Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Commonly called Rogation Sunday

James. 1:22-27  *  John 16: 23-33

On this day our attention ought to be focused on the right hand of God, to which the Lord Jesus was going to ascend. And, we are supposed to be thinking about that in terms of prayer, asking- rogation (from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask"). And, we ought to be focusing on what it means to ask in this new way that our Lord Jesus teaches here. Why are we told to ask what we will of the Father in the name of Jesus Christ? In Genesis we see that there came a time when men first called upon the Name of the Lord. That is during the life of one named Enos, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” When I read this in Hebrew I saw that it really should be translated: “then began men to call in the Name of the Lord.” It was quite unmistakable; (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָהB’Shem Adonai. So, in using the words, “ask in My Name,” the Lord Jesus is again letting us know that he and the Father are One.

And, beyond that, we are told to pray to the Father in the human Name of the Person who is the Eternal Word, the nature He took into His uncreated eternal Person when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We do not pray to the Father without coming in the Name of the Son of God, specifically, the human Name of Jesus Christ. We could speak of Him as God the only begotten Son, or as the Word (or λόγος Logos). These are Names that speak of Him as God; and yet, in His human nature He is still One with the Father, while He shares our nature; fully God and fully man. Can we not simply come to the Father without this Man acting as our Mediator? Are we not good enough? The answer is no. We are not good enough to come to the Father, because we are sinners. If you are looking for a religion that flatters you, affirms you, and tells you how wonderful you are, you have come to the wrong place. Here we are all self-confessed “miserable offenders.” We spend a great deal of our time when we pray together, asking the Lord to have mercy upon us. So, no, we are not good enough to come to the Father without a Mediator.

Saint Paul wrote, in the first Epistle to Saint Timothy, the second chapter:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

This passage speaks of prayer and God’s will that people will repent and be saved. And, in speaking of both of these things, salvation and prayer, Paul is moved to remind us that we have as our only Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all. He overcame the separation between the uncreated God and human creatures by taking created nature into His uncreated Person, becoming fully man while remaining fully God. He overcame the separation between God and man due to sin by dying for our sins on the cross. He overcame the separation between the Living God and our death by overcoming death. As one Person complete in two natures, Himself both fully God and fully Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator. No man comes to the Father but by Him. That is true of our salvation, it is true of our worship, it is true also of our prayers.

This is why you must read the Epistle to the Hebrews. In that Epistle we are told all of these things very clearly. In addition, we are told that the Lord Jesus, seated even now at the right hand of God, ever lives to make intercession for us. Using the Old Testament picture of the High Priest who once a year took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Christ’s once for all sacrifice, that is that he died once for all sinners, and of His ascension to the Father’s throne as the true offering of the true High Priest into the true Holy of Holies, of which the temple was merely a picture, a shadow or type. The blood of the sacrifices in the Old Testament were sprinkled on the Mercy Seat before the Ark of the covenant, inside the veil, in the Holy of Holies- the קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים (Kadesh h’kadeshim). This type was given to teach of the true offering in which the Son of God would offer Himself, and His blood would be the true Atonement, the true כָּפַר (Kippor). And, that he would rise from the dead and present His own death and sacrifice, the shedding of His blood, the pouring out of His soul unto death, upon prolonging His days by rising to life again. And, that he would ascend back to the Father to be our Mediator, pleading for us with the scars from those wounds from which His blood was shed.

To pray in the Name of Jesus reminds us of these things. It reminds us that we need a Mediator, because we are sinners. It reminds us that He died for our sins, rose again and ascended into heaven. It reminds us that He is the one Mediator between God and Man because He is fully God and fully man, unique as the one whose Name alone is given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4;12) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name,” He said. “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.  (Heb. 10:19-24)

And, what are we to ask for? Above all, in this text, we are to ask for the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter.)

On this Rogation Sunday, as we prepare for the day of Ascension, and then for the Day of Pentecost, hoping for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, let us have these words as frontlets between our eyes: “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

Some people believe that the name of Jesus Christ will work like a magic charm if only we have faith. I suggest it has more to do with the words of St. John in his First Epistle: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." (I John 5:14) On one hand, some may say, we have these words from Jesus: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14: 13) and, "that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:16) Some may interpret the words from the Gospel of John to indicate that all we need to do is ask in his Name, and others may interpret the words from the Epistle to mean that we may ask nothing with real confidence, because how could we know the will of God? Yet, John writes this about why we may have confidence. It is understandable, therefore why some would be confused.

Some will make the problem worse by telling you that if you really have faith, you will always be healed, miracles will happen everyday, and you will enjoy wealth and prosperity as a sign of God's favor. They twist a simple greeting from Scripture and make a doctrinal statement out of it, namely these words, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (III John 2). But, that was not a revelation from God containing a promise for all who have faith; it was, for anyone who knows how to read with comprehension, a greeting from John himself, no more significant than saying, "Godspeed." John was being polite and friendly, and that is all there is to it (the Epistle is Scripture and therefore inspired by the Holy Spirit; but, it was also a letter from a man to someone specific, and has a human element, namely a simple greeting).

But, it is equally wrong to assume that we cannot pray with faith that God will intervene for good in the lives of those we love, and to meet our needs. God's will is not some clouded unknowable mystery, so that all we can say is "thy will be done," with no real substantial petitions for those in need. Rather, the issue of God's will is partly an attitude of heart that we must have, that is, the resolution that by the grace of God at work through the Holy Spirit, we will walk henceforth in newness of life in obedience to the will of God as he revealed it by his commandments. It is no good trying to know the will of God unless we accept the commandments that contain the revelation of what his will most certainly is.

In this light, to pray in the name of Jesus is not merely to be a name dropper, to impress the Father by claiming to know Someone in the ultimate Who's Who directory. How can we presume to think we have asked anything in the Name of Jesus Christ merely because we have spoken his Name? Anyone can say his Name, and say say it as if it were merely the magic words. Invoking the Name of Jesus Christ carries with it the implication of asking according to God's will, and of living according to his revealed will, as revealed in Scripture through those things he has commanded us.

I would like to pray that the Baltimore Orioles win the world series (still a Marylander where that is concerned), but I cannot ask such a thing in Christ's Name. You cannot ask, in Christ's Name, that you win out over the competition in business; but you can ask, in the name of Jesus Christ with full confidence and assurance of faith, that He provide your every need. Certainly, we cannot ask God to do evil to others, or to assist us in an immoral cause; and it would be blasphemy to do so, double blasphemy to do so in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Asking in the Name of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the doctrinal revelation I have drawn out from Scripture for your edification in this sermon. It also provides a check within our hearts about what we may ask with faith.

1 comment:

Sibyl said...

Amen! The depth and purity of teaching here at the Continuum is refreshing and encouraging. You each always glorify and point us to the true Savior and Priest, enlighten and edify us in the riches of His Word.

Thank you!