The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Series C – John 16:23-33
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
In the Gospel of St. John, our Lord spends all of chapters 14 through 17, teaching his disciples on Maundy Thursday, about what life in the Church will be like between Pentecost and His return in glory.
In other words, what life will be like for you and I, those living in the age of the church, between Pentecost and the Last Day. Jesus is found here speaking to you, not just his disciples, but to you, right now, right here, and for you.
And it is on this Holy Thursday, in these four chapters, that Jesus mentions specifically prayer three times, including in our Gospel lesson today.
He will also break into prayer at the end of this entire discourse and teaching, in what we call and what know as John chapter 17, the High Priestly prayer. And here, He will ask the Father, that the Father would be glorified through his coming crucifixion, and that the Father would give to us, you and I, unity in this Church held together by His own love. In fact, unity in the Church that would follow us to eternity itself.
And so we find that Jesus not only teaches us about prayer is, but he shows us, he fulfills in himself, what it is to pray, to reach for the moon, to demand the impossible, to plead and beg from God the greatest of all good gifts. For glory in his crucifixion, for unity and love to remain with his church forever.
For we should remember that the word “pray” is simply Old English for the word “ask” or “beg” or “plead”.
This is why the Gospel lesson from John 16 and the greater teaching from chapters 14 to 17, is in fact all about prayer, even if the word ‘prayer’ is never mentioned.
Three times in four chapters Jesus tells us about the promises of prayer.
He says: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
And, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:7-8, 16)
And finally, from today’s Gospel: “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.” (John 16:23-24)
If we boil these three passages down into one continuous thought, concentrating only on what Jesus says about prayer, we get this:
Jesus says, “Whatever you ask I will do. Ask anything, whatever you wish and it will be done. Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give you. Until now, you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
What is Jesus saying about prayer?
He shows us quite clearly that we are not only commanded to pray, but that our greatest confidence in coming to God with our prayers, is founded solely and totally in the generosity and unconditional promise of the Lord to not only hear our prayers, but to answer them.
“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”
The Lord commands us to pray, to call upon his name in every trouble, to pray, praise and give thanks as we hear in the second commandment. He invites us to believe that he really can, and really does provide for all that we need. That He answers our prayers.
Perhaps in us, as we hear those words, there is a tinge of cynicism. Perhaps we doubt whether God is really true to his word.
Will he really answer us with whatever we ask for, as long as we pray it in his name?
If we ask for more money, or a better job, for selfish and sinful things, will he give it to us, just because we ended our prayer with the name of Jesus?
And yet before our cynicism takes hold, we find that it’s the next verse in today’s Gospel that puts that very promise, “Ask whatever you wish in My name and I will give it” into perspective.
Immediately after Jesus says: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” He says: “The Hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25)
Which means, that the passages that say that whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name that He will give to us, are actually figures of speech.
Whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name means in fact, whatever we ask that according to His Name, according to His Will, His Mercy, His Heart, His Kingdom.
If we ask that God would damn our neighbor just because they’ve hurt us, we should realize that God will not do it.
His desire is that all would be brought to repentance and faith, and therefore have life in His Name.
In Christ, He has counted even those who hurt, offend and harm us, worthy of the life that He gives by faith.
Indeed, the Lord receives and eats with sinners.
His will, His Name, is mercy and forgiveness. It is not revenge and retribution, it is not hate and damnation, it is forgiveness given and held fast to the sinner.
So it is that “whatever you ask” and “anything you ask” are not silly, casual, throw away, meaningless words, but always modified by the figure of speech, “in My Name.”
They are words of promise and mercy, answering and delivering to you gifts that are far greater and far more necessary than getting revenge on your neighbor, or piling up your possessions, or repairing your broken pride.
Yet, Jesus still goes on, and says now, that the hour is coming when He will no longer speak in figures of speech. He will tell us plainly about the Father.
And that ‘hour’ is none other than His death upon the cross.
Throughout the Gospels, the use word of the ‘hour’, especially in its relationship to Jesus, always refers to the suffering and passion of Christ.
It is the hour that He anticipates, the hour that He grieves over, and yet it is also the hour in which He will speak plainly. Not in figures of speech, but as it is…as it really stands.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the hour when the Father is plainly revealed and no figure of speech is needed.
The Kingdom of God is not like Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. It is Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world.
It is his Heart, the Father’s Will clearly defined, the Mercy of Christ in bold letters.
It is not a sign or a figure, it is the reality itself.
It is the cost of our rebellion and the purchase of us by the Father.
It is by that hour, by the cross, that we pray in Jesus’ Name.
For if He had not sacrificed Himself for sinners then His Name would have no power for sinners.
If we were not redeemed and declared holy by that generous gift, we could not approach God in any way nor would our prayers be pleasing to Him.
But having been redeemed and washed clean, having made the great exchange of our sins for His righteousness, we are now free to pray for anything, even stupid and small things, as well as large and impossible things, as dear children coming to their dear father, trusting that He will not grow angry or frustrated but that He, who counts every hair on our heads, delights in our conversation.
It must be that hour, the holy cross, for apart from it we cannot recognize that the Father Himself loves us, but see only wrath.
But in the cross, in the self-giving of the Son for the life of the world, God reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ came in mercy from the Father in order to love us to the end, by making Himself a ransom and atonement that would win us back for the Father.
It is the hour of His glorification because He there reveals the heart of His Father, and that heart is mercy.
It is also the hour of His victory. From the cross, Jesus snatched us back out of death. Hell lost all claim and grip upon us because it grabbed vainly at Him instead.
Jesus finished death and Hell and Satan on the cross.
Then He went back to the Father, but He was not empty-handed. He returned to the Father with the prize, with us.
And He, Himself, and also the Holy Spirit, prays for us. He ascends into heaven as a Man and opens heaven for us. He brings our petitions and desires to His Father.
So the Father also is now open to us, by the cross, and we pray directly to Him as to Jesus and as to the Holy Spirit.
All our prayers must be offered through the cross. But through the cross, we need not be at all hesitant.
Through the cross, we can be bold in our prayers and unashamed, confident that whatever is prayed through that sacrifice is prayer in Jesus’ Name and so will be done, given, and bestowed.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.