In My Name!
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord who is the Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen
Jesus says in John 16:23, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you”.
“Whatever you ask in Jesus name and the Father will give it to you.” Jesus said these things to His disciples on Thursday Evening just before He suffered and died. He spoke to them as a group at the Last Supper. Up until then, they hadn’t had to ask for anything in His name: Jesus had been right there with them, so they’d just ask Him. But things were about to change: in just a few short hours, Jesus would leave them and go to the cross. After His Resurrection, He would leave them and ascend into heaven. In a little while, they would see Him no more.
There are two important things that Jesus did for His disciples and us at the Last Supper. He gave the gift of Holy Communion. In the Sacrament, He gives His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And although they would not be able to see Him face to face, He would still be with them even to the end of the age, through His Word and His Sacraments. The means of grace is how Jesus is present with us even today. This is how He forgiveness us and gives us life and salvation.
In our text today, Jesus emphasizes yet another gift, the gift of prayer: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you”. Until He returns in glory, this is how we speak to our Lord. But prayer is often misunderstood gift among Christians, so let’s take some time this morning and learn of our Lord’s gift of prayer.
We begin with Jesus’ guarantee: Truly, truly, I say to you.” “Most assuredly the New King James says”—this is a “truly, truly,” a double “amen.” Here you have Jesus’ promise that He hears your prayers. He doesn’t pick and choose which calls to return, nor does He use some sort of a junk mail filter. He hears and honors each prayer, and promises to answer every prayer that is prayed in Jesus’ name.
“Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” What an astonishing promise— it’s hard to believe, but that’s what Jesus proclaims, that’s what He promises “truly.” The Father will give whatever you ask in Jesus’ name. Jesus doesn’t give you three wishes. There are no limits. It’s impossible to annoy the Father in heaven by praying and asking too much. Jesus says in our Gospel lesson, God the Father loves you because you loved me. The Father delights to hear and answer every prayer prayed in Jesus’ name.
“In Jesus’ name.” That’s the name we keep coming back to. That’s what the promise and gift of prayer rely upon. We pray in Jesus’ name. We go before the Lord in prayer by saying, “We are terrible sinners, and we’re not worthy of Your grace or mercy. But we don’t ask for help because we deserve it. No, we ask You to hear us and to help us because Jesus has died for our sins and risen again for our salvation. Don’t help us because of our goodness, there is none; help us for Jesus’ sake. Help us because Your Son has shed His blood to make us Your children.” That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
And as long as you pray in Jesus’ name, you can be absolutely sure that the Father will give you whatever you ask.
II. Gospel in Prayer
The Law for us sinners is quite clear today: we sin whenever we fail to pray in Jesus’ name.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t mean that every prayer is good as long as we attach those three little words, “in Jesus’ name,” at the end just before the Amen. Nor do I mean that an otherwise good prayer goes unheard because we fail to end it with those three words. This isn’t some sort of magic phrase. Again, to pray in Jesus’ name is to confess that God answers prayers for Jesus’ sake, not because we or anyone else has earned God’s help.
A good example for us is that in Luther’s day it was customary to pray in the names of saints. At that time, the Roman Church declared that Jesus was quite the angry Son of God, and encouraged Christians to pray for God’s help in the name of one of the saints who had gone before—perhaps St. Paul or St. Lawrence or certainly St. Mary, the Mother of God. But Jesus never commanded us to pray in the names of other sinners. You can probably imagine the Father saying, “Why should I hear a prayer prayed in the name of Peter? My Son had to shed His blood for Peter; apart from His grace, Peter has no righteousness. He’s no better off than the one who is praying in His name”. If the saints, who have died in the faith, were aware of such shenanigans, they’d certainly not want us to use their names when we can pray in the name of Jesus who is Lord and Savior.
Another widespread error in our day is that God honors all prayers, even those prayed by unbelievers. But why should God hear such a prayer? The prayer of an unbeliever says, “Even though I don’t believe that Jesus died for me, and even though I give Him no thanks or honor for the cross, I still expect you to help me anyway.” Such a prayer is exactly against praying in the name of Jesus.
Now, if you’re here at Messiah, I assume that you’re already a believer and already believe it is inappropriate to pray in the name of saints. However, you still face many temptations which would lead you away from praying in Jesus’ name.
Perhaps the greatest temptation is to pray in our own name. It is so seductive to think that God hears our prayers when we’ve behaved better, when we’ve been trying harder. But if that’s how you approach prayer, you’re saying, “Dear Lord, hear my prayer because of my works, because of my intentions, because of my earnestness, because I’ve been trying harder than ever before to be a little less sinful than I was before. Such prayers are often based in the notion that we can strike deals with God. ” A “little less sinful” is still terribly sinful, and God makes no promise to hear such prayers. Don’t pray in your own name or on your own merit. Repent; and instead rejoice in the certainty that God hears your prayers for the sake of Jesus, who died for you. That’s why you pray in Jesus’ name.
Another error is the one made famous by televangelists. It’s the error that God will give you whatever you ask, as long as you have enough faith in Jesus. As long as you believe in Jesus enough, then God will give you whatever you want. “Name it and claim it, confess and possess it.” There are two problems with this. One is that this says that God answers prayer not because of Jesus’ work, but because of how hard you work at believing in Him. If your faith is strong, you can count on Him. If your faith is weak, then you can’t. How incredibly terrible that is? How awful to tell someone who prays for stronger faith that God won’t answer that prayer because their faith is too weak! The other problem is this, ‘it uses Jesus for personal gain’. To pray “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t mean that you can expect Him to give you whatever your little old sinful heart desires. Often, what you want to ask for is not what is truly good, right or salutary for you. To pray in Jesus’ name is to trust that He knows what is best for you. It is to pray “Thy will be done, not mine, O Lord.”
Plagued by the devil, by world and by our sinful flesh, this is what makes prayer so terribly difficult. You will be tempted to pray for deliverance on your terms: It’s like the man who prayed, “I want patience and I want it right now, Lord.” Or “Heal me right now!” Or “That job is perfect for me, so get it for me Lord!” “Save this relationship!” “Save this life!” But God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His will is always best, and He often works through hardship to do us a greater good. If you fall into these errors, repent. And rejoice: the Lord doesn’t only hear you when your faith feels strong. He always hears you for Jesus’ sake. And while you may not see the benefits of His answers in the short-term, you have His promise that He hears your prayers, and answers them in the way that is truly eternally best for you.
Here’s an error that we want to approach gently: it is the idea that, God answers prayers more when more people are praying them. Therefore, if many are praying for us, we’re more likely to get the Lord’s attention. Please don’t misunderstand: it’s good and right and proper for us to pray for each other and ask others to pray for us; and it’s immensely comforting for you and me to know that many people are praying for us. I don’t want to take anything away from that. At the same time, however, it’s good for us to embrace this truth: whether the prayer is prayed by one or by many Christians, God promises to hear it. Why? Because it doesn’t depend on the one or the many! It depends on Jesus, who died for the one and the many. Are you trusting in many voices rather than Jesus, then repent. And rejoice: it’s indeed a great comfort to know that, even if you are the only one to pray in Jesus’ name, God promises to hear you and answer you.
Here’s one more: it’s tempting to think that God will answer your prayer as long as you choose the right and most eloquent words. As long as you articulate your need clearly, then God will answer. If that’s true, then the prayer doesn’t depend on Jesus; instead, it depends on you and your communication skills. But that’s not true. In fact, the Bible declares that we don’t know how to pray. However, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). If you place your trust in your ability to pray, repent. And rejoice. Rejoice that even if the longest prayer you can string together is “Lord, have mercy,” that prayer in Jesus’ name is heard. Likewise, rejoice in this: not only has the Son given you His name and prayer, and not only does the Father love you and delight to hear your prayers, but the Holy Spirit works to present your prayers in a proper manner to the Father. All the holy Trinity bids you to pray and helps you do so.
Rejoice: God hears your prayers prayed in Jesus’ name. To pray in Jesus’ name is to trust that the prayer will be answered because Christ has died for you. Rather than imposing your sinful desires on Him, understand praying in Jesus’ name is to trust that His will is best for you. So rejoice, for after Jesus spoke of prayer in John 16, He then went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed for His disciples—and prayed for you. Even now, He prays for you until He comes again. Therefore, dear friends in Christ Jesus, rejoice: for you can be sure that the Lord hears your prayers for Jesus’ sake…Even Jesus prayer on the cross, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. And that prayer is answered because He has forgiven for all of your sins in Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN