July 24, 2007

In Jesus’ Name

He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. -- Hebrews 7:24-25

Do your pastor a small favor, if you will: Pay attention to the way you finish your prayers, both in private and in public. Make certain you always say, "In Jesus' name I pray … Amen." This is your blessed boilerplate, and none other. Over my years in pastoral ministry, I've heard a variety of anodyne endings to prayers offered by Christians: "In Thy name we pray …" or "in your name I pray …" or even just a plain but blunt "Amen,"
thereby avoiding this whole confusing "name" business entirely. But I want to assert that anything short of Jesus' name undercuts the very promise that invites us to pray.

Now, please don't think me merely persnickety. This is not the same sort of advice as "never wear white after Labor Day" or "always clean up a lawn mower after you borrow it." Saying "in Jesus' name I pray" is not so much a matter of intoning the proper magic words as it is a regular celebration of the heart of the gospel. After all, in the logic of the book of Hebrews, that we believers can pray at all is solely because of Jesus who has opened up the channel. This would be the children's sermon: If God is on the other end of the line, then Jesus is our phone.

Hebrews assumes that between a holy God and persistent sinners there must be some sort of intermediary, someone to speak for those who cannot themselves approach such righteous God (Hebrews 5:1-4). In the old days, that meant a continual rotation of less-than-perfect high priests whose vocation was to pray on behalf of those who came to offer their worship to God. No priest = no access.

If this last part sounds a little extreme, that's just proof you are a Protestant. The Reformation recovered the promise of Hebrews 7, that there is now, once and for all, only one great high priest. Furthermore, while his feet are made of the same clay as ours, his do not walk in paths of continual folly. As such, he is our permanent priest, one who continually makes intercession for those who approach God in faith, hope, and love. "In your name we pray" is surely in the ballpark for Christians, but its imprecision obscures the fundamental promise of Hebrews. Through Jesus' name, there is life-giving access to the God whose mercies are unending.

Don't ask me to explain the mechanics of this intercession. I cannot. It is as beautiful a promise as it is deeply mysterious: Imagine the risen Son, alive in God's three-in-one life, whispering into the Father's ear what it is like to be, well … us. He echoes our prayers because he himself has lived them with us (Hebrews 4:14-16). When he speaks, all of God listens.

So when after our prayers we say "in Jesus' name we pray," it is much more than just a proper religious suffix. We are claiming one of the richest promises of the New Testament: God's beloved Christ, granting us access to the Father's own ear. By themselves, my prayers are surely too anemic to puncture the hidden heavens (Psalm 89:46). Who am I to get God's busy attention? But alas, I do not pray in my own stead, I pray through one who has loaned me—loaned us all!—his heavenly name. And his is a name that gets God's attention.

Beloved, let us speak with the precision so graciously afforded to us; let us always borrow that name that grants us a hearing in God's triune life; let us always makes our prayers in Jesus' permanent name.