Fifth Sunday after Easter
May 6, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
It’s almost a throw-away line: in the name of Jesus. But have you considered what a unique privilege that is, to invoke the name of Jesus? It’s not just anybody who can do something in someone else’s name. If you just start doing things in someone else’s name—like buying a car or opening credit cards—you can go to jail. It’s called identify theft. To do something in somebody’s name means that you are under authority to do or say what you’re doing or saying. It cannot be just a throw-away line. In the name of Jesus means something.
And Jesus tells His disciples what it means to do one particular thing in His name. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. So far you haven’t asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. “Ask the Father in My name,” says Jesus. The name of Jesus is the distinct element of a Christian petition—but it’s not just tacking on those vocables at the end of a prayer, as a throw-away line. It’s about praying as Jesus does.
The Name of Jesus Is Your Access to the Father
In order to pray in the name of Jesus, you have to have the name of Jesus. How do you come about that name? It’s not by nature, or by birthright, or by government fiat, or by any work of man. The name of Jesus is a gift. And it’s a gift given to you in your Baptism.
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water combined with God’s Word and command. Which word and command? Jesus says to His disciples, Therefore, as you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Mt 28:19-20).
In the book of Acts, which records the activity of the Church in the first yeas following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, baptism is simply, “in the name of Jesus.” This is not a different kind of baptism; baptism is always in the one name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three names, but designations of the three persons who share the one name. In the name (singular) of Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus shares the name of Father and Spirit. And baptism gives you a share of the same name.
To be baptized in the name of Jesus means that it’s not a human work—neither of the minister or of the one getting baptized—it’s the work of God. And the little word “in” indicates a motion. Once you did not have the name of Jesus; now you have it because you are baptized into it.
The name gives you a duty. First, His name is to be used in support of the truth. In most cases, Christians are simply to tell the truth, and to let their “yes” be yes, and their “no” be no. But in solemn situations, such as testifying in court or taking an oath of office, it is necessary to swear by God’s name. These are exceptional uses of God’s name in support of the truth, but there are other, less exceptional, uses, as well, such as the first utterance of this sermon. His name supports the truth of the preaching of His Word.
The second, and more common duty and use of God’s name is prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. The Large Catechism summarizes the duty of the Commandment to not misuse God’s name: This commandment also applies to right teaching and to calling on His name in trouble or praising and thanking Him in prosperity, and so on. All of this is summed up and commanded in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” For all this is bringing God’s name into the service of truth and using it in a blessed way. In this way His name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
This is what Jesus tells His disciples in that upper room, when He says, “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” Soon Jesus will suffer and die, rise and ascend into heaven. Then the Holy Spirit will come, and then disciples of Jesus will be the baptized and instructed. That is to say, they will be the ones with His name.
You are baptized, you are a disciple, you bear the name of Jesus. But, you misuse that name, don’t you? Maybe you don’t shout swears from the rooftops, but you mutter them under your breath. And you play fast and loose with the truth; even if you don’t attach the name of Jesus to it, you bear the name of Jesus and every word you speak and every deed you do reflects on Him. And your prayers are not all that. The brother of our Lord writes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:2-3).
Yet, despite your misuse of God’s name, He still gives you His own prayer. And that prayer begins in a spectacular way. Our Father… No other prayer ever prayed begins this way. Only when Jesus comes on the scene is God called Father, not in the sense of patriarchal, authoritative despot, but in the sense of the one who loves to give good gifts. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you…Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. The name of Jesus gives you access to the Father.
First of all, the name gives you the right to call God, “Father.” Because of Jesus and His name, the relationship between God and man is not primarily that of creator-creature, master-servant, Lord-subject, but, father-child. You can ask the Father for things like kids ask their parents. This means that God invites you to pester Him and put all your trust in Him that He will provide.
Why does God do this for you? Because of His great love. “I used veiled speech in telling you these things. The time is coming when I won’t use veiled speech any more in talking to you, but I’ll tell you about the Father in plain words. Then you will ask in My name, and I don’t tell you that I’ll ask the Father for you. The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and believe that I came from the Father. I left the Father and came into the world; and now I’m leaving the world again and going to the Father.”
We live in the last days, the days of Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s right hand. By all appearances, it looks like God has abandoned this world and withdrawn His love. But that is not the case at all. He’s left His name, and because of His name, you have the assurance that God has not abandoned you. You have the name of His Son, and that means you have the love of the Father for the Son. That’s why He invites you to pester Him with your petitions. He loves you because you loved Jesus.
The name of Jesus guarantees you an answer to your prayers. There are three answers that parents tend to give to their kids—yes, no, and maybe (but we all know that “maybe” is just another way of saying no). Someone once said that God answers prayers in three ways—yes, no, and wait. That’s a little better, but it doesn’t quite square with the nature of God as Father; He’s promised to give us what we ask for in the name of Jesus, after all. A better way of looking at God’s answers is that He answers in two ways—yes, and, “I’ve got something better.” Sometimes we ask and God gives. But sometimes we ask selfishly, and not in the spirit of Jesus’ name. God does not ever say no to Jesus’ name, but sometimes He gives something more than what we pray for. It’s like asking for an ’87 Ford Escort and getting a brand new Mustang Cobra. Be bold with your prayers. You have Jesus’ name.
And because you have Jesus name, you have direct access to the Father, to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. You have the name of Jesus, given to you in baptism. And despite your misuse of the name, God still loves you for the sake of the name of Jesus. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard