Summary: Was Jesus’ promise to do anything we ask in His name a rash promise?
Sermon: A Rash Promise
Text: John 16:23-33
Occasion: Rogation Sunday (Easter V)
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, May 21, 2006
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Rogation Sunday. It is the last Sunday of a most extraordinary season. It began most unexpectedly. Our Lord, instead of charging into the capital and "throwing out the rascals", enters meekly on a humble ride and is Himself evicted from office. Even worse, He is murdered and His party is outlawed. The meaning of history is that injustice in its ruthlessness is always more powerful than justice. All is lost; there is no hope. Yet three days later we learned that this defeat was part of the divine plan of deliverance. Not only is the program back in place stronger than ever, but our very Leader who was truly dead is truly alive! Yet this is only the beginning of amazing events. For almost forty days now He has been appearing among us, teaching us. I know, I know, this all sounds crazy and no one will believe us. Yet the facts cannot be refuted. All you have to do is look for yourself. Unfortunately, this special time is about to end. Jesus is returning home. He’ll send His Representative Who will stand in His place, but we’ll see Him no more. However, before He leaves, He has one last surprise for us, and this one in some respects is more outrageous than all the others. In fact, we have come to believe in His resurrection; and in doing so much of His previous teachings start coming into focus and making sense. As big of a camel as that was to swallow, we have begun to acclimate ourselves to this new reality. Rather than letting us sit back and digest that, though, Jesus has something else up His sleeve. Maybe we can believe that He died and came back to life, but what He is about to say will stretch our "believer organ" all out of whack. What He has to say gives our enemies more than enough material to blow us completely out of the water. In fact, I could easily use this to disprove our faith. To our modern ears it is incredible and indefensible. It is a promise so embarrassing that upon hearing it many of us frantically cast about for ways of covering it up and explaining it away. It is so far from our experience. Yet He made this promise in supreme confidence that it would be fulfilled, and gave it to us to embolden us. It is either the most absurd promise ever made, or we are the most foolish in all creation for ignoring it. Listen to this promise:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (v23-24)
As I said earlier, this season opened with the Resurrection; in just a few days it comes to a close with the Ascension. But like close friend who has an influential father, before our Lord leaves He tells us that not only will we have an audience with this Father of His, but we will be able to ask for anything He is able to grant, and He will give it to us. That is where the name for today, Rogation, comes from. It’s basic meaning is "asking".
Today’s sermon is going to be somewhat different than ones past. I will explain this Scripture to you as always; but I will do so, at least for some of you, as your student rather than your teacher. While a clergyman, in his training, may have learned more than the layman, and a proper theological foundation is crucial for a healthy prayer life, the exercise and discipline of prayer is more than just knowledge. If what I preach today seems more theory than practice, or if it seems like I don’t always know what I’m talking about, pray for me that I may repent of my prayerlessness and join you on your knees.
III. The Rash Promise
Jesus says many things in the Gospel passage today, more than I could possibly address in this sermon. What I would like to focus on is what appears at first blush to be a rather rash promise to His followers. I say it’s rash because it would seem rather contrary to many of our experience. It presents itself as a straightforward promise. Ask the Father for ANYTHING in Jesus’ name, and He’ll grant it. Not just that He’ll answer, but that He’ll actually do it. This is carte blanche, a blank check. Not only that, but just to make sure we don’t think this is a "slip of the tongue", our Lord precedes this promise with a vow; in fact, 2 vows. The New King James translates it as "Most assuredly", while the "elderly" King James gives it as, "Verily, verily". The English word "verily" He uses twice translates a Greek word spelled, alpha, mu, eta, nu. Anyone know what this is? Alpha, a, mu, m, eta, e, and nu, n. What is it someone says when they hear something they really agree with? Amen! Congratulations! You just spoke Greek! Jesus’ point is that He isn’t speaking "off the record" as it were, but telling us something in clearest language that He expects us to believe. Yet how many of you have prayed to God the Father for something, added "in Jesus name, amen" to the end of the prayer, and still was refused your request? Did we just prove Jesus wrong? Well, did Jesus keep His promise, or didn’t He? If we are going to call ourselves Christians at all we have to confess that Jesus always keeps His promises, regardless of how it may seem to us. If there is any apparent discrepency between Jesus’ promise and our observation of it’s fulfillment, the error must be on our part, either in understanding the promise or seeing it’s accomplishment. In that case, let’s view this promise as a promise, and try to understand it as Jesus meant it. It is a fantastic present to us, but what are the wrappings that go with it? Are there any bounds?