Monday, May 27, 2019

Sermon on John 16:23-33, 6th Sunday after Easter, "In My Name"

  • Last week we read the verses just before this passage, where Jesus spoke of the divine joy that He gives, that the world cannot take away. This teaches us the truth that, even when the world is crumbling around us we can still find joy and peace in Him.
  • As only Jesus gives the joy that the world cannot take away, these next verses connect that unconquerable joy with the peace from His victory over the world. Jesus also teaches about prayer here, and I want to explore that a little deeper with you, because many people have felt at some time that “my prayers are not working”. They may recall Jesus’ words here: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So someone thinks they have not gotten “whatever they asked”, even though they attached the words “In Jesus’ Name” to their prayers; expecting that whatever they asked would be granted.
  •  But Jesus isn’t giving us a “blank check” in His name, to get anything we want. God is not the “vending machine in the sky”—push the right buttons and get whatever you want. Prayer is not a way to manipulate God’s will toward our will. But many who think that they have “tried prayer” have never really understood it. Prayer is not how we conform God’s will to ours, but a way for God to conform our will to His. What do I mean? In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Not my will, but your will be done. He was committed to the most difficult course of action (COA) that lead to the cross.
  • How many of our prayers are “my will be done” prayers? Of course we naturally think that we know best. But why must we pray “thy will be done”? Because God wants to shape us to His will, His plans and purposes. We can’t usually see the outcome of His will, or the steps that lead there. Often, even with hindsight, we just don’t know the reasons why some things happen. But here Jesus says that asking the Father in His name and receiving, will bring us fullness of joy. How do we get to this joy, from asking and receiving? The key is not in the phrase “whatever you ask” but “in my name.”
  • In the military you know you can’t spend money without authorization. It would be very unwise. It’s similar to praying in Jesus’ name. If the commander authorizes and sends you to pick up a certain item from supply, you are going “in his name” and with his authority if you get that item. But you wouldn’t go in and say “commander has authorized me to draw anything I need from supply.” That request wouldn’t truly be ‘in his name.’ To pray in Jesus’ name is to submit our prayers to God’s will—to have them be found ‘in His name’—in the same way as praying “Thy will be done.” We give up our needs and desires to God’s good judgment and His love. It is to have faith—living in a trusting relationship, following God, even if we don’t know the outcome. And this is joy!
  • The joy that Jesus gives holds deeper than our changing circumstances, but rides through highs and lows, suffering and crosses. Jesus’ joy flows from the promise that nothing, not even death can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. It’s the joy of letting God lead us through trials and through blessings, confident that in good or bad, He is working good for us in Christ. And notice how Jesus uses this lesson on prayer and asking God in His name, to reaffirm the Father’s own love for us—not just that Jesus asks for us. This breaks down any mistaken notion that the Father and Jesus His Son look at us differently—as if the Father were the angry or hard to please one, and that Jesus has to “soften Him up” for us. Rather, the Father’s love for us is one and the same as the Son’s love—the love that jointly sent Jesus on this rescue mission for our sake, to die on the cross and rise from the grave. And likewise, the Father, the Son (and Holy Spirit) have the same anger and disapproval of sin—it is not in God’s nature to welcome, tolerate, or wink at sin—rather He took full measure of sin’s deadly cost, and rather than turning that cost against us, He turned it against Himself on the cross. God’s mercy and love for us is not ignoring sin, but taking the rightful penalty of sin upon Himself and granting us freedom, amnesty instead, when we trust in His Son. We love Jesus and believe in Him, and so the Father loves us.
  • In v. 32, Jesus talks about the coming hour, when the disciples will be scattered, alluding to the cross, when Jesus’ disciples would all flee as Jesus was betrayed and arrested. But Jesus would not be alone because the Father is with Him. Remember that Peter and the other disciples swore that they would never turn away from Jesus, even till death—but it didn’t take long to change.
  • And that stands as a reminder to us that our faith too will face time of great trial and testing. There will be times when your faith is attacked by doubt, despair, guilt, or suffering. When you feel like giving up or walking away. “In the world”, Jesus says, “you will have tribulation.” Trials, difficulties, persecutions, illness. Anything that would undermine or weaken your faith. Most of all to doubt Jesus and God’s love for you. But when the world brings us tribulation, Jesus says, “I have said these things that in me you may have peace.” In me you may have peace. Jesus is the refuge, the safety and calm amidst the storm. Around us the storms of life may gather, but in Him is our peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a certain future and hope. The peace of perfect communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. The peace of being right with God, and having nothing to fear.
  • In our prayers in Jesus’ name, we lift up to Him all our thanks and praise, our worries, fears, and needs, and we commit them to His good and gracious will, confident that however He answers, it will be ultimately for our good and that He can work even in the midst of dark times, suffering and loss, as seen in His own death on the cross.
  • Finally Jesus says: “These things I have spoken to you in order that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Whatever might shake or frighten or weaken our faith, Jesus declares His peace to us. Peace proclaimed by His victory at the cross. The victory Jesus won over sin, death, and the devil at the cross towers over time. Take heart, I have overcome the world, Jesus says. You know what else that means? It means that resistance is futile. Opposition against God and His rescue plan of salvation is futile—it doesn’t mean that the devil won’t war and rage against God, but the outcome is clear—he loses, God wins. The world continues to be a place of trouble and suffering until Jesus’ second return and the final judgment. But we don’t need to fear or worry about any of those troubles. Christ’s victory is ours by faith. The victory belongs to Christ, plain and simple! This is the heavenly source of our peace and joy in His Name, Amen.