Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The New Testament Book of First Thessalonians, Part 7

Praying in Jesus' Name?

[Below you'll find live stream videos of both Sunday, May 22 worship services from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, and the text of the Sunday sermon.]

John 16:23-33

People often ask me to pray for them. I’m happy to do so, of course. Jesus promises that God hears whenever “two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for…” (Matthew 16:19) But, sometimes people ask me to pray for them because they feel that they themselves aren’t worthy to pray to God. Some are even terrified of God.

All of us, of course, have reason to fear God. God, after all, is perfect in righteousness and holiness; you and I are sinners whose only hope is the grace and forgiveness God gives in the crucified and risen Jesus. Martin Luther said that when human beings are out of sync with God, refusing to repent for sin and refusing to trust in Jesus Christ, even the rustling of wind can terrify us, filling us with fear that it--or any other mysterious "omen"--may be bringing God’s judgment. 

So, for many people, the prospect of coming into God’s presence is a fearful thing. Yet, in the interest of “covering all their bases,” they will sometimes approach people they think have a pipeline to God to pray for them. And some people, thinking themselves pious, will appeal to "superheroes of the faith," especially dead ones, to pray to God the Father for them. 

But, friends, God the Father, Who sent Jesus to die and to rise for us doesn’t want there to be any walls between Him and us. Jesus died to give us complete, intimate contact with our Father in heaven. Because of what Jesus has accomplished in the crucifixion and resurrection, it’s possible for we sinful, imperfect human beings to go directly to God the Father without fear, not because we’re perfect, but because Jesus is. That’s what today’s gospel lesson is about.

Take a look at the first part of John 16:23-33, please. This is a continuation of words Jesus spoke to His disciples just before He was arrested. Verse 23: “In that day [Jesus says] you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

The “that day” to which Jesus refers is the day when He has been glorified, the day when He has accomplished His mission on this earth: Dying for our sins, rising to open up life to those who trust in Him, and ascending to heaven. Once “that day” has come, Jesus is saying, the disciples, including you and me, will be able to go directly to the Father, ask for anything in His name, and receive it.

But what does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? Is the invocation of Jesus’ name a magical incantation binding on God the Father? 

No. Listen: The baptized believer in Jesus is the beneficiary of what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross and from the empty tomb. When Jesus gave up His life, the temple curtain that shielded people from being in the direct presence of God the Father was torn. That means that nobody needs to use someone else’s pipeline to connect with God

People baptized in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are covered with Jesus, not with their sins. They’re a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you believe in Jesus, you are covered with Jesus, even on the days when you don’t feel like it. Christ is still the Lord Who died and rose for you and opened up a relationship with God for you no matter how happy, sad, elated, depressed, victorious, defeated, healthy, or unhealthy you may feel at any given time. And when you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only do you have a connection with the Father made possible by Jesus for you, not only are you covered in Jesus’ identity so that when God looks at you, all He sees is Jesus, you also have God the Holy Spirit living in you!  In John 14, Jesus promised that He would send an Advocate for believers in Him: “...the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 15:17) 

To pray in Jesus’ name then is to speak to the Father directly, covered with Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit. Think of that! This is true whether the person doing the praying is an elderly saint in a nursing home or an toddler who knows Jesus Love Me.

But, this gives rise to a nagging question: Has God given you everything you’ve ever asked Him for? Are there marriages you prayed for that ended anyway, children you prayed for who still made the wrong decisions, healings you asked for that didn’t come...even though you prayed for them all “in Jesus’ name”? All of us can point to prayers that weren’t answered the way we wanted them to be answered. Jesus had the same experience. In the garden of Gethsemane, you remember, He prayed to the Father that His cup of suffering would be removed from Him. Jesus didn’t want the agony of the cross He bore for you and me. But then He prayed, “...yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). 

And this tells us a lot about what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It means to ask the Father to do His will in and through us, even when the answers God seems to give make no sense to us. (I say “seems to give” because it’s just possible that God’s final answer to our prayers is something we’ll never perceive or understand in this world!) 

To pray in Jesus’ name is to trustingly lay ourselves, our world, and the people and situations about which we pray before God. The apostle Paul says, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

To pray in Jesus’ name is to cede control of our lives and all for whom we pray to our Father in heaven. Our words may be jumbled. We may not understand all involved in what we pray for. We may not know what God will do with our prayers or how He will deploy His power in the situations we pray about. But we can trust that God does and will answer rightly, even when, as Jesus experienced on the cross, we may think that the Father has forsaken us. In Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, we can be sure that God will never forsake or forget or ignore us!

We can pray and we can live in the confidence of Jesus’ promise, made at the end of today’s gospel lesson: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus has overcome everything to give you perfect peace with God. You can trust in Him, always. Thank God for that. Amen!