Bible Text: John 16:23-33 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Easter 2023 | There was a woman in Luther’s time who read the words of our Gospel: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give to you,” and decided that she was going to call bread down from heaven, like Moses did. Jesus said “Whatever you ask…” and she was going to ask big. So she invited her friends over for supper. And when it came time to eat, she sat them down at a totally empty table and began to pray. And the praying lasted for a long time, but at the end of the night, the guests just got hungrier and eventually went home disappointed. God didn’t drop any bread from heaven.
Why? Is it because this woman didn’t have enough faith? As Jesus says, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it would move.” If you had faith enough, could you move that mountain, could you pray and have bread fall from heaven?
Kind of. Prayer responds to God’s Word. God speaks, we answer. If God told you to move that mountain or if God told you like He told Moses to call down bread from heaven, then you would pray and that’s exactly what would happen. This is how it works: God says it; faith believes it; prayers asks for it, and it’s done.
But if God doesn’t say it, then faith doesn’t believe it, and prayer doesn’t ask for it. God is not a genie. Prayer is not us asking for our three wishes based on what our sinful heart wants. When Christians ask things that don’t come from faith in God’s Word, Jesus says No. We see this with James and John, who ask Jesus to let them each sit, one on his left and one on his right, when He comes into His kingdom. Jesus says, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” No. I’m not going to give you that. And when the disciples ask Jesus if they can send fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan town that didn’t welcome them in, Jesus again says, “You don’t know what manner of spirit you are of.” I never told you to believe this, I never hinted that you should trust in this or hope for this. Why are you asking for it? Prayer comes from faith and faith relies on God’s Word. If God doesn’t say it, you don’t ask for it.
Faith is not simply believing that there is a God up there and He is really, really powerful and awesome. So He could give you the millions of dollars you want, or the job you want, or the spouse you want, or whatever else it is you think will make you happy.
Faith trusts in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God, and faith knows Him because faith listens to what He says and so it expects particular things from Him and asks those things. And it is only here that Jesus’ words make beautiful sense – “whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you.”
Moses had a word that manna would come from heaven. So when Moses prayed for daily bread, bread fell from God. Elijah had a word that God would send fire down and consume the bull on the altar of Mount Carmel, so when he prayed, it happened. You don’t have these words from God. He didn’t speak them to you. So you don’t expect them or ask for them.
But you do have words from God. And those words touch both your body and your soul. And they are wonderful words – full of promises that God will provide for everything you need. And the more you listen to that Word and trust the God who speaks it, the more you will ask from Him and receive what you pray for.
St. James says, “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask amiss, you ask wrongly, that you may spend it on your own pleasures.” And there’s the reason so many prayers go unanswered. Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” He addresses that command and that promise, that ask and that receive, to the Christian spirit, the sanctified new man, who wants good and beautiful things from God, who is patient and waits for God’s time, who puts spiritual blessings above bodily needs, whose fullness of joy is to have Jesus and be found in Him. Jesus doesn’t address this command and promise to our sinful flesh that wants bad things or that is impatient or that imagines God is holding out, whose joy is in its own selfish pleasure. The prayers of the sinful flesh go unanswered, because God has no respect, He has no regard for the sinful flesh. He wants only to kill it – that’s what His word says – so that a new man comes forth to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The spirit ask God to slay not to answer the sinful desires of our hearts.
Our flesh wants things that are bad for us. God commands us to love our enemy, bless and not curse, so if we pray that God curse him and send him to hell, we’ll get the same NO that the disciples got when they asked to send fire down on the Samaritans. But if we ask for God to crush our enemy with His law and lift him up with His Gospel, then we are speaking God’s language, asking according to God’s own Word, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God commands us to beware of covetousness, of dreaming of money, so if we pray Him to let us win the lottery, His response will be the same as to James and John, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” But if we ask God to give us strength to work hard and wisdom to spend well and generosity to give freely what God has freely given to us, then we are speaking God’s language, asking like His Word speaks.
Christians pray for spiritual things first and then for the body. If God grants heaven, He will also grant earth. The Father Himself loves you, Jesus says. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him give us all things. We are body and soul. God created the body, the Son assumed a human body into His Person, God cares about your body, He will raise it incorruptible on the Last Day – it is a precious and everlasting possession. Jesus tells you to pray for your daily bread. So you don’t pray for God to drop bread from heaven, but you do pray for your body, its needs, even its wants. Be as specific as you want – take away the cancer from mom, remove this thorn from my flesh, grant me a wife, grant me a husband, give me a better job, give us millions of dollars for our college, God wants to hear your prayers and He delights to answer them. But he will always answer for the greatest good. And your greatest good is not in the end that everything go perfectly with the body. A life without cross, without trial, is the life that begins to fall in love with the sinful world and forgets to look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is what happened to Solomon, whose wealth and power were simply too much for him to bear.
Realize too that the final need even of your body is spiritual. It’s to be without sin. To be without corruption. To be free forever from death. The body and the spirit are not so easily separated. What is good for the spirit is good for the body. It is all creation that groans for deliverance from sin and its corruption. And that includes your body.
And here you see how faithful your God is. How good He is to you. How true He is to His Word. Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Ask for great things, things your flesh thinks ridiculous and impossible. Ask for the Holy Spirit. He will give Him every time through His Word. Ask for the forgiveness of your sins. He will speak it through your pastor in His church. Ask even for the body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself, and He will show you that it has been pierced for you and it has been shed for you on the cross of Calvary, and He will place it in your mouth and in your heart. Ask Him for everlasting life. And He will give it. Ask Him for the protection of His angels, and He will send them. Ask Him for strength to fight the temptations of the devil, and He will show you the way of escape. Ask Him for courage to face death without fear, and He will set Christ before your eyes and reveal the sweetness of His heaven. Ask Him for perfect health and He will raise your body incorruptible. He will give you things far greater than manna from heaven. He will give you the Bread of Life, which if a man eat, He will never die. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
What the disciples of Jesus longed for beyond everything else was to be with Jesus. He was about to be ripped away from them. To die. So He tells them you will sorrow, but then you will see Me again and you will rejoice. It’s here that He says, “Ask and you will receive.” What did they ask for? What did they want above everything? They wanted Jesus. To have Him with them. To always hear Him. To have life in Him, to know God the Father through Him. And the Father gave it. Gave them Jesus, alive from the dead, with sins paid for, life eternal secured, an inheritance with God as the Father who adores us. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Confirmands, Mackenna, Alexandria, Abraham, Morgan, Weston, Colter, pray to your Father in Jesus’ name. Pray for everything good from Him. You know His Word. You know what is good. Ask for it. Pray constantly, every day. What a beautiful future God has for you. Pray for it. Ask for strength to fight the good fight of faith, and He will give it. Ask Him to keep you faithful Christians, and He will answer. Ask Him to make you pious children, good citizens, faithful spouses, if it be His will, faithful friends, and true Christians. Ask Him never to leave you, always to speak His Word to you in His Church, and He will never stop forgiving you and never stop teaching you, never stop being your Lord.
Jesus asked His Father, the night He was betrayed, to preserve His disciples, to keep them faithful. His Father gave it to Him, because He loves Him, from eternity. And that same love is now directed to us. The Father loves you, Jesus says. So my prayer, your parents’ prayer, and your prayer today, which we know our Father will answer, because we ask Him in His Son’s name, and we are asking for what He Himself wants and we know it because He told us, our prayer is that He keep you faithful to your Lord Jesus, that He draw you here and make you hunger and thirst for Christ’s body and blood, that no sin or temptation ever rip you from His hand, but that you stand with us before the throne of God here in this church, at home and throughout your life, and forever in heaven, where praise will rise unending to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.