Sermon for Rogate
Jeremiah 29:11-14 + James 1:22-27 + John 16:23-30
Today’s Gospel is about prayer. Yet again Jesus invites His disciples to pray. He’s already taught them the Lord’s Prayer. He’s already taught them by countless examples and parables how important prayer is. There are basically two kinds of prayers: prayers in which we ask God for things—either for ourselves or for others, and prayers in which we thank God for things. Our Gospel is about asking.
Jesus Himself instructs us to ask God for things, and in doing so, He reminds us just how needy we are, both as human beings in general and especially as sinful human beings. There’s never a time when we don’t need something from God—His help, His providence, His correction, His comfort, His forgiveness.
After three years of learning from Jesus, His disciples knew that God the Father always heard Jesus. In our Gospel, Jesus assures His disciples that the Father would hear them, too. 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. In that day—when is that? Jesus had just told His disciples how He was about to go away for little while and then return, referring, first of all, to His suffering, death, and resurrection. That’s the key. Because Jesus suffered, died, and rose again, God the Father is willing to allow sinners to come into His presence, as long as they come in through the Door. And what did Jesus say? “I am the Door.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.” Because Jesus made satisfaction for the sins of all, He now bids all men to believe in Him as the true Throne of Grace, and so to approach God the Father’s throne with confidence.
Notice that He says that we can ask the Father directly. 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. Again we see that God’s willingness to hear our prayers is directly tied to faith in Christ. Not that our love for Christ or faith in Christ is a good work that earns the Father’s favor. But it is the means by which we laid hold of Christ’s work, even Christ’s Sonship in the Father’s house. Through faith and Holy Baptism, we are clothed with Christ Jesus and acceptable to God the Father.
That’s the first part of what it means to pray to the Father “in the name of Jesus,” to approach Him claiming one and only one reason why we dare to step into His presence: because of Jesus, His suffering and death for our sins, and His invitation for us to pray.
The fact is, no one else, except for believers in Christ, has permission to pray. No one else has access to the Father but Christ and those who are in Christ. Prayers of unbelievers are unacceptable, because they are unacceptable, because their sins still separate them from God. But it doesn’t have to be that way, for anyone. God invites sinners to find salvation in His Son, to be baptized in His name, to seek refuge in His wounds. As people are brought into Christ, they are also given permission to pray in the name of Christ.
To pray in the name of Jesus also means to pray like Jesus, to pray for the same things He prayed for, to pray with the same attitude with which He prayed.
How do we know that? Only by knowing the Scriptures. By knowing, for example, the Psalms, which are Spirit-inspired prayers. By knowing the Gospels that show us how Jesus prayed. By studying all of Scripture, to learn how the Spirit has always taught both Old and New Testament Christians to pray.
What stands out in the prayers of Jesus and in the rest of the prayers of Scripture is that, no matter what Christians ask for, no matter what Christians want from God, what they want most from God is that His name be glorified, that His will be done, because we know that God’s good and gracious will is always best and that our Father will always give us exactly the things we need and the things that will be beneficial to us. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray as Jesus prayed, “Not My will, but Thy will be done.”
Some things we know to be God’s will: to forgive the sins of all who look to our Redeemer, Jesus Christ; to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death; to build His Church throughout the world; to preserve His Christians in faith by means of His Word and Sacraments; to give us our daily bread; and to produce in us all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Other things that we desire—we don’t know if they are compatible with our Father’s will, if they are truly what is best for us. That includes many of the specific things we ask for. For example, “Grant me (or someone else) physical healing.” We don’t know if that is our Father’s will. So prayers like that, if we would pray in Jesus’ name, always include the assumption that what we want most, even more than the specific thing we asked for, is for our Father’s good and gracious will to be done.
When we pray in the name of Jesus, we have the promise from Jesus that whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. What do you need? Forgiveness? Mercy? The Father will give it to you. A stronger faith? Love? Wisdom? Strength? The Father will give it to you. Mercy and help for someone else? Deliverance from evil? The Father will give it to you, in just the right form, and at just the right time.
Remember that in all your prayers, both the ones you say at home and in the ones we pray together here in church. Your Father is listening and has promised to grant your requests, in the name of Jesus. Amen.