Praying in Jesus’ Name

Sermon for Rogate based on John 16:23-33

Dear children of God who pray to God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” He tells us that we can pray directly to God the Father because He Himself loves us. 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. He has promised to hear the prayers of His children and to answer our prayers.

For what do children normally ask from their fathers? Candy? A treat? A toy? Yes, children tend to ask their fathers for frivolous things. We really are no different. As God’s children, we tend to pray for frivolous things, too. We pray for prosperity, for mammon, for little trifles for this life. We might pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community.

Saint James writes, “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (4:3) Like little children, we don’t know what we should be asking for. We ask for things out of jealousy or greed. We pray for selfish things that aren’t good for us.

Our Father in heaven knows how to give good gifts to His children. While we tend to pray for earthly blessings, His desire is to give us heavenly blessings. While we tend to desire earthly pleasures, He desires to give us eternal pleasures, eternal joy. Our eternal life is what He always has in mind in what He gives and doesn’t give in answer to our prayers.

To be sure, God does also give us earthly blessings and pleasures. We can certainly pray for them. Like the child who is told “No” when asking for more candy, we may also be told “No,” but God has given and continues to give us very much more than we need for this body and life.

The thing about earthly joys is that they don’t last. A fun moment, a pleasurable dinner, a nice vacation – they all end, and then all you have left are the memories. Every earthly possession will one day break down, rust, or be destroyed. Even our bodies will one day give up our spirit and decay in the ground.

Why would we not pray for spiritual blessings? As opposed to earthly blessings, spiritual blessings are promised to us by God. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

There is true joy in having your sins forgiven and having peace with God. There is true joy in knowing that God is not angry with you over your sin, and that He will not punish you for your sin.

When you pray for forgiveness of sins, you don’t have to wonder if God will grant you forgiveness or not. The context of Jesus telling the disciples that they can pray directly to the Father in His name is Jesus speaking about His upcoming suffering and death on the cross. It is because of Jesus’ death that you know God will forgive your sins when you ask in Jesus’ name. It is because of Jesus’ suffering and death that you know that God will forgive you your sins for Jesus’ sake.

To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith. It means to pray that God would give you what you ask for Jesus’ sake, relying on Jesus’ death in your place. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, which means that He has satisfied the demands of God’s Law for us through His perfect obedience and His perfect payment for sin. Praying in Jesus’ name is relying on Jesus having satisfied the wrath of God over our sin.

Praying in Jesus’ name also means trusting that God knows what you need and will give it to you. So, pray for prosperity. Pray for mammon. Pray for little trifles for this life. Pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community, but pray for it all asking that God’s will be done. That is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught us. We don’t pray, “My will be done,” but “Thy will be done.”

We pray that God’s will, which is good and perfect, would be done in everything for which we pray and in everything in our lives. We pray that if in our lack of wisdom we pray for something that is harmful for our spiritual well-being, God would not give it to us. If we pray for something that would lead us away from God, that would cause us to sin, that would lead us into temptation, we pray that God would not give it to us. We pray that God’s will would be done rather than our will.

God does want what is best for you. That you can know and trust. Since He has given His only Son to death for you, you know He will withhold nothing from you, but will graciously give you all good things. He who claimed you as His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, forgives your sins through Absolution, and strengthens your faith through Christ’s body and blood will give you everything you need and more.

Even sinful earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. How much more does your heavenly Father know how to give you good gifts. He Himself loves you, so you can pray directly to the Father in Jesus’ name, knowing that He will answer your prayers and your joy will be full. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

…As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:21-35

Dear forgiven debtors: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The unmerciful servant was thrown into jail for eternity because he did not forgive his fellow servant. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

That’s a scary statement. It is found elsewhere in Scripture also. After Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt. 6:14-15) In other words, if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, you are going to hell for eternity.

These are not easy words to hear. They’re not easy to hear because we know how much we struggle to forgive. We have been sinned against. Those close to us have betrayed us. Evil things have been said about us. We’ve been cheated. Precious things have been taken from us. Our families have suffered because of things done by others, and we are the ones who are in danger of hell if we don’t forgive?

We must understand correctly what this means. First, we must understand that it is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are not forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven freely because of Jesus’ death in our place which paid the debt of our sins. There is no payment made by us for our sins.

Consider the servant that was forgiven his debt of ten thousand talents. He pleaded for time to pay it off, but this was a delusion. He could never pay it off. In today’s dollars, based on the price of gold, ten thousand talents would amount to over ten billion dollars. This servant didn’t have a hope to pay off his debt.

The king forgave the debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the debt because he knew only he could pay such a debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the great debt because he had mercy on his servant; he had compassion on his servant. Rather than throwing the servant into jail for eternity, he forgave the debt freely with no cost to the servant.

That is how God forgives us. God took it upon Himself to pay the debt of our sins, because our debt of sins is too large for us to ever pay off. Jesus paid our debt with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. God had mercy and compassion on us and forgave us, because our debt has been paid by Jesus. Rather than throwing us into hell for eternity, He forgave our debt freely with no cost to us. Thus, we are not forgiven because we forgive others. It is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are forgiven because Jesus has paid for our sins.

The next thing to understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, so the debt of every single sin, including those committed against you has been paid. You have no right to refuse to forgive a sin that has been paid by Jesus’ death. If you do not forgive someone who has sinned against you, it means that you do not believe that Jesus’ death has paid for the sins of the world. Refusing to forgive someone is saying that the payment of Jesus’ most holy obedience, suffering, and death is not enough to pay for that sin. Thus, someone refusing to forgive shows that he is not a believer, that he does not believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Christians forgive. Christians forgive because we have been forgiven. Christians forgive because we know that Jesus died for all sin – our sin and the sin committed by others against us. Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, why is everyone not going to heaven? Why does anyone end up in hell? Why was the unmerciful servant thrown into jail for eternity even though the king had forgiven his debt?

Let’s go back to the text. The servant did not ask the king for mercy. He didn’t ask the king for compassion. The servant didn’t ask for the king to forgive the great debt that he could never pay. No, he asked for patience. He asked for a little bit of time to make the payment. He didn’t want the king’s forgiveness. He wanted time to earn the billions of dollars that he really had no chance of earning to pay the debt.

The unmerciful servant did not believe in forgiveness and mercy, thus, even though the king offered it to him, he rejected it. That’s why he went and choked his fellow servant and threw him in jail, refusing to forgive him. This man who did not want to be forgiven, did not want to forgive.

God offers His forgiveness freely to all. If you don’t want it, then He won’t give it to you. If you reject His forgiveness, then you don’t have it. God will take it away from you.

Refusing to forgive others is refusing to be forgiven by God. It is rejecting forgiveness. If you do not forgive your brother, then you do not want God’s forgiveness.

Do not ask God to just be patient with you. Asking for patience is not a confession of sin. As long as you ask for time instead of forgiveness, you remain under the burden of sin. As long as you think you have something to offer, you reject the forgiveness of sins God offers to you freely.

Thus, we go to God with nothing to offer. We don’t approach Him making promises to do better. We approach God confessing our sin. We don’t look at our mountain of sin and say if we had some time we could pay it off. We confess our sin, and God forgives our sin.

The mountain of debt that we had has been forgiven. Jesus paid for it. Jesus paid for the debt of all sin, including our brother who sinned against us. With our sin forgiven, we therefore also forgive our brother. Seven times? No. Rather seventy times seven. We keep forgiving.

We keep forgiving, because God keeps forgiving us. God does not count how many times He forgives us. He doesn’t have a quota for absolutions. He doesn’t ration the Lord’s Supper and say that you’ve had enough. God’s forgiveness in Christ is always offered to sinners.

God even forgives those times in our past when we held a grudge and did not forgive. He forgives us and strengthens us to forgive them now. God’s forgiveness even enables us to let go of angry feelings and pray for those who have sinned against us.

God’s forgiveness has wiped out all of our sins. Our mountain of debt that we could not pay off was paid by Jesus’ blood. God has had pity and compassion on us. He has shown His mercy to us and saved us from hell. We will not be cast into hell for eternity because God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us, so we can forgive our brother who sins against us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Teach us to Pray

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 11:1-13

Dear sons of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us to pray. Yes, He teaches us the words to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, but He also teaches us the right attitude with which to pray. Jesus tells us to pray with impudence, that is, with persistence and shamelessness.

Jesus provides an illustration to teach this attitude of prayer. Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and ask for three loaves of bread to set before a traveller that just arrived at your house? Who would do that? Who would bother their friend in the middle of the night for some bread? That’s pretty shameless. And on top of it, once the friend says no, who would keep on banging on the door? You’ve already bothered him in the middle of the night, and now he says, “No, keep quiet. I’m in bed. The children are in bed. The baby finally fell asleep. I can’t get up to give you some bread at this hour.” Who would keep banging on the door and ringing the doorbell? Who would keep knocking and asking for bread in the middle of the night so shamelessly? It’s embarrassing enough to go to your friend in the first place at such an hour and then to impudently, persistently continue to ask, that’s just shameless.

The thing is you wouldn’t do that to a friend. But if you did, he would not get up because he’s your friend. Jesus says he would get up because of your persistence and shamelessness. He’d get up and give you whatever you need because you won’t leave him alone. Your friend will give you what you need because he wants you to stop banging on his door in the middle of the night.

Jesus says that is the attitude with which we should pray to God – the attitude of persistence: praying without ceasing (cf. I Thess. 5:16). If you don’t receive that for which you pray, keep praying. Shamelessly continue to pray to God that He would give you what you need.

We can pray to God persistently and shamelessly, because when we pray to God, we are not praying to Him as to a friend. We are praying to our Father as His sons – and not just as any sons, but when we pray in Jesus’ name, we are praying as the Son; we pray as Jesus. We don’t pray in our own name; we pray in Jesus’ name.

If we prayed in our own name, God would have no reason to answer us. We have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved Him with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We justly deserve His present and eternal punishment, not to have our prayers answered.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, however, we do not pray as sinners. We pray as those who are baptized into Christ, and thus clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). When we pray in Jesus’ name, God has every reason to answer us, because we pray as His Son; we pray as Jesus. Jesus never sinned in thought, word, or deed. He did everything that the Law demands and left nothing undone. He loved the Father with His whole heart and His neighbour as Himself. Praying in Jesus’ name, our prayers will be answered. As Jesus Himself says, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”

What then about the prayers being offered up by God’s children who are suffering? Those prayers from nursing home beds and hospital beds? Those prayers from cancer wards and palliative care? What about their loved ones crying to God on their knees for healing and recovery? What about those who cried out to God for help but He did not answer them in the way they thought He should?

The answer for this is not to be found in the attitude of impudence that we should have in prayer. If impudence were the only attitude for prayer, we would have to conclude that whenever God does not answer our prayers, it is only because we didn’t pray hard enough or often enough or long enough. We’d have to conclude that God is the reluctant friend who we have to pester until he finally gets out of bed to give us what we need. But that is not what Jesus says. God is not reluctant to help us. God does not ignore our pleas until we finally have bothered him enough.

This is where the second attitude of prayer comes in – the attitude of trust – trusting that God knows what is best for us, and that He will give it to us. God is not going to give us anything that will harm us or be bad for us. He is not the father who gives his son a serpent when he asks for a fish. He is not the father who gives his son a scorpion when he asks for an egg. What sinful, earthly father would even do that? If even sinful fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, do you think God our heavenly Father will do worse? God will never give His children anything that will harm us or be bad for us. That is His promise to us.

We may not see or understand. What we see and understand is clouded by sin. We see illness; God sees the strengthening of faith through illness. We see need; God sees the increase of patience and contentment. We see the death of a loved one; God sees the opening of the gates of heaven to our loved one.

God will never give His children anything that will harm us or be bad for us. The Epistle to the Romans puts it this way, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (8:32) If God gave you the greatest gift of all, sending His only Son to die in your place for your sins, do you think that He will withhold lesser things from you? You think He gave you the greatest gifts ever and now He’s being stingy?

No, dear friends in Christ, God is not withholding anything good from you. He is giving you what He knows is best for you, whether you see it or not; whether you understand it or not. He has given you the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death for you, and He gives you the promise that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so you too will rise to eternal life. If God has given this wonderful gift to you, you know that everything that He gives to you is for your eternal good.

God will answer the prayers of His children praying for healing and recovery, even if it is not on this side of heaven. Jesus suffered and died so that we will not suffer or die in the life to come. Our suffering will end. Our prayers will be answered in the way and at the time God knows to be best.

As the hymn says:

What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me.
My God is true; each morning new I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good: Though I the cup am drinking
Which savours now of bitterness, I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief, My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling. (LSB 760 st. 3, 5)

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.