Sunday, May 05, 2024

Therefore, Pray!

 John 16:23-28

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name.  Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.  These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.  I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father."

Sermon for Rogate Sunday                                              05/05/24

Therefore, Pray!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are few Bible passages that have produced the kind of confusion that our Gospel lesson has.  Jesus speaks to His disciples about prayer, and what He says sounds to our ears as if Jesus is giving us the authority to use God like an internet shopping site - you click on your request and, shazam!, there it is, delivered right to your door.  That isn't exactly what Jesus is saying.  It is, however, about prayer, and about our relationship with God the Father.  Jesus does promise an answer to every prayer, so our theme, this morning, is what the text finally says to us - Therefore, pray!

Part of the problem with misunderstanding the text is the translation we use.  It says, "If you ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you."  All of the translations tend to sound the same - some use the word "Whatsoever" instead of "anything", but it tends to come across in the English as a broad guarantee that we can get anything and everything from God simply by asking.

AND WE CAN!  The fact that I have to admit that is part of what makes this so difficult to understand for so many people.  But Jesus was not promising that we will get everything we can conceivably pray for.  That is where the language barrier still stands in our way sometimes.  Jesus was not promising that anything conceivable we asked would automatically be given.  He was promising that every prayer would be heard and answered, that God the Father was listening to our prayers, and wanted to hear our prayers, and that we could count on God the Father just as the Disciples counted on Jesus Himself.  Jesus was also actually subordinating Himself to the Father.

Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking to His disciples.  We are also the recipients of the promises, but we were not the original audience.  Those disciples were accustomed to Jesus, in the flesh.  This text comes in the middle of Jesus warning them that He was going away, and they would not see Him, and their hearts would know sorrow on account of that.  These disciples were accustomed to asking things of their Master - and receiving something in response.  They were not accustomed to asking for motorized toys, or even candy bars, but when they asked Jesus a question, He answered.  When they wanted to eat, they got to eat - now and again they ate miraculously.

Jesus was telling them that when He was gone from among them, they were going to have the same relationship with the Father that they had with Jesus.  They would not be praying to Jesus, but to the Father, and He would deal with them just as they might expect Jesus would.  He would answer.  Whatever it was that they needed, God the Father would provide.  Jesus even made the point that He wasn't going to have to intercede with the Father for them, in order to get what they needed, but the Father Himself would listen and answer their prayers because He loved them!

He loved them because they believed.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.  Jesus takes His place behind the Father - we call that the subordination of the Son to the Father - and God the Father deals with us, just as lovingly and just as intimately as Jesus did with His inner circle of disciples.  He loves us because we love Jesus and believe God's Word about Jesus.  Praying in Jesus name doesn't here mean just stapling the name onto our prayer, but praying to God on account of Jesus - because we know what He did and why He did it and what it means for us and about our relationship with the Father.  It is, in other words, a prayer which flows from a heart of faith.

Jesus tells us these things for our comfort and our peace of mind.  Life is not going to be comfortable at all times, and we will be tempted to despair.  Jesus tells us of the Father's love for us so that we will be able to approach any situation with faith in Him.  More than just comfort, Jesus says He wants us to know this that our joy may be full.  Our joy is filled up by knowing what we know, and by walking in the truth of what He teaches us.

What we know is the Gospel.  We know the reality of sin.  We know how frequently we go our own way, and feel as if we can handle life without considering Jesus.  The verses just preceding our text talk about how the disciples will have sorrow, but the world will have joy, but then our sorrow will be turned to joy.  Jesus uses the image of a woman in labor; the pain before, the joy afterwards.  That is how the gospel works in us and for us.

While we live in this world, we have the joy of the Gospel, but the sorrow caused by the hatred of the world, and the sorrow of our own sinful flesh longing and lusting for sin.  We have the sorrow of guilt and of the knowledge of our sins.  The world, on the other hand, has no problem with sin.  It rejoices in sin.  The world loves to lead us to sin for it understands on a primal level that sin separates from God.

Of course, when I speak of the world as a sentient being, I am not referring to grass and trees, but to the society of men under the guidance of the "ruler of this world" as Jesus described the devil.  Men have consciousness and intelligence, and so does the leader of all those who live without Christ.  He leads and plans, and so do those who follow him.  That's where persecutions come from.  Congress, under the guise of protecting Jews from hate speech, has just passed a bill which has the potential to make any Biblical speech illegal.  We have been safe in the past from persecutions, in this country, least open and overt persecutions, but that time is coming to an end.  

There is a senseless and violent hatred towards Christians in this country - coming from the Main Stream Media, many politicians, and the intellectual elites.  It is growing.  Strong language and virulent aspersions are aimed with increasing frequency and energy at just-plain-old-fashioned Christians.  We are called ignorant, demented, backwards, dangerous.  Our intelligence is impugned in speeches and in print and in our entertainments, like TV and movies.  We are accused of doing things we don't do, of trying to commandeer the country and force our values on the world.  We are likened to Hitler, accused of being insane, and pictured as an enemy that must be eradicated - and this by people who think that Islamic terrorism is really not a big problem in the world.

Those who spew such hate language at us are "the world" of which I speak.  They have effectively removed historic Christianity from the public square in our culture, and they want to silence anyone that might bring a Christian perspective into the arena of politics or government policy or education.  They have likened the humble confession of the Christian faith - or Bible-based morality - to terrorism.  They make the lives of God's people difficult and bitter, that is, if the disappearance of religious symbols from the streets and buildings of our towns bothers you, and if hearing athletes and entertainers castigated for speaking about being a Christian and viewing their lives in the spotlight from a Christian faith perspective offends you.

The sorrow we know now is the sorrow of the cross.  It is our sins, and the sins of those around us, and the displeasure of the world - even that part of the world that calls itself our friends, our family, or fellow Christians.  The joy they know is the joy of seeing the influence of Christian thought and morality diminish.

It is in the face of these pains and pressures that Jesus reminds us that we are not alone, nor are we bereft of any help.  Just as He would stand up for His disciples and speak against the hostility of the world toward them, and give them peace, and provide for them - so will our heavenly Father do for us.  He gives us the promise that God will listen to us and answer any and every prayer.  

"If you shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in My name."  That is, He will listen to every prayer, and answer it just as Jesus would - not necessarily giving us every single thing we might think to include in a prayer, as though He were an online marketplace, but guiding us, blessing us, forgiving us, protecting us, and providing for our needs, and helping us in every trouble and in every circumstance.

Our joy now is that we are never alone, and never without resources.  We have God standing there, ready to hear, eager to answer, promising help and supply in every need.  He promises all of that to us because He loves us.  He loves us particularly because we love Jesus, we believe in Him and hold to Him and serve Him and call ourselves by His name, and stand with Him for blessing, or for the abuse and hatred of the world.

And how could we do anything other?  We are filled with Him.  We are in Christ and Christ is in us, and we stand in the world as Christ, with His holiness and with His glory, and with His power.  We have His Word.  We eat His body and drink His blood.  We love with His love, and we suffer the hatred of the world for Him.  And the heavenly Father loves us and desires to help us stand in Him and in His love.

Of course, our joy will finally be made complete on the great day of the Lord, when He shall bring us to Himself, body and soul reunited and outfitted for eternity.  And He gives us this privilege and power of prayer so that we may stand, and may finally taste that ultimate joy.  And knowing the truth of all of these things, our theme this morning is, Therefore, Pray!

Pray often.  Pray with confidence.  Never give up on prayer.  Take advantage of the love of God for you - because that is precisely what He wants you to do.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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