John 16:23-33: In Jesus’ Name

Praying Hands (610x351)When our fallen flesh thinks of prayer, it merely sees it as a means to an end—a way to get what you want! And such sinful thinking is also rampant in the Church. After all, every member of Christ’s Church in the world is not just a saint, but also a full-fledged sinner. Haven’t you wanted to pray in a way that would guarantee that you would get what you’ve asked of God? I have.

And who here has never tried to make a deal with God? Haven’t you prayed, “If you do this for me, Lord, I promise to do…” You fill in the blank. At the root of that prayer is the universal human ambition to manipulate God, to get Him to do what you want Him to do. In its crassest form, it’s cutting a deal with God, all so He would do whatever He needs to do to fulfill some wish or yearning that you have.

But let’s pause for a moment, and hear the Apostle Paul’s counsel. He wrote to the congregation at Corinth, pointing them back to the people of Israel and how they floundered in their faith. He wrote, “Now their experiences serve as examples for us, so we won’t set our hearts on evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). What was at the root of their sin? It was asking to have what they wanted, based on their sinful nature.

The people of Israel griped and grumbled. They grew tired of God’s provision for them, asking for meat instead of manna. They wanted the leeks and onions of Egypt, instead of what God had for them in the Promised Land. They wanted to worship God in the ways they knew and liked. They had lived in Egypt for 400 years, so trying to worship God through a golden calf was nothing weird for them. And yet, Moses’ brother, Aaron, had the boldness to call that sin “a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5).

But wanting and asking for what is sinful wasn’t just something the Israelites did. We do that, as well. And what happens when we do that? What happens? We’re asking God to join with us in our sin! It goes back to the devil’s original temptation in the Garden: “Do this and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). That’s at the heart of sin—it wants to rule over God, all so you have your way and get want you want.

When that sin infects our prayers, it tries to get God to be our fetch-it boy. It’s about getting what you want, instead of what God wants for you. It’s about being in control.

You’re not strong enough to be your own god. Repent! Scripture even tells us, “We don’t know what to pray for as we should” (Romans 8:26). So, you shouldn’t get whatever you ask from God—that would be a disaster! God is God. He is your Father. And even on this Mother’s Day, God the Father still knows what is best.

Now, you might think that your problems are money or illness. You might think it’s your messed-up family or an unfair boss. You might even think it’s your pastor, who preaches and teaches some doctrines in Scripture that you haven’t heard before, and yet, you make your experiences the final authority and judge in God’s Church.

But it’s God the Father who knows best. He knows the real problem that stands at the center of it all—sin. And so what did God do? For starters, He chose not to answer humanity’s prayers—at least, not as we asked them. Instead, He sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin. But get this: Jesus didn’t suffer and die for theoretical, abstract sins. He suffered for real sins, including your sinful prayers, which you expect God to answer as your sinful flesh would like it. That’s why Jesus was crucified.

But who would’ve seen that coming? In all of human history, who would’ve asked for that? From our perspective, that’s just crazy. How can someone’s seemingly useless death benefit another? That just sounds like some wacky, hair-brained scheme.

But that’s what you needed. That was the way of salvation for you. God the Son had to become a human, so, in His death, He could pour out His lifeblood for you. So, aren’t you glad that God didn’t answer the sin-born prayers of His sin-born people—at least not in the way they asked it? Instead of letting us talk Him into giving us what our sinfulness wanted, God gave us what we needed!

And so, rejoice when Jesus tells you how prayer really works. The key to prayer—according to Jesus—is not learning how to get what you want, but learning how to pray in His name. But, for us, that’s a sticky wicket.

How does our fallen nature understand what praying in Jesus’ name means? It hears the truth that Jesus teaches and comes to a depraved conclusion; our sinful nature is so good at that (or should I say “bad” at that). And what does it think? It’s that Jesus’ name becomes a magical phrase or mantra that allows us to manipulate God.

What do you want? Tack on the phrase, “in Jesus’ name.” Then, God has to answer your prayer in the way that you asked it. Isn’t that what Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23)?

What does Jesus’ name literally mean? You heard that in last week’s sermon. Jesus’ name means, “God saves.” Jesus is the Lord, who saves His people. That’s Jesus’ name—it tells us who He is and what He does: He saves us.

Think about how Jesus, the God who saves, prayed the night before He went to His death. Jesus asked His Father for another way to save us, a way that would allow the cup of suffering to bypass Him. His prayer was earnest. He sweated drops of blood, and His soul stirred deeply within Him (Matthew 26:39).

But what did Jesus pray after that? He said, “Not my will, but yours [O Father], be done” (Luke 22:42). That was a prayer in the name of God the Father. That prayer lined up with who God is and His will for Jesus. It recognized that God’s name and who He is are inseparably joined.

Here’s an example that might help. If you played cops and robbers as a child, invariably, you would say to the thief who was running away, “Stop in the name of the law!” At first, that sounds odd, doesn’t it? Why should the bad guy stop “in the name of the law”? Does the “name of the law” have any power over the robber?

In that childhood game, the bad guy stops “in the name of the law” because with the “name of the law” comes the authority and power of the law. The “name of the law” and the law are connected. So, stopping in the name of the law is stopping because of what the law is and what it says. That’s why the “name of the law” has all the authority of the law itself. Because of that, the bad guy stops running away—well, at least as we played cops and robbers in my childhood years.

Praying in Jesus’ name connects your prayer to Jesus. Now, remember, Jesus’ name means, “God saves.” So, it’s recognizing that Jesus is interceding to God the Father (Romans 8:34) for you, not as you may want, but in a way that saves.

Imagine praying this prayer: “God, cause my neighbor to have a car wreck. He’s making me angry. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” How will God answer that prayer, with Jesus interceding for you, as He brings it to God the Father? Just as Jesus removes your sin from you in His death, so also does His intercession for you remove your sin from your prayers, making them acceptable to God the Father. So, what the Father hears, because of Jesus, is what your prayer would’ve been if you had no sinful nature.

So, don’t sink into despair when it seems as if God isn’t answering your prayers. After all, praying in Jesus’ name is praying that His will be done, not yours. And He and the Father are one (John 10:30). So, God is answering all your prayers, cleansed from all their sins by Jesus, in the way that is best for your eternal good, your salvation.

Until then, Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). That’s because the only real cure for this sin-corrupted world is to destroy it and create a new one. That’s when the trouble in this world will finally be no more.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth… eagerly awaiting… the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). Until Christ returns to raise our bodies from death, the world will remain in its fallen state. Hardship and sorrow will still be part of life in this sin-corrupted world.

But through it all, we have this comfort: God sent His Son to save us in His death and resurrection. God sends us His Spirit, through His Son, to join us to Himself through baptism. That’s where we receive the beginning of our new birth, culminating on the Last Day. “So, take heart, Jesus has overcome the world” (John 16:33).

When you are in Christ, one of the birth rights you receive is that God will hear and answer your prayers.  Why? It’s because you are baptized into Jesus. He makes your prayers acceptable to God. He is interceding for you, even changing your sin-filled prayers into the sinless prayers that they should be. That’s part of what it means that Jesus makes you holy and righteous to God the Father.

So, ask and pray. God will answer your prayers. Oh, He won’t answer them based on what you may want. But He will answer them based on what you need—your salvation, that which is for your eternal good. And isn’t that what you really want? Yes! So, you see, even in your prayers, God is pointing you to your final redemption.

When Jesus returns, that’s when He will make all things new. Death will have died its last death, and a new sinless creation will be born from the ashes of the old. For that’s when every prayer in Jesus’ name will come to its final and fulfilling “yes,” when God will complete all that is for your eternal good. It’s as Scripture says: “In [Christ Jesus], all of God’s promises are ‘Yes’” (2 Corinthians 1:20). May it ever be so! Amen.