Today, Jesus teaches us to pray.
“Ask, and you will receive” (John 16:24), He says.
But if you’ve ever asked and not received, you’ll wonder whether Jesus is lying or you lack faith.
Because when we say, “Ask, and you will receive,” we mean it as an if/then statement.
If you ask for help, then I will help you.
That’s how we operate.
We don’t just do good to others.
We wait for them to ask.
Thank God that’s not how God operates.
When Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive,” He doesn’t mean “If you ask, then, you’ll receive.”
And experience has taught us this all our lives.
Ask God for a million dollars. Ask for all the time in the world, for good health, safety, and the hymns you like.
Ask for everything. Anything. And all of it in between.
If you ask, and nothing happens, then we have to answer the question of what, exactly, Jesus means.
Either He’s lying, God is vindictive and sinful, and we lack the faith to speak to Him—or—Jesus means it differently.
We know better than to think Jesus says we get everything we ask for, and yet He plainly says, “Ask, and you will receive.”
If you’re sick, “Ask, and you will receive” at least sometimes sounds like a satanic lie.
To one who constantly hears “No,” “Ask, and you will receive” feels like deliberate unkindness.
To every faithful, cross-bearing Christian who happens to find himself in the midst of sorrow and trouble, “Ask, and you will receive” sounds like God doesn’t listen and doesn’t care.
That we ask, that we need, that we pray, and that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, makes us wonder why Jesus would say, “Ask, and you will receive.”
It’s obviously not true!
Unless we understand Him correctly.
Jesus doesn’t mean “If you ask, then you’ll receive.”
But He does mean, “When you ask rightly, you will receive, and, indeed, it’s already yours.”
Because Jesus doesn’t teach us only to ask.
He teaches us to ask in His name: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).
That’s what He says, and this is something we understand quite well.
Kids ask for things in Mom’s name all the time. They implore Dad on Mom’s behalf saying, “But Mom said…”
And if Mom said it, then, fine.
But moms only say certain things.
To ask for something in Mom’s name is to ask for something that she’s already said.
And to ask for something in Jesus’ name is to remember what God has said and to ask for it.
We do this all the time.
We say, “Jesus says…”
We remember His Word, and we ask Him to fulfill it.
It doesn’t matter what comes after “Jesus says…”
As long as He actually said it, we know He means it for our good.
Even the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin is for our good—because He moves right along to convict us concerning righteousness—that we would bask in the righteousness of Christ.
Like a Mom to her children, Jesus only says certain things.
He doesn’t tell you to trust in money. He doesn’t tell you that you’ll always be happy.
He never promises those things.
Nevertheless, it’s comfort unending for all who believe that anything we ask in Jesus’ name is already ours by faith.
Because when you ask “in Jesus’ name,” you’re asking “according to the Word of God,” what God has already said.
So what do you ask for? What can you ask for?
What does Scripture say? What does God say?
What does God guarantee? What does He promise?
He doesn’t promise wealth.
Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21).
You cannot serve God and mammon.
Jesus attacks Mark’s idolatry, because God demands faith. He doesn’t promise wealth, because wealth isn’t necessary for salvation.
Nor does God promise health.
Health isn’t necessary for salvation.
Every leper cleansed, every Deaf who heard still died.
Lazarus died twice.
Regarding earthly things, Jesus promises nothing except hatred, tribulation, and daily bread.
And about our daily bread we have to be honest.
God could give us all so much less than what we have, and He would still be giving us this day our daily bread.
Jesus says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
He says all of this to teach us.
Don’t let it go in one ear and out the other.
Don’t wonder when the sermon will end.
Don’t wonder if you can still get a good deal on Royals tickets, or Cardinals tickets, or Cubs tickets, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Rather—wonder if you believe God.
If you hear Him and do His will.
Jesus says all this to teach us, and out of mercy, to save us.
If you look at Christianity anywhere in the world, you’ll see trouble.
Abroad, Christians are being murdered—simply because they’re Christians.
On April 17th, ISIS published a video of the execution of Nabil Habshi, a Coptic Christian. He was kidnapped in November, and the kidnappers demanded the family pay over $100,000—not as a ransom—but as a tax levied against non-Muslims in states governed by Islamic law.
The Quran teaches Muslims to kill the infidels (that’s me and you) if they won’t convert to Islam or live in humiliating submission, paying such taxes.
Would you convert? Would you pay the tax and submit? Would you keep the faith even unto death—as you confessed you would when you were confirmed?
Since our daily bread doesn’t regularly include an escape route away from the Muslims who seek to kidnap our children and kill us, those are rhetorical questions, impossible questions, but the exercise is a good one.
Does your Christianity stop when you leave church?
That’s what your government wants.
For some of us, our representative to congress tried to pray and failed—attempting to do so in the name of false gods and not knowing how to say, “Amen.”
For all of us, our president tried to speak on the National Day of Prayer and failed to mention God at all—which surprised exactly no one.
But let’s not fool ourselves—they’re as devoutly Christian as a broken doorknob and just as helpful.
The fact is, you won’t always get what you ask for.
If you pray for health, or safety, or a godly politician, you may not get what you ask for.
Take heart—it’s not because God doesn’t love you.
Jesus says: in this world you will endure hatred and tribulation. No one wants that, but you can’t always get what you want.
The fact is, God is very clear about what His will is for you.
The will of God isn’t an uncertain thing.
He desires the world’s salvation.
He desires your salvation.
And in Jesus Christ He has accomplished it.
Thus says the Lord in Matthew chapter six: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
That is, ask for these things in Jesus’ name…
“…And all these [other] things [clothing, food, and shelter] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
Thus says the Lord in Hebrews chapter thirteen: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for [the Lord] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; [for] what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
The will of God is clear.
He desires your salvation.
The forgiveness of your sins.
And your life everlasting.
And He has accomplished it in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
To pray—to ask in Jesus’ name—is nothing more than to trust Jesus—to trust His Word and His Work.
To trust—and know that His blood overcomes sin, death, and satan.
To trust—and know that trust is reckoned to you as righteousness.
“Take heart,” [Jesus says], I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
He says all this that, in Him, you would have peace.
Grace to you all—and peace—from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2021
John 16:23-30 (31-33)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt