Our text is today’s Gospel (John 16:23–33): 23 [Jesus said:] “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV)
I remember as a teen-ager my church’s youth group praying for a man in the congregation who was dying. With great earnestness, we prayed that he would be healed. But then he died, and it seemed to us that prayer was not all it was cracked up to be. We had read the words of today’s Gospel: Truly, truly, I say to you, said Jesus whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you. And so we tried it and we were disheartened by the results. After all, we had prayed quite sincerely, and we dutifully added the words “in Jesus’ name” and we closed with a firm “Amen!” But we did not get what we asked for, and we were sorely disappointed.
To us teenagers, Jesus made this task of praying sound so incredibly simple. Just ask! And so we wondered where we had messed up. And then we remember what St. James said in his epistle: but let [the person praying] ask in faith, with no doubting (1:6). And that led us to question whether there was something wrong with our faith. We had asked and we did not receive. Maybe it was because we did not believe hard enough. And of course there are people who teach just that. They say that if you name and claim a blessing and then do not get it, the fault is with your faith.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you—perhaps you have puzzled over this passage as well. Of course, you believe in God the Father and that Jesus is His Son, who died and rose to save you from you sins. And you delight in being in church, singing God’s praises, hearing His Word, and receiving Holy Communion. However, your prayer life is lacking. Prayer just does not seem to work for you and so you do not spend a lot of time on it. But then there are those words of Jesus—truly, truly. Jesus seems to be quite certain of what He is promising.
Our problem with this verse is not that God breaks His promises—for that could never be—but that we do not understand this promise. We think Jesus is promising to give us everything we want whenever we add the six syllables: “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” But this is to treat Jesus’ name as if it were magic. Let me say it again: to think that Jesus will give us everything we want when we want it is to treat His name as if it were a good luck charm.
But the name of Jesus is not magic but is even better than magic. You see, Jesus promises you whatever is in His name. All that is in His name, He says the Father will give you.
Picture it like this: God has a big treasure chest and written around the outside of that chest are the letters J-E-S-U-S. Everything inside of that chest is in the name of Jesus. The Father promises you any and everything that He has put into that chest. It is yours. After all, Jesus said: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.
So, the big question is: what is inside the chest? What is in the name of Jesus? Because whatever is in that name is what the Father promises to give you! Well, how about this for starters: in Jesus’ name you will find a Father’s love, overflowing joy, peace of heart and soul, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a family of faith that shares your joys and sorrows, the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith—oh, and not to mention, all you need to support your earthly life and pilgrimage through this world. It is all there for you in Jesus’ name. You have only to ask the Father, and He will open the treasure chest and give it to you.
Jesus says to His disciples: until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…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 from God.
In that day refers to the time after the Lord Jesus had been nailed to the cross, buried, and then raised from the dead to forgive the sins of the world and to destroy death. It refers to now, the day of grace. Jesus says that when we ask for whatever He has won for us by His suffering, dying, and going to the Father, that He will not have to ask the Father to give us those things. Rather, it is the Father Himself who invites us, urges us, and commands us to come and ask for any and every blessing that His Son won for us. For all the blessings and benefits that are in His name. The Father Himself loves us and wants us to have them all. He sent His Son for no other reason than that we might be given those priceless gifts.
So often, you and I look at prayer the wrong way round. Instead of looking into the treasure-chest of Jesus’ name and asking the Father to give us the riches that are found there, we keep looking at the things of the world around us and asking for those. Rather than ask God for all that we need to bring us safely through this fallen world to our heavenly home, we act as if this world were our home and we expect God to help us set up our little earthly kingdoms of prosperity and security. Luther says that when we do that, it is as though a King were to command a poor beggar to ask for anything in His kingdom with the promise that he would receive it, and as if the beggar were content to ask for a measly cup of soup. We are just that way when we content ourselves with the truly little things of this passing world instead of the lasting joys of heaven.
Your calling is to ask the Father for everything that is in the treasure chest of the name of Jesus. And do you know the greatest way to regularly go the Father and ask for the treasures that Jesus died on the cross to give you? It is to take the Lord’s Prayer not just onto your lips, but into your heart. As you come before the Father praying that prayer, you ask for the BIG stuff—and not just for you, but for you and for all Christians! You ask for God’s holy name to shape your life, for His kingdom to invade you, for His holy will to be done to you and by you and in all the world, for daily bread and the grace to receive all the goods of this world in thanksgiving, for forgiveness of sins and the grace to forgive others, for help in times of trouble, and for a final rescue from the Evil One. Those are some powerful big gifts to ask of God. Who would ever have the nerve to ask Him for them if Jesus himself had not taught us to pray like that, and to trust in the Father’s love?
Not only does Jesus teach us how to pray, but He is indeed at the very heart of our prayers, for we have been baptized into Christ and we now belong to Him. And He now comes to us once again in His Holy Supper to free us from our sins and to give us the strength to walk in newness of life, so that instead of being overcome by our sins and our struggles, we learn to pray in His Name, trusting in our heavenly Father’s love for sinners.
The context for our Lord’s words concerning prayer in today’s Gospel is that He is leaving the world and going to the Father. And He wants to console and encourage His disciples—us—to pray in the face of all our troubles. He tells us that the Father Himself loves us and that we do can pray directly to the Father. Imagine, what if we could only address our prayers to the Father of Jesus—“Dear Father of Jesus, help me in my great need.” But do you see? Such a prayer is addressed to someone to whom we have no relationship. But thanks be to God! Jesus gives us the joy and privilege of praying to Our Father! We are praying to Someone with whom we are intimately related. Our Father, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth! Our Father, who loves [us], because [we] have loved [Jesus] and have believed that [He] came from God. Jesus tells you to pray to your Father because in Baptism you have been brought into a living relationship with God. You are now God’s dear children, and God is your dear Father. And so, pray with all boldness and confidence to the Father whose love is far greater than your sins and failures and troubles.
Behold the immeasurable depths of the Father’s love for you. For you, He gave His only-begotten Son, to suffer and die for all of your sins and the sins of all mankind. This precious Son—our Saviour Jesus—rose again from the dead and He sits at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for His brothers and sisters still on earth. Therefore He will see you through to the end of your journey to heaven. He has already won the victory over all the enemies of your soul. And He gives you now the joy of praying in His name, knowing that our Father will always hear and answer your prayers in Jesus! Ask, [, then, ask in the name of Jesus] and you will receive, that your joy may be full. For the Father’s love is unending and He delights in His children coming to Him and asking Him for good things, especially the good things He has promised them—in the Name of Jesus. Amen.