Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted….
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
One of the most amazing turns in the history of the universe is that the Creator himself became a creature. God himself, the one who made everything and holds everything together at every moment, entered into the world. And he did so as one of our species. He became human. And he did so, that he might rescue us. He came to help humans. There is no Redeemer for fallen angels. Hebrews 2:16 tells us, “Surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” He came as human to suffer as human and die as human that he might help humans who have faith in him, and approach their Creator in him, and fulfill their destiny as humans in him—and not only pray in his name, but do everything in his name.
That’s where we’re headed, and beyond, in Hebrews 2 this weekend, but first let’s quickly position this fifth and final sermon with what’s come before in this mini-series on prayer. In the last four weeks, we have looked at ...
- Four weeks ago: How and why we pray the Scriptures
- Three weeks ago: Why we pray to a God who both knows everything and has planned it all
- Two weeks ago: How we pray without giving up
- Last weekend: What it means to pray in the Holy Spirit
And this weekend, in this fifth and final message, we take up the topic: What does it mean to pray in Jesus' name? My hope is to say what it means, and what it doesn’t mean, and why this is so important for Christians, but instead of just saying that all up front, I think it will serve us best to see it for ourselves, and much more, in Hebrews chapter 2.
Before we go there, it might be good to acknowledge that this might seem on the surface like it’s a pretty in-house topic—why we Christians pray in Jesus’ name. We have non-Christians in these services each weekend visiting with family or friends, or just checking things out at a big church where it’s easy to slide in without begin harassed. For the non-Christians among us—we know you’re here and we’re glad you are—this is actually a wonderful topic for you to explore because seeing why Christians pray in Jesus’ name gets right to the heart of the Christian faith. It goes straight to the core of who we are and what we believe as Christians.
What Makes Prayer Christian
When we talk about “prayer,” we have something very simple in mind: it’s just talking to God. No fancy religious language is needed. Prayer is just straight-up, heartfelt personal communication to God. All sorts of religious traditions incorporate prayer, but what makes prayer Christian is Jesus. Christians pray in Jesus’ name—and not just “in Jesus’ name” as a tagline or a bit of magic, but as a concept. We come to God in prayer with Jesus’ authorization, consciously reliant on him, explicitly mentioning him, because of what he has done, who he is, and what he promises he will be for us.
So, let’s have that be clear at the outset: Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t simply mean using the words “in Jesus’ name we pray.” You can quote that line and not really be praying in Jesus’ name. Or you can pray in Jesus’ name without using the line. Or you can use that line and actually be praying in his name—but be warned that it doesn’t just become mindless repetition. It’s not about the precise words you use. The point of this sermon is not to get you to include a tagline on the end of your prayers—though that may be a small application for some. The point of this sermon is to explore together the reality of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, and what it means to approach the very God of the universe in and through this person named Jesus.
Five Stages in the Story of Jesus
So let’s look at Hebrews 2, and let’s see here five stages in the story of this Jesus in whose name we pray. You could think of these as five stages in a narrative—there is a historical flow here from stage one to stage five. Also, you can think of these as five reasons we pray in Jesus’ name.
1) Jesus is our brother (vv. 11–14, 16–17)
Look first at verses 11–14:
He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil . . . .
Jesus is our brother—and unlike many older brothers, he’s not ashamed of his siblings. Why is he our brother? The reason Hebrews gives is that he shares our humanity. So another way to identify this first stage would be to say that Jesus is our fellow human.
The Prequel to the Story
This first stage of the story of Jesus has a kind of prequel stage that comes before. The prequel is that for all eternity, this person we now know as Jesus has been the second person of the Trinity. The first person is known as the Father, the second person as the Son, and the third person as the Spirit. The Son has always existed. He was not created. As Hebrews 1:2 says, it was through the Son that God “created the world.” And the Son is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (1:3). The Son is the one who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3). That’s clear as day in Hebrews 1, but now in Hebrews 2, we find this amazing truth that the eternal second person of the Godhead—the Son—became one of us. He was fully God, from all eternity, and without ceasing to be fully God, he became fully man—such that Hebrews would say in verse 11 that Jesus (“he who sanctifies”) and we humans (“those who are sanctified”) “all have one source.” Or literally, “from one, all.” Jesus became one of us.
Tribute to the Dignity of Humanity
So when we pray in Jesus’ name, we pray in the name of a fellow human. Think about this: Could there be any greater tribute to the dignity of humanity that when God himself entered the universe as a creature he did so as human? It’s sad that far too many Christians have far too low a view of humanity. It is a spectacular thing to be human—in the image of God. When God himself came into the world he did so as human! Christians, of all people, should not feel negatively about humanity. Too many of us wish we could somehow escape it, as if we’d be more holy if we were just spirit. That is a dishonor to our Creator, and a dishonor to our Brother. Feel negatively about your sin, but be ever fascinated with the fingerprints of our Marker, and the resemblance of our Brother, in our humanity. To be human is an awesome thing. Look at verses 16–17:
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
We will come back to this word “propitiation,” and to this claim that Jesus is our high priest, but notice here the recognition, “Surely it is not angels that he helps.” As we said earlier, the God of the universe did not become an angel to save angels. There is no avenue of salvation available for angels. Rather, the Son of God became human so that he might help “the offspring of Abraham”—namely, those who are of faith, like Abraham the man of faith.
And don’t miss verse 17, that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” In every respect. Without ceasing to be fully God, Jesus took a fully human body, and a fully human mind, and fully human emotions, and a fully human will. He really and truly became human, all the way. And he didn’t become human just temporarily and then discard his body. He still is fully human, at the Father’s right hand, and he always will be human, as Philippians 3:20–21 promises that he will one day “transform our lowly [human] body to be like his glorious [human] body.”
Our Unique Connection with the Godhead
Now it might be helpful to say something specific about prayer at this stage. That Jesus is our human brother means that he connects with who we are as humans in an utterly unique way among the other persons of the Trinity. The analogy’s inadequate, but it’s almost as if the second person is the side of the Trinity turned toward us. We are human, and only ever will be human. And the second person of the Trinity has forever made himself human that we sinful humans might have our original dignity not only restored, but surpassed, through his outrageous redeeming of us. One reason we pray in Jesus’ name is because we are human—and so is he!
Praying to Jesus?
Which might raise the question, Should we then just pray to Jesus? In the Bible, the typical pattern for prayer is to the Father, in the Spirit, in the name of Jesus. Ephesians 5:18–20 says, “Be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Colossians 3:17 says not only prayer, but “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” To the Father, in the Spirit, in the name of Jesus.
Is it okay to pray to Jesus? Yes. There are biblical examples of prayers to Jesus (Acts 1:24; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20; 2 Corinthians 12:8), and we may do the same, even though the overall biblical pattern seems to be to the Father, in the Spirit, in the name of Jesus.
Praying to the Spirit?
If it’s typical to pray to the Father, and permissible to pray to the Son, what about the Spirit—Is it okay to pray to the Holy Spirit? Yes, he’s a person, and he is God, and it’s appropriate to talk to him—this is, after all, what prayer is (talking to God). However, consider this. Given the main ministry of the Spirit in bringing attention to Jesus, as Bud (rightly) showed us last weekend, it would seem a little odd if we always prayed to the Spirit. But it’s not off limits. Again, the general pattern is to the Father, in the Spirit, in the name of Jesus, but the Son and Spirit are persons and certainly can be addressed in prayer.
So stage one in the story of Jesus, and reason one that we pray in Jesus’ name, is that he is our brother, our fellow human. He is our human point of connection with the Godhead, as it were. And so, as humans, we pray in the name of Jesus, our fellow human.
2) Jesus is our fellow sufferer (vv. 9–10, 18)
Verse 18: “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And the last part of verse 9, you’ll see, says Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Not only did Jesus come into our world, but he came into our fallen world. Though he himself was without sin, those around him—whether friends, or family, or opponents—were not without sin. And along with us, he has experienced the futility that God has subjected the created world to because of human sin.
Notice that verse 10 talks about there being something “fitting” about Jesus being a sufferer. Verse 10: “For it was fitting that he [God], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder [Jesus] of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Two questions here. First of all, what does it mean that Jesus was “made perfect” through suffering? Secondly, what does is mean that his suffering was “fitting”?
How Was Jesus “Made Perfect”?
Verse 10 says Jesus was “made perfect.” He has been God from all eternity—was he not already perfect? Was he somehow imperfect? This phrase “to make perfect”—or even better “to make complete” or even “to make ready”—is used on several occasions in the Old Testament to talk about the process of being made ready to be a priest, or to offer a sacrifice. It is preparation for sacrificial action.
Why Was It “Fitting” That He Suffer?
So, then, why is it “fitting” that Jesus would be “made ready” to be the founder of our salvation through suffering? Answer: Because we humans suffer. The life we know is the life of suffering. This side of the fall, and this side of Jesus’ second coming, normal human life is well acquainted with suffering and grief. And Jesus not only identifies with us as humans, but also as sufferers. He is our fellow sufferer.
He knows what it’s like to be human. He knows what it’s like to suffer. He knows what it’s like to experience the friction of the fallen world at every turn in life. He knows what it’s like to face temptation, and he knows what it’s like to encounter the simple, but sometimes crippling, daily testing of normal life to make us just give up.
So when we pray in Jesus’ name, we are remembering that God himself has shared our plight, not only in our humanity but also in our suffering. God himself in Jesus has experienced the pains of human life in a fallen world. It should be a deep comfort to us in prayer that we are not addressing a distant God, with no concern for us and no empathy for our pain, but a God who has come amazingly near in Jesus—as near as he possibly could come—fully in our humanity, and even into our suffering. We suffer daily down here. That’s why it is fitting that God would prepare Jesus for his sacrificial work for us through a lifetime of suffering that grew ever more intense as he drew near to his death. We suffer. So, stage two, Jesus has suffered with us. And as sufferers, we pray in the name of Jesus, our fellow sufferer.
3) Jesus is our substitute (vv. 9–10 and 14–15)
As we just saw in verse 9, it says that “by the grace of God”—note that this is an amazing grace, and in no way deserved—Jesus tasted death for us. And look at verses 14–15:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Jesus has destroyed death through death. He has conquered the power of death over us through the power of his death for us. There’s something new now in this third stage compared to the first two. Stages one and two were all about Jesus’ astounding identification with us in becoming fully human and suffering as one of us. But now there’s a break in stage three. Now it’s not with us, but for us. He dies in our place.
Hebrews 4:15 makes clear that, unlike us, he was “without sin.” The death he died was not his own. He had no sin deserving death. The death he died was for our sin. Verse 17 calls this “propitiation.” Verse 17: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might . . . make propitiation for the sins of the people.” To make propitiation simply means to appease the wrath of God that is justly due sinners because of their rebellion against their creator. The wrath Jesus absorbed as our sacrifice was the wrath that we deserved. The death that he died on the cross was our death. So, as death-deserving sinners, we pray in the name of Jesus, who died our death for us.
Is It All Stuck at the Human Level?
This is, of course, a glorious thing, but so far everything we’ve said is all very down here. He’s human. He suffered with us. He died for us. But how is it that our prayers get from down here to up there? How is it not all stuck at the human level? How are we actually restored to God? Does Jesus’ death for us just make it automatic, or is there anything else to be done? The answer is that there is more—Jesus rose from the grave, he ascended to heaven, into the very presence of his Father, and in doing so, he opens a way for us and for our prayers. Important as his sacrificial death for us is, don’t let the story stop there. Or even at his resurrection. Our identification with him doesn’t end when he dies. It ascends with him, and he cuts a path for us into the very presence of God. He has opened heaven’s door, and pioneered the way. He “has passed through the heavens,” Hebrews 4:14 says. He is “a forerunner on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:20). There is a “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain” (Hebrews 10:20).
The reason we can “draw near to the throne of grace” in prayer is that the human Jesus—our brother, who has suffered with us, and who died for us—also has risen and ascended and drawn near for us. We can draw near in prayer because the risen Jesus has drawn near in person. And now we’re into stage four: Jesus is our pioneer.
4) Jesus is our pioneer (vv. 5–10)
The key phrase here is in verse 10: “the founder of our salvation.” This word “founder” (Greek archegos) is used only three other times in the New Testament. The ESV translates it “founder” in Hebrews 12:2, but it’s “author” in Acts 3:15, and “leader” in Acts 5:31. It means something like “champion and pioneer.” It’s not only a champion who conquers the enemy for us, but it’s also a pioneer who goes somewhere new and takes us with him. In short, Jesus is our hero who both achieves victory for us and leads us forward into the very presence of God.
Look at verses 5–10:
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
I wish we had time to look at Psalm 8 in detail, but a quick summary will have to do. Psalm 8 recalls that from the beginning, God has planned a spectacular future for humanity ruling as God’s regents over his world—“crowed . . . with glory and honor . . . everything under his feet.” But Hebrews makes the obvious observation in verse 8: “We do not yet see everything in subject to him.” Natural disasters, death, and violence are daily reminders that things aren’t yet what they will be for humanity. Something has gone terribly wrong because of our sin.
But verse 9 offers this amazing truth: “But we see Jesus.” We are not yet reigning, but Jesus, our champion and pioneer, is. He came as one of us (“a little lower than angels”), suffered with us, conquered death, rose again in triumph, ascended to heaven, and sat down with his Father on the very throne of the universe. Jesus, our hero, is the ultimate man, the ultimate human, who has begun to fulfill Psalm 8 and as our pioneer has opened the way for us to come with him and reign with him (Rev. 5:10) and also fulfill our destiny as God image-bearers. He opens the way and we follow him in.
Fear, Be Gone
Before we leave this fourth stage and close with stage five, it should be said what an awesome truth this is that Jesus is our pioneer into God’s presence and is right now reigning over the universe. Christians should not be fearful people. Christian theology should free us from fear about the culture’s decline, free us from fear about the pride parade and the referendum in November, free us from fear about the next election or who gets the nomination, free us from fear about Islam, free us from fear about our next week, free us from fear about this afternoon, free us from fear about the months to come. Fear, be gone. Jesus is on the throne. He is crowned with glory and honor. He is sovereignly putting all things under his feet. And our destiny is with him.
Christian, believe this. Jesus is reigning. And he most certainly will accomplish his mission. It is a matter of time. Do you see him with the eyes of your heart? When we feel the weight of verse 8 (“we do not yet see everything subject to” humanity), let’s move, by faith, to verse 9 (“But we see” Jesus!).
So Jesus is our hero. Not only is he fully God, but he became fully human, suffered with us, died for us, rose again in victory over death, and now has ascended to the Father’s right and become our pioneer into the very presence of God. But there’s one final stage in this text.
5) Jesus is our great high priest (v. 17; 4:14–16)
Too often our thinking about and our praying to Jesus as our great high priest is disconnected from the whole story of Jesus. He hasn’t always been high priest. There are at least four stages (as we’ve seen) involved in Jesus becoming our high priest. It was a process. He was “made ready” for it, as verse 10 says. And this last stage now brings together what we’ve seen in each of the previous four, and extends them into forever, as Hebrews 7:25 says, that this Jesus is high priest means that “he always lives to make intercession” for us.
He Is Sitting Down
And a remarkable thing about this high priest is that he is sitting down. His work is finished. Don’t picture Jesus scurrying around heaven, or on his knees begging the Father for us. Jesus is sitting down. He is himself on the throne of the universe. And so we pray in Jesus’ name, our sitting high priest and king.
When we Christians pray in Jesus’ name, it is not as some kind of magic or hocus pocus that makes our prayers effective. It is not some tagline at the end of our prayers. Not as a rule to enforce on others, or for impressing others with how holy we are. Not as a tactic in the culture wars as a line to stick into public prayers to upset non-Christians in the civic arena.
Praying in Jesus’ name is not about merely saying the words “in Jesus’ name we pray.” It’s about why and how we pray altogether—and why and how we have any relationship with God whatsoever. Praying “in Jesus’ name” means having his authorization, and praying in conscious reliance on him, explicitly mentioning him, because of who he is and what he has done for us, and what he promises to be for us forever.
We pray in Jesus’ name because he is our brother, our fellow human, our fellow sufferer, our sacrifice and substitute, our hero and pioneer into the presence of God. And we pray in Jesus’ name because he is our great high priest who alone brings us to God and will most certainly do so for all eternity.
So, Bethlehem, let us now with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (4:16)—in prayer, at the Table, and in the whole orientation of our lives—that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of every need.