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Praying Because Of and Through Jesus
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Commemoration of Emperor Constantine, Christian Ruler and Helen, Mother of Constantine
May 21, 2017
Our Lord never commands us anything that will bring harm to us. In the same way, when He invites us to do something it obviously is for our benefit. With prayer, as with many other things from our Lord, we have both the command and invitation. The Large Catechism teaches us to come boldly to the Father in prayer: “You can raise this point with Him and say, ‘Here I come, dear Father, and pray, not because of my own purpose or because of my own worthiness. But I pray because of Your commandment and promise, which cannot fail or deceive me.”
So on a basic level the question of why do we pray is answered, Because our Lord commands us to pray and invites us to pray. And along with that reason is added the answer, It is for our benefit. Even if we there were no benefit coming from it, we still would need to pray for the simple fact that our Lord has commanded us to pray.
But in the Gospel reading today we see from our Lord how we are blessed in prayer and how the promise our Father gives to us is what we ought to hold Him to. Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” Last week we saw how this is possible, to love Jesus and believe in Him. Jesus promised to send the HolySpirit who convicts us of our sin and brings us to repentance and brings us to faith in Christ. How else would it be possible for us to love Jesus and believe that He came from God? But we do. By the great work of the Holy Spirit, we do. And Jesus says that the Father loves us and that is why He invites us to pray to Him. And that is why He listens to our prayer.
Jesus says, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” In his first epistle the apostle John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” This is the central action of God in saving us sinful people from hell: sending Jesus, His own Son, into the flesh.
Jesus is God and yet became a human being. This is what He was saying in the Gospel reading when He said, “I came from the Father and have come into the world.” This was to take on our human flesh and take on our sin, suffering in our place. When Jesus says that the Father loves us, He means it! The command and invitation to pray is not an add-on. It is not optional. It is from the heart of God Himself who sent His Son into the world to save us from sin. If He has given us the greatest help to us in saving us how much more will He want to help us in all our needs. So He calls upon us to pray.
Jesus says not only that He came from the Father and has come into the world, but that now He is leaving the world and going to the Father. In response the disciples tell Him that they now know that He knows all things. Praying to our Father is praying through Jesus, as He also said in the Gospel reading that we ought to pray in His name. Since He knows all things there is no better reason to pray. We usually pray for what we want and that’s not a bad thing. But what do we know? We know only what we see in our limited understanding and in our sinful nature. Jesus knows all things. He knows what is truly good for us. So we pray through Him.
Having heard these words directly from his Lord and having written them down, we can see why John has such confidence in the value of our praying to God, when he says in 1John 5, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” When Jesus says in the Gospel reading to pray in His name He is saying this, praying according to the will of God. That is how we can be certain God listens to our prayers and gives us what is beneficial to us. We prayed in this confidence with the psalmist in the Introit, “Truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.”
In the Gospel reading Jesus says, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And so we prayed in the Collect that our Lord would give us what we need and that we would recognize the fullness of what He wants for us and gives us: “O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them.” We first prayed what Jesus had told us, that God the Father is the giver of all that is good. And then we prayed that He would give us inspiration to think those things that are right and by His merciful guiding accomplish them.
When Jesus speaks of our joy being full it cannot happen if we just pray between me and Jesus. Our prayers are for all our needs, including those of others. In the Epistle reading James picks up on this: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He says that “the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” This is the application of what Jesus is teaching us regarding prayer and our prayer in the Collect to think those things that are right and by God’s merciful guiding accomplish them.
When the Scriptures exhort us to good works it inevitably leads to prayer. We pray our God to bring about in us the desire and the ability to carry out the good works He desires that we do. In the Catechism we are taught this life of hearing God’s word and doing God’s word: “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.” We learn from this that the first good work we can do is to keep God’s name holy. It is holy by itself but we pray that we would keep it holy among us.
We keep God’s name holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity. When we delight in hearing God’s Word in all its fullness we are hallowing His name. His Word comes to us in all its force to convict us of sin and bring us to repentance and it comes to us in all its sweetness to forgive us and bring about new life.
The second good work we do is everything else, leading holy lives according to God’s Word. The Ten Commandments don’t simply tell us what not to do. The flip side of the You shall not is the You shall do. Instead of harming others you help them. Instead of denigrating those in authority you honor them. Instead of taking advantage of others you see how you can help them to improve their life. Instead of placing other activities first you place hearing the Word of God first.
There is no shortage of opportunities to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word. Because of this there is no shortage of things to pray for. Ask God to help you. He will. He has given you His Son. He has given you life that will not end. Jesus has come into this world and even though He has gone back to the Father He has left you with no shortage of help and strength. As we heard the last two weeks, He gives you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings the eternal Word right into your ears and on into your heart and mind. The Holy Spirit brings the eternal Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, into your mouth in His Holy Sacrament. You eat and drink His body and His blood, the answer to all your prayers and everything you need for the fullness of joy, both in this life and the life to come. Amen.