Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:55 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We live in two realms. Jesus tells His disciples what they are: I am saying these things to you so that in Me you will have peace; and in the world you will have trouble. Two realms in which we stand at the same time: in Christ, where there is peace, and in the world, where there is trouble. But these are not equal. There is no uncertainty about which will win out. Jesus says, in Me you have peace; in the world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. And that does not apply only to Jesus. John says in his first letter that everyone who has been born from God has overcome the world, and the victory that overcomes the world is believing that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5). Jesus overcomes the world with all its trouble by dying in it, and then He rises from the dead and gives that victory to us by faith. Just as the disciples say that they believe that Jesus has come from God, so do we, and so we share in His victory.
We know this, and we have this by faith. Without that faith and knowledge in Jesus, we would be overcome by the world. We have to have the right and true doctrine, the right and true teaching. Without it we have nothing, because right doctrine is simply saying and believing what God has revealed to us in Jesus. But having the right doctrine and understanding is not all there is to the Christian life.
I recently started playing pickle ball. I sit too much and I needed to get a little exercise. The problem is, the last time I played pickle ball was in a unit in high school, 25 years ago, give or take. So before I went over there to the park to play the first time, I looked up the rules of the game—so I didn’t look like a complete idiot. I needed to know the rules, or else I would do all sorts of things wrong and lose. But as much as I needed to know how to play, knowing how to play is not at all the same as actually playing.
So we know how things are, how God tells us they are, how Jesus reveals God to us in His flesh and blood, and what that means for us. We search the Scriptures, not because we have life in them, but because they are the words of Jesus, who is our life. We learn and hear and believe. But that’s not the same as playing the game. And the real difficulty is that as much as we know by faith that Jesus has overcome the world, and we believe that victory is ours and will be revealed on the last day, we still live in this world of trouble. The world is full of trouble and it causes us distress. You don’t have to pay attention too closely to know that there is a lot of trouble, more than enough to go around. Political strife, moral strife, immorality everywhere, bitterness and difficulty and warfare and violence and bloodshed. In the midst of all this trouble in the world, and all the trouble in our lives, in our families, in our congregations, knowing and believing is one thing, but it is in the midst of the trouble that our faith in Christ gets put to the test.
As we stand at the same time in these two realms, in Christ and in the world, the exercise of our faith is in prayer. Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive.” Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you. Here is the actual exercise of faith. And the habit of prayer is as hard as beginning a habit of exercising, at least for me. In the midst of trouble, prayer is forced from us. Help, Lord! Lord, have mercy! And then our flesh and the devil start throwing up obstacles: you’re not worthy to approach God in prayer. God won’t listen to you. Haven’t you prayed before and not received an answer? That’s because He either won’t hear you or can’t, or doesn’t care about you. Or we say to ourselves, well, I can always pray later, or when it’s more convenient, or easier. And then we never do. The trouble of this world keeps getting in the way.
Prayer is the exercise of the faith and confidence we have in Christ; it is what we do when we believe the promises that Jesus gives. After His resurrection, He says, it will no longer be only Him asking the Father on our behalf, but we can go to the Father in His Name. He says to Mary at the tomb, Go to My brothers and tell them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father (John 20:17). In the Name that He has put on us, Jesus makes His Father our Father as well. In Christ, we have been born from above by water and the Spirit, and now we approach our heavenly Father as dear children do their dear father. Unlike earthly fathers, who are sinful, who do not see all things, who make mistakes and fail their children, our Father in heaven is not sinful, sees all things, never fails us. And in that trust, we cry out to Him at all times. We exercise our faith by praying to Him, whether we see answers according to our desires or not.
We pray in the Name of Jesus, which is more than just ending our prayer with the words “in Jesus’ Name.” It means we pray as Jesus prays, believing we will be heard and answered as He was heard and answered. He prays the same prayer He gives us: Your Name be holy; Your will be done; Your kingdom come. And He prayed that God would remove the cup of suffering and death from Him. And Jesus cried out and it appeared that God would not answer Him, or did not hear Him. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? But still “My God.” And then, “Into Your hands, I commend Myself.” He was not saved from death on the cross, and He did not come down from the cross, which He could have done. Instead, He trusted the Father and the Father raised Him from the dead. As He stood in the peace of the Father and in the trouble of the world, He prayed, and He was heard, and He was answered with resurrection.
So we pray in His Name to the Father, and we are heard, and we are answered. The more we exercise our faith in the Name of Jesus in prayer, the more our wills become aligned with God’s will in Jesus; the more the Image in which we have been remade shapes, forms, and molds us.
Yes, we are in the world, and there will always be trouble in the world. But also, and much more, we are in Christ, in whom we have peace. And in that peace we ask and we will receive, in the Name of Jesus and for His sake. Take heart, He has overcome the world, and you will see that victory in your resurrection, just as Jesus saw it in His.
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, 5/20/22