Beckett: Sermon – Take Heart!

Date: May 22, 2022
Festival: 6th Sunday of Easter
Text: John 16:22-33
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33
Sermon Hymn: LSB #674 Jerusalem, O City Fair and High

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The portion of God’s Word that we shall consider this morning, the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded by John the evangelist for our comfort and for our learning. We place special emphasis on these words, “In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you… 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” [vv. 23, 33].

Introduction

If you would humour me, I would like for you to take a moment and imagine any experience you had that was challenging or painful to go through but at the end, it was all worth it. It could’ve lasted for hours, months, or years. Perhaps you bathed such an experience in prayer. Several of our college students at the chapel just graduated. After four years of arduous, careful studying, they finally got to the end. On that day, they earned their bachelor’s degree and are now moving on in the world. As their church away from home, we bathed them in prayer throughout those four years, and the end—with bachelor’s degree in hand—was a huge relief. Some of our youth have similarly completed four years of high school, and one of our own became valedictorian of his graduating class through commendable, hard work. They, too, have been bathed in prayer. On that day of receiving their high school diploma, the end is a huge relief as they move on to college or other things to be bathed in prayer for another 4 years. And after many years of being an immigrant and going through the painstaking process of becoming a U.S. citizen, Pastor Bakker is finally an American! On that day, he could say, “I’m proud to be an American.”

I remember the 9.5 weeks of basic combat training in the Army—9.5 weeks of suffering as my drill sergeants broke me down so they could build me back up again, chewed me out for small mistakes (and my disobedience), and made me do pushups until they got tired. But the end of those 9.5 weeks was a huge relief. On that day, I was no longer a maggot but now a soldier of the best country in the world. And after 8 years of going to college and then seminary, having spent hundreds or maybe thousands of hours studying, reading books, writing papers, and learning how to be a pastor, the end was a huge relief when Christ ordained me as your pastor almost a year ago. On that day, though I was shaking with many nerves, I was bathed in prayer and became Christ’s under-shepherd for you.

“On That Day”

Jesus, too, speaks of a day. Twice He says, “On that day.” What day is that? It has a double meaning when we consider who the hearer is. With the disciples as the original hearers, that day is His ascension when, as He said, He leaves the world to go to the Father. It is the age of the Holy Spirit begun at Pentecost when the disciples and the entire church have direct access to God the Father in prayer. No longer having to ask on our behalf, Jesus gives us direct access to the Father through the Holy Spirit when we pray. This “day” is what has remained for the last 2,000 years of the church, the age of the Holy Spirit. For you and me as the hearers, that day is the Day of the Lord when we shall stand before God’s throne and behold God’s face.

The same is true of Jesus’ words preceding our text today, which we read last Sunday. For the disciples, Jesus is speaking of His crucifixion. He would be gone for three days, and during that time they would be full of sorrow while the world rejoices, but come His resurrection, their sorrow will turn into joy [v. 20]. On that day, their sorrow was forgotten and there was rejoicing. Their time of waiting would be like a woman in childbirth, Jesus says. During the experience, she is in anguish, but then the child is born. On that day, she is full of joy. Mothers, I’m sure you can relate. And fathers, you who have had to care for your pregnant wife for 9 months, I’m sure you can relate as well—the pain of being patient with your wife as her hormones are going crazy, going to Walmart at 3 in the morning when she’s craving chocolate ice cream, holding her hand through complications, and rejoicing at the birth of your son or daughter. Such was the Passion of Christ until His resurrection.

For us, Jesus’ words make us think of His second coming. Right now, the times are like child labour. Many of our days are full of pain and suffering. High school and college are full of difficulties. Your jobs get demanding. You have family and friends serving overseas in the military to protect us. You have suffered illness, disease, depression, anxiety, disability, old age, and pandemic. The world around us troubles us deeply as they rage against the likely prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned because God forbid we stop tearing babies apart in the womb.

Times like all these bring you and I many sorrows and the world rejoices as it rages against the church, but your sorrow will turn into joy. You live in the age of the Holy Spirit; you have direct access to God the Father through Him and Jesus Christ our Lord. Yet even though this access has been given to you through the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks not in parables but speaks plainly when He warns His disciples—and you and me—that there will be tribulation in the world because we follow Him. Jesus never promised that being a Christian would make life easier. Instead, Jesus gives you a different promise and He gives you encouragement.

The Promise

The promise is this, “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.” There is a danger here, of course. The danger is taking this to literal extremes. This is what prosperity gospel preachers do when they say, “Name it and claim it!” That is, whatever you want, name what it is and claim it in Christ’s name and He will give it to you, but only if you have enough faith and only if you give a lot of your wealth to the church. Want to be a millionaire? Name it and claim it! Want to be cured of that illness or disease? Name it and claim it! And then they teach that when you don’t get these things after naming and claiming it, then there’s something wrong with your faith and you must’ve done something to make God angry with you, and therefore you must do something more to earn His favour again. They are no different than Job’s friends who, in the spirit of Satan, accused him of deserving his suffering because he aggravated God in some way when God actually considered Job to be blameless and righteous.

The problem with this kind of prayer is that it prays not according to God’s will but to your will. God has not promised to subjugate Himself to your will; He has only promised to do His will for your benefit. Therefore, we “ask of God everything that is covered” by His divine will and promise. We do not ask God whatever our “whim dictates, but what accords with His command and promise” [Pieper III:82], namely, that He hallow His name among us, His kingdom come, His will be done, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses as He guides us to forgive others, keep us from temptation, and deliver us from the devil. Jesus invites you to pray “Our Father” because He has given you direct access to Him, who has commanded and promised to give you all those things in the prayer Jesus has taught us.

These words of Jesus in John 16 are His farewell address before His Passion, and He has spoken at length with His disciples that they must suffer persecution, anxiety, and sorrow for His sake. And He now says the only way they can cope with these things is through prayer. It is a spiritual warfare, and as Paul writes later to the Ephesians, it is a warfare not of flesh and blood but dark spiritual forces, so Christ equips the disciples—and you and me—not with sword and shield or AR-15s, but with His Word. He equips you with holy conversation—with the Gospel as God speaks to you the forgiveness of your sins and with prayer as you speak to God about desiring His good and gracious will for you.

Luther is quite helpful when he writes that the prophet Habakkuk speaks about this [3:15] “when he says that although your horses and wagons are fortunate and victorious, yet they wade in the deep sea and in the mire of many waters.” So it is with the church. Like the horses and chariots that must go through deep puddles where they are constantly met with “resistance, hindrances, and getting stuck” [LW 24:383], so we meet resistance and hindrance in the world and get stuck in our sin, and by our weakness we cannot get ourselves out, even though Christ has already won the war. “What then, are we to do,” Luther continues, “caught as we are in this deep mire, in which we must wade and travel, struggle and fear without being able to get out? ‘There is no other help,’ says Christ, ‘than promptly to raise your eyes and heart heavenward and to pray to My heavenly Father'” [LW 24:384].

But beware, brothers and sisters, the devil does not want you to pray. He knows just how powerful prayer is and that you have no greater defence against his might than to use this Sword of the Spirit against him. So, he will meet you with three common hindrances. The first is that he will get you to think, “I’m not ready to pray! I’ll wait half an hour or a day until I’m more ready.” Meanwhile, the devil busies himself to distract you during that half-hour and you no longer think about praying for the entire day.

The second is that he will get you to think, “How can I pray to God? My daily sinning makes me unworthy. Why not wait until I become more pious, or until I go to confession and Holy Communion, or until I’m in the mood to pray?” But if you wait until you’re more pious or worthy, or until you’re in the mood to pray, you’ll find that you never pray. It is far easier to pray when you’re in the company of the saints, like we do on Sabbath mornings like today, but it is not so easy when you’re alone. This is why Luther writes that we “cultivate the habit of falling asleep with the Lord’s Prayer on your lips every evening when you go to bed and again every morning when you get up. And if occasion, place, and time permit, pray before you do anything else. In this way you get ahead of the devil by surprise and without warning, whether you are ready or not, before he catches up with you and makes you wait. For it is better to pray now, when you are halfready, than later, when you are not ready at all, and to begin to pray only to spite and vex the devil, even if you find it most difficult and inconvenient to do so” [LW 24:387].

In short, cultivate a habit of daily prayer in the morning when you awake and at night before you sleep—especially together as a family; look in your Small Catechism for help in this. And when you discover that you don’t feel like praying, do so immediately, for by doing so you vex the devil and his demonic troops are forced to retreat.

And the third hindrance of the devil is that he will get you to say, “Who am I to think God hears my prayers?” To this you must say, “Indeed, who am I? But my Heavenly Father has not promised to hear my prayer based on how good I am but only based on how good He is, because He knows I am too weak to do anything, so He has promised to hallow His name on my lips, give me His kingdom, do His will,” etc.

Furthermore, brothers and sisters, if you wish to know God’s will for your life, you need only to pray the prayer our Lord Christ has taught us. The first three petitions take precedence: that His name is hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done. Then comes your daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and so on because all these temporal needs are included in His will. Whenever you ask these things in Christ’s name, He has promised to give them to you.

The Encouragement

Then comes the closing words of Christ’s farewell address. This is His encouragement to His disciples and the church at large, “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.” Where does He promise peace? Not in the world, but in Himself. The world strives for world peace through political parties and their agendas and the perfect economic system. Thousands and thousands of years of war and doing what is right in our own eyes, and somehow we still think we can achieve world peace? Are we insane?! It was Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It is natural for us “to be bold and cheerful” when there is no suffering. Yet, as soon as trials, temptations, and suffering come we act as if Christ never spoke a single word of promise and comfort [LW 24:415]! And yet, this is precisely why Christ spoke such words here because He knows how weak we are. When you suffer anxiety, or depression, despair, or whatever it is, it is not peace in the world He promised but peace in Him. This peace is not a calm feeling of kumbaya, being apathetic to your surroundings. Peace in Christ takes heart, meaning it is bold courage. His peace gives you joy in repulsing the devil with prayer, even when you don’t feel like praying. Even though the world may threaten to rob you of leisure and even life, in the peace of Christ you find this to be acceptable. For you know that although the world may rob you of the garment of your flesh, it “will be restored to you on the Last Day, and it will be more beautiful and glorious than it is now” [LW 24:419]. On that day, when your labour pains end, you will rise from the dead with eternal joy as you watch the New Jerusalem descend towards you.

The peace of Christ, therefore, gives you the bold courage not only to mock the devil as you repulse him with prayer, but even to mock death itself. You can look Death in the face and say, “Oh hi, Death. Where is your sting? Where is your victory? You have nothing over me, for Christ has crushed your head and overcome the world in which you rage. So, rage all you want, you devil! For whatever you take from Me Christ will restore infinity-fold!”

Therefore, brothers and sisters, take heart! For Christ has overcome the world. He has equipped you with prayer as direct access to the Father, which in the words of St. James “has great power as it is working” [James 5:16], to wield against the world and the devil during the labour pains of this life; so that in the end, on that day, you will find eternal relief in the New Jerusalem when Christ returns in glory.

We pray: May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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