Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2018
John 16:23-30 (31-33)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Today, Jesus teaches us to pray.
“Ask, and you will receive” (Jn. 16:24), He says.
As inconceivable as it sounds, I’m not sure that means what we think it means.
If we say, in English, “Ask, and you will receive,” we’re gonna hear that like it’s an “if/then.”
Come to church, and you’ll hear Jesus’ Word, right?
Because, if you come to church then you’ll hear Jesus’ Word. If/Then.
But today—though it may sound like it—Jesus doesn’t say that. When Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive,” it’s not as easy as “If you ask, then, you will receive.”
For example: Ask God for a million dollars. Will you get it? Ask for all the time in the world, for good health, and a “normal” family (whatever that is).
Ask for everything to be done your way, you know, the right way.
If you ask, and nothing happens, then we’ve got some ’splainin to do. Either Jesus is lying, God sins, and we’re all lost—or—Jesus means it differently.
We know better than to think Jesus means we get everything we ask for.
And yet He plainly says, “Ask, and you will receive.”
If you’re sick, “Ask, and you will receive” at least sometimes sounds like a satanic lie.
To a person who constantly hears “No,” “Ask, and you will receive” sounds like God has handed you over to the wolves of this world.
To even the faithful Christian who, in the midst of sorrow, temptation, or trouble, prays to God “How long, O Lord,” to that Christian, “Ask, and you will receive” sounds like God doesn’t listen and doesn’t want to.
That we ask, that we need, that we pray, and that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, makes us wonder why Jesus would say, “Ask, and you will receive.”
It’s obviously not true!
Unless we understand Him correctly.
Jesus doesn’t mean “If you ask, then you will receive.”
He does mean, “When you ask rightly, you will receive.”
Jesus doesn’t teach us only to ask, He teaches us to ask in His name: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn. 16:23).
This is something we understand quite well, actually.
Kids ask for things in Mom’s name. They’ll implore Dad on behalf of Mom saying, “But Mom said…”
And if Mom said it, then, fine.
But moms only say certain things.
To ask for something in Mom’s name is to ask for something that she’s already said.
And to ask for something in Jesus’ name is to remember what God has said.
We ask for things “in Jesus’ name” all the time.
We say, “Jesus says…”
We remember His Word, and we ask Him to fulfill it.
It doesn’t matter what comes after “Jesus says…”
As long as Jesus actually said it, we know He means it for our body and soul’s good.
But, like Mom or Dad, Jesus only says certain things.
He doesn’t tell you to trust in money. He doesn’t tell you that you’ll always be happy.
He never promises either of those.
Nevertheless, it’s comfort unending for all who believe that anything we ask in Jesus’ name is ours by faith.
When you ask “in Jesus’ name,” you’re asking “according to the Word of God,” what God has already said.
So what can you ask for?
What does Scripture say? What does God say?
What does God guarantee?
He doesn’t promise wealth.
Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mk. 10:21).
Jesus attacks Mark’s idolatry because God demands faith. He doesn’t promise wealth, because wealth isn’t necessary for salvation.
Nor does God promise health.
Health isn’t necessary for salvation.
Every leper cleansed and Deaf healed still died.
Lazarus died twice.
Jesus doesn’t promise that we’ll have friends or family, or good friends and a “normal” family.
Regarding earthly things, Jesus promises nothing except hatred, tribulation, and daily bread.
We have to be honest—and our current study of the book of Job is opening our eyes to this—God could give us all so much less than what we have, and He would still be giving us this day our daily bread.
Jesus says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).
He says this to correct us.
Don’t let it go in one ear and out the other. Don’t wonder when the sermon will end. Wonder if you believe God. Jesus says all these words to correct us, and out of mercy, to save us.
If you look at Christianity anywhere in the world, you’ll see trouble.
Abroad, Christians are being murdered because they’re Christians.
The Quran teaches Muslims to kill the infidels (and that’s me and you) if they won’t convert to Islam or live in humiliating submission.
Would you convert? Would you pay the tax and submit? Would you keep the faith even unto death—as you confessed you would when you were confirmed?
Those are rhetorical questions, impossible questions, but the exercise is a good one.
Does your Christianity stop when you leave church?
I remember a few years ago, at Valparaiso University, a school “dedicated to excellence…grounded in the Lutheran tradition of scholarship, freedom, and faith,” that there was a ruckus because of a Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus.
If you didn’t know, Chick-fil-A, that glorious chicken-sandwich-serving restaurant, has a Christian CEO who supports Christian causes financially.
The jihad on American soil is one that wants your Christianity to stop at the doors of your church and/or home.
I’ve said all of this today so you can know three things.
1. You won’t always get what you ask for.
If your prayers go unanswered, it’s not because God doesn’t love you. Jesus says: in this world, you will endure hatred and tribulation.
He meant that. You won’t always get what you ask for.
2. God is very clear what His will is for you.
The will of God is not an uncertain thing. He desires the world’s salvation. He desires your salvation.
Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” Ask in Jesus’ name. “…And all these things (clothing, food, shelter) will be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).
Thus says the Lord in Hebrews chapter thirteen: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6). The will of God is very clear.
3. Jesus says: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
To pray, to ask in Jesus’ name, is nothing more than to trust Jesus—His Word and His Work.
His Word saves you. His Work saves you.
Opposed to Jesus, His Word and work, this world will offer its hatred and surround you with tribulation. Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He means that. And He said that so that you would have peace.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!