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Whatever You Ask The Father In My Name

May 06, 2018

Passage: John 15:16

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Easter (season)


Text: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter and so we are still saying, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Amen. And the Sixth Sunday of Easter is also known as “Rogate” or “Rogation” Sunday. From the Latin pronounced “ro’ – ga – ta.” It means to ask, to pray, to make supplication. Faith is behind this so that it is not a cheap request, but one of the yearning heart for the grace of God. It is an entreaty.

The theme is interesting in that to speak of prayer during the Easter season seems to be a theme more appropriate for the Christian life or that life the Holy Spirit produces, so that it would be more fitting to have this focus on prayer during Pentecost, the season of the Church. However, the theme is also appropriate for Easter. If Christ is risen – and He most certainly is – then there must be an impact and evidence of the Living Lord in our lives. He is living to the extent for example that in giving us His Living Spirit (the Holy Spirit), even the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). Soak that in, the Living God intercedes (is praying) for you even through your “groanings too deep for words (Ro 8:26).”

As we continue this consideration, it is important that we not reduce prayer either. Prayer is not just asking for something (be it for ourselves or for someone else, though we should daily be doing both), but prayer is also adoring and praising God; prayer is confessing sin and confessing faith; prayer gives thanks to God, and yes, prayer is as we have begun this morning also asking, asking, asking…yes, that too! So, again this Sunday is rogate, rogation, or ro’- ga – ta Sunday. It is what the Risen Lord does to you and me. He makes us people of prayer. You don’t so much walk around talking to yourself (if you do so excessively, we have some fine psychologists in the congregation you may consult), but you go around always praying…and you know Jesus hears you, because He is alive…He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, Mk 12:27.

But we struggle with this asking part. God doesn’t, but we do. God’s Word says, “You do not have, because you do not ask (James 4:2).” Jesus elaborated: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Lk 11:9-11).” God really wants us to make heart-felt requests while trusting in Jesus Christ. But just as the first disciples doubted that Christ had really been raised, we doubt that He really hears. We need to crucify and drown the old man who doesn’t believe that Jesus hears us.

But asking is huge and we should do it constantly, and I mean every day and all the time. Some might say it seems selfish…well if it is, then it is a sanctified selfishness. Ask, ask, ask…you are a child of God robed in Jesus’ righteousness; you are a child of God covered by the blood of the Lamb, ask away.

Two or three years before wrapping up my doctorate, I was attending a wine and cheese in England. My supervisor introduced me to John Hick, a very accomplished theologian and philosopher of religion, author of many books, and it was a treat to rub shoulders with Dr. Hick in Birmingham, England. He inquired about my dissertation and I gave Dr. Hick the scoop about Tim LaHaye who along with Jerry Jenkins wrote a series of 16 Christian-fiction novels from 1995 through 2007 selling over 70 million copies in the United States making popular their version of “rapture theology,” [which by the way I’m speaking to our teenagers about today in Bible Study]. Anyway, as Dr. Hick listened and seemed intrigued, he asked me a very simple question – one of those questions that when you hear it, it seems extraordinarily obvious, but the thought had never gone through my mind – and he queried, “Have you considered asking Dr. LaHaye for an interview?” I was a little stunned even though Dr. Hick made it sound like an obvious consideration. Of course, one should seek to speak directly to the source! Again, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind!

By why had I automatically discounted making such a request? I thought about it. It seemed outlandish. After-all I wasn’t exactly writing in favor of Dr. LaHaye. But Dr. Hick was right. Why not ask him? So, I did. I was strategic about it. Traci and I drove to Houston to listen to him at a conference. When he left the stage, I saw him circling around towards the front entry. I tapped Traci on the leg and we left before anyone else to catch up to Dr. LaHaye.  Then came the most important step to my plan: while Dr. LaHaye was getting situated behind his book-signing station, I put my beautiful wife in front of me…we came up to him and I introduced Traci to him immediately…after that, he was just in a good mood and we were off to a great start! The rest is history and yes, he gave me a 1-hour interview which is an appendix in my dissertation.

You should use the same approach Christian. Come up to God and put Jesus in front of you, and then you’ll be off to a great start. Then ask.

Our flesh rolls out the devil’s mistress called “reason.” One objection is too familiar: “Why pray when God has already determined what is going to happen?” or put more simply -- though we should not confuse predestination with foreknowledge -- “Why pray when God already knows what is going to happen?”

Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing:

A hasty explanation could assert that to pray is a useless act, because a man’s prayer does not alter the unalterable. But would this be desirable in the long run? Could not fickle man easily come to regret that he had gotten God changed? The true explanation is therefore at the same time the one most to be desired. The prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who offers it (ebook, p 18).

Interestingly, this same idea was put forth in the movie Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis and evidently Hollywood put some words into the mouth of Lewis spoken by the actor Sir Anthony Hopkins (by the way, I highly recommend the movie), but in the movie the fake Lewis says:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.

The real Lewis, however, had some of his essays collected into a book entitled, Fern-seed and Elephants (Fontana/Collins 1975). There the real Lewis is immensely practical:

For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course he will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic – a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

Well, now we’ve done it (after hearing from Kierkegaard, fake Lewis and real Lewis), now we’re really confused! On the one hand, we should absolutely, positively, and frequently pray – and ASK – because Christ is living! But on the other hand, God is immutable (He does not change) and our lives are set out for us [the Scriptures say at Ps 139:16 that the LORD has written every one of our days before any of them came to be]. Then why ask? The question really needs to be carefully answered:

We should ask because God commands us to ask. That is, this is what faith does. Faith is always asking. Faith is always depending on and if you are depending on God, then you ask. You always ask. In this sense, prayer does not change God, but “changes” us in the sense of the exercise of faith – that which has been given to us through the Word and Sacraments – and this is why we good Lutherans would modify what we’ve heard thus far and say that it isn’t prayer that changes us, but it is the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments that does that…and prayer is simply the evidence that this has occurred.

Secondly, we pray for some things that will certainly get a come back “answer” in terms of “yes” or “no” or “wait.” This category of things Christians must (out of necessity) exist because there are many things not promised in the Word of God. So yes, the real Lewis is right about this part.

Thirdly, however, we have another category for the asking and for these things we should always hold God to His promise. And these things especially are the evidence – among other things – that Jesus is risen and that He is not the God of the dead, but of the Living. From our gospel this morning at John 15:16:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Point blank there are some things you are to ask for and fully expect and fully know – as your living faith is exercised in the living LORD – that God WILL answer “YES!” Period. We should never be shy about asking for these things. I will give you what is probably the best example of what I am saying about prayer that is in accord with the revealed will of God: The LORD’s Prayer. The introduction, the seven petitions and conclusion comprise a prayer that is not prayed as a wish or a mere subjective hope, but these are prayed as expectation; as holding God to His Word. This is Jacob-type prayer, tenacious prayer, unrelenting prayer; bold prayer; ludicrous prayer that traps God and forces God. Listen to Jacob’s crazy but perfect position in Genesis 32:26 that was all in accord with the promises of God, knowing that God cannot break His Word:

I will not let you go unless you bless me.

This is the spirit of our gospel text. This sort of prayer connected to the promises of God and your status in Christ -- having been chosen by Christ and appointed by Christ -- are the proofs of the Risen LORD in your life. The promise is clear here, and I will mention here the connected promise to our gospel text 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.”

Also, John 14:14:

If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

The meaning of our gospel is either that as Jesus’ representatives carrying out HIS work in HIS name which is always holy and in perfect alignment with the will of God, the petitions offered in this context will always be in the affirmative; OR more simply, these are answered because they are promised by God in grace or even more simply, on account of Jesus. Either way, you’re blessed as you depend on Jesus’ act on your behalf (Keener, Craig S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume Two. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, LLC, 2003. 1016).

Again, said simply: there are some prayers that will always be granted to show that the Risen Jesus you trust in Christian is alive, and HIS will, will be, must be done! His children will know His rule in their lives, His children will forgive, His children will receive daily bread; and His children will be protected from the devil. These are not petitions that get “yes,” “no” or “maybe,” but they are always “yes” with God, not sometimes, but always. That is why we ask!

In this light, in this gospel light, in this resurrection light, Johann Gerhard tell us what this gift of prayer to you is:

If someone wants to describe adequately the usefulness of pious, earnest prayer, he will, in my opinion, surely find a beginning more easily than a conclusion. Pious prayer offered in faith is familiar conversation with God. It is a salutary remedy to all the difficulties of life. It is the key to heaven and the door to paradise. It shows us how much we depend on God, and it is a ladder of ascension to God. It is a shield for our defense and a faithful messenger of the ambassador. It is refreshment in the heat of misfortune; it is medicine during illness. It is a winch, drawing us to heaven, and a vessel that draws water from the font of divine kindness. It is a sword against the devil and a defense against misfortune. It is a wind that blows away evil and brings earthly benefits. It is a nurse that nurtures virtue and conquers faults. It is a great fortification for the soul and gives free access to God. It is a spiritual feast and a heavenly delicacy. It is a consolation for the dejected and a delight for the holy. It grants knowledge of the secret things of God and acquires His gifts. It upholds the world and rescues people. It is a joy for the heart and a jubilation for the mind. It follows God’s gift of grace, and it leads ahead into glory. It is a garden of happiness and a tree full of delights. It calms the conscience and increases our thankfulness. It sends demons running and draws angles close. It is a soothing remedy for the misfortunes of this life and the sweet smell of the sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is a foretaste of the life to come and sweetens the bitterness of death.

Whoever is truly a child of God through faith will, with childlike trust, address his or her heavenly Father every day in prayer. The one in whose heart the Holy Spirit has made His home will, as a spiritual priest, daily offer to God this incense of prayer. There are four immovable truths on which our confidence to pray rests. Because of these, we may be certain that our heavenly Father mercifully hears our prayers. The truths on which our certainty rests are: (1) God’s omnipotent kindness; (2) God’s unfailing truthfulness; (3) Christ’s intercession as our mediator; and (4) the Holy Spirit’s testimony (Gerhard, Johann, tr., Matthew C. Harrison, Meditations On Divine Mercy. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003. 21-22).

Come Christian, live out the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. What does it look like? It walks by faith not by sight. It knows that Jesus is living! And so you pray. Ask! He hears you and He answers yes – to equip you and bless you – in accord with His steadfast promises! We rejoice! He is alive. He hears us…and so we pray.