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Easter 6, May 22 - John 16:23–33
Other Lessons: Acts 16:9–15 Psalm 67 Revelation 21:9–14, 21–27 alternate Gospel: John 5:1–9

Our Gospel text today is a direct continuation from last week’s, in which we heard Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit and his chief work for the church, namely, the spirit will take what belongs to Christ and “declare” it all to us. Not only does he teach and help the disciples remember all the things that Jesus has taught, but the spirit actually brings all the gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection to the entire church, across time and space.

Indeed, in a little while they will no longer see Jesus. After 40 days, he will ascend to the right hand of God (which is this Thursday for us). He leaves the disciples on earth not to abandon them, but so that he is glorified to fill all things with his reign. By ascending to the right hand of the Father, he now exercise all power and authority on earth and in heaven for the sake of the church, for the sake of his sheep. And he exercises this power and authority, this reign, or as we call it, the kingdom of heaven, is established in our lives through the working of the Holy Spirit.

And so our text begins with these words: “In that day you will ask nothing of me.” “In that day” not only refers to the day of Pentecost specifically, but everything leading to that day, including Good Friday, Easter, and the Day of Ascension, for Pentecost only makes sense and is beneficial to the church because of Christ’s work of salvation. In that day, “they will ask nothing of Jesus”, here, “ask” is in the sense of inquiring, asking for clarification. This will no longer happen because everything will be made clear to them. Instead, there will be a shift in their “asking”. Instead of asking for more explanation due to lack of understanding, in that day, they will ask, request, petition the Father BECAUSE they will finally have understanding. When they receive the spirit, when their faith is wakened, their minds enlightened, their hearts cleansed, then they will be able to ask directly of the father, and rightly for the things that are in accord with God’s will.

Nevertheless, their prayers and petitions will always be in connection to Jesus, for they will pray “in his name”. Jesus says that “until now” they have not done so, not because they do not believe in him previously, but because they had no need to ask “in his name” since Jesus was with them all the time. But now when they will see him no longer after the ascension, they will pray in Jesus’ name, that is to say, they will then pray to the Father as their own heavenly father, through the son (and in the spirit). In that day, they will have direct access to the throne room of God and they can directly talk to God.

But how can we sinners have such great privilege? Indeed, how often people wonder if their prayers are ever heard by God almighty in heaven, much less even answer their prayers? How can we have confidence that God will hear and answer us? How do we know if we are praying rightly? This is the doubt that can come into our hearts, which can throw us into the downward and negative loop of unfaithfulness. For when we pray and see no immediate results, we lose faith, and when we lose faith, we pray less, and the less we pray, the less we rely on God and the less we expect anything good from him. In the end, we are left with our own strength and power to help ourselves.

This is why we are taught to pray “in Jesus’ name”, not as some sort of magical formula or incantation, but as a prayer of faith, it teaches and reminds us of Christ and what he has done for us. Jesus explains why we can have such confidence in our prayer in verse 26-27: “In that day you will ask in my name… for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” This sentence can be troubling for Lutherans because it seems to suggest that God’s love is dependent on our love. But it is simply affirming that God hears and answers our prayers because we believe and love his son Jesus. For it is through Jesus and his work of salvation that we can stand before God in the first place. For as Paul says in romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves us even before we know him or his son. He still loves us when were still his enemies. So Jesus’ statement in verse 27 does not mean that God loves us only after or loves us more because of our faith, but rather, Jesus here assures us by pointing to our faith and love, which in fact originates from the Father’s love for us, so that, we would have further confidence in his love when we pray as his dearly beloved children. For again, when we see the cross of Christ by faith, then we know what love is. So then this is the proper approach to prayer: faith in Jesus Christ. For without the forgiveness of sins, without a free conscience, without a cleansed heart, the sinner cannot ask and pray without offending God, or he shrinks in fear and doubt.

Thus, it is in this confidence of the cross that Jesus gives us this great promise: “whatever you ask of the father in my name, he will give it to you. (v23)” Immediately, our sinful nature will twist this to no end and imagine all sorts of perverted things we can ask from God. But just as quickly, our renewed mind by the working of the spirit will tell us that surely this cannot be the case. “Whatever we ask…he will give” does not mean a blank cheque, but it is a reverberation of the promise back in chapter 14:12-14, in which Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” (This is repeated 2 more times in 15:7, 16.) My point is that what Jesus intends the disciples to ask and petition from the father is to do Christ’s works and do even greater works than himself. Indeed, we are often amazed by the miracles that Jesus did during his ministry, and we are left asking what kind of works can we do that are greater than those. Indeed, what makes work “great” is not the external “wow” factor according to our sensibilities, but a work is truly great and wonderful because it is eternal and everlasting, a work that transcends even death, a work that transports us beyond this present world. What is this work? Is it not the Gospel? For what kind of working can give eternal life, destroy death, pull a sinner from eternal hell and condemnation and place him in the kingdom of God? There is no such thing except in the proclamation of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. This is the greater work, which we have all been called to participate, so that, as Jesus says in v24: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

So what shall we ask? What shall we pray for? Jesus himself teaches us what we ought to ask for. We pray that God’s name be made holy, that his kingdom come, that his will be done, that he would give us the bread of life that sustains both body and soul, that he would learn forgiveness (for ourselves and others), that he would protect us from temptations and all evil. The prayer is also two-fold. First we pray for ourselves, that God would provide all these thing in our lives, and at the same time, we also pray for the same for the world, that they too would receive these same gifts, so that we would be one, just as Jesus is one with the father.

This is the life of the Christian. There isn’t a moment when the Christian is not in prayer, I do not mean that all we on our knees praying 24/7, but that the Christian believes, prays, and goes about his daily routine believing that God has heard and answers and provides for him in every thing that he does. Or put in another way, there is not a moment in which God is not answering your prayer and giving what you need. And so, the Christian is always asking and always receiving. In this way, he is always in communion with God, always mindful of his calling before God and before men, always serving both God and men.

So be diligent in prayer, not seeing it as a chore, and certainly not loathing and despising it, but rejoicing because we have a heavenly father who loves us and gives us all things.