When you have heard something that sounds to you like bad news it’s easy to become a bit anxious and worried isn’t it? I imagine there have been times like that for all of us and what we most want at such moments is to have our spirits lifted with some comforting good news.
Blessings Galore for Jesus’ Followers
Well the disciples had just heard Jesus say something that struck them as being really disheartening – he was about to leave them and they wouldn’t be able to follow him. The time had come for Jesus to die but he spoke about it as "being glorified" and the disciples didn’t get it at all – they could only think about life without him and they didn’t like the thought one little bit.
And then Jesus, in his loving compassion, spoke further with them telling them some staggering truths and making them a number of wonderful promises designed to inform their minds and warm their hearts. He loved them dearly and did not want them to be overwhelmed with grief when he left them.
The words of our text contain one of those promises and we’ll come to that in a moment but first let’s briefly look at how he led up to that promise.
Firstly he told them that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house! Yes, he was leaving but they would be reunited and they would spend a glorious eternity together.
Secondly he emphasised that stood in a special and unique relation to God the Father. He was and is the Eternal Son of God who shares the full deity of the Father. Because of this identification with the Father he possesses both divine power and the authority to use it. They should know this and put their trust wholeheartedly in him after all the works that he had done provided all the evidence they needed if they found it difficult to simply believe what he said.
Thirdly he made the extraordinary promise that his followers would do greater works than he had! How astonishing that must have sounded in their ears – never had a man spoken like this man and he had gone about doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And yet that is what he said they would do greater works than he!
But could it possibly be true? When we read through the rest of the NT we don’t read of these men miraculously feeding huge crowds, or that they walked on water or stilled the winds and the waves with a simple word of command. Yes, we do read that two people were raised from the dead and while that is stupendous Jesus had raised three during his short ministry.
So if miracles were not these greater things to which Jesus referred what was?
In short Jesus was referring to the entire loving service of the church expressed in acts of mercy and compassion and chiefly in the work of evangelism and teaching. Conversion is the greatest of these acts. In conversion a spiritually dead hell-
During his ministry Jesus had preached the gospel in a limited geographical area and numbers of men and women had their lives turned around but at the end of the day those numbers remained relatively small. When we turn to Acts the church in Jerusalem numbered just 120 though we do know that the risen Jesus had appeared to a larger group of some 500. And then came the Day of Pentecost and with just one sermon 3,000 more were to the church. As we continue to read through Acts we are told again and again of the explosive growth of the church:
Acts.4:4 "But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand."
Acts 6:7 "And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith."
Acts 12:24 "But the word of God increased and multiplied."
Acts 19:20 "So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily."
This growth was so impressive that the men who preached came to be known as the men who turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6) and they had indeed begun to go out into every part of the known world!
Have you ever stopped to think of the wonderful grace of our humble Lord? Willingly and joyfully he allowed his followers to see more gospel success and to reap a greater harvest than he ever had in during the days of his ministry .
Of course he was involved in their ministries – they would only ever be successful because he was going to the Father having completed the work the Father had given him to do. We must not for a moment imagine that Jesus is now simply a passive spectator in heaven resting after a period of busy-
Surely this would have given the disciples sufficient reason not to become discouraged and dispirited but Jesus had more for them and it had to do with prayer.
Before we come to the specific promise Jesus made to his disciples about prayer let’s stop for a moment and remind ourselves that in the Bible true prayer is always addressed to God:
Ps.85:2 "O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come."
What a contrast that is to what we read in the experience of the false prophets of Baal. Elijah mocked them as they vainly sought Baal’s intervention:
1Kings 18:29 "And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention."
Now with no hesitation Jesus urges his followers to pray in his name and he himself will not only hear but answer their prayers. Just so they get it he adds: "if you ask me" (v.14).
Do you see what Jesus is doing? Once again he is claiming for himself what is only true of God! Our Jesus is truly remarkable – he is a man and he is God. As a man he knows from the inside what human life is like and as God he is all-
Now at last we’ve arrived at our text which contains the wonderful promise that Jesus made to his followers concerning prayer.
As we think about this promise we must listen carefully to what Jesus actually said. We will get ourselves into trouble if we only pay attention to a part of what he said and we will increase those problems if we fail to take the context into consideration too.
What do I mean?
Well, with our fallen human nature we are often on the look-
In this case that means we make out that Jesus promised to whatever we ask him to do. And we quickly convince ourselves that whatever means whatever and anything means anything. And it all sounds such a water-
The whole health, wealth and prosperity movement of course feeds on this encouraging us to think that those things are the highest goals to which we might aspire in life. Their line goes something like this:
God has promised to meet your needs – you have need of a new car, a new house, a win on the lottery – don’t worry, ask for it. Indeed you can do more than that, they say, you should "name it and claim it".
When you realise the falseness of such a way of proceeding with God you may want to join those detractors who prefer to call it the "blab it and grab it" movement.
Jesus did not make that kind of absolute promise that appeals to our selfishness worldliness – he did not say "whatever you ask I will do" he actually said:
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do,"
Before going on to add his reason:
"that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."
So we must ask ourselves what it means to "ask in Jesus’ name".
One thing we must exclude right at the outset. To pray in "Jesus name" is not like using a password or a PIN Code. In the Bible names mean something and are just labels. A name is a clear and accurate description of the character of the person who bears that particular name. Closing our prayers by mindlessly adding "in Jesus’ name" is akin to a magician saying "Abracadabra" immediately before pulling a rabbit out of his hat and we are not to pray like that!
No, to pray in Jesus’ name means that we must be on the same wave length as him, that we share the same values and priorities that he has, and we must want what he wants.
Jesus made his promise in the wider context of rendering service and of glorifying God by that service. His disciples can then pray with utter confidence that he will supply them with whatever they need to fulfil their own mission of serving and glorifying God. They can always pray for that and should do so.
If our Christian lives are dry and dull and tediously burdensome then here is the promise that meets us with all the encouragements it gives us for it meets us at our point of genuine need. We don’t have to go on dragging ourselves along because Jesus promises us exactly what need to serve God in a way that glorifies him most. And as John Piper has put it: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." If we are finding no satisfaction in God it may simply be a case that we don’t have because we don’t ask and when we do ask we go about it in the wrong way, in a purely selfish manner. Let us get into the habit of asking Jesus to enable us to fulfil all our Christian duties and responsibilities well, in a way that will bring great glory to our God!
But perhaps our case may be different. Maybe we find that we are indifferent to God’s honour and glory and what really turns us on is the idea of promoting our own personal comforts and blessings. Well, if that’s the case don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that Jesus will heed your prayers simply because you tag on the end of them the phrase "in Jesus’ name. Doing that won’t convince him that he simply has to satisfy your lusts.
A good parent is careful about the gifts he gives his children. You wouldn’t give a set of sharp wood-
Indeed our Lord is generally far too loving and kind to pander to our wants to the detriment of what is good for us however much we might try to convince him otherwise. And yet there are a handful of occasions in the Bible when God did actually respond to the persistent stubbornly selfish prayers of his people who should know better and it didn’t turn out well for them when he did!
Do you remember how the Israelites complained about the rations they were being supplied with in the desert following their deliverance from Egyptian slavery? They longed for meat to eat and they went on and on about it. Finally the LORD answered by sending flocks of quails and in such quantity that the people absolutely gorged themselves – it didn’t do them the good they were hoping for. The psalmist looking back commented:
Or, as the AV puts it, he
"sent leanness into their soul."
In the time of the Judges the people grew tired of being a theocracy and different from the nations round about so they desired to have a king rule over them. By doing this they were rejecting God who told Samuel to warn them what having a King would be like. Samuel told the people:
1Sam.8:11 "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you"
and he went on to speak about, amongst other things, conscription, forced labour and heavy taxation. If the people insisted on having a King he left them in no doubt that it would come at a heavy price. And if they insisted but later changed their mind then it would be too late:
v.18 "in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day."
v.19 "But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel."
How foolish to set aside the LORD God and to persist in seeking something, anything else!
So beware of insisting on the wrong things, Jesus may give you what you think you want. Do you remember how last Sunday evening we were reminded of a crowd of people who after seeing Jesus do wonderful things for a poor demon-
In our better moments we pray not for the Lord to depart but to come and visit us and to make his presence known. May Jesus be pleased to hear our prayers and answer in the affirmative!
And to God be the glory.