Power is one of the driving forces in the heart of humans. Most of us would like to have a little more control over our environment, a little more influence over others, and a greater sense of independence. All of these would be possible if we had more power. I knew that sooner or later as we worked our way through this series we’d get to the issue of the power of the name of Jesus, and today’s the day.
In an earlier program, we talked about what it means to ask in Jesus’ name. Let me review it quickly here because it is necessary to understand the access to spiritual power that we’re going to be thinking about today. To ask God to do something in the name of Jesus is to submit ourselves to God’s will, asking Him to do what He wants to do in the situation to glorify Himself, first of all, and to bless others, as a consequence of His intervention. It is not using the name of Jesus as a means to channel God’s power to do our will. Understanding this is crucially important.
That said, approaching God with requests in Jesus’ name is the key to spiritual power. John’s gospel has the most promises related to that, so we’ll look at them.
John 14:13-14 “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
In John 16:23-27 Jesus talked to his disciples about the soon-coming time when He would no longer be with them, saying “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”
In all three of these passages, Jesus used the word “whatever” in describing what the disciples might ask for in His name. This has led some people to assume that to mean that Jesus was switching places with the disciples, putting them in the place of giving direction and, Himself, taking on the role of the granter of their wishes. If that were really true, I suspect a lot more people would sign up to be Christians. Imagine having all the power of God at your disposal to get your way and the things you want to make your life perfect as you conceive that to be!
There’s a little logic problem here, along with the fact that it’s simply not the way things are. If every individual Christian had the power to order reality according to his or her personal whim, the result would be chaos. Picture two people who wanted incompatible outcomes. If each had all the power of God to accomplish his or her purposes, God would be divided. Remember that even Christians still have a sinful nature which, while no longer in sole control, still exerts a powerful influence on us. If I could have anything I wanted, there is no doubt that some of those things would be chosen on the basis of pure selfishness, perhaps greed, and who knows what other sins. I suspect the same is true for you.
God puts spiritual power in the hands of His people to do His will. That way God is never divided. There is no conflict. His will gets done and we get to be used by Him in accomplishing it. This should not be difficult to grasp and accept. We do it all the time. Picture a situation where you want to throw a birthday party and you get some people to help you. You give each one some money and decision-making power, one to buy a gift, another to make a cake, and a couple more to decorate the room. They have control of your resources, but they are to use it to accomplish your goal. You don’t want the one with the money for the gift to buy something for her boyfriend, or the one who is to make the cake to make ice-cream sundaes for her family, or the decorators to shift their attention to your front yard and do some landscaping. No! You expect your friends to submit to your intentions and purposes. They may have some latitude, but yours are the goals which must be met.
Similarly, God gives us spiritual authority to accomplish His will. The tricky part is that we don’t always know specifically what that is. We know generally what it is from reading the Bible, but everything is not as simple as we’d like to think. Consider the case of Lazarus in the Bible. Jesus intentionally allowed his dear friend’s illness to deteriorate until he died, before taking action. His disciples, and Lazarus’s sisters saw no sense in this. “Why let things get worse, before acting,” they thought. But Jesus’ purpose was greater than simply the good health of His friend. His followers didn’t understand God’s intentions in the situation. We often don’t demonstrate any greater insight.
Most of us hate suffering and assume that all of it is bad, of no benefit, and to be avoided. Yet God often accomplishes great things through suffering in this broken world. We are confident that one day, in His presence, there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, or pain and He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Yet in the meantime, He often uses negative things to produce positive results, like teaching us patience, endurance, grace, mercy and how to comfort others.
When we’re faced with difficult and distressing situations it’s better to focus on asking God to glorify Himself through your response to your troubles, than simply asking that the circumstances change. That’s because we know God wants to glorify Himself and we don’t know how He wants to do that, by giving you grace in the midst of your problems, or delivering you from them, or perhaps in some other way that hasn’t occurred to anyone yet.
Now, I want to move on to a couple of passages which seem to teach quite different things. We’ll look at some verses in Matthew 7 first.
Matthew 7:21-22 — “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In these verses and more broadly in the verses that surround them, Jesus makes a clear distinction between reality and appearances. The people referenced here had not only deceived others about their spirituality; they even deceived themselves. They had used the name of Jesus to prophesy, to drive out demons and to perform miracles. They had the appearance of a relationship with God, but without the reality.
The point I’d make here is that the name of Jesus is such that on occasion, it appears to be used effectively by impostors. God’s word is such that, as truth, it can do its work, even though the person speaking it is not a true follower of Jesus. That’s why Paul wrote these words to his friends in Philippi.
Philippians 1:15-18 “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
God’s word will do it’s work regardless of who is presenting it. Yet, both Matthew and Mark recorded that some would use His name in order to deceive others. Not all who claim to come in the name of Jesus (that is in His authority) are authentic.
In Matthew 24:4-5 we read these words of Jesus: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
Sad as it may be, some people driven either by their own greed for gain, lust for power, or even demonic influence, use the name of Jesus to impress the gullible into thinking that they are something they are not. Thus the unwary are drawn away from the Lord Jesus Christ to listen to another gospel, to follow a false Christ, and to support such a one in his deception.
However, I don’t want to give the impression that just anyone can use the words “in the name of Jesus” and see wonderful things happen. In Acts 19 we have the account of some Jews who, though not believers in Jesus as the Messiah, thought they’d use His name to drive out some evil spirits.
Acts 19:13-17 “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour.”
What a surprise for these fellows! It seems that they may have experienced some limited success at first, but upon confronting one evil spirit, they learned a hard lesson: That the name of Jesus was not to trifled with. This particular demon responded to their command in Jesus’ name, though he knew and feared Jesus, and His apostle, Paul, he had no respect for them. Then he empowered the man he possessed to overpower them, stripping off their clothes and beating their naked bodies until, ignoring the shame they ran from the house to save their lives.
This taught them, and us, a harsh lesson. While the name of Jesus does unleash amazing power in the spiritual realm, it is not always effective in and of itself. It must be backed up by spiritual reality. Remember with me the situation where Jesus’ disciples attempted to drive out a demon while He was on the mountain with Peter, James, and John.
In Mark 9:25-29 we read how Jesus “rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!’ Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.’”
This should make us all careful about attempting to use the name of Jesus. It is a channel of great power, but must be used responsibly by those with pure hearts and clean hands. I pray that we might all live in such a relationship with God that when the occasion comes to use the name of Jesus, we will find all of its power available to us.