May 25, 2014 A+D
St. John 16:23-33
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the night in which Our Lord was betrayed, the very night in which He instituted His Holy Supper, He washed the disciples’ feet and gave a long discourse on what life would be like between Pentecost and His return in glory, that is, what it is to live in the current age. Our lectionary spends five Sundays in a row on that discourse as recorded in John’s Gospel. We are now in our third week of it.
In that discourse, the Lord mentions prayer three times. He also breaks into prayer at the end of it. He prays that His Father would be glorified through His offering of Himself on the cross and that His Father would bestow a loving unity upon His disciples and the Church that would follow them.
Remember that the word “pray” is simply Old English for “ask.” Here are the three passages from this discourse where Jesus tells the disciples about the promise 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, ESV)
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 ESV)
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, ESV)
If we string these together, concentrating only on what He says about prayer, here is what we hear. 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.”
The emphasis is clearly on the unconditional and generous promise of the Lord to hear and answer prayer.
The next verse in today’s Gospel puts that promise in 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 16:25b, ESV)
The passages that say whatever we ask in +Jesus’ Name He will give to us are figurative speech. Whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name means whatever we ask that is in accord with His Name and mercy. If we ask that God damn our brother because he does not deserve God’s love and has hurt us, God will not do it. He desires repentance and faith in all. He has counted our unworthy brother of being worthy of the life of His Son and He will not turn His back on him simply because we are angry or hurt. The Lord receives and eats with sinners. So “whatever you ask” and “anything you ask” are modified by the figure of speech “in My Name.”
But the hour is coming when Jesus will no longer speak in figures of speech. He will tell us plainly about the Father. That hour refers to His death upon the cross.
This is a common use of the word “hour” in John’s Gospel. In this very discourse, John set the stage by writing: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
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 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, there need be no hesitancy. 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 will be done, given, and bestowed.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.