Fifth Sunday after Easter
May 10, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He began by saying, “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt 6:9). Rarely had such a prayer been uttered before. The particular uniqueness of our Lord’s prayer is that it addresses God as Father even as Jesus addresses Him as Father.
“[Jesus said:] ‘In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name’” (vv 23-24a).
Jesus speaks these words as He is preparing to go to His death. But He is also speaking with a view to His resurrection and ascension. But before He departs the world to ascend to His Father, He leaves us with a singular gift—His own name.
The Name of Jesus Is a Precious Gift Given to Us by Which We Pray to the Father
The name of Jesus is a Baptismal gift. Sometime during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, He calls His disciples to meet Him on a mountain, upon which He gives the gift of Holy Baptism. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:18-19).
The name of Jesus was revealed upon each one of us as the waters from the font dried on our foreheads. Holy Baptism is Jesus’ signature on each one of us that mark us as His own. But more than that, we are also given His name as a means by which to pray to God the Father. Jesus urges each of us to “Ask of the Father in my name” (v 23).
Despite the unsurpassed value of the gift that’s been given to us, we are more likely to use His name in vain—cursing, swearing, or simply interjecting—than to use it in prayer.
The way we so casually use our Lord’s name is astounding. And it’s the work of the devil. Consider your average day and compare how many times you pray in Jesus’ name to how many times you nonchalantly speak God’s damnation to eternal death to someone simply because you have been inconvenienced. Compare how many times you ask for grace to live out your Baptism in Jesus’ name to how often you unceremoniously swear by God’s name that you’re telling the truth. Compare how often you cry out for God to have mercy on your sinfulness to how many times you cry out “Oh my God” simply to express your excitement or disgust.
I think one of the greatest pieces of evidence that our God is the one, true God is how often His name is taken in vain, as compared to other deities or spiritual leaders. It’s not often you’ll hear someone yell out, “Zeus!” or, “Vishna!” or, “Isis!” in exclamation, using their names in vain. But Jesus Christ, His name is always casually tossed about.
The point is that there’s a part of our nature that instinctively knows to call out to God, but since our nature has been corrupted by sin, it calls out for all the wrong reasons. And even when we do subdue Old Adam and dedicate ourselves to prayer, it’s far from how the Holy Scriptures would have us pray.
St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How is that working out for you? In the Rite of Private Confession in the hymnal, there’s a little line that’s included for every Christian to say in every confession: “My worship and prayers have faltered.” There is no person who prays the way God would have us pray. Everyone ceases their prayers; everyone fails to give thanks in all circumstances.
It’s the work of the devil to delay you from praying. He’s the one who tells you that your time is too precious to pray, because he knows that your prayers are mighty weapons against him and his worldly kingdom.
Repent. Repent of your misuse of God’s name and your failure to pray.
The Second Commandment forbids the misuse of God’s name. Yet every commandment not only forbids certain things, but also expects certain things. What should be done with God’s name? As the Small Catechism explains: call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
In the Old Testament, names were much more than simply a label or a way to distinguish a person from another. Names were a reflection of a person’s character and nature. Christ gives us His name, and with it, He gives us his own character and nature. With His name, Christ has bestowed upon us a royal priesthood and direct access to the Father; when we pray, it is as if He prays.
We often take for granted the way the Lord’s Prayer begins. But it’s not until the Incarnation of Jesus that anyone addressed God directly as Father. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness. When they were plagued by the fiery serpents, they went to Moses and asked him to pray to God on their behalf; and he does, and the Lord hears their prayer through Moses.
When the disciples ask Jesus to pray, He says, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father…’” (Mt 6:9). Through Christ, the Son of God, we are given to approach God in a very unique way: as Father. “In that day you will ask in my name,” Jesus says, “and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (vv 26-28).
As a parting gift, before ascending to the Father’s right hand, our Lord also gives another gift with His name—a royal priesthood. As St. Peter writes, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).
First, a royal priest is not the same as being a minister. That’s a common misconception of the term, “priesthood of all believers.” In Exodus, the Lord tells Israel that He is making them kings and priests, yet He still establishes a distinct priesthood among them to carry out the sacrificial acts of the tabernacle and temple.
A royal priest is one who approaches, stands before, and addresses the Father without benefit of an intermediary. You have access directly to the Father. But this doesn’t mean that the Son and the Holy Spirit stand idly by. No, they continue to pray for you. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34). “Likewise the Spirit 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” (Rom 8:26-27). In other words, a royal priest is one who has the power of the Son and the Holy Spirit working in him to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
Martin Luther’s barber once wrote him a letter asking him to teach him how to pray. Luther answered Master Peter, the Barber, by telling him that prayer begins with meditation on the word of God—the Psalms, the Ten Commandments, and the Creed. He then goes on to direct him how prayer grows from the Word and Spirit of God.
Because you bear the name of Jesus by virtue of your Baptism, when you pray to God in His name, it is as if He Himself is praying. When you pray, the Father hears His own son or daughter. And He answers you as His own dear child.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard