Recently, I was reading about the importance of giving your children good names. It reminded me of a list I’d seen of some bad names had by some characters in history:
Charles the Simple, Son of Louis the Stammerer. So called for his policy of making concessions to the Norse invaders rather than fighting.
Louis the Sluggard, noted for his self-indulgence, he ruled from 986 to 987 over the Franks.
Ethelred the unready (968-1016) so called because of his inability to repel the Danish invasion of England. At first he paid tribute to the Danes, but their raids continued and he was forced to abandon England for Normandy in 1013. Those who are more generous call him Ethelred the ill-advised.
Louis the Fat, like his father, was obese. At the age of 47 because of his extreme corpulence, he was unable to mount his horse.[i]
Proverbs 22:1 reminds us that a good name is better than great riches. Members of prominent local families would probably agree. The family reputation, especially in small communities, is all-important. If a family member behaves in an unseemly manner, then it’s likely that others who bear that same name could be seen in the same light. This could have social, and even financial consequences. Nobody wants to hire the siblings of Ursula the Untrustworthy, or children of Larry the Lazy. Of course, if the community knows you as Willy the Wealthy or Jennifer the Generous, that reputation extends to your family as well.
In light of this, it seems strange that God told Mary and Joseph to name God’s Son Jesus (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). Jesus was one of the more common Hebrew names at the time. In fact, there are several Bible characters named either Jesus or Joshua (both of which are Y’shua in Hebrew). So to be named Jesus in that John was like being named John Jones in this culture. Why such a nondescript name? Maybe God wanted His son to be Everyman—to be common in order to identify with all humanity. But the name of Jesus is significant. It means Salvation, or A Saving Cry. When we need salvation, we have only to cry to Jesus, and He will surely save!
In John 16:33-34[ii], Jesus says something very special about praying in His name. “At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” Even when He said this, Jesus knew that this figure of speech was difficult to understand, so He explained it. “Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God (vv. 26-27).” In other words, Jesus was saying that the Father hears and answers our prayers because of the idenitity we carry as bearers of the name of Jesus. This is something that’s easily misunderstood, so we need to examine it further.
Many of the Christians I grew up around insisted that when you pray, you MUST tack on the phrase, “In Jesus’ name” at the end of every prayer. Maybe it was just a habit, but it seemed to me (and to many) that this was a magical phrase you needed to use if you wanted to get what you were praying for. Praying “in Jesus’ name” was the key that unlocked the heavenly treasure chest. Without that key, your prayers just weren’t effective. Is this what Jesus meant by praying in His name? Certainly not—but to many believers (including myself) it still seems a bit odd to end a prayer with simply “amen.”
Something else I was told was that by adding this expression onto my prayers, I was invoking the authority of Jesus. So, many of the Christians I knew believed that this name was a weapon to use against the enemy, or a badge to flash like a police officer ordering people. “When you pray in Jesus’ name,” they claimed, “you are commanding things to happen in the spiritual realm.” But if this were true, then by throwing around the name of Jesus, you’d be manipulating God, who cannot be controlled by us or any force in the universe.
Now, this isn’t to say that Jesus’ name isn’t powerful. Philippians 2:9-11 says, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 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.” But as powerful as Jesus’ name is—as effective as it is for breaking chains and bringing down spiritual strongholds—praying in Jesus’ name means something more.
For just a moment, I want you to think about every single person with whom you have a close, personal relationship. What’s the one thing all these relationships have in common? You know each other by name. Coming together in Jesus’ name, or praying in Jesus’ name, may involve authority, but it’s not commanding. It may involve getting what you’re praying for, but it’s not about putting in your order with God. Gathering and praying in Jesus’ name is about knowing Him personally, taking the name of Jesus the way a wife takes the name of her husband, being called by Jesus’ name, and belonging to God. If you are a Christian, then you are a Christ-one. You bear the name of Christ because He lives inside you. Just as Jesus is one with the Father, you are one with Jesus, and you bear His name. It’s in this kind of intimacy that you approach the Father in prayer—and God will give you what His perfect wisdom knows you need.
In Isaiah 43:1b-3a, we learn that just as we call Jesus by name, God calls us by name as well.
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
This is the greatest thing about the name of Jesus—it’s our name too. God has called us by the name of Jesus, declaring His righteousness even when we were not. And so we belong to God. Praying in Jesus’ name means remembering that He never leaves nor forsakes us—and that wherever we go, God is there. He is our God, the Holy one of Israel. He is Jesus, our Savior. As believers we are so glad to be bearers of His name!
[i] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/n/name_disparaging.htm. August 17, 2017.
[ii] Scripture quotations are taken from the NLT.