In Jesus’ Name

April 24, 2015

In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?

The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.

What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*

Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.

As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.

What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713

When Is a Foot not a Foot?

April 16, 2015

My wife made an unusual discovery during a sewing project. Her tape measure was off ¼ inch per foot. Since her project involved cloth that was to be over 100 inches long and was to fit something measured with an accurate tape measure, the project would have been ruined if she hadn’t discovered the problem. She did the only sensible thing she could. She threw away the tape measure and used a more accurate rule.

Her tape measure was an expression of an ideal. A standard for one foot actually exists. When a particular tape measure doesn’t measure up to that standard, it is time to get a more accurate tape measure.

This experience in real life has a spiritual application. The questions for each of us go something like this. If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you want to know? If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you be willing to change?

The Bible gives us examples of people who are confronted with these questions. In Acts 26, Paul is making his defense before King Agrippa, but Paul places Agrippa on the defense by sharing the good news about Jesus. Paul asserts that Agrippa is a believer in the prophets. Most understand Agrippa’s question as a deflection: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28, ESV) The audience with Agrippa is over. Agrippa apparently doesn’t want to know.

Paul’s experience in Berea was different. When Paul preached in that city’s synagogue, Luke records this about the Bereans. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV).

What happens when the ideas we have for faith and daily living don’t measure up to God’s word? I suspect it is much easier to throw away tangible tape measures, but it is more important to conform to the word of God even if it is harder to do. So the questions remain for each of us. If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to know? If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to change?

Deny or Confess?

April 9, 2015

When Jesus warns that the disciples are going to fall away, Peter confidently asserts, “I will not.” He believes he is ready to follow Jesus to prison or to death. But he is further warned “before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

Peter strikes the first blow in defense of Jesus at the arrest, but Jesus commands him to put away his sword. Still, Peter follows at a distance and enters into the courtyard of the high priest.

I don’t know how Peter imaged his bravery in the face of arrest or death, but reality finds his first denial of Jesus at the challenge of a slave woman: “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” It is not much of an accusation. It is guilt by association, but Peter denies: “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” Peter begins his physical retreat. He moves from the courtyard to the gateway (or forecourt).

The second encounter is a bit more challenging. Again, the accuser is a slave woman, but this time, she also speaks to the bystanders: “This man is one of them.” Again, Peter denies. The risk is greater with bystanders now involved. If an officer in charge finds out, an arrest might follow.

Finally, the bystanders make the accusation: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” It would appear that his Galilean accent betrays him as not being local. The Babylonian Talmud (b.’Erub. 53b.) has a section that makes fun of the Galilean accent:

A certain Galilean went around saying to them, “Who has amar” [which can be pronounced so as to yield wool, with an ayin, a lamb, with an alef, an ass, with a het, or wine, with a het but a different accent].

They said to him, “Idiot Galilean, do you mean an ass for riding, wine to drink, wool for clothes, or a lamb to kill?”*

The danger threat is greatest now, and Peter’s response is with curses and an oath. The object of the curses in Greek is unspecified, but likely they are on himself, if his oath is not true. The rooster crows the second time, and Peter breaks down and weeps.

Why are we told this account? Christians will always face situations where we will face the temptation to deny or confess Jesus. Peter’s story is a warning example. It is also an encouragement for us to follow Peter in moving from failures to faith. Will you deny or confess?

*Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 261.