Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rogate – “Pray!”
Numbers 21:4-9 + 1 Timothy 2:1-6 + John 16:23-30
In Jesus’ name. Amen. What does that mean – “in Jesus’ name”? We often end our prayers that way, don’t we? “In Jesus’ name we pray.” Is that just a phrase you tag onto the end of your prayers by force of habit? Do you need to say those words in order for God to listen? Today on “Prayer Sunday” – Rogate! – Pray! – Ask!, we receive in the Gospel this beautiful invitation of Jesus that we pray in his name, and he adds the remarkable promise that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us. But what is it to pray in Jesus’ name? To pray in Jesus’ name includes five things.
1) To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray at his command
Who has the right to walk into a movie theater, sit down and watch a movie? You might say, “Well, anyone.” But that’s not quite true, is it? The only one who gets in to the movie theater, who gets past the ticket-taker is the one who presents a ticket. With a ticket, you have free entry. Without a ticket, you don’t get in.
Prayer in Jesus’ name is like that. Not everyone has the right to stand before God and make requests of him. You can’t just barge into his presence uninvited. God is a Great and Holy King, and we have no business disturbing him or even pretending to stand in his presence. In order to get an audience with him, you absolutely need to present a ticket, or in this case, an invitation.
The thing is, you have one! The invitation that gets you into God’s presence and gives you the right to ask things of him is Jesus’ command, right here in our Gospel, when he calls on his disciples to pray to the Father in heaven: Ask! Ask! Jesus gives his disciples, his followers, those who have been baptized in his name, this call, this invitation, this command to pray. That’s your ticket. It’s sure; it’s certain. That’s the only reason we dare to make requests of the Great King.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to begin every prayer holding up to the Father this invitation of Jesus. “Holy Father, here! Here is my invitation! This is why I am bold to pray to you, because Jesus, your Son, has commanded it.”
2) To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with faith in his promise
Jesus attaches an oath to his promise: I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Ask and you will receive. That is a firm promise of God and, therefore, it must not be doubted. If Jesus says it, it must be true. So to approach God in prayer with the thought, “Well, I may not get what I ask for, but it can’t hurt to try,” that’s an abomination. To ask God for something on the chance that he might hear you is tremendously evil. Those are not prayers of faith, but prayers of unbelief, prayers that assume that Jesus’ promise might be true or he just might be lying.
Now, that’s not to say that you go into or come out of every prayer with a smile on your face. You may be struggling with terrible affliction and pain. You may wrestle with God in prayer for a time before you’re comforted. That’s what Jacob did when he wrestled with God. That’s what you find in so many of the Psalms – those Old Testament prayers. Sometimes the Psalm writer is positive and sure of God’s help from start to finish. But more often than not, those prayers start off down in the dumps – “My God, why have you forsaken me? How long, O Lord, how long! Will you forget me forever?” They sound almost hopeless until, usually, at the very end, faith wins the wrestling match, “But I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation.”
You and I have even more reason than the Psalm writers to trust God’s promises, because we’ve seen them fulfilled in the sending and the suffering of His Son. Why should we believe that God will hear and grant our every request? Only for one reason: Because the Son of God has promised it. So to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with faith in his promise – with faith that is solid as a rock because Jesus’ promise is solid as a rock.
3) To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with requests that reflect his requests
There’s a country song on the radio right now that really disturbs me (well, most of what’s on the radio or TV really disturbs me but…). It’s called “Pray for You.” It’s about a guy who is really angry at someone, but a preacher at church sets him straight and tells him it’s not right to hate others, that you should just pray for them. So the guy prays, “I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill, I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to. I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls, I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls, I pray all your dreams never come true.” Isn’t that horrible? He’s trying to be funny, of course, but all he succeeds at is taking the Lord’s name in vain and twisting people’s idea of prayer. That’s not prayer in Jesus’ name.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with requests that look like Jesus’ requests. Imagine Jesus praying like that on the cross! Imagine Jesus asking for a new car for himself, or to win the lottery, or mundane, foolish things like that! Instead, we begin with the prayers that are found in the Scriptures themselves – those are the prayers of Jesus. We pray for things we know God approves of because he’s told us in Scripture that he approves of them.
What have we prayed for so far just in this Divine Service today? “I pray you of your boundless mercy, and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” For peace from above, for unity, for divine comfort and help: “Lord, have mercy.”“God, the Giver of all that is good, grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them.”
What will we be praying for shortly? “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” In the Prayer of the Church, we’ll do as Paul wrote to Timothy in our Epistle today and offer up prayers for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We’ll pray for God’s forgiveness in Holy Communion, all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and for continued divine guidance and strength from the Holy Spirit. These are the kinds of things Jesus prayed for in the Gospels. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with requests that reflect his requests.
4) To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray through faith in him as our Mediator before the Father
When you come before the Father in Jesus’ name, it means you don’t come in your own name, because of who you are or things you have done. Anyone who prays to God because of some self-worthiness will be turned away from God and rejected as surely as the Pharisee in the temple was turned away who prayed, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men. I am righteous, so no wonder you’ll hear my prayer.”
No, to pray in Jesus’ name means you claim nothing for yourself – only Christ! It means that you trust in Christ for forgiveness, that you trust in Christ as your Mediator and the One who has removed your shame forever by his blood. It means you know God as the gracious Father who adopted you into his family through Holy Baptism and covered you with His Son, so that as you stand before him, you stand there in the place of the Son of God, bearing the name of Christ on your head. And since you stand in the place of Jesus before the Father, you know and are comforted with the full assurance of faith that he will hear and be pleased and grant your request, because you love and believe in His beloved Son Jesus. That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
5) Finally, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that the Father’s will be done
Just a couple of hours after Jesus invited his disciples to pray to the Father and promised that their requests in his name would be granted, he himself was on his knees in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, in earnest and anguished prayer, with sweat like drops of blood. You remember what he prayed? “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” But that cup wasn’t taken from him, was it? Jesus had to drink it down to the dregs, that cup of suffering and death. So was his request granted? It was! Because even the Son of God submitted his request to his Father’s will: “Yet not my will, but your will be done.”
When you pray, you can lay all the requests of your heart before God and you should trust that he will grant it, but you should never dictate to God the manner in which he ought to fulfill your prayer. We shouldn’t try to tell God how or when or through whom he should work. Instead, we must leave everything to his free will, to his Fatherly wisdom and love. That’s how Jesus prayed.
And see! God’s way of fulfilling prayer is always best. Remember the Old Testament lesson today? The Israelites complained to God, and he sent the poisonous snakes. Then they begged Moses to pray for their salvation. Who would have ever guessed how God would fulfill that prayer? A bronze serpent on a pole, so that whoever looked to it would be saved from the serpent’s bite. See how beautifully he foreshadowed the salvation of Christ, who was raised up on a tree so that whoever looks to him should not perish on account of our sin, but have eternal life. God knows what he’s doing. He knows the best way to answer prayer, in ways we could never guess or hope or imagine. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that the Father’s will be done, and to trust that no matter how he answers your prayer, you won’t be disappointed.
So, does that help you to grasp what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name”? It’s to cling to Jesus’ command to pray, and to his promise of being heard, to offer petitions that look like Jesus’ petitions, to base your prayers on Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins – on Jesus as your Mediator with the Father, and to submit all your requests to your Father’s good and gracious will. This is what distinguishes a truly Christian prayer from every other prayer in the world. This is the meaning that’s packed into that simple little phrase, “…we pray in Jesus’ name.” Amen.