The Promise and the Prayer

Audio here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Has it ever struck you as strange that Jesus prays out loud here in John 17? He prays out loud in the company of His disciples, and we get to overhear Him. Jesus does instruct His disciples in other places to pray privately and in secret to their heavenly Father, but we overhear Jesus praying in the Gospel of John numerous times. He prays publicly at the grave of Lazarus. He prays from the cross. This entire chapter is a prayer. But I suppose Jesus can pray publicly and out loud so that people will hear and believe what He says; He is the only one, after all, who can pray to His Father on His own merits, and not on the merits of any other mediator.

Not only is Jesus’ prayer to His Father heard and answered without a doubt, He prays to give us a sure and infallible pattern for our own prayer. When Jesus prays, He sets an example for our prayer. He prays directly out of a promise that He Himself makes. The last verse of John 16 is this: “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” That promise that Jesus makes is the promise out of which He prays for His disciples who are still in the world. Jesus, though He takes up physical space among the disciples, says that He is no longer in the world. His victory over sin and death and the devil is so certain that He can say that He has overcome the world even prior to His actual death and resurrection. Out of that certainty and out of that promise, Jesus prays.

How different the prayer of Jesus is from our prayers and from the way we are commanded to pray! James says that we ought to pray in faith, not doubting, because the one who doubts is like someone who is tossed around on the waves and wind; a double-minded man, uncertain in all his ways, not just in prayer. So we ought to pray from faith. But faith does not mean that we work really hard to believe the things for which we are praying, as some Christians understand it. As if the intensity or depth of our faith is what determines whether we get what we pray for. That is not what Christian faith is.

Christian faith is not free-floating, unattached, and we have to focus it on some object so intensely that we will get what we ask for. This is not the Matrix; we’re not bending spoons or moving objects because of the power of our minds. In fact, that kind of so-called faith is not really any different from what James calls doubt. And prayer that comes from that kind of faith is as uncertain as it can get. Are your prayers and mine uncertain? Do we pray from the unknown? From what is unclear, or what we really want to happen, or what we think would be best? If we are praying that way, we are not praying in Christ or in His Spirit, but from our own magical ability to bring about the fantasies of our sinful flesh.

That’s not how Jesus prays. Jesus has no doubts. He has no uncertainty about the will of His Father. What the Father has given Him, He has done. He speaks the words of His Father. He does the work of His Father. No one is able to tear asunder the Father from the Son, not in divinity and not in will. So we might think, well, that’s Jesus. Of course He can be certain about the Father’s will. Of course He can pray in complete faith. He knows all things. He knows the future. But the Son does not pray with certainty because He knows all the details about what is going to happen. His certainty comes from a promise. He does believe it with perfect faith, because He alone is the faithful Son. But it is not knowledge of the future that distinguishes Jesus’ prayer from ours. It is not that we have less than what the Son has according to the flesh. It’s that we do not believe and pray from God’s Word and promise. The glorious and amazing fact is this: we have no less of a promise from which to pray than does Jesus.

He says, “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me” (17:7-8). His words are that He has accomplished everything the Father sent Him to do. He has spoken the words of the Father into the world. He is the Word the Father has spoken into the world. If you want to know what the Father’s will is, look at what Jesus does. If you want to see the Father, look at the Son. If you want to hear the Father, hear the Son.

We have the promise that He is risen from the dead, and we will rise. We have the promise that He is with His baptized Christians at all times. We have the promise that He will restore all things. We have the promise that one day our sight will match our faith. We have the promise that the Father always hears the Son and so whatever the Son gives us to pray, we can be certain that we are heard for His sake. We pray with no less boldness, no less certainty, no less assurance than Jesus Himself. We come into the throne-room of the Father with boldness, because we come through the curtain that is Jesus’ flesh.

If there is any prayer that is not from a promise, then it is not a Christian prayer. Because Christian faith is, by definition, faith in the Christ who has spoken and acted and finished His work. It is not like a wind of the wave that is tossed here and there. It is not wavering or double-minded. It has the unmoveable Rock who is Christ as its foundation.

So pray with your brother Jesus. Pray the words that He gives you in His prayer, because He has made us children of His Father. There is a certain pattern for prayer. And pray according to His example here: the Father will keep us in the Name He gave us at baptism. The Father will keep us as one, in the one Lord, the one Faith, the one Baptism, the one Supper. The Father will keep us, though we are still in this world, subject to all its temptations, griefs, burdens, struggles, and the constant work of love.

We pray from the promise and to the promise, knowing that the day is coming when everything that has been prayed in the Name of Jesus will be given in its fullness by the Father of Jesus, when all will be the glory of the Father and the Son and the Spirit.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/26/17

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