Ask the Father in Jesus’ Name!

The Sixth Sunday of Easter  (Rogate) – 9 May 2021

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)

Introduction: Prayer—Something We Should Be Doing!

The great English poet George Herbert described prayer as “reversed thunder” (Prayer (I) ). Thunder normally rumbles through the clouds first and then the sound eventually reaches our ears. But prayer is thunder in reverse, as our desperate needs and deep yearnings take shape into prayers and petitions that rumble up through our hearts to the throne of God!

In the same poem on prayer, George Herbert calls prayer “the Church’s banquet.” Think of a time you went to an all-you-could-eat buffet. No matter how many times you went up for another helping of food, you did not even begin to make a dent in the abundance of provision. So, too, you can never exhaust God’s rich supply.

In our lives of trials, needs, and yearnings, it is a great comfort to know that our praying, even our non-verbal sighing, rumbles out from the depths of our hearts to reach God’s throne, and also that God’s provision is always greater than our desperation. Prayer is such a great gift that we should be crying out to God every day, even every hour. And when we also consider our great need to pray in face of the devil’s temptations, our own weaknesses, and the needs of others, we truly should be fervent intercessors before God. 

Could I use the word “fervent” to describe your prayers? I know that for my practice of prayer, the word that comes most readily to mind is “complacent.” How easily diverted and distracted I am from praying. And it is not that God expects our prayers to be long and labourious. Even if we only fervently prayed the seventy words contained in the Lord’s Prayer five or ten times throughout the day, we would have a rich prayer life indeed. And if we simply whispered “Lord, have mercy!” or “Thanks be to God!” every time we encountered a need or a blessing, then that too would serve as a great remedy for our complacency. Truly, we all need to pray this morning: “Lord, have mercy on us and heal us of our complacency, that we may pray aright, in true faith in Christ our Saviour!”   

Go Directly to the Father!

Prayer is a global phenomenon. Lots of people pray. But true prayer, which is actually heard and accepted by God, is prayer that is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. That is what Jesus is referring to when He says to His disciples: 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. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. “In that day” refers to the first day of the week, when Jesus rose from the dead. Prayer, then, is always connected to our Lord’s resurrection and to our heavenly Father.

Which brings us to our baptism. In Holy Baptism, we are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin. In Baptism, we are united with Christ in His death and in His resurrection (see Romans 6:3-5).  In Baptism, God the Father has saved us… through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

We sometimes act as though God had no interest in our troubles, or worse yet, as if God stood in opposition to us. If God didn’t care for us, if God were out to get us, then what would be the point of praying? But the clear testimony of Scripture is that God is abounding in what some of the older English translations call “lovingkindness” (see Psalm 103:8, New American Standard Bible). “Lovingkindness”—this one-word description of God should encourage us all to be fervent in our prayers. “Lovingkindness” means that God is big in His commitment to showing mercy to the lowly, the needy, the miserable (see Psalm 103:8, The Bible for Everyone: A New Translation). God’s lovingkindness refers to His redeeming, saving us from our sins and from the eternal doom we deserved. In lovingkindness, God has raised us up from death and He even now preserves us to eternal life. In lovingkindness, God keeps His covenant to save sinners through Christ Jesus. And in His lovingkindness, God has united us to our Lord’s death and resurrection and has made us heirs of eternal life. And being heirs, we may pray directly to the Father. 

You are born a beggar but in Holy Baptism God adopted you as His own dear child and heir. Of course, there is a natural born Son, Jesus the very Son of God. But our Lord Jesus wants us to have joy in knowing the true nature of His Father. It is not that we have to go sheepishly to Jesus and say, “Jesus, would You mind going to Your Father for me to ask a favour?” That is not how the household of God operates. Rather, you yourself can go directly to the Father with your petitions—large and small—for you yourself are a child of God and an heir of eternal life.

In the Name of Jesus.

The Father will give you whatever you ask of Him in the name of His Son, Jesus. The sinner in us wants to say, “Ah ha! It’s just as I suspected—there’s a catch, a loophole, that allows God to not give me everything I ask of Him.” But when we think like that, we are really slandering God and thinking ill of Him. This little phrase—in my name—is not a loophole; rather, it is a boundary that God sets for our good. You see, God loves us too much to give us everything we want. [And so] He draws a boundary around the things that He promises to give us in answer to our prayer.  That boundary is His love.…Because God is our loving heavenly Father, He restricts His promise to those things that are for our good, which draw us close to our Saviour [Jesus], in whose name we pray aright  (Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, pp. 140-141).

The only way we can pray aright is to pray in the name of Jesus. Of course, that means we must confess Christ to be our Lord and Saviour.  Prayer—true prayer—can only rise from faith in Christ, for only through Christ can we believe that [God] is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father  (Small Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer: The Introduction). The world likes to talk sentimentally about the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man apart from Christ. But the truth is that it is only in our belonging to Christ that we know God as our loving Father and each other as brothers and sisters. 

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are claiming to be His own possession through Holy Baptism and we are also claiming the rights of sonship.  It is as if we were saying to our heavenly Father, “Father, I am baptized; I belong to Your Son Jesus and in Him I have become Your own dear child, and so I know that You will hear and answer me with the same great love that You have for Your own dear Son.”

Always “Our Father”.

Have you ever wondered why—in our personal devotions—we do not change the Lord’s Prayer to “My Father who art in heaven”? The reason why we pray Our Father even when we are alone is because at all times we are, actually, in truth, never alone. We are always praying in the communion of the Blessed Holy Trinity; we are always praying with the Church. We are, in Christ, and therefore, where Christ is, there is His body. Here is how Luther put it, very nicely: Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition, which God cannot disdain (Luther, AE 43:198).

You are baptized into Christ; thus, you know that your prayers will always be heard by our Father in heaven. Pray, fervently, then, and with great joy. Pray in the name of Jesus, as His brother, as His sister. Pray without ceasing. And remember that you are never alone in your praying. Remember that Jesus has already gone through the worst for you, for He suffered and died for you, in your place, carrying the great burden of the world’s sins. He will see you through, whatever your need and whatever your heartache.  

Jesus has gone through your trials and much, much worse. He died on the accursed tree; He suffered for all of your sins and the sins of all mankind. He 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. Amen.