the records he set? Human heroes come and go but one Name lives on forever. Ten thousand times ten thousand years from now the greatest name in the universe will still be the name of Jesus Christ.
D. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are submitting your will to his will because he knows what is best.
Just a few hours after he gave this promise recorded in our text, Jesus was agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he prayed three times that the cup of suffering might be removed from him. Three times God said no. Each time the Lord Jesus submitted by saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” If Jesus had to pray this way, how much more do we? Sometimes our prayers are like little children rushing in to see their father. “Daddy, gimme, gimme, gimme!” And we wonder why our prayers seem to have so little effect.
To pray in Jesus’ name means that you submit your will to the will of Christ as Christ submitted his will to his Heavenly Father. After pouring out our hearts to God, we should say, “Lord Jesus, I want what you want.” When we pray that way, we may ask whatever we want, and because we are submissive to God’s will, we may be sure that our prayers will be answered every time. On the other hand, if you are saying, “Lord Jesus, this is what I want and I don’t care what you want,” don’t even bother praying because with that attitude, your prayers aren’t going anywhere.
E. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are asking that God’s reputation be enhanced through the answer to your prayer.
John 14:13 says this very clearly: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” The purpose of all our prayers should be to bring glory to the Father. After all, this is why Jesus came to the earth. That same night Jesus, knowing that his death was less than 24 hours away, prayed this way: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). Jesus came to glorify God in his obedient life, his sacrificial death, and his victorious resurrection. To glorify God means many things, not the least of which is to enhance God’s reputation in the world. When our requests will glorify God, we may be sure that they will be answered. To say this is to say that we should seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that when we do everything else we need will be given to us. When God comes first in our prayers, when we truly want to glorify him, we can rest easy knowing that the “details” of life that often consume us will be taken care of by our Heavenly Father.
F. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you are asking that everything you ask for be consistent with God’s character, God’s will, and God’s Word.
That statement summarizes everything I have said thus far. Romans 10:13 tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Most of us know this verse as the last stop on the “Romans Road” plan of salvation. And indeed, millions of people are going to heaven because they called upon Jesus to save them, and they discovered that the Lord was as good as his word. But this is more than a salvation verse. It is also an invocation and an invitation to truly Christian prayer. Calling on the name of the Lord means asking for that which is consistent with all that Jesus is, all that he says, and all that he wants to accomplish in the world. We can say it this way:
You cannot lie or steal in Jesus’ name
You cannot ask God to bless adultery in Jesus’ name.
You cannot ask God to bless your sin in Jesus’ name.
You cannot swear in Jesus’ name.
You cannot ask God to bless your rage in Jesus’ name.
To make myself clear, you can utter the words “in Jesus’ name” and then add them to any prayer you like, but if your prayer is not consistent with God’s character, God’s will, and God’s Word, you aren’t praying “in Jesus’ name” no matter what words you use.
Let’s come to the bottom line. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with his authority, according to his will, with his approval, consistent with who he is. Since that sounds a bit academic and perhaps is hard to apply, here’s a simpler way to say it: To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray exactly what Jesus would pray in any particular situation. It means praying as if Jesus were praying instead of us. I’m sure you’ve seen those bracelets that say WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? Perhaps we should make some that say WWJP—What Would Jesus Pray? Find the answer to that question and you’ve figured out how to pray “in Jesus’ name.”
What Difference Should it Make?
It’s time to wrap up this sermon. Before we do, let’s think about what this means in a practical sense. To borrow a phrase from the Puritans, what is the “use” to be made of praying in Jesus’ name? If we understand what it really means, this truth should do at least five things for us:
It should fill our prayers with praise. Instead of always praying “gimme” prayers (which are not wrong in themselves), we should focus on praise and thanksgiving to God because through Christ we have access to the throne room of the universe. By grace and grace alone we have been brought into God’s presence. If that doesn’t make us grateful when we pray, we need to go back and think about it some more.
It should drive us back to the Word. After all, where will we learn who Christ is and what he wants to do if not in the written Word of God? Without exception, the greatest pray-ers are always men and women who know the Word of God. Fill your heart with God’s Word and your prayers will soon reflect God’s priorities. This is the true meaning of Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
It should deepen our sense of total dependence on Christ. We pray in Jesus’ name precisely because our own name carries no weight with the Almighty. On our own we stand before God wrapped in the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness. If we come to God that way, our prayers won’t get past the front door of heaven. It is good to remember that apart from God there is nothing good in any of us to commend ourselves to God. Only in Christ do we have any merit—and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God lest anyone should boast.
It should cause us to ask, “Lord, what do you want to do in this situation?” I find this the most personally challenging application. Sometimes (all too often, I fear) I rush into God’s presence as if I have all the answers. I have my list and I want to deliver it quickly and get on with my day. But most human situations are very confusing and we can’t be sure what the Lord wants to do. Here I speak not about praying that a lost person will be saved (see 2 Peter 3:9), but about such things as seeking a new job, buying a new house, making business decisions, and deciding where to go to college. Matters such as these occupy a huge percentage of each day, and if we are honest, we must say that often we simply don’t know what God’s will is. Perhaps we would be better off to ask the Lord to show us what he wants to do. And then pray that his will might be done.
It should cause us to pray more for God’s glory and less for our own gratification. In this we have the Lord’s Prayer as a good model. It contains six petitions. The first three deal with the Father—his name, his kingdom, and his will. The last three deal with our needs—for provision, for pardon, and for protection. It is never wrong to pray for our own needs, but if we follow the Lord’s Prayer, we will begin our prayers with a focus on God and his glory. And that focus will help put our own needs (which are very legitimate) into the proper perspective.
Finally, there is a clear gospel call that should be made. If you need to be saved, I know a name that can save you. If you want to be forgiven, I know a name that can wash away your sins. If you want a new life, I know a name that can give you new life here and now. If you want to go to heaven when you die, I know a name that can give you peace when you sleep tonight, and take you to heaven when you die. That name is the mighty name of Jesus Christ. Call upon his name and you will be saved. Run to the cross. Lay your sins on Jesus. Cry out to him with all your heart. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
There is no name like the name of Jesus. It is the only name that can save us. It is the name that is above every other name. One day all creation will bow down before that great name. And in that name we may bring our requests to God, knowing that whatever we ask in his name, he will do it for us. This is the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.