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Asking the Exalted Christ

August 24, 2014 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John

Passage: John 14:13–13

Sermon from John 14:13 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on August 24, 2014

What I’d like to do is focus on something we already covered last week, but just do it in more detail today. In particular, I’m talking about what Jesus means when he says in verse 13, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Many of you read that last week and expressed how much you desire to grow in asking the Lord to do his works through you and through others. Some of you even expressed that you’re not really asking much at all, and this word was a good reminder, an encouragement, for you to bend the knee more often in dependence on Christ in prayer. I even received word that one sister in particular has been praying for our church to grow in the specific area of prayer, and last week’s focus was an answer to months of her own prayers. Not only that, but I was told by at least two brothers that I had preached two sermons last week instead of just one—they caught me, right? So this week, I thought I’d tap the brakes a little bit and lead us a bit more slowly on what it means to ask for whatever we need “in Jesus’ name.”

What Asking "in Jesus' name" Does Not Mean

That’s going to be the main question I answer today: what does it mean for us to ask for something in Jesus’ name? I told you last week what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean—like many of the prosperity teachers practice—that we use “in Jesus’ name” as the magical formula to get what we want. That is, as long as we name whatever we want and claim whatever we want, with Jesus’ name tacked on the end, we’ll get it automatically. That’s not what asking “in Jesus’ name” means. He’s not a heavenly genie, who meets our self-centered, materialistic interests as we attempt to live our best life now. Whatever we ask for needs to line up with what Jesus teaches about hating our lives in this world in order to gain the riches of the world to come (John 12:24-26).

Asking “in Jesus’ name” also shouldn’t function as a mere formal, mechanical expression we tag on the end of our prayers (Frame, Christian Life, 925). There are times when we say “in Jesus’ name,” and we know exactly why we say it and what’s bound up with it. But at other times, it becomes a trite phrase we throw out, in order to let the person next to us know it’s their turn to pray in the circle. Or perhaps we just tag it on the end, because we’re trying to follow what Jesus says, but we just don’t know why exactly we’re doing it—“maybe it’s more powerful to do it that way.” We may not use “in Jesus’ name” like the prosperity teachers use it, but we must confess that it’s sometimes just as empty, because of our hearts.

What I hope you will see today is that while saying “in Jesus’ name” out loud is good—and can sometimes be very instructional to the others around us when praying in public—we don’t actually need to use that formula to be praying in Jesus’ name. Asking for something “in Jesus’ name” is more so bound up with asking in accordance with who Jesus Christ is as the exalted Lord of the universe. Everything I say today about asking “in Jesus’ name” is connected to that massive reality: Jesus is the exalted Christ. To ask in Jesus’ name is to implore the exalted Christ for all our needs.

Asking "in Jesus' name" Bound Up with Exalted Christ

And the reason I make that reality the central emphasis for asking “in Jesus’ name” is that Jesus makes it the emphasis in verse 12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do [Why?], because I am going to the Father and [Gk. kai; ESV leaves untranslated] whatever you ask in my name, this I will do.” Jesus links asking “in his name” to his going to the Father. His going to the Father is his exaltation. He came from his Father’s splendor in the humble incarnation, and now he was returning to his Father in a glorious exaltation. He came as a humble Servant; but he would return as a mighty King.

So, when we ask for something “in Jesus’ name,” the massive reality standing behind our demeanor, our words, our passions, our longings, our needs, our cries, is the exalted Christ. But we need to flesh that out a bit more, and then I want us to ask the exalted Christ in some prayer clusters based on what we learn.

1. Jesus Possesses Universal Authority

One thing we need to consider seriously is this: for Jesus to be the exalted Christ means Jesus possesses universal authority. The Bible tells us that Jesus—in his exalted state—possesses an indestructible life (Heb 7:16), a seat that’s above all rule and authority and power and dominion, a name that is above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph 1:21)—even such that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him as Lord (Phil 2:10-11)—and he possesses all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18-20), meaning he has the supreme right and infinite power to achieve all his desired goals for heaven and earth without fail or hindrance (Matt 8:5-9; 9:2-7; Rev 5:6-14).

We might say the President of the United States is the man with all the authority. But we mean that in a very limited sense: the President has all authority insofar as he leads the United States and perhaps influences other world allies. When the Bible says that Jesus has all authority, it’s using “all” in an unlimited sense. There are no limits to Jesus’ authority like there are limits to the rest of mankind’s authority. His rights are supreme; his power is infinite; his control is comprehensive.

We Ask with Hearts Full of Adoration

So that means a few things for us when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” doesn’t it? If part of his exalted status is his universal authority, the most obvious implication for us is that we come with hearts full of adoration. We don’t come to him as if to approach a heavenly bellboy or a mere “homeboy” or co-pilot. It’s true that Jesus refers to himself as our brother (Luke 8:21) and even willing to call himself our friend (John 15:14), but in both places Jesus’ brothers and friends are marked by their obedience to his word.

In other words, even when he describes himself with such humbling and endearing language, it’s never to the exclusion of his authority. Because of his authority, we approach him with adoration, with worship, with bended knee, and reverent homage to a supreme and worthy King. We bow before him as all of heaven bows before him, saying “Worthy…to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:12-13).

We Ask with Great Confidence in His Ability

If Jesus possesses universal authority, that also means we should take great confidence in his ability. If he possesses the supreme right and infinite power to achieve all his desired goals for heaven and earth, then none of our requests are too great for him to handle, too much for him to provide. He never feels taxed by your requests as if he lacks the resources to follow through (Ps 50:10-12; Acts 17:25; Jas 1:5, 17).

One of the most frequent questions I get when my children finish eating is, “Daddy, what can we have now?” And while getting them a second or third plate, I can’t help but think of the next grocery bill or tease out what this will mean when they turn 15. What am I doing? I’m checking to see if there’s going to be enough resources.

Jesus never worries over his resources when we ask. Your requests never overload him. He is infinite in wisdom and power and riches. He is the source of life itself, and by his word the visible and invisible universe is upheld (Heb 1:3; Col 1:16-17). We should ask for extraordinary things and take every confidence in Jesus’ ability to answer, because he is an extraordinary King. Paul even says he’s “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” And in another place he says, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). Pray extraordinary prayers; we come to an extraordinary Christ.

We Ask with Humility, Ready to Obey His Will & Not Our Own

If Jesus possesses universal authority, that also means we must ask him with humble hearts, ready to obey his will and not our own. You see, here we get “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do” (John 14:13). But elsewhere John writes this: “Beloved…whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us” (1 John 3:22-23). Receiving whatever we ask is contingent on obeying his command to believe in Jesus and love one another. Whatever we ask should stem from faith and serve love.

Or what about 1 John 5:14? “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” Meaning, the “whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name” is qualified by our asking according to Jesus’ will instead of our own. It’s not that John is limiting what Jesus left unlimited. John learned at Jesus’ feet; more than that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict through John what Jesus meant in his earthly ministry. He’s telling us what Jesus means by praying “in his name.”

To pray “in Jesus’ name” means we come with a humble heart before a King with universal authority ready to obey his will and not our own. John 15:16, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Prayer is for fruit-bearing mission to the world.

Folks—and I say this with all compassion and with complete awareness that I wrestle with the same weaknesses of the flesh—this is why some of your prayers may not be getting answered. We cannot cling to rebellion and our own passions and simultaneously acknowledge Jesus as exalted Lord. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Or, husbands, listen to this from 1 Pet 3:7: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Guys, the Lord’s will is that you honor your wife; you care for her as an heir to the grace of life; you live with her in understanding ways. Could it be that your prayers are being hindered, because of the way you’re treating your wife or not treating her? My own brother asked me a similar question when I told him on the phone one afternoon that I felt like my prayers were hitting a ceiling. First thing out of his mouth was: “Been there before. How are you and Rachel?”

That doesn’t mean that’s the issue every time our prayers may go unanswered. It’s only to say that the Bible makes obedience a big deal in our praying. Psalm 66 also came up as one of my readings this week, and verse 18 says this: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Asking “in Jesus’ name” requires obedience to his will, longings to submit (cf. Josh 7:10-11; Matt 6:10, 33). He is the Lord.

Now, that doesn’t mean we obey, in order to earn answers to our prayers. Coming to Jesus by faith excludes all earning. More than that, obedience to Christ is ultimately the work of God’s grace. So we don’t obey to earn answered prayer. We pray to fuel our obedience. We pray, in order to align our will with Jesus’ will. If we choose to come differently, prayer malfunctions.

Some of you likely struggled with this. Perhaps you’ve even been discouraged from praying at all because of it. These sorts of conditions placed on whether our prayers are heard make you coil up inside, instead of releasing your requests to the Lord. Jesus becomes an exacting tyrant who refuses your prayer requests unless you’re perfect, and you say everything just right, and all your motives are one-hundred percent pure, and your knees are bent just right, and your prayer closet is clean. And perhaps you finally do get a prayer out one evening, but you never see it answered. Then comes the downward spiral—“I must not have done it right. I don’t want to fail again, so I’m not asking anymore.” And we cut ourselves off from asking the exalted Christ.

But maybe it would help you to see—alongside that biblical truth—that even when the Lord taught his disciples to pray, part of that prayer goes like this: “Give us our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). We don’t have to be perfect, in order to pray—Jesus tells us to confess our sins as part of our asking.

We do need to pursue obedience, holiness, purity. But that’s different from actually bring perfect in this age; and I hope that’s liberating for some of you. Or what does John say in 1 John 1:9, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [How does that happen? In prayer.], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

More than that, we should remember in our asking that entering God’s presence isn’t because of our own perfection to begin with, but because of Christ’s perfection for us. We can pray imperfectly, because Christ always prays perfectly.

2. Jesus’ Obedience & Sacrifice Were Accepted by the Father

Which leads us to something else we need to consider seriously when asking the exalted Christ: for Jesus to be the exalted Christ means Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice were accepted by the Father. Verse 12 tells us that Jesus is going to the Father, and that’s equivalent to Jesus’ exaltation.

But if we fast forward a bit to John 17:4-5, we hear Jesus pray this way just before he dies on the cross. “Father…I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” So he was obedient to do all the Father’s work unlike us. Then he says this, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” His glorification into the Father’s presence was contingent on his obedience. The Father glorifies the obedient Son.

We find something very similar in Phil 2:8-9, “And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So there’s the obedience again. Then we get this: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” God highly exalted Jesus, because Jesus’ obedient sufferings for us was pleasing to God. Jesus’ obedience and death accomplished all God designed it to accomplish, and so God exalted him (cf. also Isa 52:13; John 10:17; Acts 2:33; Heb 2:9; Rev 5:9).

We’ve got to love the scene in Rev 5:9, when no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll of God’s saving purposes, except for the Lion-like Lamb. He conquered by being slain. And he takes the scroll from the right hand of God, and all heaven bows and says, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” He is exalted, because he was slain for the nations. He gave the acceptable life and sacrifice for us.

We Ask with Faith in Jesus’ Finished Work on Our Behalf

And this, too, adds to our understanding of what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” When we ask for something “in Jesus’ name,” we’re asking with faith in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf. We’re acknowledging that we come to God due to no merit of our own, but due solely to the merit of Jesus Christ. His obedience to the Father even to death on a cross, is my only access point to God (John 14:6), and why I can pray with such confidence to begin with. Asking the exalted Christ means asking the Christ who obeyed for you and was crucified for you.

We need not feel like we must do something more to bend God’s ear to us. He’s already given us his ear in Christ. We need not try to concoct some kind of pious tone or perfect sentences to ask, we can simply ask. We need not feel like we must jump huge hurdles to get back to a place of “real” prayer; all the obstacles were torn down when he died on the cross and caused you to be born again. Ephesians 3:12 says we even have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Jesus.

In this sense, I think Paul Miller nails it when he says this: “‘Asking in Jesus’ name’ isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect” (Praying Life, 135).

We Ask with the Father’s and Son’s Acceptance

If this is true, then we also don’t need to worry what others think of us when we ask Jesus for anything. I bring this up, because some of you have admitted you don’t pray with others out of a fear of what they may think of you. If that’s you, hear this: asking “in Jesus’ name” means having the Father’s and the Son’s acceptance. If Jesus’ death and exaltation means that I am now accepted with God—not because of who I am but because of who Jesus is—what do I need to fear from mere people? They can’t change my status with God. They can’t give me a better acceptance. They can’t change how the Father and Son hear my cries—however weak and convoluted and immature they may sound. And if someone’s focus during prayer is merely to criticize others, we have to wonder if they truly know how comprehensive the work of Jesus really is in making up for all our shortcomings. All Jesus requires is that we feel our need for him and cry out like children for help. Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice enable that.

3. Jesus Sent the Holy Spirit to Help Us

One more major thing we should consider when asking the exalted Christ: for Jesus to be the exalted Christ means Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us. Jesus’ exaltation and the sending of the Spirit—these two things are linked all over the place in John’s Gospel, but I’ll take you to the closest one in verses 16-17 and then to one other in chapter 15. Jesus is instructing his disciples on how to live once he’s exalted, and he says this in verse 16: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” Then in 15:26 he says this, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

We Ask with the Help of the Spirit of the Exalted Christ

Now, here’s what’s amazing about the coming of the Spirit in relation to asking “in Jesus’ name”: the Spirit teaches us how to ask. When we ask for something “in Jesus’ name,” we’re asking with the help of the Spirit of the exalted Christ.

Jesus doesn’t leave us alone even in how we ask. He sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit. He comes to live in us through the Spirit, so that our prayers line up with his prayers. Just like Jesus cried “Abba! Father!” in the Garden (Mark 14:36); so also when the Spirit comes to reside in us, we cry “Abba! Father!” just like it says in Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6. Jesus’ cries become our cries through the Spirit.

Paul even says “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). When the world has wracked us with pain or confusing situations—when we don’t know the will of God for this or that situation but desire it so badly—we don’t have to worry that our prayers may not get it all right, or fret because we don’t even know how to ask. The Spirit knows how to ask. He even takes our deep groanings and intercedes for us according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27)!

We Ask with the Spirit-inspired Word of the Exalted Christ

And let’s keep adding grace on top of grace, here, folks, because another way the Spirit helps us to pray is by inspiring the apostles to finish the Bible, which becomes our inspired guide to learning how to pray for what we need and for what will bring glory to God (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-14; cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17). John 15:26-27, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness [He’s talking to the Eleven.], because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Meaning, the Spirit is coming to help you bear witness to who I am, and you will write it down so that people know me as exalted Lord—and not just in your generation but in all generations to come. And then Jesus links abiding in his word with prayer in 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus’ words, given by the Spirit, help us in our asking.

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down to pray, and just have absolutely nothing to say. I’m tired. My mind is blank or drifting off to everything else in the world. Or maybe I start to pray and then everything gradually becomes trite and seemingly redundant, and then I’m discouraged and want to get up and go do something else “more productive”—which is a lie. And so many times, the Spirit-inspired word of God becomes my help in prayer. I’m amazed at where the prayers go if I just start praying God’s words back to God and asking for the things God tells me to ask for. Or if I take the Lord’s Prayer or one of Paul’s prayers as my outline in praying for myself and others. And if I can’t remember it, I open the Bible and start reading it back to God and praying the things I read. They are the words of the exalted Christ, and the Spirit’s gift to us.

Summary on Praying “in Jesus’ name”

So those are three major things we should keep in mind as we ask the exalted Christ: he has universal authority; his obedience and sacrifice were accepted by the Father for you; and he has sent the Holy Spirit to help us. And with all that said, here’s what I think it means to ask “in Jesus’ name.” Asking “in Jesus’ name” means imploring the exalted Christ with adoration, confidence, humility, and the Spirit’s help, to give us all we need to obey him and bear fruit for God’s glory.

Asking the Exalted Christ Together in Prayer Clusters

So, here’s what I want to do the rest of our time together. I want you to pull out your blue insert. You don’t need to feel bound to this insert, but I’d like us to spend a few minutes asking the exalted Christ together in some clusters of about three to four people.

For some of you, that may mean you’re starting with adoration—asking God’s name to be hallowed in your life more and in this city more. For others of you, you may need to start with confession—confession of ways you’ve clung to sin, or haven’t desired to obey. But I’d like for all of us to participate in imploring the exalted Christ with confidence that he will give us all we need to obey him and bear fruit for God’s glory.

Get specific. Name individuals you want God to save. Ask for specific things that seem impossible to you. Some of you are in school or intimidated by your responsibilities at work. Some of you need a specific amount of money for mission. Ask for them. If somebody is ill in your cluster, pray for them. If someone is tormented with temptation, lay hands on them and pray for God’s deliverance. And then if you need some more specific ideas, let this blue insert guide you.

If you’re not a Christian, you don’t have to participate at all. But I would encourage you to share that with someone here during this time. And if you’re a member of Redeemer, spend this time welcoming and talking with our non-Christian guests about questions they may have, and point them to the exalted Christ. But let’s take the next 15 minutes or so to pray together, and then I’ll come close us at the end.