For quasi-Christians with a stubborn, worldly cant who go to church only when convenient, study the Bible only lightly, and think religion is “to get stuff,” John 16:23 appears to be the ultimate good news: God will give you whatever you want.
Wow! A free pass through the check-out lane of life! Just pray and say “Jesus!”
It’s a fake-news notion that’s launched a thousand sinking ships.
Our purpose today is not to rant about the “prosperity” gospel, “name it-claim it” doctrine, the “golden” gospel, or any other assorted false flags of me-directed faith. Context in the Bible is everything – I mean, Jesus is everything, of course – but a “Playtex” interpretation of scripture where you “lift” a verse or phrase you like and then “separate” it from its holy intent, dis-serves the Spirit and darkens one’s humanity.
It’s never a good thing to replace a truth with a lie, not when God is watching.
And He’s always watching.
We’ve been studying this section of scripture – John 15-16-17 – in our Thursday morning Mustard Seed Bible Study. It’s the teaching of Jesus after the Last Supper and before the Garden of Gethsemane. Last week’s column, pulled from John’s earlier writing in chapter 3, focused on our “belief” in Jesus the Son of God as the key to salvation.
As Jesus spends these final couple of hours with His disciples before His arrest, trial, humiliation, beating, flogging, crucifixion, and death, Jesus is decisively and directly telling the disciples that He is one with the Father, that He came from the Father, that He is going back to the Father, and that because they know Him – Jesus – they – the disciples – also now know the Father. That is Jesus’s final teaching, and the headline Jesus leaves with His disciples is: “You know God, because you know Me.”
That’s the revealing and critical bit of the context to the line, “whatever you ask in my name.” It’s a line Jesus repeats in verse 26, “…you will ask in my name.” Jesus says it twice – so it’s important – and it is as shocking as it is true. But the focus here should not be the word “ask.” Instead, take full measure of the word “name.”
After previous BC (or BCE) millennia of Jewish instruction never to say the name of God, and that we will never see God, Jesus is telling His disciples that they have encountered both the person and the name of God … in the flesh … in Him. “Name” here isn’t just a “Joe-Bob” or “Linda-Sue.” No, in this context “name” implies both knowledge of and relationship with the person being “named.” Jesus is talking about not just His own person but the very name of God; Jesus is saying, “That’s Who I Am.”
The disciples of course don’t quite get it all; not yet. They know Jesus saw into their hearts, revealed to them what they were thinking, and knows them personally. But what Jesus really is giving to them and to all humanity is something for which they never would have thought to ask: to know the heart of Almighty God; to know His Name.
That is our gift from Jesus, and it can only be unwrapped by a believing heart.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) finds it fascinating that in this most profound and critical section of scripture, neither sin nor forgiveness are mentioned, only belief. More next week. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.