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Easter V – John 16:23b-30

by pastorjuhl ~ May 6th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

If only prayer was as easy as this: you walk up to the front door of the church building, peck on the door, and wait for Jesus to answer. When He answers, you ask Him everything you want. He hears your requests, gives you a pat on the head, and sends you off with the knowledge that your requests have been heard and will be answered according to His good and gracious will. In other words, requests of a spiritual nature will be answered as you asked. Requests of a temporal nature will be answered in the way Christ sees fit. Regardless of the answers to your supplications, what you asked was heard.

Seeing Jesus Christ face-to-face might make prayer more convenient for many people. At least they leave believing their prayers were heard. Perhaps that might be one reason why you are afraid to turn to the Lord in prayer. You are not sure what you ask for is heard. You’ve waited a long time for certain petitions. You may still be waiting right now. You may have given up, thinking the Lord is too busy to hear and answer your petitions. You may have also given up because the Lord answered another one of your prayers in an unexpected way that brought sadness or made you doubt God’s good and gracious will.

There is no doubt God’s good and gracious will is done without your asking. You learned that from Luther’s Small Catechism. Nevertheless, the words of Christ still ring in your ears: most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

It’s easy to doubt what Jesus says in John chapter 16. Unanswered prayer seems to be a curse rather than a blessing. Where’s my financial peace? Where’s my well-paying job? Where’s my reasonable health care? Where’s my spouse or my relative who died a tragic death? Perhaps you’ve asked these petitions and are still waiting for an answer. Maybe the answer you received did not jibe with the answer you wanted.

Maybe you were praying for the wrong thing. Consider the Israelites in Numbers chapter 21. Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread. The Israelites show their impudence. God provides them with manna, quail, and water from the rock, yet they are not satisfied. They long for slavery under the Egyptians, where they had all they needed yet lacked freedom. God gives them freedom and they whine all the way to the Promised Land. This bout of whining brings fiery serpents among the Israelites. Many of the people of Israel died.

Think of the many times in your life that our heavenly Father spared you from death. You may have not realized it then, but hindsight is always 20/20. You’re alive today because God provided protection from those things that harm the body. You probably didn’t pray for protection. Nevertheless, God provided protection for you. It took death for the Israelites to repent. What will it take for you to repent of believing God is deaf to prayer?

God does whatever it takes to keep His promise to His children in the Old Testament. He does the same for you today. Here you recall the explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

The fiery serpents were not a means of temptation. The fiery serpents were a test of faith. Where would God’s children turn in their hour of need? They returned to the Lord God. He is gracious and merciful. He is slow to anger. He abounds in mercy. God’s mercy is displayed before the Israelites as a snake on a pole. If a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

The bronze serpent on a pole foreshadows the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes a curse in your place, in order that the curse of sin goes on His perfect self. In return for your sin, He gives you His righteousness. When you behold Jesus Christ and what He does for you, believing and not doubting that this is how God provides a way out of sin and death, you live.

When you ask for deliverance, God provides deliverance in His Son. It may not the deliverance you want, but it is the deliverance you need. Jesus bids you ask the Father whatever you need. When you ask for forgiveness, He provides forgiveness in His only-begotten Son. The Father’s forgiveness becomes tangible through His sure and certain Word. His Word creates faith in Holy Preaching. His Word declares you forgiven in Holy Absolution. His Word washes away sin in Holy Baptism. His Word strengthens and preserves faith in Holy Communion. All these blessed means are our heavenly Father’s undeserved love for you. When you ask, He delivers.

What about all that other stuff you’ve asked for that He hasn’t delivered? Rest assured God has heard your prayers. Jesus says so with a double guarantee: most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The translation loses the thrust of this double guarantee. The King James Version gets it: Verily, verily. In the Greek, it is amen, amen.

I’m always imploring you to add your “amen” to prayers because it is your joyful response that the Father hears your prayers. Here the tables are turned. Jesus gives you a double amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so. He hears your prayers. He responds in expected ways with forgiveness and life. He also responds in unexpected ways, especially in temporal matters. Sometimes a “no” is much better than a “yes”. Sometimes you receive something you never asked.

The Collect begins by calling God the giver of all that is good. The good thing He gives is redemption to His servant Jacob! By faith, you and I are His servant Jacob. Blesséd be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me! A hearty “amen” to that!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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