The name of Jesus gives you permission to pray

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Sermon for Rogate – Sixth Sunday of Easter

“Ask, and you will receive!”

John 16:23-30  +  Numbers 21:4-9  +  James 1:22-27

We missed it again this year.  A week and a half ago, on Thursday, May 3rd, we missed the national day of prayer, or at least, we missed it as a congregation. I don’t know what you did on your own.  Actually, we didn’t just miss it.  We skipped it.  I intentionally didn’t encourage you to join in the national day of prayer.

You know why?  Because nations aren’t given permission to pray.  “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is the motto of the national day of prayer movement.  They want America to be that nation, but that’s a complete twisting of Holy Scripture.  The only nation in history whose God was the Lord was the nation of Israel, until they rejected Christ.  Now the Lord calls men from every nation, tribe, language and people to be His, and he promises to be the God of people from every nation, tribe, language and people—of all who look to Christ as their Savior from sin and death.

Only Christians, then, are given permission to pray to the One God, the only God, the true God, the God of heaven who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  No one else is authorized by this God to pray to Him, and any prayer that is said to a different god is nothing but more idolatry.

So, a national day of prayer is nothing but an encouragement toward idolatry. You want proof?  The organizer of the national day of prayer, Shirley Dobson, James Dobson’s wife of Focus on the Family, came on the Glenn Beck program in advance of the national day of prayer in order to advertise it.  And she reveled and rejoiced in the fact that Glenn Beck was joining her in prayer on the following Thursday.  Glenn Beck is not even a Christian.  He is a very outspoken Mormon, who uses the name of Jesus but means the Jesus taught by Joseph Smith, a different version of Jesus and a different Heavenly Father than the one proclaimed in the Bible. So to encourage national prayer is to fool people into believing that there is more than one God, or that the one God can be approached apart from the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, I thought you needed to hear that this morning on Rogate Sunday, with prayer as our focus, because we live here in this great country of America surrounded by people who confuse our national identity with a Christian identity, and that’s dangerous, because they’re not the same. And that very nationalism, that very desire to set up an earthly kingdom of Christ is the very thing that kept the Jews out of the spiritual kingdom of Christ.

But for the one who does acknowledge Jesus as Lord, for the one who prays for His spiritual kingdom to come, for the Church that confesses His name, our Gospel today is full of comfort and joy. Because in it, Jesus reveals Himself to us as a good and gracious Mediator—the one Mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus, who has invited and authorized us to approach our Father in heaven above and ask Him to hear us.

In that day, Jesus says, you will ask nothing of me. In that day…which day?  We learned about it just a couple of weeks ago.  Jesus was leaving His disciples for a little while to go to the cross and the grave.  But after a little while—just till the Third Day—he would see them again and their hearts would rejoice.  In that day, from that day on and forevermore, every believer in Jesus has direct access to God the Father.

How?  Because as of the Third Day, resurrection day, Jesus accomplished His work of redemption.  As of the Third Day, Jesus had presented His once-for-all sacrifice for sin and had presented that sacrifice in the heavenly Temple, as the Book of Hebrews explains.  He entered the presence of God in heaven as both holy God and righteous Man, and by His own blood opened heaven for all believers. As of the day when Jesus rose from the dead, there has been a living Mediator in heaven to make all the prayers of the saints pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God.

See how Jesus explains that in that Gospel: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. What does it mean to ask the Father in Jesus’ name?  It means to dare to come before the holy God with prayers and praises, with thanksgiving and petitions—not as “you the sinner,” but as “you, the believer in Jesus, you the forgiven sinner, as the one who has been clothed with Jesus Christ.”  You see again the connection to Holy Baptism where all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ?

This, by the way, is why we begin every Divine Service with the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those are the words of Baptism, our baptism.  Those are the words that branded us with the name of Jesus, branded us with water and with the Holy Spirit’s fire. We have come into the presence of a great King, of a holy and righteous and unapproachable God who threatens punishment and condemnation of sinners.  But we are sinners!  How do we dare approach Him?  Only through Baptism.  Only through the name of Jesus.

Baptism is our access to God as a loving and gracious Father.  Now you can go to him as your Father, too. Yes, you’re unworthy, but Jesus is worthy, and you bear His name.  Now you can to go Him and pray to Him and ask Him questions and ask for answers.  Now you are a holy priesthood, and that entitles you to bring your prayers and petitions before God at all times.

I’ve encouraged all of you to use these devotions, Daily Prayer and Meditation in your homes.  Here on the back of the service folder, you find it again for this week. And every week it says at the top, “The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.  Then say, In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  (I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see my children, right down to my 3-yr-old, marking themselves with the sign of the cross, the same sign with which they were marked at the time of their baptisms.)  This is why.  We wish to come before God in prayer, even in our home, and we only dare to do it in the name of Jesus, as baptized believers who bear His holy name.

And he will give it to you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  What do you ask for in Jesus’ name?  Well, you’re not asking in Jesus’ name if you’re asking for things Jesus would never ask for, are you?  Think back to the example of the Israelites from the Old Testament lesson today. They, the chosen people of God, asked something of God, too.  They could have asked for His help.  Instead, as a community of unbelievers, the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” There they were, praying not in Jesus’ name, not trusting in God’s mercy, praying not as believing children, but as ungrateful, selfish wretches who hated God.  He didn’t let them get away with it, did he? He sent the serpents into their midst, because sin kills.  Selfishness and ingratitude flow from unbelief—not that they didn’t know God existed.  They witnessed his mighty power in Egypt.  But they didn’t look to Him for mercy, and their unbelief would condemn them eternally.  And so God sent the snakes, but also salvation from the snakes, the serpent on the pole, the picture of Jesus, hanging on a cross, so that all who look to Him were saved—are saved from the serpent’s bite.

So again, what to ask for so that you may receive it?  How do you know what Jesus would ask for?  It’s kind of like Mother’s Day.  How do you know what your mother might want?  What does she like?  What doesn’t she like?  You know that by knowing her.  And the better you know her, the better you know what she wants.  The same is true with Jesus.  The better you know Him, the better you know how to ask in His name.  And you know Him in the words of Holy Scripture.

There’s a reason why we sing the words of the Introit toward the beginning of the service.  There’s a reason why we include the Gradual or the Verse of the Day.  There’s a reason for every phrase and response in our liturgy.  They’re drawn from the Word of God, mainly the Psalms, in order to teach us how to pray, how to ask, and what to ask for.

The Psalms especially are useful for teaching how to pray and what to ask for, because they are already prayers, prayers taught by God and inspired in his Word.  They are the words of Jesus, just as the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer Jesus taught us.  We read the Scriptures not only to listen to what God has to say to us, but also so that we know how to pray back to Him, how to speak His Word back to Him, how to ask and what to ask for, so that we learn to know Jesus better.  Then we’re able to pray in His name and know that the Father will hear and grant our requests.

So what to ask for today?  Can we pray in Jesus’ name for the mothers here among us, or for our mothers, wherever they may be?  Yes we can.  God Himself honors mothers in His Word, and we even have the example of Jesus caring for His mother.  What do we pray for? First and foremost, we pray that they be brought to faith in Christ and kept in faith in Christ, because the Lord knows how many temptations there are for moms to stop trusting in our Father’s grace and love in Christ, and to start focusing on themselves—either on their sins and faults, leading to despair, or on their own worthiness before God for all the sacrifices they’ve made for their families, leading to self-righteousness and unbelief.

What else does Jesus ask us to ask for—be it for mothers or for ourselves or for anyone? We ask our Father in heaven that they may know Christ and power of His Resurrection. We ask that he grant them patience with their husband and with their children. Protection. Love. Wisdom. Compassion. That they may bear up under the cross, that they may be strengthened in godly living and serve as examples of piety for their children and for all.  And finally, that they may be granted a blessed end and rest from their labors in the kingdom of light.  God promises to hear such prayers from His children, and He promises to grant them for Jesus’ sake.

The name of Christ, branded on all you who are baptized and believing in Him, gives you great privileges in the Kingdom of God, even the Father’s friendliness and love and His promise to grant our requests made in Jesus’ name.  Make every effort to know Jesus better by studying His Word and receiving His Sacraments, so that you know better and better how to pray.  Do you lack wisdom?  Ask! Do you lack understanding?  Ask! Do you lack courage or strength or joy?  Ask!  Stand in the name of Jesus with your baptismal covering. Stand in the humility and the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and ask.  And trust that you are heard, according to Jesus’ own promise, and trust that your Father will answer.  Amen.

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