In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
In our gospel lesson this morning we arrive back in the middle of St. John’s narrative of Jesus’ passion just like last week. Likewise as last week the first half of this reading is taken from the ancient lectionary. It might seem odd the early Church chose readings surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion during the season we’re supposed to be focusing on His resurrection.
Today, we hear Jesus teaching the disciples to pray in His name. What does it mean to pray in His name? Does that mean every prayer gets a stamp of approval so long as you end it saying “In Jesus’ Name”? I’ve met Christians who think so and though I appreciate their Christocentric view of prayer we can’t treat the words like some kind of incantation that makes our prayers holier. Even when Jesus taught the disciples the Our Father…He did not tell them now end by saying “In Jesus’ Name.” So if it is not so literal then what does it mean to pray in His name?
Left and right in the New Testament we’re told to be in Jesus. We should pray in Jesus. We should place faith in Jesus. Paul goes as far to say that whatever we think, say, or do should be in Jesus. It is here that we get a glimpse of the early church’s wisdom in selecting this reading after Easter. They realized it isn’t really possible to understand what it means to be “in Jesus” before understanding what Jesus has done for us and what it means to belong to Him. It’s in fact impossible to fully understand Jesus until you know Him as the sinless crucified victim and Savior who has arisen to everlasting life. Knowing that, the early church decided to “rewind” and look at Jesus’ Words again in light of the resurrection.
The disciples thought they’d figured it out. Jesus tells them that He came from the Father to the world and now He was leaving the world to be with the Father again. They thought this was what He was talking about when He told them He was going to explain things plainly to them. Yet, Jesus makes one point clear to them. They don’t get it. Not yet anyway. Later, He would explain to them all the Scriptures and how His Words and actions had fulfilled them. But now, it wouldn’t be many hours until they would abandon Him. He’d be left alone to be tried, beaten, and hung on a tree. Still, Jesus knew that there was one who would not abandon Him, His Father, who would raise Him on the third day.
How quickly can we disciples leave our Lord alone, even today? We see the world going in directions we don’t understand. We see news that scare us. We have sufferings and trials that enter our lives. We feel the struggle against sin within ourselves. We see that struggle in one another and in other’s too. We can ask, “What’s the world coming to?”
We’d like to say we always pray with great confidence and strength of heart and will. We’d like to say that when things go bad the first thing we do is pray and the last thing on our mind is to complain or worry. We’d like to say our thoughts never drift during the prayers of the church or we never ever fall asleep while we pray. Weak sinners that we are when smallest hint of trouble comes all too often we do not pray and we have little confidence. You know it’s true. There are hymns that confess it written by Christians wiser than us: “O what peace we often forfeit. O what needless pain we bear—All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.” or “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it—Prone to leave the God I love.”
Yet here is the amazing thing in our lesson today. Jesus teaches them to pray and gives this great good news that the Father loves them and hears their prayers. After that the disciples completely blow it and try to wax wise like they really understood Him so well. So, Jesus plants that whopper of a right hook on their chins saying, “Now you believe? You will be scattered.” Yet, here comes the amazing part. After that Jesus doesn’t chastise them anymore, but says this: “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.”
Did you catch that? “I have said these things, that in Me you may have peace…” Yes, even telling you that you will be scattered, weak, sniveling, scaredy-cats the moment trouble comes is written that you might be in Me and have peace. How can He say this? Because He is the One, the only One, who will and who has overcome this sinful world. They wouldn’t understand it until the day of Christ’s resurrection. Even then it took them a few weeks to catch on. They wouldn’t truly understand what it meant to be in Jesus until they understood the glorious peace of His resurrection from the dead.
To be “in Jesus”, to pray in the name of Jesus, is to trust that Jesus has overcome the tribulations of this world. It’s to believe what John the Baptist said is true. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And this being in Jesus is not some intellectual exercise or giving our assent to a list of teachings. If that’s the case we just talk about Jesus, reason about Jesus, but are never really in Jesus. God has come to us in Christ. He has conquered the thing that has caused all the tribulation in the world and made our fellowship with God impossible: our sin. Now He has come into each and every one of you to cleanse you by the gift of faith. You are baptized in Jesus. You are forgiven in Jesus. You are fed at this altar in Jesus. You live now in Jesus. And since you are in Jesus you have what He has; His victory over sin, death and the power of the Evil One.
The Devil would love to take that confidence away from you. He’ll find any way to keep you from praying. He tricks the Old Adam into thinking, “I’ll have more time for prayer later in the day.”, but later never comes. He lies and makes us think we’re unworthy to pray: “Remember what you thought, said, or did yesterday? Why would God listen to an unworthy sinner like you?” Our response? Of course we’re unworthy, we’re sinners, but Christ has made us worthy by overcoming our sin by His cross and resurrection. In Jesus, the Father loves us as His dear children.
Martin Luther preaching on this text once said, “”When [the Devil] prompts you to think, there’s something else I must do first, then you must say, “No, not so, as soon as the need arises, I shall pray; for when I need to call upon God that is the right time to do it.”” On that note, let us pray, don’t you think now like any other time is the right time to do it?
Our Lord, heavenly Father, praise be to You for the blessed, childlike privileges You have given us. Praise be to Your name for allowing us to come to You as Your children. We don’t deserve to lift up our eyes to You and even less to speak to You as a child does to his father. We thank You for Your great mercy because You sent your Son into our world to live among us and live in us, we who had death in our hearts. Now You are here, Lord, and we may be with You. What tribulations collectively we are suffering Lord only you know. What joys we have together Lord only you fully know. Father receive our heartfelt petitions because of the worthiness of Your Son, our Savior, who has overcome the world by His resurrection. Lead us to find refuge in His peace when falter. Help us to remain strong in confidence during temptation. Cover and keep us in your loving care. We pray this knowing you hear us, because we pray in trust, in hope, and in faith of all that your Son Jesus’ has done. Amen.