Pray! (John 16:23-33)
Rev. David French
You may never have thought about it, but Jesus had a lot to say on the Maundy Thursday before He was arrested in the Garden. John dedicates five chapters to the teachings of Jesus, all from that night. The other Gospel writers also include many of the teachings from that one evening.
When Jesus finished teaching, He prayed for His church and then prepared to meet His betrayer. The words that we heard in today’s Gospel reading are the last words from Jesus to His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus had already warned His disciples about the sufferings, persecution, anxiety, and sorrow that will come to them in the days, months, and years to come. He told them about the suffering that they would endure for the sake of the Gospel. He promised them His comfort and aid, and He promised to send the Holy Spirit to help them face the challenges that would soon come their way. Then, as He came to the end of His teaching, He encouraged them to pray.
After that, He prayed for them and for the church through all the ages. As He encouraged His disciples to pray, Jesus spoke about our heavenly Father. He spoke of the love that the Father has for us. He spoke of God the Father’s desire to hear our words and thoughts as we pray to Him.
As we hear in today’s Gospel reading, we have the privilege of not only praying to our Father in heaven, but Jesus actually teaches us that we are to speak to Him as a dearly loved child. And remember, “God the Father” is not just a name or title. It is His true nature. Unlike His earthly examples, God is the perfect father … the One who loves, sacrifices, cherishes, and in all ways, cares for His redeemed children.
He is the One who not only spoke of, but showed His love for us by sending His only begotten Son into the world so that whosoever believes in Him would have everlasting life. His love for us is perfect, and He wants to hear from you. He wants us to share our thoughts and feelings with Him.
Some ask, “How can it be that the creator and sustainer of all things, the One who controls every aspect of both the physical and spiritual worlds, actually knows and cares about us?” That’s a fair question. I mean, God created a perfect and holy world, and we broke it with our sin. His holiness brings blessings and our sinfulness brings curses. So, why would Jesus teach sinners like us to call on this holy and mighty God at all, let alone as our own dear Father?
Jesus gives us the answer to that question in His teaching on prayer when He said, “Ask of the Father in my name.” You see, when Jesus teaches us to pray in His name, He’s teaching us to remember who He is. That He is the Son of God, the One who took on human flesh and blood to redeem all those born of flesh and blood. That His name is the name of the One who was born of the virgin and lived under and kept the law of the Father perfectly. His is the name of the One who submitted to an unjust arrest and trial, to shameful torture, and ultimately to death on a cross.
His is the name of the One who alone bore the full cup of God’s wrath that you might never know its bitter taste. His is the name of the One who unjustly suffered all these things on the cross, was laid in a tomb, and then, on the third day, rose from the grave for our justification. His is the name of the One who ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you and that He might fill all things. His is the name of the One who promised to return to raise the bodies of all the dead and take you and all believers to live with Him in heaven forever.
You see, praying in Jesus’ name is the foundation of prayer itself. It anchors our prayers in the salvation that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death. It anchors our prayer in His resurrection and the promise that we also shall rise from the dead to be with Him forever. That means, the power of prayer is found in the name of Jesus, not in the act of praying or even the prayer itself.
Oh, and praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean we have to say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” It simply means that there is faith in your hearts; the faith that trusts in Jesus Christ alone. My friends, prayer is a gift that the Holy Spirit gives to us at the same time He works faith in us. If we have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, then we also have the faith that always and only prays in Jesus’ name.
That also means that those who reject the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith cannot really pray, not to the one true God anyway. They can say the words, they can go through the motions, but still, if their faith is in a false god, then they are praying to nothing. It is like talking to a wall. A faithless prayer can be amazingly eloquent, a literary masterpiece, but only those who cannot answer that prayer will hear it.
On the other hand, those who trust in Jesus don’t need to be eloquent. We don't have to worry that we may not get all the words exactly right. Just as loving parents will joyfully listen to gibberish and silly words from their toddler, so also God the Father finds pleasure in listening to His children, to those whose faith is in Jesus. You see, in Christ our sin has been removed, and we have been clothed with His righteousness. Our thoughts, words, and even feelings are precious to God no matter how childish or nonsensical they may be.
And, because God adds blessings to His blessings, we have His promise, revealed by Holy Spirit through St. Paul, that, “The Spirit [that’s the Spirit you received in your baptism] helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” In other words, the Holy Spirit promises to take even our most awkward words and mixed up thoughts and transforms them into the perfect prayer as He intercedes for us. From the most mindless to our most heartfelt prayers will be translated, if you will, by the Holy Spirit as they make their way to the ear of our heavenly Father.
The amazing thing about the gift of prayer is that unlike, say, hope, which only lasts until we get to heaven, as Paul writes, “Who hopes for what he already has?”, but this gift of prayer is eternal. Scriptures teach that at our earthly death, our souls will be with Jesus in paradise. There, we will pray in His very presence.
And when the Last Day comes, God will raise our bodies to immortality, and we will be joined body and soul once again. Then we shall gather around the eternal throne of God and pray to our one true Father in perfect joy and peace. For then we will know Him as He is and rejoice in the love that He has for us all, forever.
In His name, Amen.