A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter
Sermon on John 16:23-33
Our gospel lesson this morning comes from John 16, part of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples before his crucifixion. We are reading this passage from our time, on the other side of the resurrection, but it is importation for our understanding of it to relate what Jesus says here to the moment when he spoke it to his disciples:
prior to our passage, Jesus has mentioned that what he is about to do is like childbirth: a process full of pain, but in which pain is forgotten in the joy that attends a new life coming into the world.
asking the Father in Jesus’ name
not Jesus asking for them, but them asking the Father in Jesus’ name.
“hitherto you have asked nothing in my name” - the accomplishment of salvation has not yet happened; Christians’ appeal to the Father is not yet a matter of their inclusion in the finished redemption. At this moment, Jesus is speaking before His crucifixion, before His arrest, before His last Supper.
“in figures of speech” - the Greek is paroimiai, that is the Hebrew mashal, mishlim. Yes, it is the title of the book of Proverbs, but in another sense it is a label for the riddling parables that Jesus has used in his preaching of the Kingdom so far — including Jesus comparison of his sacrificial death to childbirth in the immediately foregoing previous verses.
The disciples have been so very uncomprehending of the plan. On the mount of Transfiguration, Peter had offered to build three tents – as though it were already time for the Sukkoth, the feast of booths that followed after the redemption from Egypt. But Jesus was on the mountain discussing his “exodus” with Moses and Elijah. Or again, when Jesus tried to tell his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribe and be killed, and on the third day be raised, Peter responded by taking Him aside and rebuking Him. Or again, when on another occasion, Jesus explained that the path to His glory led through sufferings and death, He was immediately met with a request that James and John sit at His right hand and His left in His kingdom.
Right up to the moment of His arrest, they don’t understand. They are sleeping just before Judas and his armed band arrive to arrest Jesus. The disciples have no sense of the urgency of Jesus’ impending suffering.
But Jesus’ discourse is full of this pressing urgency. “The hour is coming” he says twice. “In that day,” he says twice. He knows well that things will look quite different to them from the other side. Then they will remember what He had told them; then they will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread; then they will look back at his promise to raise this temple in three days and they will realize that He was speaking about His body; then they will “believe the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
And when this happens, everything will be clear. Jesus says to his disciples that “I will tell you plainly about the Father.” Note the future tense. The hour is coming when I will tell you plainly about the Father. That is, Jesus is telling his disciples that when you see the Son of God dying on the cross and then rising again, and the penny drops, and Thomas has been invited to poke Jesus with his finger, and you have eaten fish with Him on the shore of the sea of Galilee — then you will have the fullest and plainest explanation of who Israel’s God is. Then you will understand that glory comes through suffering, and you will know how much the Father loves His people Israel. Then, after listening to Jesus tell one audience after another that “the kingdom of heaven is like” – which really means “the kingship of God is like” — is like a mustard seed, a treasure in a field, a pearl of great price, a fishnet full of fish, leaven in bread dough, a sower who went out to sow seed – and maybe you disciples puzzled over those parables, those mishlim — then at last, you will be confronted with the reality that all those parables were speaking of. In the light of the resurrection, confronted with a fait accompli, you will finally understand. This – this resurrection, this tomb, this cross, these hands that bear the marks of the nails for all eternity – this is how Israel’s God has become King at last. Now you know the Father, because the Son has shown Him to you.
But His disciples, like Peter offering to build the tabernacles to celebrate Sukkoth before the Exodus, skip over the painful birth pangs and try to go straight to rejoicing over the baby. They think that he has already made the full disclosure: “Ah now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we beleive that you came from God.”
Their answer still shows no understanding of the need for Jesus to die; of the fact that only by being stretched out on the cross can He do what John says He has done: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained Him.” (John 1:18. The word “explained” is ἐξηγήσατο.)
Jesus then gives His disciples an astounding promise:
“Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (16:23)
This is not word-faith, prosperity gospel, “name it and claim it” nonsense. Jesus doesn’t mean that if you believe in him, you can ask the Father for a waterfront mansion, and He will give it to you. Or “I want a Lamborghini inJesusnameamen!” The addition of “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t act as a magical “get what you want” spell.
We need to squeeze this utterance. One of the first things we need to notice about it is that it echoes what Martha says to Jesus when he comes to Bethany to raise Lazarus, in John 11:22:
“Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." -John 11:21-22
This is the sort of access to God that Jesus is promising His disciples. He explicitly disavows that he is going to be a permanent interface between the disciples and the Father, as though Jesus were going to relay our messages to the Father, or as though the Father didn’t really know and love us, but just Jesus, with us sort of smuggled in under his cloak. No, we ask the Father, and He hears us. Not through a series of secretaries and receptionists. Not through the saints or the Virgin Mary, as though we were children who ask Mom rather than Dad because she’s more likely to say yes.
And this speaks to one of the big problems that affects many people’s view of God. They think of Jesus and the Father as existing in a sort of good cop/bad cop relationship, or that the Father is the harsh and judgmental God who smites sinners and sends them to Hell, while Jesus is kind and loving and wants to save us. No, says, Jesus, “the Father himself loves you.” It is because the Father loves you that He sent Jesus to save you.
But it remains the case that Jesus tells us to ask “in my name” -
rabbis in the Talmud are cited as saying something “in the name of rabbi so and so”
come from God - theme in John
disciples vs the cosmos
Mother’s Day - we have to reach back and grab a little bit of text from before our Gospel lesson today: John 16:21 “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”