Jesus uses two different words for asking in our Gospel lesson. They get translated the same in English, as “ask,” but the two words are worlds apart. “In that day you will ask nothing of me, Jesus says, Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give to you.” So Jesus says it’s only when you have nothing to ask from Jesus, that you can ask anything and everything from the Father. The first word for ask there, erwtaw, where Jesus says, In that day you will ask nothing of me, means asking for information, not knowing something and asking to find out. So Jesus is telling his disciples, “In that day, you won’t have any reason to question Me, to enquire more about who I am, who the Father is, what my Kingdom consists in, you won’t need to ask me, because you’ll already know. And Jesus says, “In that day,” referring to the day He would show them His hands and His side, because it’s His cross that answers all questions. The cross makes everything clear, there’s no speaking in parables there. You won’t need to ask if God loves you. The Father has sent His Son into death for you. There’s love, unmistakable. You won’t need to ask who this God is. He’s your Father, because His Son has become your brother and given you His Spirit. You won’t need to ask if your sins separate you from God, because there is God on the cross paying with His blood for your sins. Everything, Jesus says, will become clear when I die and I rise again. You’ll have no need to ask me anything else.
But then Jesus uses another word for ask and says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give you.” And here the word ask, aitew, means to beg, means to ask not for knowledge, but for help. Because this is what you ask from God when you have no reason to question Him. You know He loves you. You know He has made you and cares for you. He has sent His precious Son to suffer for you. He tells you to call on Him as Father, this great divine invitation of your Baptism, where God owns you as His own child. The intensity of the love of the Father for His Son is infinite. And here you now belong to the Son, He becomes your brother, He gives up His life for you, you are joined to Him. And so Jesus says the Father loves you, you have direct access to the Father, because you love His Son and you love His Son because He has loved you to His death.
So this is what it means that only when you have nothing to ask from Jesus can you then ask anything from the Father in Jesus’ name. Only Christians can pray to God because only Christians know who God is. Because we know Jesus. And when you know who God is, there is nothing that can keep you from asking anything from Him. But my sins rise too high, over my head, and I’m ashamed to ask, you say. No, the Father you pray to has sacrificed His dear Son for those sins, and that blood was not shed in vain. So confess your sins and know Jesus doesn’t lie, it’s finished, and so long as He is your Savior then His Father is your Father, and you can ask anything of Him without fear and without shame. And if you are doubting, remember the God to whom you pray, look at the cross, remember the words of Paul, He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with him freely give us all things? So ask, that your joy may be full.
We need to pray. Praying is talking to God through faith in Jesus. And we need to talk to God. I’m going to give you three reasons, besides the fact that Jesus commanded you to pray, so you should do what Jesus tells you to do, and besides the fact that God has promised to hear you, and that is an unbelievable blessing, that you have the ear of God almighty, He’s bound Himself to hear you and answer you in your Baptism when He named you His child.
But let me give you three other reasons. First, you should pray because you have needs. You have fears, you have pain, you have anxieties, and it’s a great comfort to speak them to your God and know that He has promised to hear you and actually cares. This world is not just. Bad things happen. And bad things happen to Christians. Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, because there was nothing but misery and God was clearly responsible. That’s the heathen way. When things go bad, they complain, they riot, they blame God, they turn to whatever self-pitying pleasures will give them some temporary relief. But the Christian knows that God directs all things, the bad things too, to your benefit, and He teaches you to see this. Your life and your salvation are more precious to him than all the heathen with all their power and all their trappings. So tell Him your needs and wait His good time and He will work it for your good.
Second, you should pray because it forces you to live like a Christian. I mean this. Prayer makes no sense, it’s a mania, a species of insanity, if God doesn’t exist and if you don’t know who this God is. You would be talking to yourself, to your imaginary friend, to cope with your problems. So every time you pray, you are reminding yourself that God exists, and not just some generic god, but the God of the Bible, the God Jesus reveals. And you live life before Him – your interactions with others, your use of your time, your work, your words, your actions in private, everything is done before the One to whom you pray every morning and evening and in the time between. And you know His will. So pray that He keep you in the true religion, which is to keep you undefiled from the world, as St. James says, to live and think like a Christian, at church, at home, at work, when you lie down and when you wake up.
Third, you should pray because this is how you practice faith and Christian love. St. Paul prayed constantly for the churches he planted, for the individual people in these churches; and because he prayed, he acted, he wrote, he encouraged them, he taught them, he visited them, his love for them increased. Christ Himself gives us His example, that He prays for his disciples and all who will believe through their Word, and then He acts, He goes to the cross, He suffers for the very people He prayed for. Prayer urged Him on to action, and it urges us to action. So every pastor, if he’s praying for the people of his congregation, will find himself also acting for them, preaching to them specifically, calling on them, speaking to them. Praying will help me to think of the needs you all have, that some of you are suffering from cancer, some dealing with disease, some struggling as mothers and fathers, some anxious and depressed, some haven’t been to church in way too long, some are going through underserved injustice and pain, some mourning death, some rejoicing in the blessings of children, some lonely, and not only does this make me think of you and commend you to the Lord, it spurs me to action, to talk to you, help you concretely if it’s possible.
And so it goes with you. Pray for people, and you will learn to love them in action also. Pray for your godchildren, that they remain in the faith, that their parents have the resolve to bring them up Christians in the church. Teachers, pray for your students. Parents, for your children. Husbands, pray for your wives and wives for your husbands. Children, pray for your mothers and fathers. Members, pray for your pastor and for your church and your school. Pray for your enemies too, for everyone who angers you or hurts you or offends you, pray for their repentance that they may know the joy and freedom of knowing Christ and being found in Him. When you pray for people, sincerely, from the heart, trusting that because Christ has shed His blood for you and God has named you His child, your Father in heaven will never fail to answer you, then you will not fail to act in love toward those around you. This is why James can say that religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is to visit widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Because true religion is faith in Jesus, who shows you a Father who adores you and to whom you can pray. And this faith does pray and in praying it loves, and in loving it acts. And so Jesus’ words are fulfilled, by this they will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another. You pray for the widow, the sufferer, the one in need, the sick, the church, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and not only does God hear your prayer, but He gives you this added blessing, to spur you on to action.
Jesus says ask, that your joy may be full. We pray and God answers, and our joy is full. First, because we ask for our greatest need, for forgiveness and communion with God, to know Him and be known by Him, and He answers, He calls us His children, as He just did for Bryson and Atticus, He feeds us with the body and blood of Jesus, He promises us everlasting life with Him, He points us to the cross of our Lord and His resurrection as proof beyond doubt of His commitment to us, and this is joy and contentment. And then from this flows the Christian life, which is a joyful life, even if sometimes it’s not so happy and we have to suffer through pain. So long as that pain drives us to our God in prayer, then we can continue to ask, that our joy may be full. Here’s a life where God is constantly in view. When I pray for my daughter, it’s not just my daughter I’m thinking of, but the God to whom I’m praying, her Father and my Father, who loves her for the same reason He loves me, and that’s Jesus, our Savior. And even when I pray for my enemies, for those who hate me, I pray to the God who orders me not to hate, but to have God’s mind, which is to bless those who curse me and to want all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
Here is the joy Jesus gives. It’s the joy of God Himself. It’s the joy of becoming and being and living as His children. How could we not want everyone to share in this joy and in this life? It’s the life of God, where all our questions are answers, so we don’t have to ask who God is or whether He loves us, but because we know, we ask for all things from our Father through faith in Jesus by the power of His Spirit. Alleluia. Christ is risen.