Sunday, May 9, 2010

Easter 6 Sermon -- John 16:23-33 (LSB Easter 6C)

May 9, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[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.”

It makes sense to hear these words of Jesus this morning, as we reach the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This day in the old liturgical calendar was called “Rogate Sunday.” The name comes from the Latin word rogare, which means “to ask.” And even though we are on a new system of lessons, we still come across this reading from St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus teaches His disciples about asking things from His Father.

Really what we see in the Gospel reading for today is instruction about prayer that Christ gives. It’s not the only time that He spoke on the subject. We might well recall the whole Sermon on the Mount when Jesus taught the crowds about prayer. We may remember when the Christ said: “Ask, and it will be given to you.” Or His instruction: “When you pray, say Our Father in heaven, etc.” He even makes it clear that “babbling on and on” or “making a public show of prayer” does not please God the Father.

But when He speaks to the Twelve in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, Jesus focuses on the reason why His disciples may pray. Their Lord points out to them why they have access to God the Father, why He will hear their prayers. And in the late stages of their learning from Jesus, the disciples are given instruction of how they will pray in the future, when Jesus is no longer with them on earth.

That point is seen several times in what we heard from St. John’s Gospel today. Jesus says: “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.” He tells the Twelve: “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.” There is a marked change in the way things will operate from that moment on in the life of the disciples, and that is what Jesus wants to get them to understand.

The change is simple enough to grasp, even for the Twelve. While Jesus was with them, leading them, teaching them, He was their conduit to heaven. Jesus speaks for them, prays for them, acts for them. He shows them how to pray. He offers petitions on their behalf. The Christ intercedes for His flock that He was shepherding for three years, from Galilee to Judea.

But the Christ was going away. His ascent to heaven was a mere 43 days from the time He spoke these things to the Twelve. And that event, Jesus’ return to heaven following His betrayal, death, and resurrection, would shift matters regarding prayer. After the Christ’s ascent to heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, His disciples would not have Him in their midst to pray to, or to pray for them. A new day would come when Jesus’ followers would have access to the Father because of what He accomplished for them.

That is the situation in which we also find ourselves. We live in “that day” which Jesus is talking about. We live in the same time period as the Twelve disciples did after Christ’s ascension to heaven. And what Jesus tells them about prayer is also instructive for us. What He teaches the Twelve is what we also confess about prayer, especially in the Small Catechism.

Think back to what you learned about the Lord’s Prayer from the catechism. We start out with the introduction: “Our Father in heaven.” And in the explanation of these words, we confess: “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He 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.” What we learned at the rudimentary level about prayer is congruent with what Jesus told the Twelve: “In that day you will ask in My name . . . for the Father Himself loves you.”

But to understand the significance of Christ’s statement, we need to look further at His words. There is a reason why “the Father Himself loves you.” And it has nothing to do with you or what you have done. It all depends on who God the Father is and what God the Son has done on your behalf. That is what gives you the ability “to ask of the Father.”

Jesus told the Twelve, and He tells the Church today, the reason why “the Father Himself loves you.” The reason is simple. Jesus says plainly: “You have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” It is a matter of faith, believing that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, the One who came down from heaven and gave His life for the world. It is confessing that Jesus Christ is your Redeemer, the One who delivered you from Satan’s grasp, broke the jaws of death, and absolved each and every sin you have ever committed. That is what gives you and every disciple of Jesus access to God the Father. It is what makes them children of God, recipients of the Spirit of adoption.

Think back to another portion of the catechism about prayer. Recall what you learned about sin and its forgiveness in the Fifth Petition. We pray “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And in the explanation of this, we confess: “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.”

It is a bold confession. It isn’t what society usually says about themselves. But you speak the truth about yourself: “I don’t deserve anything from God the Father. I am not worthy of being in His presence or receiving His blessing or asking Him for anything at all. But I still ask Him, to give things to me, especially forgiveness, out of His gracious nature and because I have been made His child through Jesus’ work.”

This squares with what Jesus told the Twelve: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you” Jesus tells them and all His followers to ask. Be bold to ask things of the Father in His name. Our Lord instructs us to pray, to petition God the Father, to place our requests before Him. And Christ points out why we can: “because you ask of the Father in My name.”

All of Jesus’ followers bear His name. They are marked as Jesus’ people. They have His seal of approval, His stamp of ownership engraved in their hearts and souls, just like the gates of heaven have the names of the Tribes of Israel and the Apostles etched on them. Our Lord is pointing us back to our baptisms, where that holy name was given to us. And because we have it, because we bear it, because it is ours, we have access to God the Father. We may ask of Him for our physical and spiritual needs, and Jesus says that His Dad will give it to us.

That’s what Jesus wants His disciples to know. It is an understanding of the significance of His work for them. Because He suffers and dies, but rises and lives, we now have standing before God the Father, before the maker of heaven and earth, before the deity sovereign over all that exists. We get to speak directly to Him. We get to make demands about what He has promised to give.

Think about the Lord’s Prayer again. It’s all commands given by us to God the Father, demands that we are able to make because of the name of Jesus that we bear. “Your name be holy. Make Your kingdom come. Enforce Your will in heaven and earth. Give us what we need to live. Forgive our sins. Keep us from temptation. Bring us out of danger to safety.” They are all what we ask, what we demand from our Heavenly Father. And they are what He is pleased to give to us, because we are His dear children, made so by Jesus Christ our Lord.

We don’t need Jesus to ask His Father for it. It’s not like the kids of the neighborhood who have to ask their friend’s parents’ permission to go to the game with them or to stay over at the house. No, we need not do that anymore. We can go straight to God the Father, because He isn’t only Jesus’ Father, He is ours as well. And what we ask of Him in Jesus’ name, reminding Him of what the Christ has done for us, we are promised to receive: the necessities of earthly life, but most especially the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation that Jesus has won through His bitter death and glorious resurrection.

That is what our Lord desires us to know about prayer while we live here on earth and await His return. And so we shall on this Rogate Sunday, with the promise and instruction of Jesus foremost in our hearts and minds.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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