CHAPTER THREE PRAYER IN JESUS’ NAME Go to home page
Why do we pray as we do? A large number of our words and phrases, and even the content of our prayers, is found in Jewish prayer; Jewish prayer, in turn, repeats phrases and concepts found in the Bible.
For example, Jewish synagogue worship included a series of 18 prayers, called the 18 blessings.1 The first one begins:
You are blessed, Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, God great, powerful, and to be feared, God most high, who fill us with your blessings, sovereign of the universe, who are mindful of the fidelity of the fathers, who send a redeemer to the children of their children out of love for your name, 0 king, helper, savior, and shield.2
This prayer contains two conventions of Jewish prayer. The first phrase, “you are blessed” is an expression of praise. Toward the end is the expression “your name”. The Jews felt it showed respect to God to refer to him indirectly: “out of lovefor your name” means “out of love for you”. Christians have continued to use these Hebrew expressions.
The feeling and content is very similar to the following, a prayer of King David recorded in I Chronicles 29:10ff, where the phrase “you are blessed” is translated correctly as “Praise be to you”, and the reference to God’s name appears at the end:
Praise be to you, 0 Lord, God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, 0 Lord, is the greatness and the power,
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, 0 Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now 0 God we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name .
In this kind of prayer, God is praised by making a long list of His characteristics and accomplishments. The Psalms also are a good example of this kind of praying, and Jewish prayer contains many of the same images found in the Psalms, such as the titles “king, helper, savior, and shield” found in the first prayer quoted above. As in the Psalms, Jewish prayer emphasizesGod’s power shown in creation, and the relationship with God shown in God taking his people out of Egypt and making a covenantwith them, which is the basis for the belief that He will certainly continue to save them, as where the first prayer quoted above mentions the fact that as the fathers are faithful (that is, to the covenant), God indeed will send a redeemer to their descendants.
Creation is mentioned in the following prayer from the synagogue service:
You are blessed, Lord our God, king of the universe, you who form the light and create the darkness, who shed the light of your mercy upon the earth and those who dwell on it; who, out of goodness, constantly renew every day the works of your creation.3
The prayer of the apostles recorded in Acts 24ff is framed
in a similar way: “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the
earth and the sea, and everything in them.”
Christian prayer during holy communion are very similar to
these Jewish prayers. One communion prayer in Lutheran Worship
Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father, endless is your mercy and eternal your reign. You have filled all creation with light and life; heaven and earth are full of your glory. Through Abraham you promised to bless all nations. You rescued Israel, your chosen people.”4
Christian prayers could then add the details of how God honored his covenant and brought about ultimate salvation though Jesus. This communion prayer continues: “Through the prophets you renewed your promise; and at the end of all the ages, you sent your Son…”
The prayer then continues on to give the words of institution.
The holy communion prayers also traditionally include the Lord’s prayer. Christ’s identification of God as “Father” can already be found in Jewish prayer (an example will be quoted below). Even so, one can imagine how the disciple’s appreciation of that phrase was enhanced as they heard Jesus say after he had completed the work of salvation, “I am returning to my Father and your Father” (John 20:17). Other phrases used by Jesus in the Lord’s prayer are also familiar from the Old Testament and synagogue prayer. For example, note how the first two petitions of the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be thy name” and “Thy kingdom come” are found in the following quote, which is part of the prayer that concluded the synagogue service:
May his great Name be magnified and sanctified in the world that he created according to his good pleasure. May he make his reign prevail during your life and during your days…”5
And the traditional conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…) is similar to the phrases in David’s prayer quoted above.
OTHER TOPICS IN THE PRAYERS
The eighteen synagogue prayers included a prayer for forgiveness:
Forgive us, 0 Father, for we have sinned. Pardon us, for we have committed violations. Blessed be you,. Lord, who pardon and multiply forgiveness. ^
Notice the similarity to the Psalms: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sins are covered.” (Psalm 32:1); “Have mercy on me, 0 God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.
Christians continue to pray for forgiveness, but with the added assurance that forgiveness is certain for believers because* of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I John 2:1-2 explains that “…if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense——Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.” Therefore I John 1:9 can assure us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In “the Lutheran Hymnal ‘s opening “confession of sins” portion, Psalm 32:5 is quoted: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Then the people pray together:
0 most merciful God, who hast given Thine only-begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins. . . ”
The synagogue’s series of eighteen prayers also include petitions and intercessions, most of which are still prayed by Christians, such as for knowledge and understanding (prayer 4), conversion (5), redemption (6), healing (7), harvest (8), peace, happiness, and blessing (conclusion).
The early Christian worship services included intercessory prayer, in the second half of the service, after the visitors were asked to leave. Prayer was used at three other places in early Christian services: at communion, just before reading God’s Word, and at the end of the service.
IN JESUS’ NAME
Knowing that God’s covenant promises had now been fulfilled and salvation accomplished though the work of Jesus, Christianity’s uniqueaddition to Jewish prayer was the idea of praying “through Jesus”, as reflected in the common phrase used to end Christian prayers: “in Jesus’ name we pray”.
Christians knew that direct access to God, without the need of an earthly priest as mediator, was signified by the fact that the temple curtain was torn in two when Jesus died, removing the barrier to the Most Holy place, which represented direct access to God, as explained in Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and] living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…
Coming to God “through Jesus” was explicitly taught by Jesus, as in John 16:23-24:
I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive…
Praying “in Jesus name” means we acknowledge that it is only because of Jesus that we have the kind of relationship with theFather that would even permit us to pray to him. It means we admit we personally do not deserve to receive the request we ask, but that Jesus deserves it for us. A secular analogy is the phrase; “in the name of the law”, which might be used by a traffic policemanas he tells a huge truck to stop. He knows that he is not able to physically stop the truck, but in using this phrase he means the truck driver to know that not stopping will cause the entire power of the legal system to come to bear. When I pray “in Jesus name”, I believe the entire power of God is available to help me, because Jesus has made me a member of God’s family.
Finally, the use of Amen as a response at the end of a prayer is a Jewish custom, and the word itself is a Hebrew word. Its significance is explained well in this quote from a second-century Christian document:
When the prayers and eucharist are finished, all the people present give their assent with an “Amen”. “Amen” in Hebrew means “So be it”.8
We show that we understand the significance of the term “Amen” when we allow the listeners to speak it as a response to prayer, rather than the all too common custom of having the person who prays tack it on at the end himself, which makes us feel more like the meaning is, “the end” rather than “Yes, I agree.”
Prayer in Christian worship is a carry-over from synagogue prayer, itself couched in Biblical concepts and phrases. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, these prayers are filled with meaning and assurance for me.
1. Deiss (op. cit. p. 9) states that the first three and the last three of the eighteen go back to the pre-Christian period, and that the prayer must have acquired its definitive structure (though not necessarily final text) by 90 A.D.
2. Quoted in Deiss, op. cit., p. 10.
3. Quoted in Deiss, op. cit., p. 15. This prayer, called the Birkat Yotser, preceded the Jewish profession of faith. It goes on to quote the angels’ song from Isaiah 6:3, and Deiss states that this prayer may have served as a model for the Christian communion prayers, which also begin with a blessing of God the Creator and lead to the singing of Isaiah 6:3.
4. Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978) p. 69-
5. Quoted in Deiss, op. cit., p. 17. Deiss states that this prayer must
have been familiar to Jesus from his childhood, and Diess feels that the
first two petitions “inspired the first two petitions of the Lord’s
6. Quoted in Deiss, op. cit., p. 13.
7. The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia, 1941) pp. 5 & 6.
8. Justin Martyr, Apologia I, 65. Quoted in Deiss, op. cit., p. 92