Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
There’s a whole background of “ask” teaching in the Gospel of John leading up to this climactic teaching for “Rogate” (Ask!) Sunday. Before meditating on those teachings, let’s clear up something in this little passage. Jesus says that the disciples have not asked anything in His name. It almost sounds as if He’s scolding. “So far you guys haven’t asked anything in my name. Why not? Just ask!”
That’s not the tone. Put the emphasis on the “in My name” and it makes more sense. In other words, until that point, the disciples hadn’t asked the Father in Christ’s name. Instead, up until then they had always gone to Jesus to ask for things. A big point of Jesus’ teaching in this final discourse in John is that the day is coming when they won’t ask Jesus anymore, but the Father directly, in Jesus’ name. And they’ll be able to do this because Jesus has broken down the barrier separating us from the Father. The Father loves them, because they love Jesus.
Now let’s get to the “ask” language serving as a background to today’s passage. Here are four passages in the Gospel of John that all deal with “asking”:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.”
These passages could be summarized according to (1) conditions, (2) actions, and (3) consequences. The general teaching is, ask in Christ’s name and the Father will do it.
What are the conditions of such asking? Who can ask? What goes hand in hand with such asking? These passages give five conditions: believing in Christ, asking in His name, abiding in Him and His word abiding in us, that asking is based in what we desire, and Christ’s choosing of us to bear a fruit that endures.
This is the basis for the Christian teaching that prayer outside of Christ is no prayer. Non-Christian prayer is not heard. How could it? God does not hear the prayers of sinners or the unrighteous. Only those who “love Christ” does the Father hear directly. That is clear, albeit harsh to modern ears, from this week’s Gospel and the other passages noted above.
There’s also this theme that asking the Father through Christ is related to the bearing of fruit, an enduring fruit. This corresponds to St. James comment that, when people pray “amiss,” they don’t get what they want, because they’re just using God to enable their idolatry. Earthly things are fruits that don’t last.
So what are fruits that last?
Here, we can segue into the next idea introduced in those passages, that we pray for what we desire. Clearly there are wrong things to desire and pray for. So what are the right things to desire? What are the fruits that endure? Several passages using the word “desire” or “want” in John might give some direction. At one point, Jesus asks the invalid, “Do you want to be healed?” Or again, it’s commented in the feeding of the 5,000 that they had “as much as they wanted.” Then there’s the gentiles who came to Philip and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Given Jesus’ reaction to this “desire,” it’s a pretty important moment in the Gospel.
Perhaps the best guidance of “desire” is how Jesus Himself used the term when He prayed to the Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
That’s a pretty good summary of the proper things to desire. At a base human level we want to be healed and fed; but recognizing only one who can provide these things, we desire Jesus and to see His place in the Holy Trinity, and even as Jesus teaches the higher meaning of being healed and fed, what we desire is the resurrection of the dead and the flesh and blood of Jesus for eternal life.
Now let’s talk about actions. What exactly will happen as we go to the Father with our desires for eternal healing, the bread of life, the glory of Christ, and the Triune God? First off, simply, “we will receive.” This is the promise. No doubts. We will receive these things we desire.
Jesus describes these things as greater works than what He did. Well of course. He healed people who later died, and fed people who later went hungry. The “greater things” set in motion once He sat down next to the “greater than He” Father, are the things worked by the Church by the Holy Spirit, each of which fulfills the things we desire: eternal healing of baptism, the bread of life in communion, the glory of Christ confessed in canticles, and the Triune God confessed in creed. All arising from our “abiding in Christ’s word.” These are the fruits that don’t rot, but endure.
Finally, we can talk about consequences. What consequences happen when the Lord gives us what we ask for?
To review quick. We pray for what we desire, which is resurrection, the bread of life, the glory of Christ, and a vision of the Triune God. The Lord will provide this. And here, again we’re reminded of the work of the Holy Spirit, which is to give to us by declaration what Christ possesses at God’s right hand. So now we possess these things by faith. With this as the background, what is the consequence?
Jesus mentions the fruit. The Lord will provide what we desire, and this will bear fruit. What fruit is that? Clearly given the background, that fruit of faith is confession, thanksgiving, and fellowship. The fruit is the Church. Again, it’s the fruit that endures.
The Church is where the Father is glorified in the Son, the one place on earth where Jesus is confessed to be in the glory of the Triune God (at least in liturgical churches founded on Triune worship; at non-liturgical services, who knows what God you’ll be worshiping), where we are baptized into our resurrection, and where we feed on the bread of life.
The Church is where people give thanks to a good God for all His goodness, praising God for “all men” because the Lord wants all men to be saved, recognizing in an evil world a good God who is overcoming. Church is where this “thanksgiving” (eucharist) ever happens.
The Church is where the fellowship happens, and this brings up a passage from a non-Johanine text that has a lot of parallels to what we’re meditating on. From Matthew: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
“Anything they ask” will be done for them in heaven as it is done on earth. Sound familiar? Well, here we get some additional teaching that also reminds us of Jesus’ foundational teaching in His final discourse in John’s Gospel. The Church is a fellowship of two or more people. There is no washing of feet alone, even as Jesus washed His disciples’ feet to begin His final discourse in John.
So the Church is the fruit of what the Father provides in answer to our prayer. What do we ask for? What we desire. What do we desire? Healing, feeding, Jesus, the Trinity. Is this answered? Absolutely, that’s the whole point of this Gospel. What are the fruits of this? The Church, where believers and lovers of Christ, who abide in His word, gather to serve one another and pray together, invoking the Lord’s presence and gifts, His healing, His eternal food, the glory of Christ and the Triune God. And these things are all existentially present, because the Holy Spirit makes it so, now by faith, but one day by sight. But whether faith or sight, our joy is full, and there’s something incredible to contemplate in that, that the joy of heaven is available to us now.