A remarkable feature of our Lord’s ministry was that he taught ‘as one who had authority’ (Matt. 21:23). The authority of the Lord Jesus over his disciples was absolute. He told them that without him they could do nothing (John 15:5) and that “no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt.11:27).
Since salvation depends crucially upon the forgiveness of sins, the Lord’s ability to forgive sins was perhaps the most significant of his claims to divine authority. On at least two occasions, he outraged his opponents by exercising his authority to forgive sins (Luke5:21;7:49).
The authority of the risen Lord
Just before his ascension, Jesus made a profoundly important declaration: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been give to me” (Matt. 28:18). Although this is delegated authority until Jesus hands it back to God, who is the source of all power and authority (I Cor. 15:28), it means that, following his victory over sin and death, the glorified Lord was given unlimited executive authority.
This relationship between Jesus and his Father is precisely expressed by Paul in I Cor. 8:6, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from (Gk. ex) whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through (Gk. dia) whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Using an analogy from the business world, we can envisage The Lord God as the Chairman, and the Lord Jesus as the Executive.
Jesus Christ in control
Jesus controlled not only his followers but also the ecclesias among which he walked (Rev. 1:5). More than that, he claimed authority over all nations, for he was “the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5).
Joseph, a type of the Lord Jesus, was given a similar but less exalted role as governor over all the landof Egypt. Pharaoh gave Joseph his signet ring saying, “Behold I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” So when the people cried to Pharaoh, he said, “Go to Joseph.” Jesus likewise has been given the ‘signet ring’ of his Heavenly Father, with “angels, authorities and powers being made subject to him” (I Pet.3:22).
The Lord Jesus in action
The following paragraphs show the active participation of the Lord Jesus in support of the infant church. In Acts 1:24-26, we read that the apostles prayed to the Lord to guide their choice of the apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Who was the Lord to whom they prayed? In the New Testament the title Lord (Gk. kurios) is applied to God and to Jesus, depending on the context. Since Jesus chose all the other apostles (John 6:70), we can reasonably assume that he chose the apostle to replace Judas.
Stephen is a notable example of communication with the Lord Jesus. In his dying moments, he had a vision of Jesus standing on the right hand of God. He prayed to Jesus saying, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” and, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” The Lord Jesus answered beyond anything Stephen could have imagined: he selected the possible ringleader of Stephen’s murderers as a ‘chosen vessel to bring his name before the Gentiles.’
Following Paul’s conversion by a blinding encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Lord Jesus appeared to Ananias and instructed him about the commission to heal Paul’s blindness (Acts 9:10-17).
There are indications that throughout his ministry Paul continued to have direct contact with Jesus Christ. Paul told the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem that after his conversion, he returned to Jerusalem and, while in the temple, he had an amazing vision of the Lord Jesus who told him to flee from the city because his life was in danger (Acts 22:17). In Paul’s second letter to Corinth, he told them that on three occasions he had pleaded with the Lord to remove a “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:8). In this passage, the title Lord applies to Jesus because the same Lord said to Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” a declaration that could hardly apply to Almighty God.
These examples of the Lord Jesus in action in the early church evoke the question: Is the Lord Jesus still in control? Is he still exercising his authority among the ‘candlesticks’ and guiding the lives of those who place their trust in him? Furthermore, should we, like the apostles, engage with the Lord Jesus in our prayers? In seeking answers to these questions we are treading on ‘holy ground’ and we must be guided by scripture rather than by emotion.
Lessons from Hebrews
The epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus Christ as the anti-typical High Priest. Under the Mosaic law only the high priest could pass through the veil and approach the symbol of God’s presence directly. But when Jesus died, the veil was torn apart so that “we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” (Heb.10:29). We therefore have direct access to the Holy of Holies where stood both the ark, which represents God, and the cover of the ark or ‘mercy seat’ (Gk. hilasterion = propitiation), which represents the Lord Jesus (Rom.3:25). So we have direct access to both God and the Lord Jesus.
The rending of the veil opened up the way for us. Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant because he reveals God to all men, has been given the authority of God, and sits at God’s right hand on the throne of grace. Nothing in the high priest’s ritual on the Day of Atonement envisages the high honour given to the Lord Jesus, who, as the writer to the Hebrews explains in chapter 7, belongs to a different order of priesthood.
It is not our intention to recommend one way to the throne of grace above another. Rather we are seeking to show that both ways are scriptural and that we can follow our conscience. Personally I have found communication with the Lord Jesus wonderfully uplifting. It is so much easier to speak to one who shared our weaknesses, who learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8) and who has been rewarded with all authority in heaven and earth.
The Lord’s prayer
The so-called ‘Lord’s prayer’ which is addressed directly to ‘our Father’ is often regarded as a model for all time. However, Luke tells us that it was given to the disciples in answer to their request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Since the disciples had direct access to Jesus, it would have been inappropriate for Jesus to tell them to pray to him. Moreover, we need to bear in mind that this prayer was commended before Jesus had been raised and given full authority in heaven and earth. But in all other respects, this prayer is a model for all times and in all circumstances. It is short (Ecc. 5:2), simple, and contains no empty repetitions (Matt. 6:7) yet it contains praise, petition and confession – a model structure for both private and public prayer.
Are there rules?
In the great majority of references to prayer in the New Testament, the recipient is not specified; but in Ephesians 5:20 Paul writes, “always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” This, of course, is an acceptable approach but that does not rule out all other avenues. For example, in his first letter John advises his readers to confidently petition the Son of God, “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (I John 5:13-14).
We need to bear in mind that the majority in the early ecclesias were Jewish converts who would have difficulty in accepting any approach except to God. In a similar way but in a different context, the Jewish converts had difficulty in accepting meat that had been offered to idols and meat that contained blood. So the council of Jerusalem made a temporary provision to allow for their consciences.
The reluctance of some in the brotherhood to communicate with the Lord Jesus probably stems from a similar reservation, namely that by elevating the role of the Lord Jesus we may be conforming to a trinitarian concept of Deity and robbing God of His supremacy. It is, however, ironic that our Lord’s claim that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth, coupled with Paul’s statement that this authority will be handed back to God, constitutes one of the most compelling arguments against the doctrine of the trinity.
Some have sought a compromise and suggest that we can give praise and thanks to the Lord Jesus, but petitions should be addressed to God. There seems to be no logical imperative for this suggestion. If the Lord Jesus has been given full executive authority in heaven and earth, then he has the power and authority to himself forgive sins and act upon our requests.
Other have suggested that all our public prayers should be addressed to God, but it is appropriate for us to pray to Jesus in private. Again, this suggestion has no logical imperative, but it does have the advantage that it is a way of avoiding any possible offence.
Prayer involves praise, thanks, confession and petition. It is therefore an emotive activity that is well expressed through song. Most of those who do not normally speak to Jesus are happy to pray to Jesus through the medium of song. The compilers of our hymn book have given us a choice of two approaches to the throne of grace. Forty two of our 438 hymns are addressed solely to Jesus Christ – 36 of these are from numbers l97 to 267. Eighteen hymns are addressed to both God and Jesus. Ten hymns such as number 165 can apply to either God or Jesus because they are addressed to the Lord and it is not possible to determine from the context whether “Lord” refers to God or Jesus.
Nearly all the 60 hymns addressed in whole or part to Jesus include petition, which flows so appropriately from praise. We naturally ask Jesus, whom we are praising, for blessing, for forgiveness and for his kingdom to come.
The choice of approach to the throne of grace is especially appropriate in our thanks for the bread and wine. We can thank God for the gift of His only begotten son and we can thank Jesus for his willing sacrifice. It is not a question of one or the other but a balance of both. This balance is beautifully illustrated in chapters four and five of Revelation. Chapter four ends with a paean of praise to Almighty God, “Worthy art thou our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou didst create all things…” Chapter five renders praise to the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God in these words, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tongue and people and nation.” Both the Lord God and the Lord Jesus are worthy of our praises.
In the light of these considerations, what conclusions can be drawn? Since Jesus has been given full authority, and has ‘the keys of death and Hades’ (Rev. 1:18), then surely it is appropriate that we would be ever conscious of his control in our lives and speak to him who is our guide and ‘wonderful counsellor.’ Since, in the days of his flesh, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, then surely we can accept that the glorified Lord Jesus, who is “the one ordained to be the judge of the living and the dead,” will be pleased if we seek forgiveness from him. It was the enemies of the Lord Jesus who insisted that only God could forgive sins.
The Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Meals with Jesus were times of lively spiritual conversation. Shall we remain silent when we open the door and invite him into our home or ecclesia?
“We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive good or evil, according to that which has been done in the body” (II Cor. 5:10). When we are called to give account of ourselves at the judgement seat, will this be the first time we have spoken to our judge who has the authority to remove our name from the Lamb’s book of life?