13. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
14. if you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
This is a part of the consolation. For here Christ shows how much power His going to the Father will produce. What He has told the disciples—that they should do the same works that He Himself has done, and even greater ones—He again refers to Himself when He adds that all this shall come to pass through Him; for now He will be able to give, and do for, them what they need, and they shall have all that they ask for and desire. He wants to say: “You will do greater works than I have now done, because I am going to the Father. Neither world nor devil will prevail against you; they will give way before you and concede your mastery. And even though you are still aware of weakness and lack things, as though your lot were far different from what I foretold, and as though the devil and the world were gaining the victory over you—as it will appear outwardly to the flesh and all the world—do not let this terrify or deject you. No, the more distress and weakness you feel, the less you should give way and yield; for be assured that I will give you what you ask for and need. Therefore begin to pray confidently, and call upon Me with the assurance that I will grant your petition. For this very purpose I am going to the Father; there I shall see all your distress and weakness, and shall be able to grant your prayer.”
By telling His disciples to pray Christ wants to point out that of and among themselves they do not have the power to do such great things—things which He calls greater works than those He Himself has done. They will experience weakness, all sorts of trouble and want, opposition and hindrances in their calling, life, and acts. He lets this happen to them to forestall pride, presumption, and selfreliance, as though they now had everything and no longer needed Him. They should remain humble and continue to be aware of their own impotence. Then they will exercise their faith in Christ all the more by prayer and petition, and will experience His power in weakness and in suffering the more surely, because they will be impelled to call upon Him and implore Him. Thus He said to St. Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9: “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
With these and the following words Christ also demonstrates what constitutes a Christian’s true office and function, and how necessary the exercise of this is in Christendom. The prophet Zechariah refers to this when he says (12:10) that Christ will pour out and grant the spirit which is called “a spirit of compassion and supplication.” For in all Christians He will effect and produce these two things: First, He will convince and assure their hearts that they have a compassionate God; secondly, He will enable them to help others by their supplication. The result of the first is that they are reconciled to God and have all they need for themselves. Then, when they have this, they will become gods and will be saviors of the world by their supplication. Through the spirit of compassion they themselves will become children of God; and then, as children of God, they will mediate between God and their neighbor, and will serve others and help them attain this estate too.
For once a Christian begins to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, through whom he is redeemed from death and brought into His dominion and inheritance, God completely permeates his heart.51 Now he is eager to help everyone acquire the same benefits. For his greatest delight is in this treasure, the knowledge of Christ. Therefore he steps forth boldly, teaches and admonishes others, praises and confesses his treasure before everybody, prays and yearns that they, too, may obtain such mercy. There is a spirit of restlessness amid the greatest calm, that is, in Gods grace and peace. A Christian cannot be still or idle. He constantly strives and struggles with all his might, as one who has no other object in life than to disseminate God’s honor and glory among the people, that others may also receive such a spirit of grace and through this spirit also help him pray. For wherever the spirit of grace resides, there we can and dare, yes, must begin to pray.
Therefore Christ wants to say here: “When you believe in Me and have received the spirit by which the heart is assured of the grace of God (Christ had said above: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”), then you will certainly be constrained to pray.” For prayer is the true work characteristic only of Christians. Before we become Christians and believe, we do not know how or what to pray. And even if a man prays most fervently, the spirit of grace is not yet present. Then the heart is still disposed to say: “Dear Lord, I ask you to regard my life, my intense suffering, or the merit of this or of that saint, the intercession and the good works of pious people.” This is not faith in divine grace and mercy through Christ. Moreover, the heart always remains in doubt and cannot conclude that its prayer has certainly been heard. It insists on dealing with God on the basis of its own holiness or that of others, and without Christ, as though God had to humble Himself before it, have His grace or assistance wrested from Him, and thus become our debtor and servant. This means deserving wrath, not grace; this means mocking God, not praying to Him.
A genuinely Christian prayer must issue from the spirit of grace, which says: “I have lived my best; therefore I implore Thee not to regard my life and my conduct, but Thy mercy and compassion promised me in Christ, and because of this to grant me the fulfillment of my prayer.” Thus our prayer must, in real and sincere humility, take no account of ourselves; it must rely solely and confidently on the promise of grace, in the firm trust that God will hear us, as He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us.
Therefore Christ distinctly adds the words “in My name.” He wants to teach us that no real prayer is possible without faith and that without Christ no one is able to utter a single word of prayer that is valid before God and acceptable to Him. This all the Turks, Jews, monks, and hypocrites try to do; for they all appear before God in the belief that He will regard their own or other persons’ merits and sanctity, and will praise and extol them on this account. Such was the prayer of the hypocrite of whom we read in Luke 18:11: “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men.” As though he were to say: “I do not need Thy grace and mercy; I have earned this well myself.” He disdains to receive anything from God, but wants to give something to Him and oblige Him to pay for it. God should be happy to acquire such a holy man as His friend! But in the verse above (13) Christ says no to him. He refuses to hear and accept anyone’s prayer but his who comes in the name of Christ, and throws himself on pure mercy and grace, and who says with the publican: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
Thus you must learn from this text that through Christ alone we possess both grace and the granting of prayer, that we first become children of God, entitled to call upon Him, and then also receive what we need for ourselves and for others. Therefore wherever there is a Christian, there is none other than the Holy Spirit, who does nothing but pray without ceasing. Even though one does not move one’s lips and form words continuously, one’s heart nonetheless does beat incessantly; and, like the pulse and the heart in the body, it beats with sighs such as these: “Oh, dear Father, please let Thy name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done among us and everyone!” And when blows fall, when temptations thicken, and adversity presses harder, then such sighing prayers become more fervent and also find words. A Christian without prayer is just as impossible as a living person without a pulse. The pulse is never motionless; it moves and beats constantly, whether one is asleep or something else keeps one from being aware of it.
Anything further about what prayer is and how we are to pray has often been discussed elsewhere, and we shall revert to it later. Let it suffice here to see how highly the Christian estate is extolled. Christians are the only ones who can pray and in this way accomplish all that they want. Here and elsewhere Christ encourages and exhorts His own in a friendly manner to pray, and He indicates that prayer gives Him heartfelt pleasure. It is the glory and the consolation of Christians, who are endued with the grace and the spirit to understand what God has given them in Christ. No matter how much is said about this, the others neither understand nor heed it any more than a sow appreciates music played on the harp.
But what does Christ mean when He says here: “Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it”? Just before He had declared: “You will perform the same works that I do, and greater ones.” Now why does He say: “Whatever you ask of Me, I will do”? Who is this “I”? Methinks He should say: “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will do it.” Here He assigns this to Himself. What a peculiar speech from this Man, to clothe such arrogance in such simple words! For with these words He lets it be clearly understood that He is the true, almighty God, coequal with the Father. For to say: “Whatever you ask, I will do,” is tantamount to saying: “I am God, who can and will give you everything.” If this were not so, why should the Christians pray in His name? Why do people call on the saints for help in need, on St. George for protection in times of war, on St. Sebastian against the pestilence, on the one saint for this and the other for that, unless they are sure that these saints will grant their petitions? But now Christ claims all this for Himself and says: “I will order no one else to give you what you ask for. No, I Myself will do this.” Consequently, He must be the one who can supply all our wants. He must be mightier than the devil, sin, death, the world, and all creatures.
This is a power which no creature, neither angel nor man, ever possessed or will possess in all eternity. To be sure, they can pray and move God, through His Word and promise, to grant and do what we need. Thus the apostles and the prophets Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead by means of prayer. And thus the angels pray for people, as we read in the prophet Zechariah (12:8). But the power to grant and do such things, or to save us from any distress of sin and death, is not vested in them. Christ, however, takes to Himself all the power and might of the Divine Majesty and sums up in one sentence everything we should ask God for. He does not say: “If you pray for gold or silver or for anything that man, too, could give you”; but He says: “Whatever you ask,” barring nothing. We know, of course, what we must ask God for. We must ask not only for this beggarly earthly pittance, that is, for all the needs of this temporal life; but we should pray for deliverance from all present and future misery, from sin, death, and the grave, and that we may be made just, holy, free, alive, and glorious. And since Christ bids us pray for all this and promises to grant it, He must be true God.
Here we see how the evangelist St. John supports this article of faith in the Lord Christ by stating that in one Person He is both true God together with the Father and true man born of the Virgin. Therefore we, too, must teach and emphasize this doctrine, in order that it may be retained in its purity against the devil’s rabble and the heretics. For this is the doctrine which the devil has always seized on, which is still assailed and will suffer from manifold heresies until the Day of Judgment. For some have made the blasphemous statement that Christ was only a make-believe or a phantom and not a true man; others, that He had no human soul but, instead of this, the divine nature; others, that He was only called God; others, that He was merely a man.52 Thus the devil has always brought up something, only to corrupt the doctrine of Christ. At present he is also bestirring himself in some persons and is pregnant with his vile thoughts.
And he is abetted in this by his bride, Dame Witch, crafty Reason,53 who advances various pretexts and evasions against this doctrine and can wriggle in a masterly manner to prevent capture by the Word of God. It asks: “Where is it written that Christ calls Himself or boasts of being true God? If He is true God, why does He not come out openly and declare: ‘I am God’? If this were certain, and if it were so essential to believe this, He would have expressed it explicitly and by name.” Some clever and very learned men are beginning to mutter these views today.54 They parade this as though it were something outstanding, as though it were especially great wisdom, as though Holy Writ never recorded that Christ is God and must be believed to be God’s Son, the Savior of the world, Lord and God over all. Why, Scripture, especially the New Testament, is full of passages that tell who Christ is. But they, of course, have invented such dodges as excuses for their unbelief.
For what could be written or said with more clarity or definiteness than the words which even children confess in their Creed and which all Christendom sings, recites, and preaches: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”? But to what avail? Is the doctrine of our redemption not expressed clearly and plainly enough in Holy Writ, namely, that we are justified and saved solely through Christ? In all the churches the priests and the monks have chanted and read it daily at the altar, in the choir, and in the pulpit. But what good did it do? For they themselves preached and taught contrary to this doctrine. And even today they do not cease to yelp against it. My dear man, why not deny point-blank that Scripture declares Him to be the Lamb of God which bears our sins (John 1:29), that believers in Him have forgiveness of sin solely through His name (Acts 10:43), and that there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)? Of course, if you want to set the Bible aside or to ignore willfully what Scripture says and follow your own notions, then, naturally, neither this nor any other article of the faith will be clear and certain.
Or is it not plain enough when the angel Gabriel is sent to the Virgin Mary and says (Luke 1:31): “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”? What could be plainer and clearer? Who does not know what it means to conceive in the womb and to give birth? And yet there have been people—such as the Anabaptist rabble in Münster in our day—who deny that it is written that Christ is a natural Son of the Virgin, born of her flesh and blood.55 They want to persuade people to believe that such terms as “conceiving in the womb and bearing” are not the equivalent of maternity, and that the child or son is not a natural child but a monstrosity or a changeling. Indeed, if we let this pass, concede them such arbitrariness, and permit them to say and to interpret as they please, unrestrained by God’s Word, then anybody can reject whatever displeases him, declare that this text is not clear enough, and demand a clear one in proof.
This would surely have to be a clear expression, one which the devil could not pervert with his interpretation. Now what is clear enough, if the plain Word of God, given for our enlightenment and instruction, is called unclear, even though it shines directly into our faces? This is as if a willful person closed his eyes to the bright sun or covered doors and windows, and then complained about not being able to see. What more can be said or demonstrated to you if you refuse to hear and accept what God Himself tells you? Or do you suppose that your own notions about God and His mysteries—notions which you deduce from your blind reason—are clearer and more trustworthy than God’s own Word? Only a genuine, malicious devil refuses to listen in spite of being manifestly convinced; he resists the truth knowingly and willfully.
What would it have availed if everywhere the Holy Spirit had employed words such as these: “Christ is true God and man”—words which He often did use? It would have served no purpose other than to afford the heretics still more reasons for making the blasphemous statement that this is not sufficiently clear. Even if such terms as “God” and “man” were applied to Christ, one could not yet conclude from these with certainty that He truly had both a human and a divine nature; but because only the names were used, and Scripture did not record more to prove that He really had human essence and activity as well as divine majesty and power, then He would be God or man in name only. That is how the heretics reasoned when verses and texts in which Christ was called the Son of the Virgin or the Son of Man were rubbed under their noses. They said: “Oh, the word ‘man’ in this text does not denote a true human being, the flesh and blood of a mother; it denotes a phantom, or an image of a man, which passed through the Virgin’s womb as the sun casts its rays and brilliance on the wall through colored glass.” The Jews, too, declare that the word “virgin” does not signify an immaculate virgin but a young woman or maid.56
Thus even though the attention of the Arians was called to the words “God” and “God’s Son,” they countered by saying that these do not refer to a natural or real God but to one who is God in name only, and that the term “God’s Son” in this passage means no more than a lord, a prince, or a creature more glorious than all creatures. My dear man, anybody could twist and pervert things in such a way that “wood” should mean stone, that “man” should denote, not a man but a changeling, that “God” and “God’s Son” should mean, not what they mean but whatever one may choose to make of them. What would finally remain certain and clear in Holy Writ, yes, in any language? Then, when someone hands me a gulden, I could say that it is not a gulden but a token, or that it is not a groschen but a piece of tin.
Therefore the Holy Spirit has erected a safeguard on both sides, to prevent frivolous spirits from interpreting arbitrarily, and toying with, the terms “God” and “man,” and to make sure that these words mean what they should mean and signify in any language, namely, that “God” means God, and “man” means man. For the Holy Spirit not only applied the names “God” and “man” to Christ, but He also added the definition; that is, He expressed explicitly and clearly how these terms are to be interpreted and understood, lest everyone devise his own interpretation and make of them what he chooses. Therefore the Holy Spirit describes Christ both by name and according to His work or activity. If the name did not suffice, then the works ascribed to Him would be proof and would constrain us to say: “That is God, even though He were not called God anywhere.” And still they are such willful villains that they rant and blaspheme against this, even though one rubs under their noses such patent evidence of Scripture that they cannot ignore it. They wriggle away and drivel that Scripture does not state expressly that Christ is God. Thus they seesaw and dodge. First they insist on being shown the word “God”; and when this is done, they evade the issue and say that this word has a different sense here. But this is the devil practicing sleight of hand with Scripture and throwing dice with it, twisting it to suit his purpose. Grappling with him is like taking an eel by the tail.
Therefore we must adhere to Scripture against the devil and against these willful blasphemers. We must not let them pervert it and flit around over it, as though it lacked the clarity and power to prove our faith. We must persistently drum into people that Holy Writ does both: applies the terms “God” and “man” to Christ and presents words and works of His that pertain to God alone or refer to God alone. Thus it demonstrates that He is both called God and is God, and that He performs works that are peculiar to the true God.
The name “God” is used clearly and distinctly of Christ. For instance, in the last chapter of John (20:28) St. Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” And in Rom. 9:5 we read: “God over all, blessed forever,” which the old fathers also applied to Christ.57 Psalm 2:7 states: “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”; that is, “My true, natural Son, not merely an adopted or nominal son.” Or in Luke 1:32: “He will be called the Son of the Most High.” Many more verses speak of Christ’s divine power and works. And it is necessary to emphasize and document this more thoroughly, for this is more vital and cannot be twisted and misinterpreted as is done with the former verses. Take, for instance, the verses which we have already heard, in which Christ says of Himself: “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Or: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Or: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me?” In these verses St. John, as he does almost everywhere, asserts that Christ is both true man and true God. The factious spirits would be glad to hear Christ make the simple statement that He is either all God or all man. But Scripture combines the two. This is as it should be. The work of both, that of God and that of man, is assigned to Christ in one Person. Holy Writ fuses the two so adroitly that the words sound like those of a true man and, on the other hand, like those of the true and very God.
For when Christ says: “Believe in God,” He speaks as though He meant only God. But then He hastens to add: “Believe also in Me.” Here He includes Himself by referring the word “believe” also to Himself and ascribing the same deity to Himself. For the demand to believe in Christ implies that He must be true God. Or when Christ says: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does His works,” you hear nothing but the speech of a true man. But when He also declares: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”—these are statements which no mere man, yes, no angel or any other creature, can make of himself; but these words are specifically and exclusively those of the Divine Majesty.
The same thing is true of the words before us: “Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it.” If He were only man, should He not say: “Whatever you ask the Father, He will do”? For, as has been said, no one but God is empowered to grant what we may ask, such as forgiveness of sin and eternal life. But now, by stating that He will do this, Christ affirms that He is true God. To be sure, He does not boast here of the name of God; He boasts of work which neither man nor angel has ever done or will be able to do in all eternity. And, lest anyone imagine that such words slipped from His lips accidentally, or that He spoke them in a dream, He repeats them and confirms them with the same words: “Whatever you ask, I will do it.” For the Lord Christ foresaw that this doctrine would meet with strong opposition on the part of human reason and would be resolutely and severely attacked by the devil. That is why He treats of this doctrine again and again, and uses many words to give strong proof of His divine power and majesty.
Therefore what sense is there in ranting against such clear words of God and saying: “After all, He does not call Himself God”? Even though He does not apply the name to Himself here—something He has others do in other passages—He does mention everything that is appropriate to God alone and that entitles Him to the name of God. If this were not set forth so explicitly and clearly, it would mean nothing, even if He called Himself God everywhere. For then people would always say, as the Arians do, that He is God in name only. But now that both the definition and the fact are stated, and such clear proof is given, it is reasonable that the name should follow the work or the fact itself. He must be called God, even though Scripture did not use this term anywhere. For Christ does not want to glory in the mere name apart from the fact and the deeds as the world has its fun and practices deception by glorying falsely in mere names.
Just to hear that Christ is called God’s Son and God in eternity should be sufficient for our faith, and we are under no obligation to engage in further debate with the devil. As already said, God does not trifle with mere names; the names that He gives to Himself and to all things really represent the truth.58 And yet God gives us so many verses for our victory over the devil and his followers—verses in which He praises His divine might and power, and assigns to Himself the honor, the majesty, and the works that are peculiar to God alone.
Therefore we remain loyal to this doctrine of Christ as Scripture teaches it. He is called and described as both true God and man. They themselves must read, sing, and preach Scripture in witness to the truth and in refutation of themselves. If others will not believe this and willfully make blasphemous statements against it, we will let them go their way with their god, the devil; but despite them we will believe this and adhere to the text which they themselves cannot deny. We will retain this text unaltered and unadulterated, together with our Creed, in which we confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, God’s only Son, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried.” We let all the words mean what they say. They were not given to be double talk but to supply our faith with a clear and sure basis and confirmation. We let him who will not believe these words dispute and indulge in subtle arguments as long as he pleases; the devil will give him his fill. But we will be masters over these wiseacres, so that they cannot twist the nose of Holy Writ as they please;59 and if they do, it will be on their own head. But no one will invalidate these texts and verses.
Enough has been said on our text in proof of this article about Christ. This should not only serve to inform us of His nature and essence, but we should also derive profit and gain from it for ourselves. Christ for His Person indeed remains Lord and God over all, even if you and I did not believe it, and even if all the world were to forsake Him. Your unbelief and blasphemy will not make Him lower than He has been from eternity. But it is essential that we apply this article to our good as the doctrine on which all our salvation and happiness rests.
For if this foundation stands and is ours by faith—that Christ is both, God’s Son and the Virgin’s Son, in one Person, though of two different natures, of the divine nature from eternity through the Father, of the human nature through His birth from Mary—then I have all that is necessary, and it is superfluous for me to let my thoughts flit heavenward and explore God’s will and plan. Then I am spared all the disputations of the Jews, Turks, heathen, and all the world about God, how He is to be sought and encountered, or how He is to be served and pleased. And I am also relieved of the anxiety and fear of my own heart.
For if I hear this article, that Christ is the one true God and none other, then I have hit upon “the one thing needful”—mentioned by Christ in Luke 10:42 and chosen by Mary—“which shall not be taken away from her.” Then I am sure that I need look for nothing else or reflect on anything else; but I look solely to this one Person, yes, to His hands and lips, for assurance and consolation. Otherwise the heart hovers in suspense, in uncertainty, and in doubt; and its own thoughts cannot cease flitting in useless speculation concerning God’s attitude toward us until it finally despairs or at least is seduced from the true knowledge of God into idolatry and a false worship of God. This is what happens to the monks and to the unbelieving saints, whose God conforms to their own hearts’ portrayal of Him, as though He were minded as they dream or imagine Him to be. Thus they fashion a false god for themselves. For they are without knowledge of Christ; and since Christ is not known in the heart, the Father cannot be known either.
For, after all, our faith is centered completely in this Christ. He Himself said above: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And St. Paul declares in Col. 2:9 that “the whole fullness of the Deity dwells in Him bodily.” Consequently, there is no God except Him; and where He is not known, God is never known or found. In their Persons Christ and the Father are indeed different; but to us and in our faith and hearts they must be completely One.
No one but the Christians can acquire such understanding of this article. No papist, monk, or theologian has ever been able to teach it, just as I myself was unable to do so, although we daily read, taught, and discoursed on Christ’s divine nature and essence; we knew nothing of its meaning as taught in the Scriptures. We were stuffed with other notions—about tonsures, cowls, and our own works—and God was pictured to us in the light of these. Yes, instead of becoming acquainted with God through Christ, we made the dear Savior a Judge and ran from Him to the Virgin Mary and other saints as intercessors and mediators. We also sought reconciliation by means of our works, Masses, monastic life, fasting, and prayer. These are the very thoughts that lead away from this article and prevent it from being understood and applied. One may refer to and discuss it superficially, but this is like a blind man’s discussion of color.
But he who teaches and understands aright what it means that Christ is both true God and true man, on the basis of the verses already heard and those we shall hear later, such as “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” and “Believe Me that I am in My Father and the Father in Me”—such a person can surely conclude and say: “I will hear and know of no other God, but I will look and listen solely to this Christ. And if I hear Him, I already know on what terms I am with God; and I need no longer torment myself, as I did before, with my anxiety about atonement and reconciliation with God. For in this picture all wrath and terror vanish, and only grace and comfort shine forth. Now I can gain a real and genuine trust in God, console my conscience in all trials and adversity, judge all life and conduct properly, and teach and instruct everybody.”
For since Christ, who is one undivided Person, God and man, speaks thus, it is certain that God the Father and the Holy Spirit, that is, the whole Divine Majesty, is also present and speaking. Thus God is entirely contained in this one Person, and you need not and dare not search further and ask: “How and where is He to be found or encountered?” And when the devil subsequently tries to humbug you with other ideas about God’s wrath or mercy, about sin or piety, you can retort: “Here I have the words of Christ; they are spoken by the true God and by no other. For there is surely no other God, and I cannot say anything but what I hear from His lips. Furthermore, here I see the Lord Christ’s work, that He sheds His blood for me, dies, rises again, and gives me His Baptism and Sacrament. All this is most certainly done by my God; for this Person is both true God and true man, one Divine Being with the Father, one God, and therefore one voice or word or work. Therefore we can and must say: ‘God was crucified and died for me.’ And if anyone projects a god who did not suffer and die for me, I will have no truck with him. For although the Person of the Father is distinct from that of the Son and we should not say that the Father suffered for us, Christ is nonetheless the same God, one undivided Essence with the Father. Hence we cannot fail to find God in the Person of Christ. On the other hand, we can never find a God for our comfort and salvation outside Christ.”
That the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 24: Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (24:86). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.