I remember a rather heated discussion I had with a dear sister in the Lord a few years ago. She had come from a Pentecostal background, and quite frankly took it to further extremes than most Pentecostals I’ve known. She and I got into a major disagreement about the “power in the name of Jesus.” I tried to steer her back to some clarity in what that term means: “Strictly speaking, there is no power 'in the name of Jesus.' The power is not in the letters that form J-E-S-U-S, but in the Person behind that name. There are people in the world who don’t pronounce it that way. They might call him 'Yeshua' (the way he was originally called) or 'Yesu' or any other way of pronouncing it. It’s not like those letters formed to pronounce 'Jee-zus' have special power on their own like a magical incantation.”
Boy, you’d have thought I'd said that I was in league with the Devil himself. She went off on me and angrily argued that there IS power in the name of Jesus, that if we pray in that Name that our prayers have more effect, if we preach in that Name that our sermons will change lives, and especially if we ask for healing or miracles in that Name then God is pretty much obligated to do what we request.
I couldn’t fault her passion or her purposes, but I had to disagree with her way of thinking. It took me a while to figure out where we parted ways, and I believe I figured it out: She was using the term “name” the same way we tend to use it and not how the Bible tends to. When you hear the word “name,” you first think in terms of its literal use—“My name is Keith.” But there are others uses, and the Bible’s meaning is a lot broader than its literal one. It might mean "reputation," like talking about someone's "good name." Or, and I believe this is the case here, it might refer to “authority” or “for the sake of.” This even bleeds over into English: When a press secretary stands in front of reporters and speaks on behalf of the President, he's speaking in the “name” of the President. He’s speaking as his representative, and in his interests, and on his authority.
That’s what we mean when we pray “in the name of Jesus.” It’s a lot more than simply tacking the name “Jesus” on the end of your prayers right before you say “amen.” It means you are invoking the authority of the Second Person of the Trinity. You're (supposedly) asking God to act in his (Jesus’) interests. You’re supposedly praying for things which Jesus would want. You’re supposedly praying for things which glorify the Person of Jesus. You’re asking for the Second Person to speak on behalf of your prayer before the Father.
What does that have to do with today’s story? Everything, because quite frankly they were making the same mistake my dear sister was making. They thought they could just tack on the literal “name of Jesus” at the end of an exorcism like a magical word. They learned the hard way just how bad their idea was. My friends, please don’t let anyone tell you that bad theology doesn’t matter. It can hurt and kill.
So what am I trying to see happen here? First and foremost, I want us to have a deeper understanding of what it means to pray “in the name of Jesus.” Do you feel confident asking your Savior to vouch for that prayer? Do you feel confident asking him to lend his authority to what you’re asking? Are you confident that it will glorify your Lord?
The other response I want to invoke is awe. The Savior has lent his “name” to us. He invites us to come into the presence of the Father under his umbrella of grace and in his authority. He's our representative in Heaven just as much as we are his on earth. If that doesn’t strike a holy and godly fear within you, I don’t know what will.
Lord Jesus, may I NEVER get over this. May I never take it for granted. May I never lose the awe of what this means. And please take my weak, self-centered, faithless prayers and turn them into something beautiful, as only you can.