Rogate Sermon 2007| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| John 16:23-30
Today is called Rogate Sunday. Rogate comes from a Latin word that means to call upon someone. The topic of today’s Gospel Lesson is prayer. Jesus himself invites us to call upon God. He promises that God will answer our prayers. He tells us that the purpose of prayer is that our joy may be full. He points to his own redemptive work as the power of every prayer we pray. This morning we consider the promise, the purpose, and the power of prayer.
Whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name he will give to us. We have Jesus’ promise on that. Without that promise, we couldn’t begin to pray to God for anything at all. Jesus tells us that we should pray in his name. Without the name of Jesus we cannot pray. Apart from Jesus we don’t even know God. Jesus is the one who shows us God. No one else does.
Jesus explains how it is that we can pray in his name and it will be as if Jesus himself is praying for us. He says, “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” When Jesus promises us something it must be so. We know this because Jesus came to us from God.
The Bible teaches quite plainly that there is only one God. This does not mean, however, that everyone who agrees that God is one is on side of God. St James writes, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” (James 2:19) The notion that a prayer offered to an unknown god is a true prayer to the true God is a fatal delusion. It is a lie. You may not pray – you cannot pray – without Christ’s promise. Before you can pray, you must be invited. You may not go to the Father on your own. You can only go to him through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
The relationship between God the Father and his only begotten Son is eternal. From eternity the Father loved the Son. From eternity the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. Before time began, the Son shared all that the Father had because he was always the Son just as the Father was always the Father.
A Christian and a Muslim once had an argument about what is God’s greatest attribute. The Muslim said it was God’s power to do whatever he wanted to do. The Christian disagreed, saying that the greatest attribute of God was his love. Oh no, the Muslim countered, if love is God’s greatest attribute, God is dependent on those he loves. If love is the greatest attribute, God becomes weak, for he cannot fully be God without creating someone to love and that would make God dependant on his creation. No, the Christian replied, you don’t understand because you deny the Holy Trinity. Love is most certainly the greatest attribute God possesses. And it is eternal. For God the Father loved his Son from eternity to eternity and there never was or could be a time when the Father did not love the Son with a perfect, holy, pure, fatherly love.
Now look at Jesus and see this love! See the Father’s love in the only place it can be found: In the humanity of Jesus. For the one begotten of his Father before all worlds became flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made man. This perfect manhood shows us God the Father. And as we learn to love Jesus, we learn to love God. We see Jesus visibly showing us acts of mercy, kindness, patience, and compassion. We see this perfect man’s perfect love and perfect obedience and perfect suffering. What are we seeing, dear brothers and sisters in Christ? We are seeing right into the heart of our heavenly Father! For Jesus does nothing alone. Nothing he does can be separated from his Father. When you learn of Jesus and learn to love and trust in him with all your heart, you are finding in Jesus your Father in heaven.
So Jesus teaches us to call God, Father. The eternal and unique relationship between God the Father and his eternally begotten Son becomes the foundation for a promise. You know me, Jesus said. You love me. This means that you know and you love the Father. So pray! Ask whatever your heart desires! Call upon the Father who created you and put you in this world. What is it you need? What is it that burdens you? Consider the prayer that Jesus taught us, a prayer that God will most certainly answer in the affirmative. We pray that God would hallow his name. And so he will. He will send us faithful preachers who will preach the pure gospel that keeps God’s name from being profaned among us. We pray that God’s kingdom come. And so it will, as God uproots the devil’s power in our lives and fills us with the Holy Spirit. We pray that God’s will be done. And he will do his will among us and his will be for our good and it will reveal his grace. We pray for our daily bread and God keeps us clothed and fed. He is the one who causes the crops to grow. He is the one who keeps the economy from crashing. He answers our prayers for daily bread. We pray for forgiveness and he forgives and thus enables us to forgive those who sin against us. We pray for help in the face of trials and temptations and he relieves them out of his fatherly love. We pray deliverance from evil, and he grants us a blessed departure from this world. No greater gift can God give than that we die confessing the truth by which we have received eternal life.
We have Jesus’ promise. He promises God will answer our prayers.
We know as well the true purpose of all our prayers. It is that our joy may be full. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” To have fullness of joy is not necessarily always to be happy on the surface of things. Some folks have a more morose personality while others are more bubbly and cheerful. This has nothing to do with faith, prayer, or the purpose of prayer. The joy of which Jesus speaks goes deeper than anything known in nature. It is the joy of knowing God. Prayer is not a shopping list of stuff we want. Prayer is entrusting ourselves to our Creator with the sure confidence that he is our loving Father. When we open our hearts to him and pour out our requests, he is happy to hear us and happy to do whatever it is we need done. And this is what brings us such joy. We know that the promise Jesus has given actually results in our having God’s undivided attention.
In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” But we know – do we not? – that God is with us right here on earth! Surely we do! He who has all the power of heaven brings this power to us here on earth. He sees our need. He has prepared us for heaven. This he did by sending into this world his Son. Listen once more to how Jesus puts it in our text. “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” Why should Jesus make such a journey? For us, is why! For us! The Father sent his Son to us that through this same Son we might ascend to the Father. This is the presupposition of Christian prayer. We know we are going to heaven to be with the Father whom we have met in Jesus. We have learned to know and to love this man, this perfect man who died for us, and in knowing him we know the Father and we know where we belong. We belong in heaven with the God in whose name we are baptized. We belong in heaven with the angels and the archangels and the company of the apostles and prophets. We belong in heaven with those who have confessed here below the same faith we preach, teach, and confess today. What joy! Whenever we pray the same angels attend us who attend the saints above. Right here in this church building where the word of God is preached and the sacraments of Christ are administered is where our gracious God raises our hearts to heaven and fills us with unspeakable joy in his presence.
And when we pray at home, at work, in the car, all alone, even without words but only with the heart relying on Jesus’ blood and righteousness and expecting nothing but good from the Father who sent him, we are filled with joy. God sends that joy. The purpose of prayer is joy, the fullness of joy that God gives us in Jesus.
And finally, the power of prayer is the power of Jesus’ blood. It is not your power. It is not my power. It is not the power of the saints. It is not the power of the angels. It is the power of the most holy obedience and precious blood of Jesus shed on the Altar of the cross offered up to the penal justice of God to pacify his wrath forever and to set us at peace with him. The only thing that could keep us from praying is our own unworthiness and sin. Otherwise we would run to God and talk with confidence to him, even as Adam did before the fall. But as Adam and Eve hid themselves and ran away from God in their guilt and shame, so do all of their children. And this is why we don’t pray with true confidence. Before we learn that our God is a consuming fire, we don’t even know what he is. But before we know God in the sacrifice of his Son, we don’t know who he is. When we know God in Jesus’ suffering for us, then, and only then, can prayer be powerful. For only the prayer that is offered by the righteous man or woman or child can avail before God. And we are righteous only as we are covered by Christ’s blood and washed clean from every sin. God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. That is the power of prayer. We don’t pray in order to become righteous before God. We pray because we are righteous before God. That is given to us freely in the gospel.
Jesus gives us the promise to pray in his name and God hears us. Jesus gives us the purpose of prayer and it is the fullness of joy – the joy of heaven. In Jesus alone is the real power of prayer. He makes us fit to ask God for whatever we need with the full confidence that he will answer us. So we pray in Jesus’ name and God fills us with joy.