The Power of Prayer (pt. 3)
The Power of the Intercessor
Prayer is the priestly function of carrying a petition to God. In Old Testament times two major classes of mediators functioned between God and his people: prophets and priests. Stated simply, the prophet was ordained by God to speak his divine Word to the people. The prophet spoke to the people for God. Conversely, the priest was ordained by God to be a spokesman for the people. The priest spoke to God for the people.
In the New Testament, Christ exercises the offices not only of prophet and priest but also of King. In his priestly role he made the perfect sacrifice, offering the perfect atonement once and for all. Yet the Cross was not the end of Christ’s priestly office. In his ascension he entered the heavenly holy of holies, and continues to act as our Great High Priest. There he prays for his people, interceding with the Father on our behalf. The power of Christ’s prayers is immeasurable. It can be illustrated not only by the miracles he performed on earth, but also by his prayers of intercession during his earthly ministry.
Consider the cases of Judas and Simon Peter. Both were disciples who had committed heinous acts of treachery against Jesus in his darkest hour. Judas committed suicide, whereas Simon was restored and became the “Rock” of the early church in Jerusalem. Why?
One critical difference between these men may be seen in Jesus’ announcements of their forthcoming treachery. About Judas he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21). When the disciples asked Jesus to identify the traitor, he replied, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” Then Jesus dipped the morsel, gave it to Judas and said, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:26-27).
Later that evening in his great prayer of intercession, Jesus said, “While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). Here Jesus prayed about Judas, but not for Judas, and called him the “son of perdition.”
In the case of Peter’s denial Jesus announced to him:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Notice that Jesus did not say, “If you have turned again, strengthen your brethren,” but “when you have turned.” Jesus was confident of Peter’s restoration. We cannot help but draw the conclusion that Jesus’ confidence was in large measure due to his earlier words: “but I have prayed for you.”
Jesus prayed about Judas. He prayed for Simon Peter. He made intercession for Peter. He acted as Peter’s Priest. At this very moment Christ is acting as our High Priest, interceding for us.
This is the jubilant conclusion of the author in Hebrews 4:14-16.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
May these words become life to our souls as we appropriate them for ourselves.
Tapping into Prayer’s Power
Prayer requires structure, but not at the expense of spontaneity. I have tried to give direction to avoid harmful pitfalls in our pilgrimage. No band director tells his musicians to play whatever is on their hearts and then expects to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There must be order, and the procedure must be somewhat regulated. However, room still exists for individual self-expression within the limits of reverence and order.
Why do we pray?
- We pray because God has commanded it and because he is glorified when we pray.
- We pray because it prepares our hearts for what we will receive from him.
- We pray because much is accomplished by prayer, by which God gives us our instructions, our marching orders.
- We pray to adore God, to praise him, to express our wonder at his majesty, his sovereignty, and his mighty acts.
- We pray to confess to God our shortcomings, numerous as they are, and to experience grace, mercy, and forgiveness at his hand.
- We pray to thank him for all that he is and all that he has done.
- And we pray to make our supplication known to him, to fulfill the invitation he has left us.
When we pray, we must remember who God is and who we are before him. We must remember first and foremost that God’s name is to be kept holy. We must remember that he is the Source of our provision and that all good things come from him. We are to live in such a way that we will make visible the kingdom of God in this world. We must always be confessing sin, for that is one of the surest marks of a Christian. And we are to pray that God will protect us from the evil one.
We must always remember that God is God and owes no man anything. As the psalmist says, “He does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We have been invited to come boldly before God, but never flippantly, arrogantly, or presumptuously. Ecclesiastes 5:2 reminds us that we are not to be “hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon the earth.”
This is part sixteen of R.C. Sproul’s small book Does Prayer Change Things?. Over the past week we have been posting the complete text of this short but profound and practical book right here at the Ligonier Ministries blog.