Sermon

John 16:23-33

In Jesus’ Name

By The Rev. James T. Batchelor

Jesus had much to say on the evening before He went to the cross.  The Gospel according to John dedicates five chapters to His teachings as the betrayal and trials grew closer.  The other Gospel accounts also have extensive teaching from that evening and night.  The reading that we recently heard comes at the end of those teachings.  When Jesus finished these teachings, He prayed for His church and then prepared to meet His betrayer.  The words that we heard in today’s Gospel are the last words of Jesus’ farewell address to His disciples before His death.

Jesus had already warned His disciples about the sufferings, persecution, anxiety, and sorrow that will befall them in the days, months, and years to come.  He told them about the suffering that they would endure for the sake of the Gospel.  He promised them His comfort and aid.  And He promised to send the Holy Spirit to help them face the challenges that would soon come their way.  Then, as He came to the end of His teaching, He encouraged them to pray.  After that, He Himself prayed for them and for the church through all the ages.

As He encouraged His disciples to pray, He spoke of Our Heavenly Father.  He spoke of the love that the Father has for us.  He spoke of God the Father’s desire to hear our words and thoughts as we pray to Him.  Jesus’ words go beyond prayer and tell us of the attitude that God the Father has for us.  His words remind us of the opening words of the prayer He taught us to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven …”

The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer are so familiar to us that we often say them on auto-pilot.  We don’t often think about what it means that Jesus instructs us to call God our Father.  As we hear today’s Gospel we have an opportunity to hear what a marvelous thing it is that we not only have the privilege of speaking to the great sovereign Lord of all things, but Jesus actually instructs us to speak to Him as our beloved Father.

We should take a short pause here to recognize that the word father has mixed meanings in any group.  Some of us had fathers who loved us and sacrificed for our benefit.  Others had abusive fathers who made their lives miserable.  This means that there can be wildly different reactions to the teaching of God the Father.  God the Father is the perfect Father even for those who have broken images of their fathers due to death, abuse, or some other tragedy.

God the Father is not just a name or title.  It is His true nature.  He is the perfect father … the one who loves, sacrifices, cherishes, and otherwise cares for us.  He is the one who demonstrated His love for us by sending His only begotten Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.  His love for us is perfect and He wants to hear from us on a regular basis.  He wants us to share our words, our thoughts, and even our feelings with Him.

How can such a thing be?  He is the creator and sustainer of all things.  He is in charge of the physical universe and the spiritual realm as well.  The earth seems large to us, but to Him it isn’t even a dust speck.  He is so big and powerful.  In comparison, we are infinitesimally small and weak.  How could such a great being even know we are here?

Not only that, but He is holy and perfect and we are broken sinners.  He created a perfect, holy universe and we broke it with our sin.  His holiness brings blessings and our sinfulness brings curses.  Even if He were to notice us, wouldn’t it make sense to punish us for all we have done to corrupt His creation?  How is it that Jesus instructs us sinners to address this holy and mighty God as Father?  How can this be?

Jesus included the answer to this question in His instructions to pray.  Three times He included the instruction to ask in His name.  When Jesus instructs us to pray in His name, we remember whose name this is.  This is the name of the Son of God who took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  This is the name of the one who was born under the strictest law and kept that law in perfection without sin.  This is the name of the one who submitted to unfair arrest and trial, to shameful torture, and ultimately to death on a cross.  This is the name of the one who suffered all these things and then rose from the grave.  This is the name of the one who ascended into heaven in order to fill all things.  This is the name of the one who rescued us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  This is the name of the one who promised to return in order to raise the bodies of all the dead and take me and all believers to live with Him in eternity forever.  Jesus said that we are to pray in this name.

Praying in Jesus’ name is the foundation of prayer.  It anchors prayer in the salvation that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death.  It anchors our prayer in Christ’s resurrection and the promise that we shall also rise from the dead.  Since the power of prayer resides in Jesus’ name, it does not rest in the prayer itself.  Nor does it rest in us.  We need not worry about making our prayers eloquent or long.  We need not be concerned about the exact form of our prayer.  We need not worry about being worthy to pray, for the worthiness of our prayer resides in Jesus Christ.

Praying in Jesus’ name does not require us to actually say, “In Jesus’ name I pray,” or something similar.  It simply means that there is trust in Jesus Christ.  Thus prayer is a gift that the Holy Spirit gives to us at the same time that He works saving faith in us.  If we have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, then we also have the faith that prays in Jesus’ name.  To pray in Jesus’ name means that God hears our prayers for the sake of Christ, our only Mediator and High Priest before God. Therefore our prayer must be centered in Him alone.

This also means that those who reject the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith cannot really pray.  They can say the words.  They can go through the motions.  Never the less, if they do not trust Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, they are not praying in the name of Jesus.  Their faith is in a false god.  If their faith is in a false god, then they are praying to a god who does not exist.  They are praying into emptiness.  It is like having a conversation in an empty room.  You can say amazingly eloquent things.  Your prayer can be a literary masterpiece, but no one will hear it.

On the other hand those who trust in Jesus have no need to be eloquent.  We don’t have to worry that we will get the words exactly right.  Just as a loving parent will listen to the silly words of a toddler, so also God the Father loves to listen to those who trust in Jesus.  Because our sins have been removed and Christ has covered us in His righteousness, our thoughts, words, and feelings are precious to God no matter how crude they are.

Furthermore, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul.  In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.  He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26–27)   Here the Holy Spirit promises to take even our most awkward words and thoughts and transform them into perfection.  He intercedes for us.  The Holy Spirit knows what is on our mind and He will convert our prayers into a perfect heavenly language that our little words cannot even express.  Even our crudest prayers will be translated into the beautiful language of the Holy Spirit as they make their way to our dear Father in Heaven.  From the simplicity of the youngest child to the confusion of the Alzheimer’s patient in the nursing home; the Holy Spirit will make them all into heavenly masterpieces.

The wonderful thing about the gift of prayer is that it lasts forever.  We who have the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in Jesus will not experience eternal death.  At our earthly death, our souls will be with Jesus in paradise.  There we will pray in His very presence.  When the last day comes, He will raise our bodies to immortality and we will be body and soul once again.  Then we shall gather around the eternal throne and pray to our dear Father in joy and peace.  There we will communicate with God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect prayer.  We shall see Him face-to-face and experience his perfect love.  Amen

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2013 James T. Batchelor.  Used by permission.