Easter 6, 2021

O Father, we thank Thee for the Church which Thou hast raised up in many parts of the earth, and we pray for all those whom Thou hast called into it; guide them through perplexities; defend them amid oppression and hatred; strengthen and uphold those who face persecution for Christ’s sake, and evermore enrich them with the gifts of Thy Spirit; through the Same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

As the ministry of Jesus drew to a close, He prepared His disciples for a transition. They would soon be leading the Church as His apostles, but He would not be visibly with them. It was an unlikely change for those men. How could they live up to God’s intention for them? How could the Church survive?

One part of the answer is the Holy Spirit. We began to hear about Him last Sunday. He created the Bible and works His blessings through teaching and preaching. Today the Church focuses on the gift of prayer. We may not see Jesus, but those who believe are still in touch with Him. We must know to whom we pray, and also whether He wants to hear us.

We pray to God, the Holy Trinity, through Jesus, God’s Son. He was the One who entered Creation and became a human being. But why did He do it? His purpose was to redeem you and all humanity from our sin. He was prompted by love. But His reason was simply that it was God’s will. It was His will, and the will of the Father who sent Him.

The will of God is exactly what sin despises. The sinner prefers his own will. You can see it’s true by looking at your own life, even from the youngest age. Some of you are living these examples now. Your parents wanted you to keep your room tidy, because they knew it was best for you. They wanted you to eat your vegetables, because they knew you needed nutrition. They told you to finish your homework because they knew it was best that you grow in knowledge and self-discipline, and good grades might open doors later on. Did you always do as they said? Or if you are still under their care, do you? Of course not. Their authority comes from God, and you have sin. 

The same problem arises in every way God exercises His authority in the world: sinners resist it, even when the sin brings harm. So we have sinful behaviors that are seemingly natural. Disrespecting God’s name and His Word, rejecting proper authority, hurting those closest to us, bringing disgrace to marriage and erasing modesty. Again, your own memory is enough to show it’s true. With the human race in its grip, sin prevents us from turning back to God. It takes away that option. Separated from God by our sin, humanity is bound under the punishment of death. 

So the Father sent Jesus to redeem us, and He did. That’s why the Son of God entered Creation. But this implies more, because God is prompted by love. As Jesus said in our Gospel, the Father Himself loves you.

It may sound as though the Father’s love is a response to something you started, but that’s not it.  Our text reads (v. 27), “for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” The word “because” can be misleading. The word in the original language is more general than showing cause. Here it shows the reason we know it. A more precise way to put this in English would be “for the Father Himself loves you, as proved by the fact that you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” Your faith proves that God loves you. If He didn’t, you could not have believed in Him.

If you understand the terrible grip of sin, then it should surprise you that you have heard the Word of God and actually believed it. Sin makes that impossible for us, but the Word of God works with the power of the Holy Spirit to break through the chains of sin and bestow faith in God’s Word. When you realize that this miracle has happened in your life, then you have seen proof of God’s love. That’s why you believe, and it’s also why Jesus was sent into the world to begin with.

Jesus came into the world because it was God’s will. Where we could not do it, He did. And then He kept God’s will as a man for three decades, through infancy, youth and adulthood. Where we could not do it, He did. Then He became the Substitute for us under God’s punishment for our sin, for the punishment of sin is also God’s will.

Even the smallest things you’ve done against God’s will — even moaning and complaining against what you see as unfair. That’s sin, deserving God’s punishment. Yet you’ve deserved it in more ways still. Some you may remember. Remembered or not, Jesus came to win forgiveness. God sent Jesus to win your freedom from sin’s grip.

What Jesus did for you was make a payment in His own blood. The payment was verified and confirmed as sufficient by His resurrection from the grave. That payment under God’s law changed your status from being a slave of sin and death to being a free child of God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All things are yours … and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”

And since all things are yours, now God grants what you ask through His Son. How can He not grant what you ask, when He’s gone to the greatest lengths imaginable to bring you to Himself and make you His own child?

Jesus even gave this promise that sounds almost reckless to us: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

What would be your request to God, knowing that you can ask for anything? Doesn’t it seem reckless for God to give you such an open-ended promise? What if half the Christians of a town asked for sunny weather, while all the Christian farmers in the town were praying for rain? How would God sort that out? How could He do what they all asked?

This was a nice-sounding thing for Jesus to say, and it may even be comforting, but we can’t really see how His promise could be true. We can’t see, because we don’t think about what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” Those are not simply words we need to include every time we pray to God, a way to force Him to hear us. They are descriptive words, adverbial words describing how a Christian prays rightly. If someone is not praying in Jesus’ name, then the promise of Jesus does not apply.

So what does it mean? To begin with, you must know and believe who He is: the Son of God, and our Savior.

These are the reasons that God is able and willing, through Jesus, to hear and answer your prayers. Jesus makes it impossible for God to ignore your prayers in Him. God cannot ignore them. He must answer, because He’s bound Himself to this through Jesus.

Yet all this doesn’t mean that God’s children are always wise. God’s children easily and frequently ask God in ignorance for things that are harmful.  In that case, what should a good Father do?  God protects us from eternal harm. Yet like a good earthly father, He also must let us learn to walk, run, swim, ride a bike, drive a car, and so many other things. He may give something dangerous, teaching us wisdom.

So when we ask the Father through Jesus, we ask in faith. We may ask in confidence for the blessings He has promised. We may ask for earthly things with the understanding that He will grant what is best. His answer may be “no,” or it may be “not now,” or even “not the way you think, but the way I know is best.” It may also be, “Yes, but stay where you can see Me. And check in with me every 30 minutes. Or every Sunday.” To pray in the name of Jesus is to ask humbly but confidently, as a child asks her dear father.

Jesus said, In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. Your faith in Jesus is plain evidence of the Father’s love. So when you pray to Him in faith, He hears you.

Do you see what a powerful gift this? There are people all over the world who pray, but there is only one God who listens, one living God. God incorporates the prayers of Christians into His gracious will for you and for the whole world.

Lately some people have mocked the idea of “thoughts and prayers” in times of tragedy. They want action. Well, most likely their god is unable to help anyway. But the living God does hear your prayers, and He does help.

Sometimes He has helped with a miracle. More often, He helps through natural means. Through His Church. Through you. For you are this church. God blesses our congregation by blessing you. If you pray for Him to sustain and expand His work here, don’t be too surprised if the answer shows up first at your house or through your work, or in your bank account. Part of praying in the name of Jesus is a willingness to be involved in God’s answer.

The Church seems so poor and weak on Earth, but that appearance is like that of the cross on which Jesus died: a rough wooden instrument of death. With the blood of Jesus on it, the cross became a precious instrument of salvation. So also the Church, bathed in the blood of Jesus, has become the glorious city of God, the body of Christ. We are God’s children and royal priests, anointed with the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism to glorify our Father in time and eternity.

May we pray in this understanding.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria!