Fifth Sunday after Easter
May 25, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The last few weeks we’ve been bouncing around John 16, hearing different snippets of Jesus’s farewell discourse with His disciples. In the final days of His humiliation leading up to His passion, death, and resurrection, He abandons His figurative and cryptic ways of speaking (such as speaking in parables) and speaks plainly to His disciples; the hours before death are no time to play around with figurative speech.
But just because Jesus is speaking plainly doesn’t mean that He’s not precise and nuanced with His language. He tells His disciples that they will no more ask of Him, but they will ask of the Father. What’s interesting, though, is that He uses two different words for asking.
The first is how Jesus refers to His disciples’ requests from Him. This kind of asking is a gentle and courteous inquiry for information. It’s the way that you’d ask your sister to watch the kids last minute because your babysitter backed out. Or the way you’d ask your grandfather to tell you more about serving in the war. This way of asking implies that the questioner has less standing that the one being questioned, who has everything to offer.
Interestingly, this kind of questioning that Jesus uses to describe His disciples’ inquiries to Him is used most often in John’s Gospel to describe the prayers of Jesus to the Father. In the context of John’s Gospel, this kind of inquiry indicates a close, intimate relationship between the questioner and the questioned. The disciples’ relationship with Jesus—strengthened to brotherhood over the course of their three-year journey together—gave them the freedom to address Him in the same way that Jesus addresses His Father.
The humility exhibited by Christ during His incarnation and approaching His passion becomes a model for the disciple to address Him. However, Jesus says, this is going to end. And in that day, you will inquire nothing of Me. Amen, amen, I am saying to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name He will give to you (v 23). In that day, that is, in the day when Jesus has departed to the Father and the Holy Spirit has come, you will no longer gently courteously inquire information from Him. You will ask the Father Himself.
Only He uses another word for asking. The kind of asking Jesus foretells is distinguished from the way His disciples address Him, or the way that He addresses His Father. This kind of asking suggests a claim or a passion, as opposed to a gentle and courteous inquiry. It’s a kind of asking that leans more to a demand.
This is the kind of asking that you use when you are exercising your rights. It’s the kind of asking you do when a business overcharges you and sends you the wrong order. You call up the customer service rep on the phone and say, “I’m asking you to make this right.” Similarly, it’s the kind of asking that the IRS does on your yearly 1040. It’s a line of questioning that the one being questioned is obligated to answer satisfactorily.
Amen, amen, I am saying to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name He will give to you. Until now you ask nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, in order that your joy would be filled up (vv 23b-24). These words of our Lord could also be translated: “whatever you demand of the Father…Until now you demand nothing…Demand and you will receive.” There is a boldness and a confidence that underlies these questions of the Father.
Of course, it may just be that Jesus is setting the disciples up for failure. It could be that He’s setting you up for failure. Do you know someone who’s insufferably demanding, someone who’s always insisting they’re in the right, someone whose expectations far exceed reality? Perhaps a coworker, or a family member. Or the person who looks back at you in the mirror.
To make a demand, you have to be in the right—you have to have some sort of claim—or else you’ll end up in shame and failure. Imagine if your babysitter bails on you, and you call your sister and demand that she drop everything to come and watch the kids. Even if she comes over, she’s not likely to be happy about it. Or imagine what a heel you’d be if your grandfather didn’t want to recall the horrors of war, but you kept nagging him about it anyway. If you have no right, or no claim, you’re not in the best position to be making demands.
Or, how much more absurd is it to make demands of someone who has a claim on you? Imagine that you’re the customer service agent who gets called about overbilling for a faulty product—imagine the reaction if you demanded that the customer just deal with it. You’d probably be out of a job pretty quickly. Or even more absurd—you call up the IRS and demand that they refund your tax overpayment with interest this year.
In civil transactions, being a demanding person may earn you some red-faced embarrassment from time to time if you discover that you’re not in the right. It may get you a reputation as a pushy person. It may even come with some legal consequences. But these can be shaken off and the demanding person will lived to demand another day. But in the spiritual transactions—that is, in your requests and petitions before God—you not only have no right, no claim before God, but He has the claim on you.
You are the one in His debt. Your sin gives you a sum total of zero footing before Him. You are barely in a position to beg for mercy, much less make demands upon the almighty, heavenly Father, the God of all creation.
There is only One who has the right to make demands, who has a claim to the good graces of the Father, and ironically, He’s the only One who does not make use of His right or lay claim to demands of the Father. Shortly after Jesus tells His disciples to boldly demand of the Father, He goes into the garden to pray, and to bring some of His final, humble petitions before the Father. And going a little farther, He fell upon His face praying, and said, “My Father, if it is able, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You do…Again, going away a second time, He prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup is not able to pass, except that I drink it, Your will be done” (Mt 26:39, 42).
Jesus willingly gives up His right, His claim to divine deliverance, and obediently suffers the cup of wrath and punishment for sin. He makes no demand—not of His Father, not of His accusers, not of His judge. The only request He makes is for a little drink to wet His tongue in His last hours.
Jesus’ shame and humility has become your boldness and confidence. You have no right to stand before God, you have no claim to the Father’s graces on your own two feet. But Jesus gives you a gift that makes you right, a gift that gives you a claim. He gives you His name. Amen, amen, I am saying to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name He will give to you. Until now you ask nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, in order that your joy would be filled up. The name of Jesus makes all the difference.
The name of Jesus was given to you when you were baptized. It was washed on your forehead with water, stamped on your inner self with God’s Word. This name and Baptism, St. Paul writes, gives us boldness and access to the Father. Because of the name of Jesus, we have a freedom to enter into God’s presence, and a freedom to speak to Him.
The Small Catechism explains the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father, who art in heaven. With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.
The name of Jesus first gives you the right to call the almighty Creator and sovereign God, Father. Not because He is simply the source of all things, but because He wants to give you good gifts as a Father gives gifts to His children. This is a right—or a righteousness—that you receive by faith.
Secondly, the name of Jesus gives you boldness and confidence to approach the Father with your requests and even your demands. It’s not that the name of Jesus turns you into a demanding person, it’s that it turns you into a son, into a daughter in the divine family of God. How do children—especially small children—ask for things from their parents? They don’t grovel or beg or plead. They say, “Gimme! Mine!” This is how our Father in heaven invites you to pray, this is how Jesus teaches His disciples to pray.
So pray boldly. Pray in the name of Jesus. Bring your requests, your petitions, your demands to the Father’s throne of grace. He loves to give His gifts.
The Name of Jesus Gives You Claim to the Treasures of Heaven
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard