Why pray in Jesus’ name?

One good reason for praying in Jesus’ name is John 14:13 when Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” But why did he say “ask in my name,” rather than “I’ll do whatever you ask of me”?

Because Jesus was a Jew, and in the Hebrew culture a person was defined by his name. It revealed his character, for instance (like Jacob the “heel grabber”). God also changed people’s names to describe his purpose for them (like changing Abram to Abraham), so when John says in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” that name for Jesus jumps out as highly significant too, and especially when it’s tied in with “the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (verse 14).

The Father guarantees his instant and intimate attention when we believe in the name “Son of God” for Jesus. But why that name in particular? What does it mean?

To the Jews in Jesus’ day it meant the Messiah (Luke 4:41), the Anointed One (or Christ) that their scriptures predicted would rescue and restore them as a nation, bring them back into close relationship with him, and establish his worldwide kingdom through them. The name “Messiah,” therefore, was all the assurance the Jews needed that God had heard their prayers for deliverance and he would come through as promised. What kept them hanging on and trusting God was that name “Son of God” and what it meant.

But it meant a great deal more when God announced Jesus as “my Son, whom I love” (Mark 1:11). Suddenly the name “Son of God” meant Jesus was literally God’s Son, that God was a Father/Son relationship – and what’s more, that “The Father loves the Son” so much he “has placed everything in his hands,” John 3:35.

The name “Son of God” now stood for the Father’s total trust in his beloved Son to fulfill his purpose for humanity. And when we believe that, that our lives are utterly safe in Jesus’ hands, the Father loves us for it. “He who loves me,” Jesus said in John 14:21, “will be loved by my Father.” The Father loves us for trusting his Son. We can be absolutely assured, then, that when we approach the Father with that meaning of the “Son of God” in mind, the Father hears our prayers and he’ll come through as promised for us too.

So just like the Jews in Jesus’ day we too hang in there, knowing God hears our prayers, because of that name “Son of God” and what it means.

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Can we heal people today like Jesus did?

Christ healed people. His disciples healed people. He “appointed seventy two others” to heal people. And everybody who asked Jesus for healing was healed. Healing was huge in Jesus’ day. So why aren’t people being healed like that today?

Is it because all that healing Jesus and his disciples did was a sign meant only for Israel and the Jews back then? In Matthew 10:8, for instance, when Jesus told his disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons,” the context in verse 6 was “the lost sheep of Israel.” It was meant for them. And in Luke 10:1 when Jesus appointed the seventy two to heal the sick, he was sending them specifically “to every town and place where he (Jesus) was about to go,” all of which were Jewish (Matthew 10:5-6). And the reason Jesus sent the seventy two to heal their fellow Jews was to prove “The kingdom of God is near you,” Luke 10:9, a clear message for the Jews that the promised restoration of Israel was coming through Jesus, the proof of which was his power to forgive sins, which he demonstrated by healing, like the healing of the paralytic man in Mark 2:10-11.

The miracles of healing in the Gospels were meant for the Jews, to confirm and demonstrate that their time of deliverance and salvation had arrived in the person of Jesus, stated very clearly by Peter in Acts 2:22 – “Men of Israel, 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.” The miracles Jesus and his disciples did were purely a sign for their fellow Jews.

But isn’t Mark 16:15 a command from Jesus to his disciples to “Go into all the world” and “place their hands on sick people, and they will be made well,” verse 18?

Yes, and that’s exactly what the apostles did next in the book of Acts. But there are only two examples of healing in the entire book of Acts, the first in Acts 3 and the second in Acts 5:12, when “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” – but note who those people were: They were large crowds of Jews “from the towns around Jerusalem” who were “bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits” to the apostles, verse 16, “and all of them were healed.”

It was still Jews being healed. Why? To confirm to the Jews yet again that Jesus had come to deliver them (Acts 3:20). It explains why we cannot heal people today like Jesus did; it’s because healing back then had a purpose that doesn’t exist today.

Does using Jesus’ name guarantee a miracle?

“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” was the excited cry in Luke 10:17. Even a man who wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples was “driving out demons” using Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38). Suddenly, the use of Jesus’ name carried real power and authority. Say “Out” to a demon in Jesus’ name and out it went. It was like a magic mantra that guaranteed a miraculous answer. It really worked.

Is that how it works today too, then? Can Christians today get the same miraculous results from using Jesus’ name? Can we now heal people and drive out demons in a huge way, just as Jesus’ first disciples did? Did Jesus pass on the same power and authority his own disciples had over demons and sickness to all his disciples in all ages? Does using Jesus’ name in a prayer still guarantee a miraculous answer?

Well, it may produce a miraculous answer, but is that what using his name is for? I ask that, because in a shocking story Jesus told in Matthew 7:22-23 he totally dismissed people who used his name successfully to “drive out demons and perform many miracles” as “evildoers.” So here were people getting real results and real miracles from the use of Jesus’ name, but they also dared to assume that magic tricks in his name was their ticket to the kingdom of heaven (verse 21). It wasn’t; it was doing “the will of my Father,” Jesus said in verse 20, and the will of the Father was belief in his Son. That was the only result the Father was after, and that’s why he gave power to do miracles in Jesus’ name, to prove to the Jews in the first century that Jesus really was the Messiah he’d sent to rescue and restore Israel (Acts 2:22), so that thousands of them would be the first to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (Acts 3:19-20, 26), which is exactly what happened at the beginning of the book of Acts.

There’s also the story of the Jews in Acts 19:13, who “tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed.” They too viewed the use of Jesus’ name merely as a magic mantra to get a miracle to happen. It backfired horribly, though, when a man with an evil spirit beat them up (verse 16). From that point on “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour” (verse 17), the result being: “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (verse 18). The clear fruit of Jesus’ name being properly used and respected wasn’t driving out demons and other great miracles, it was repentance.

The power of Jesus’ name

Jesus was the Son of God. Proof? The power of his name.

We see it first in Acts 3:6 when Peter says “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” and a 40 year old man crippled from birth leaps up the temple steps like a youngster. Peter then yells to the crowd, “It’s the power of Jesus’ name that healed this man,” verse 16, and he says it again in 4:10, “it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that this man stands before you completely healed.” And then Peter drops this little stick of dynamite for the world ever since to contemplate: “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” verse 12.

No other religious leader or god has the power to save like Jesus does. But why is that important? Why do we need “saving” in the first place? “Saved” from what, pray tell? What’s “being saved” mean, for Pete’s sake? Well Pete himself answers in Acts 2:40, when he pleads with the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” or as The Message phrases it, “get out of this sick and stupid culture.”

Corrupt, sick and stupid? Us? Yes, of course us. Our culture is riddled with war, discrimination, one-upmanship, image-building, bullying, cheating, fraud, loveless sex, addictions, loneliness, phobias of all kinds, anger, hatred, cruelty, exploitation of children, cutthroat competition, incompetence, divided homes, magic-show religion and corrupt politicians. We’re hooked on money, security, ambition, rivalry and personal advantage. We’re forever inventing new perversions and new ways of ripping people off, never thinking for a minute that one day we die and then what happens? But we scoff at God and what he thinks. Oh, we need saving all right – saving from death, evil, demons, idols, fraudulent religions and our endlessly destructive human passions.

And there’s only one name by which we’re saved from that lot. Proof? What’s happened to people ever since that name was first used. Speak the name of Christ and people all over the world, century after century, are freed from their fear of death, from jealousy, murderous hatred, sexual perversion, war lust and their idiotic worship of empty gods. Only one name has been used successfully in the fight against our sick, stupid culture. Only one name has proved its power to lift people above this mess into new, healthy living, free of all fear and worry. Just one name has done it, single-handedly taking on all the gods and idols of our culture and rescuing people in their millions from them. Just one.

And let the world prove otherwise if it can.

“This kind can come out only by prayer”

Suddenly, the disciples couldn’t drive out a demon. They’d driven out many demons so far (Mark 6:13), but here was a child in Mark 9:17 “possessed by a spirit” and the disciples couldn’t drive the spirit out (verse 18).

They asked Jesus later, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” and Jesus replies in verse 29, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Well, he’d never said that before. Up to this point he’d given them “authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7), so they’d simply commanded an evil spirit to leave a person, and it left, no prayer needed. The disciples “drove out many demons” by that method (Mark 6:13), so was this boy’s demon some sort of super demon, and only prayer could drive “this kind” out?

The central issue in this episode, however, isn’t a super demon, it’s verse 19, when Jesus cries out, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” That was the problem here. It was the unbelieving state of the entire Jewish nation at the time, pictured by the large crowd, including the “teachers of the law,” flaying the disciples alive for failing to cast out the demon (verse 14). This entire episode, therefore, had been deliberately orchestrated by God to show how pathetic the Jews’ faith was.

Jesus was especially upset at the boy’s father too, when the father said “IF you can do anything” to Jesus in verse 22. What do you mean “IF you can?” Jesus replies, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” And that’s what this incident highlighted – that the Jews, at heart, still didn’t believe in Jesus. Oh, they’d thrilled at the amazing miracles he and his disciples had done, but just one failed healing and out the window all their belief in him went. It showed just how shallow their belief in him really was.

On this one occasion, then, there wasn’t a healing – to face the Jews with themselves. And that’s where “This kind can come out only by prayer” comes in, because prayer to a Jew was (and still is) about taking a good, hard, honest look at the state of one’s own head and heart, which is exactly what that entire “unbelieving generation” of Jews needed to do – including the disciples, because they had no answer either for why the demon hadn’t left.

The answer was simple: It was unwavering belief that in Jesus everything was possible, and for the disciples to check themselves in prayer to see if that’s really what they believed too, because that was the only way “This kind” – or any kind – of demonic possession in their day could be successfully dealt with.

“Make every effort to enter God’s rest”

How can entering a rest involve effort? It seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet that’s what Hebrews 4:11 says, and verse 10 seems to support that contradiction too, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” So in verse 10 it says we don’t need to do any work to enter God’s rest, but in verse 11 it says we make every possible effort we can to enter God’s rest. Two complete opposites, it seems – and in adjacent verses. It’s a dilemma.

For some Christians the answer to the dilemma is simple: Verse 10 means we set apart a Sabbath Day to rest on every week, and verse 11 means we make absolutely sure we set it apart every week. “God rested from all his work” on the 7th day, Hebrews 4:4, therefore we’d better make every effort to rest on the seventh day too.

But verse 3 says, “Now we who have believed enter that rest,” meaning we enter God’s rest by faith, not by keeping a Sabbath Day holy every week. Belief, or trust, is the key to entering God’s rest, as we discover from Israel’s sad story in the wilderness in Hebrews 3:7-12. God showed the Israelites again and again that he would take care of all their needs, and all he asked of them in return was their trust, because when they trusted him they would enter his rest, the same rest he entered on the 7th day of creation. But the Israelites could never bring themselves to fully trust God, so they didn’t enter his 7th day rest (verse 19).

It’s now our turn to enter that rest. How? By the same means, by believing God has everything sorted out and he will take care of us: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first,” Hebrews 3:14, and Hebrews 4:14, “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess,” and verse 16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.”

But under trial it’s not so easy to believe God has everything sorted out, is it? The Israelites buckled in their “time of testing” (Hebrews 3:8), and they turned their hearts against him (verse 12). I can see, then, why the author of Hebrews told us to “hold firmly,” because under trial it requires considerable mental effort on our part to not get shaky and not give up on God. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest,” because trusting God – enough to keep on trusting him “to help us in our time of need” (4:16) – does take effort, real mental effort.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God”

The “Sabbath-rest” of Hebrews 4:9 has been interpreted by Christians in two ways – either as a Sabbath Day to be kept holy every week, or as the future rest promised to Christians at Christ’s return. “There remains a Sabbath-rest,” then, is interpreted as either a Sabbath-rest remains in force today – OR a Sabbath-rest remains in waiting for the time Christ returns.

The Greek word “Sabbatismos” (for Sabbath-rest) in that verse handily takes both interpretations into account. It’s a cleverly coined word, not used anywhere else in the New Testament, that brilliantly lumps ALL meanings of the Sabbath in Scripture together – the Sabbath-rest that God began on the 7th day of creation, the Sabbath-rest God commanded Israel to keep, the Sabbath-rest Israel experienced in the land of Canaan under Joshua, the Sabbath-rest Israel could have entered permanently, the Sabbath-rest available to Christians today, and the Sabbath-rest awaiting all creation at Christ’s return that continues for eternity, all of which are included or implied in the context of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 as well.

And the reason the author of Hebrews includes all Sabbath-rests in Hebrews 3 and 4 (and in the word “sabbatismos”) is because entering God’s Sabbath-rest – no matter which Sabbath-rest Scripture is talking about – is what the gospel is all about, and all Sabbath-rests are entered by faith. All Sabbath rests – past, present and future, Old or New Covenant – are entered by the same means, by trust in the living God for all our needs, and that’s what the author wants to get across in these verses.

He shows how Israel didn’t trust God because of their “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” Hebrews 3:12, the result being, “they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief,” verse 19. Israel could have entered God’s rest, but they didn’t trust God in their time of testing in the desert (verse 8). But “we who have believed enter that rest,” Hebrews 4:3. It’s a simple formula: God’s great Sabbath-rest, that began on the 7th day of creation, can be entered by anybody at any time for simply trusting God in their time of need (or testing) rather than turning away from him.

The author’s conclusion is very simple: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God,” meaning the Sabbath-rest is still our goal as Christians, and so is how we enter it, by trust, or as Hebrews 4:16 says, by knowing and believing we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Any time we do that we enter God’s Sabbath-rest, and that remains true for everyone in any age.