Rogate, the 5th Sunday after Easter + John 16:23b-30 + May 6, 2018
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today our Lord teaches us to pray. This is a lesson that you need often because the devil, your adversary wants to convince you that you are not worthy to pray. He tells you that you deserve none of the things for which you pray and too often you believe that, so you don’t pray as you should. The world in which you live insists that your prayers are ineffective. Too often, you feel the same way, wondering why the Lord hasn’t answered your prayer. So you don’t pray as often as you should. Your own flesh tempts you to imagine that self-reliance is more godly and pious than humbly asking the Lord for what you need. Your flesh likes the sound of worldly aphorisms like “God helps those who help themselves.” So you imagine if you just work harder at things, that’s better than prayer and reliance upon the Lord. It is because we are hounded by the devil, influenced by the wicked world, and tempted by our sinful nature that Christ teaches us to pray on this Sunday. We hear His promise again because His promise is the only thing that can motivate us to truly pray with certainty that our prayers are heard and acceptable to God our Father.
Jesus says to you, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you.” With this one word, “whatever,” Christ obliterates all ideas that some requests are too small, or too large, for the Father to accept. With this one simple word, “whatever,” Jesus invites you to pray for everything you need in this life, for all your needs of the body and for your neighbor’s worldly needs. This one word also teaches us to pray for every spiritual thing that we lack, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. Do you need patience, chastity, or contentment? Do you need comfort, joy, and consolation in the midst of trials and crosses? To all these Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you.” Do you face a life-altering decision? Do you need wisdom to discern what is best for yourself and your family? James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). This one small word, “whatever,” covers every need which you might have. There isn’t a single thing that God doesn’t want you to ask Him for. With this small word He invites you to pray to Him, trusting that He will hear you.
It should be said as well that He will only give you things according to His will. “Whatever” does not include things that will gratify your sinful nature. Your heavenly Father’s will is that you fight sin in your flesh so that it doesn’t reign in your body. He won’t give you things that are contrary to His will. He won’t give you thinks that will lead you into sin. Nor will He grant requests that run contrary to His commandments. But you shouldn’t be asking for those sorts of things anyway. You are children of God. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” Paul says in Galatians 3:26. Since you are sons of God by faith, God has given you His Holy Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in you to give you new hearts, so that you desire the things that God promises to give you. The Spirit, using the Word of God in Holy Scripture, teaches us to pray for the things God wants for us. St. John writes in 1 John 5:14-15, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” The Spirit teaches us to pray for all our needs and say, “Thy will be done.”
This sort of thing bothers the flesh. Your flesh doesn’t trust God. Your sinful nature doesn’t believe that God is good and only gives you good things. Your Old Adam wants to judge what God sends as either good or bad based on his own selfish standard. But the Scriptures tell us that God is good and only gives believers good things. Jesus tells you this in Matthew 7:9-11. He says, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Christ promises you that the Father’s will for you is good and gracious. Not only has He said it, though that would be enough for us. He has shown us that God’s will for us is good. It is the Father’s will that you be saved from your sins, so He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to bear your sins upon the cross, dying as the atoning sacrifice for all of your sins. It is the Father’s will that you receive the benefits Christ earned through faith, so He sent you a pastor through whom He would weekly preach the gospel to you so that you might believe. It is the Father’s will that you endure until the end, that you remain faithful unto death and not forsake Him, so He has given you His sacraments to strengthen your faith and fortify your confidence.
Jesus also teaches us how we are to pray. He says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The devil tell you that you unworthy for all of the things for which you pray. And this is true. You are unworthy to ask anything from God the Father. The only thing that we are worthy of in God’s sight is punishment and wrath for our sins. Christ doesn’t tell us simply to ask God the Father for things on our own, or based on our own worthiness and merits. He tells to ask God the Father in His name. “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 and me and have believed that I came forth from God.” We are to ask all our petitions in Jesus’ name. This means more than simply tacking the phrase, “in Jesus name we pray,” to the end of your prayer. To pray in Jesus’ name means to base your prayer upon Christ’s promise. “Because of Jesus’ merits, Lord, grant my requests. I come to you, asking you these things, as one who loves Christ and is loved by Christ.”
This is how Christ squashes the devil’s accusation of your unworthiness to pray. He tells you to ask in Jesus’ name, not your own, not because you deserve that God hear and answer you, but because Christ has told you to pray and promised that the Father will hear you. Your prayers are not ineffective and worthless. Jesus promises that the Father hears your prayers and answers them according to His good and gracious will. He also does away with the flesh’s temptation to self-reliance, so that you do not think that God will favor you more if you don’t pray and instead work toward fulfilling your own needs. Your Father wants you to pray to Him, just as any earthly father wants his children to come to him, confident that he will give them the good things they ask of him. It is as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” He has given you the thing you need the most: Christ to take away your sin and Christ to be your righteousness by faith. If He has given you Christ freely, will He withhold anything else from you? You are His child by faith in Christ. He is your Father through Holy Baptism. So pray, presenting your requests, whatever they may be, to your Father in Jesus name, that your joy may be full. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.