6. The Mediation Of Prayer
This study builds on some concepts which must first of all be mastered before we can go further:
1. Prayer is not just requesting things. God sees our situation
and innermost desire / spirit as 'prayer' without us necessarily
verbalizing these things in prayer. Evidence for this is provided
in The Essence Of Prayer and Prayer:
Some Practical Points.
2. There is a connection between a righteous way of life and attitude, and
God responding to prayer. This is discussed in The
Comfort Of Answered Prayer.
3. There is a connection between the word of God dwelling in us,
and prayer being answered. There seems to be a connection between prayer and God's word being within us in Gen. 20:7- for exactly because Abraham was a prophet, therefore he could pray for Abimelech. Faith comes from our appreciation of
the word (Rom. 10:17), and faith is the basis of answered prayer
(Mt. 21:22)- to the point that we believe we have received the answer
the moment we pray (as in Ps. 56:9). God cried to Israel in the
prophetic word, but they would not hear; and so when they cried
to Him, He also did not hear (Zech. 7:13). If the Lord's words dwell
in us, we will ask what we will, and it will be done. Yet
only if we ask according to God's will can we receive our
requests (Jn. 15:7 cp. 1 Jn. 5:14). The implication is that if the
word dwells in us, our will becomes that of the Father, and therefore
our requests, our innermost desires, are according to His will,
and are therefore granted. Therefore the word was what directed
and motivated David's regular daily prayers (Ps. 119:164); they
weren't standard repetitions of the same praises or requests, but
a reflection of his Biblical meditation. He asks God to hear his
prayers because He keeps God’s word (Ps. 119:145,173). He asks God
to hear his voice in prayer, using the very same words
with which he reflects upon how he heard God's voice as
it is in His written word. He even goes so far as to draw a parallel
between God and his own “reins” or inner self- both of them “instruct
me” (Ps. 16:7). His inner self was so absorbed into the reality
of God. The Lord taught that we should believe that "what [we]
say [in prayer] shall come to pass" (Mk. 11:23 RV). This is
very much the language of God's word- what He says, comes
to pass for sure. And so we're being invited to see our words in prayer as effectively like God's words; for if we pray
according to His word, surely we will be heard.
The extent to which Bible-inspired prayer is in a sense a word
of command is brought out by the way Ps. 20 parallels answered prayer
with a number of things, including God fulfilling "all your
counsel / advice": "The Lord... grant thee according to
thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel... the Lord fulfill
all thy petitions... the Lord will hear" (Ps. 20:4-6). The
very personal nature of our requests is brought out- they are the
desires of our own heart, David received "his heart's
desire" (Ps. 21:2)- and the power of prayer is that God Almighty
is willing to treat the fulfillment of these very personal desires
as our "counsel" to Him, in that it is based upon the
"counsel" of His word. Elijah's commanding of the drought by 'his' word, when it was in fact the result of his prayer, is a classic example. Jeremiah likewise prayed the word of command when he as it were ordered the sword of Yahweh to "return to your scabbard; desist and be still!" (Jer. 47:6).
David so often likens answered prayer to the Father 'hearing' the
words of the prayer. Take Ps 54:2: " Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth" . And dozens of times 'hearing'
is used in this sense. But David uses the very same word to describe
our hearing of God's words (Ps. 44:1; 45:10; 49:1; 50:7;
81:8,11,13; 85:8; 95:7; 103:20). Likewise: " Give ear to my
words, O LORD, consider my meditation" (Ps. 5:1),
just as David 'considered' the words of God (s.w. Ps. 119:27,34,73,95,100,104,125,130,144,169).
" He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his
prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9). This explains why
so many faithful prayers can be analyzed for their connections,
both conscious and unconscious, with earlier Scripture. The prayers
of faithful brethren of today are likewise full of both conscious
and unconscious allusion to Scripture. It makes a good example to
annotate the page of one's Bible with the cross references. David
speaks repeatedly of how God ‘inclines His ear’ to the words of
human prayer (Ps. 88:2 and many others). And yet he also records
God’s appeal to His people to incline their ears to His
words (Ps. 78:1; Prov. 2:2; 22:17). The mutuality between a man
and his God is expressed very clearly in our attitude to His word.
If we hear His words, He will hear ours when we pray.
Neh. 1:5-10 and Acts 4:24-30 are good examples; just look up the cross references in most Bibles. Nehemiah's example is clearly based upon Deuteronomy being in his mind. Some of his allusions are conscious, others perhaps unconscious, but reflecting how the words of his prayer were rooted in the presence of the word in his mind:
" The great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy" (v.5)
" If ye transgress I will scatter thee abroad amongst the nations" (v.8)
4:27; Lev.. 26:33
" But if ye turn unto me
though there were cast out of you unto the uttermost parts of heaven yet will I gather them from thence
...the place that I have chosen to put my name there" (v.9)
Daniel 9 is another one. Daniel's prayer seems to have been motivated in the first place by his appreciation of God's promise that if Israel confessed their sins when in captivity, He would turn again to them (Lev. 26:40), as well as his knowledge that Jeremiah had prophesied that when Israel intensely prayed, God would turn again their captivity (Jer. 29:12,13). Not only did the word motivate Daniel's prayer, but his prayer almost breathes his saturation with it:
Daniel 9 Passages alluded to
:2 " books" Lev. 26:40; 1 Kings 8:52; Jer. 29:12
:3 Jer. 29:13
:3 " waste" Lev. 26:31
:4 1 Kings 8:23
:5 1 Kings 8:47
:7 1 Kings 8:46
:9 1 Kings 8:30,34,36,39
:17 1 Kings 8:29,38
:18 1 Kings 8:52
:18,19 Jer. 29:12
:24 Jer. 29:11
We have commented elsewhere how circumstances tend
to repeat between Biblical characters, and how our lives too often
have designed parallels with Biblical characters. This is surely
providentially arranged- so that we can the more naturally frame
our prayers in the words of Scripture, perceiving the similarities
between our position and that of previous Bible characters. The
prayer of Ps. 10:10-14 is clearly based around the experience of
Hannah- the Hebrew words for 'seeing', 'vexing', 'afflicted' and
'forgetting' are all taken from the record of 1 Sam. 1 and 2. The
Psalmist has changed the gender of the pronouns to male from female,
and concludes with praising God for being the keeper of the fatherless,
just as He had been the keeper of the childless in Hannah's case.
The Mediation Of Prayer
With this in mind, we can consider the classic
passage concerning the mediation of prayer, Romans 8. The context
of Romans 8 teaches that there is in fact just one Spirit; the Spirit
of Christ is the Spirit of God, and is " the Spirit" in
the believer (Rom. 8:9-11). There is " one Spirit" (Eph.
4:4). If the will of God is in us, if His will is embedded in our
conscience, we will ask what we will, what our spirit desires, and
it will be granted. This is because if our Spirit is attune with
the Spirit of God and of Christ, our desires, our wish, is transferred
automatically to Him. Whatever we ask being in the name of Christ,
being in His character and the essence of His spirit, will
therefore be done (Jn. 15:16). It doesn't mean that saying the words
" I ask in the name of Christ" gives our request some
kind of magical power with God. It must surely mean that if we are
in Him, if His words abide in us, then we will surely be heard,
for our will is His will. We are guaranteed answers if we ask in
His name, if we ask what we will, if the word dwells in us, if we
ask according to God's will... all these are essentially the same
thing. If we are truly in Him, if the word really dwells in us,
if our will has become merged with God's will, then we will only
request things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore
we will receive them. Thus the experience of answered prayer will
become part of the atmosphere of spiritual life for the successful
believer. The Lord knew that the Father heard Him always (Jn. 11:42).
It is for this reason that the prayers of faithful men rarely make
explicit requests; their prayers are an expression of the spirit
of their lives and their relationship with God, not a list of requests.
It explains why God sees our needs, He sees our situations, as if
these are requests for help, and acts accordingly. The request doesn't
have to be baldly stated; God sees and knows and responds.
This is why Romans 8 appears to confuse the spirit
of God, the spirit of Christ in the believer, and Christ himself
as " the Lord the Spirit" . Yet what Paul is showing is
that in fact if we are spiritually minded, if our thinking is in
harmony with the Father and Son, prayer is simply a merger of our
Spirit with theirs; the idea of prayer as a means of requesting
things doesn't figure, because God knows our need and will provide.
The whole creation groans; we ourselves groan inwardly;
and the Spirit makes itnercession with groans that can't
be uttered. Clearly enough, our groans are His groans. He expresses
them more powerfully and articulately than we can. It has been observed:
" As I read paul's words, an image comes to mind of a mother
tuning in to her child's wordless cry. I know mothers who can distinguish
a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache
cry. To me, the sounds are identical, but the mother instinctively
perceives the meaning of the child's nonverbal groan. It is the
inarticulateness, the very helplessness, of the child that gives
her compassion such intensity" (1).
In deep sickness or depression it can simply be that we find formal,
verbalized prayer impossible. Ps. 77:4 speaks of this: "I am
so troubled that I cannot speak" (formally, to God). It's in
those moments that comfort can be taken from the fact that it is
our spirit which is mediated as it were to God. Tribulation is read
as prayer- hence even the Lord's suffering on the cross, "the
affliction of the afflicted", was read by the Father as the
Lord Jesus 'crying unto' the Father (Ps. 22:24). This is sure comfort
to those so beset by illness and physical pain that they lack the
clarity of mind to formally pray- their very affliction is read
by the Father as their prayer.
This is not to say that on another level, it is
not the Father's pleasure that His children should rush to Him in
their times of crisis. But Paul's point is that if we are spiritually
minded, prayer is a merger of Spirit between us and the Father,
and although we know not what to pray for as we ought, the real
essential desires of our Spirit are transferred through Christ to
the Father. Likewise Eph. 2:18: " Through him we both have
access by one Spirit unto the Father" . This access is not
only in the moments of time we designate for prayer. Christ suffered
for us and obtained our forgiveness, " that he might bring
us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18), and we are in that position now,
all the time, not just when we pray. Being in this position means
that our Spirit, the essence of our spirituality, our deepest spiritual
desires, are transferred to the Father by the Son. Christ is in
Heaven, " to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb.
9:24), the Greek translated " appear" meaning to exhibit
openly. We are openly exhibited to God by the Lord Jesus, he reveals
our inner spirit, our essential desires, to the Father. We become
one spirit with the Lord Jesus by baptism (1 Cor. 6:17; 12:13);
thus what we feel deep inside us in our spirit, in the spirit-man
created within us, is automatically, instantly the feeling of the
Lord Jesus. And because He is one with the Father in Spirit, He
can therefore relay our spirit to Him. Rom. 8 is teaching that this
is really what prayer is all about, and what we request verbally,
not knowing what to pray for as we ought, is not really the essence
of prayer. Perhaps we're helped to understand this ability of the
mind / spirit of the Lord Jesus to connect with that of human beings
by Mk. 2:8: "Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit
that they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, "Why
are you thinking such things in your hearts?" (NET Bible).
The spirit / mind of Jesus was at one with the spirit / mind of
those men. Such was His sensitivity. I don't think it was a gift
of Holy Spirit knowledge so much as His sensitvity to the minds
of men... and yet Rom. 8:16 calls Jesus "The Spirit" as
a title, saying that He bears witness with our spirit / mind, in
His intercession to the Father. So Mk 2:8 gives us as it were an
insight into how He now operates too... He's the same today
as yesterday. He's at one with our mind / spirit, and also with
the mind / Spirit of the Father. Thus is He such a matchless mediator.
There is a mutuality between God and His children
in prayer. We ‘make mention’ of things to God (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16;
1 Thess. 1:2; Philemon 4). The Greek word used has the idea of bringing
to mind, or remembering things to God. And He in response ‘remembers’
prayer when He answers it (Lk. 1:54,72; Acts 10:31 s.w.). What we
bring to our mind in prayer, we bring to His mind. Those who pray
for Jerusalem “keep not silence”- and therefore they give God “no
rest” (Is. 62:6,7). But the Hebrew word for “keep not silence” and
for ‘give no rest’ is one and the same! There’s a clear play on
words here. If we give ourselves no rest in prayer, then we give
God no rest. His Spirit or mind becomes our spirit or mind, and
vice versa. And hence the telling comments in Romans 8 about our
spirit / mind being mediated to God in prayer through Jesus, in
His role as ‘the Lord the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:26,27). Yet God Himself
had stated that He will not rest nor hold His peace for Zion’s sake
(Is. 62:1). Yet His doing this is conditional upon His prayerful
people not allowing Him to rest due to their prayers.
Note in passing how Paul speaks of ‘making mention
always’ in prayer of his brethren (Philemon 4 etc.). This is clearly
alluding to the Is. 62:6,7 passage, about always making mention
of Jerusalem in prayer. But for Paul, the true city of God was now
the scattered group of Christian believers around the Roman empire
of the first century. Jewish minds would’ve picked up Paul’s purposeful
allusion to the ‘always’ prayers for Jerusalem; and would’ve marvelled
that he saw the great holy city as now the bunch of guys whom he’d
baptized around the place, and that instead of a city, it was those
very real men and women who filled his thoughts, prayers and yearnings.
Paul saw himself indeed as the watchman upon Zion’s walls- but watching
over the people of God, not a physical city.
The Unity Of The Spirit
This unity of Spirit between us, the Son and the
Father explains an apparent contradiction in the Lord's discourse
in the upper room: " Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that
will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask me anything (being) in my name, that will
I do (Jn. 14:13,14 RV)...If ye shall ask anything of the Father,
he will give it you in my name...and I say not unto you, that I
will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you"
(Jn. 16:23,26 RV). Who do we pray to? The Father, or the Son? Who
'does' the answer to our prayers? God, or Christ? The context of
the Lord's words was that " the Father is with me...I am in
the Father, and the Father is in me...the Father abiding in me doeth
the works" , even as the believers are in the Son and in the
Father, as they are in us. This means that the question of who to
pray to is on one level irrelevant. Our spirit bears witness with
their Spirit, and there is only one spirit. This unity of the believer
with the Father is only made possible through the Son, and so our
formal prayers should be addressed to God through Christ, in recognition
of this fact. But as we have seen, the essence of prayer is not
formal request. To pray “in my name” could mean ‘in union with me’;
yet Christ was at one with the Father. The Psalmist petitioned Yahweh
to hear him “for His Name’s sake” (Ps. 25:11), just as we are to
pray to Jesus ‘in His Name’. " He that searcheth the hearts
knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:27) without
us verbalizing our spirit in formal prayer. In the same way as the
priests helped / assisted the Old Testament worshippers rather than
actually offered their prayers or sacrifices, so with the Lord Jesus.
Paul spoke of how he would be helped " through your prayers
and the help of the spirit of Jesus" (Phil. 1:19 RSV). Their
prayers ascended directly to God, but the response was helped by
the spirit of the Lord Jesus, His mental desire to help; and because
He is so sublimely at one with the Father, this means that the help
will surely come. The rapport between our spirit and His Spirit
is again reflected by the way Rom. 8:6,27 use the same phrase, “the
mind of the spirit”, to describe firstly the mind of our
spirit, and then, the mind of the spirit of the Lord Jesus.
There is another angle on this unity between the
believer and her or his Lord. The Lord Jesus is prophetically described
as He “that hath boldness to approach unto me” (Jer. 30:21 RV).
This is applied to us, who boldly approach the Father in prayer
likewise (Heb. 4:16). We are bidden to draw near to the Father in
prayer just as the Son drew near (Heb. 4:15,16). He wishes us to
share in the loving relationship which there was between Him and
His Father, and prayer is crucial to this.
What we have suggested so far is best demonstrated
by a case study. Lazarus had died, and the evident desire of Martha
was to see her brother again, there and then. But she didn't go
running to the Lord with this desire. She simply and briefly stated
her faith in the Lord's limitless power to resurrect, and her knowledge
that He could use the Father's power as He wished. He read her spirit,
He saw her fervent desire. And He responded to this as if it had
been a prayer. He groaned deeply within Himself, and wept- not the
tears of grief, as the Jews mistakenly thought (note how throughout
the record they misunderstand what is really going on), but the
tears which go with the groaning of serious prayer (Jn. 11:33-39).
Having done this, He comments: " Father, I thank thee that
thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always"
. Because His spirit, His mind, was in constant contact with the
Father, His prayers / desires were always communicated to Him, and
always being heard. " Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard
me" could almost imply that the Lord prayed for something,
and then, after some interval, the answer came. We have an exquisite
insight into the Lord's mind and the highly personal relationship
between Father and Son in the words that follow: " I knew (not
'I know') that thou hearest me always: but because of the people
which stand by I said it, that they may believe" . This almost
certainly was not spoken out loud; this is a very rare and privileged
glimpse into the unspoken communication between the Son and Father.
The Lord seems to be adding this almost in half apology, lest it
should seem that He prayed for Lazarus' resurrection, the answer
came, and He then thanked the Father for it. It seems that this
would be too primitive a sequence of events. He says that He knew
that His request had been granted, and His utterance of thanks for
the answer was for the peoples' benefit: that they might
perceive that whatever the Son asked for, He received from God.
But in reality, the Lord's thoughts to the Father seem to suggest,
it wasn't a question of His prayers being accepted and answered.
His Spirit, His thoughts, were one with the Father, and therefore
it was not that His thoughts were considered, accepted and then
God granted the request. What He thought was the prayer and it was
the answer all in one. His 'mediation' for us is in the sense that
He is the Lord the Spirit. There is no barrier (and was
not any) between His mind and that of the Father.
And yet the Lord's Spirit struggles in mediation
with crying and groaning (Rom. 8:26), as He did for the raising
of Lazarus (2). There is a further
connection with Heb. 5:5, where we learn that the Lord prayed on
the cross with a like intensity. And this Lord is our Lord today.
He can be crucified afresh, therefore He has the capacity for struggle
and mental effort. The Greek for " groanings" in Rom.
8:26 also occurs in Mk. 7:34: " Looking up to heaven, he sighed
and saith unto him, Ephthatha" . The sighing of intense prayer
by the Lord was His more spiritually cultured reflection of the
number one desire of that man's spirit, as was His groaning and
tears for Martha's desire to be granted, and Lazarus to be raised.
It has been wisely observed that the language of Christ's mediation
can be quite misunderstood. The picture we should have " is
not that of an orante, standing ever before the Father
with out-stretched arms...pleading our cause in the presence of
a reluctant God... but that of a throned Priest-King, asking
what He will from a Father who always hears and grants His request"
Prayer For Redemption
There is a theme in all the NT passages concerning
prayer and mediation. It is that they speak largely in the context
of prayer for forgiveness and salvation (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25;
1 Jn. 2:1). This is what we really ought to be praying for. The
passages concerning Christ as our mediator are all in the context
of Him asking for our forgiveness, as the High Priest sought Israel's
forgiveness on the day of Atonement. The description of Christ groaning
in spirit to transfer our spirit to God (Rom. 8:26) is a reflection
of the fact that we groan for redemption and the coming of the day
of the liberty of God's children (Rom. 8:22,23), when what is guaranteed
by " the firstfruits of the Spirit" which we have, will
at last be realized. " All things work together for good"
to this end, of forgiveness and salvation. It certainly doesn't
mean that every story ends up happily-ever-after in this life. "
We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26)
seems to be some kind of allusion back to the mother of Zebedee's
children asking Christ to get her two sons the best places in the
Kingdom (Mt. 20:22). He basically replied 'You know not what you
pray for', in the sense of 'you don't appreciate'. It may be that
Paul in Rom. 8 is saying that in our desire for the Kingdom, in
our groaning for it, we don't appreciate what we ask for as we ought,
yet Christ nonetheless makes powerful intercession for us to this
The requests of the Lord's model prayer are essentially
for forgiveness and the coming of the Kingdom. He gave us that prayer
in the context of the need to seek spiritual rather than material
things. We have shown (Prayer: Some Practical Points) that
what requests David made in prayer, were essentially concerning
the coming of the Kingdom and forgiveness. There is therefore repeated
emphasis that these things should form the majority of our requests.
The Lord spoke His model prayer in the context of warning the disciples
not to be like pagans in bombarding God with requests for material
things; 'Instead', He seems to be saying, 'concentrate on what really
matters; your forgiveness and redemption, praise the Father, reflect
on Him, and mention to Him your basic needs for daily bread. He
knows your humanity, and will provide'. There is good reason to
think that this spirit of prayer has yet to be learnt by us. Examine
your own prayers. Aren't they really a long list of requests? Maybe
not. But a warning needs to be sounded. The disillusion of many
believers with their God arises from this faulty concept of prayer.
If the thesis presented in these studies is correct,
some sizeable questions arise with regard to the common understanding
of prayer. Why pray at all, in a formal sense, if the state of our
spirit is all important, and if God sees and knows our heart anyway
and interprets this as our prayer? Theoretically, there is no need.
But in practice, we should pray; we are almost commanded to. But
the point is, prayer is for our benefit; the process of it will
develop us spiritually. Prayer changes things, but it also changes
us. The action of prayer does not serve to inform God of our desires,
the state of our spirit, or our specific requests; nor does the
physical mention of the name of Jesus give our prayers some mystical
power with God. If this were the case, our relationship with God
would depend on the form of words we used. The more intellectually
able or verbally expressive would therefore have a superior relationship
with God. This is evidently wrong, and is the classic mistake of
Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It is our spirit that is important, not
the way in which we articulate this to God in language. And yet,
we should pray. But the exercise is for our benefit. Israel were
told to blow trumpets at their feasts, in order that God would hear
their prayer and sacrifice, and remember them / take notice of them
(Num. 10:10). The blowing of the trumpets didn't of itself remind
God about His people; it was an exercise for their benefit. And
the God who knows before we ask evidently doesn't need our prayers
as a means of information transfer. The Lord Jesus prayed out loud:
" Father, glorify thy name" . A voice came from Heaven
saying that God had already done this and would do it again. And
the Lord told the listeners that this response came not for His
sake, not really as an answer to His prayer, but for their sakes,
that in the apparent 'answer' to His words, they might see the power
of prayer and the extent of the Father's relationship with the Son
(Jn. 12:28-30). But He knew that the prayer had already been answered
before it was prayed. And even with us, answers can come not necessarily
for the sake of the answer, but to demonstrate other principles.
Likewise the Lord asks us to pray for the Kingdom to come, not because
this means that a certain number of prayers will change the date,
but surely because the process of petition for the Kingdom is for
For Our Benefit...
In the same way, the sacrifices of the Old Testament
were not necessary to obtain forgiveness; the blood of those animals
could never take away sin. But they were instituted for the benefit
and spiritual education of the offerers, not for any theological
need which God may have had. God didn't want sacrifice as sacrifice
in itself. The cattle on a thousand hills are His, and
in that sense nothing can be given to Him (Ps. 50:8-14). And yet,
for our benefit, He asks for sacrifice to be given to Him. Paul
likewise asked the Philippians for an offering: " Not because
I desire a gift: but I desire (spiritual) fruit that may abound
to your account" (Phil. 4:17). Prayer is one of the new covenant's
equivalents of the sacrifices.
God will ultimately preserve His Truth, through
the Cherubim-Angels that keep the way to the tree of life. But for
our benefit, we are commanded to disfellowship false teachers; for
the process of self-examination, consideration of one's own weakness,
agreement amongst the faithful etc. is for our development. If Israel
hid their eyes from false teachers, " then I (Myself) will
set My face against that man...and will cut him off"
Likewise, the day of judgment is for our benefit;
the process will serve to prepare us for entry to immortal nature;
it isn't a method for God to gather evidence concerning us, consider
it, and reach a verdict. He knows the end from the beginning (as,
now, does His Son).
Preaching also is a spiritual exercise for the
benefit of the preacher. Through their work of witnessing, the persecuted
believers overcome their tribulation (Rev. 12:11). The labourers
were called to go out into the vineyard because the Lord felt sorry
for them, standing idle with no work or livelihood- rather than
because He needed them. If this was his motivation, he wouldn't
have called anyone at the 11th hour, neither would he have paid
them all the same wages if he was only using them for his benefit
(Mt. 20:4,5). God will call His people unto Himself without us doing
a thing; and yet we have a responsibility and even a commission
to take Christ to the world. The fact God will call His people to
Himself anyway does not exempt us from the duty of witnessing; and
the process of this witnessing is so often for our benefit.
Anyone who has reflected on any length of ecclesial experience will
realize the truth of the fact that so many of our spiritual exercises
in preaching and pastoral work are in fact for our benefit,
although we may feel that they are only for the benefit of others.
This is especially true of preaching: reflect how the disciples
laboured so hard to catch all the fish according to the Lord's command,
but when they reached land with all the fish, they found the Lord
already had fish and prepared them for breakfast (Jn. 21:9). All
the labour for the fish was for their benefit: not because the Lord
needed fish (cp. converts); He already had His. Paul's request for
material aid from the Philippians was " not because I desire
a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account"
(Phil. 4:17). And the physical, verbal expression of prayer is one
more example of a necessary spiritual exercise which is for our
John Calvin has some relevant words about this:
" Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about
things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of
urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray
in order that they may rouse themselves to seek him, that they may
exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may
relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his
bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they
hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things"
Does Christ Offer Our Prayers To God?
'But doesn't Christ mediate our prayers to God?',
I can hear some of you wondering, as you reflect on the suggestion
that prayer is not so much specific words, but rather our innermost
thoughts relayed to the Father by the Son. Why then do we have the
Lord Jesus as our High Priest? The answer to these questions revolves
around deciding whether the Bible ever says that the Lord mediates
our prayers to God, or that He intercedes for us in the sense of
taking the words of our prayers and somehow presenting them to God
in an acceptable form. In other words, are phrases like " We
offer Thee our prayer through the Mediatorship of Jesus our High
Priest at Thy right hand" really correct? The conclusion of
what has gone before and what follows is that they don't give a
fully correct picture.
We are told that we will no longer need Christ
to ask the Father for us, we will be able to have a direct relationship
with the Father in prayer (Jn. 16:26). We will not need to be like
the disciples, who in their immaturity asked Jesus to pass on their
requests to God (Jn. 11:22). He sees our spirit anyway, He knows
our need anyway; this knowledge doesn't depend on the Lord's mediation.
And yet against this we must balance the undoubted fact that the
Lord is in fact our advocate and interceder. The advocate identifies
with the one he helps, stands next to him, knowing his case fully.
But as Christ is our advocate, so we should be to our brethren ("
comfort" in 2 Cor. 2:7 is s.w. 1 Jn. 2:1). This doesn't necessarily
mean that we interpret our brother's words to God, but rather than
we pray for our brother, in our own words; we are with our brother,
supporting him, knowing his weakness.
So on one hand we have a direct relationship with
the Father. On the other, the Lord Jesus is our vital, saving advocate
with Him. I don't think these two aspects can be reconciled by re-translation
or expositional juggling. The fact is, through what the Lord achieved,
we theoretically don't need His mediation. He was our High Priest
to bring us to God on the cross. He no longer needs to enter into
the Holiest Place (cp. heaven) to gain our atonement, for this He
did once for all (Heb. 9:26). We should be able to pray with the
earnest intensity of Elijah or Moses, who prayed without an intercessor,
and were heard. But we lack that intensity. And therefore the Lord
Jesus holds up our feeble 'groanings' before the Father. Likewise
He is our 'advocate', although theoretically a righteous man doesn't
need an advocate. John almost writes as if 'Of course, you won't
sin, but if very occasionally you do, Jesus can act as a powerful
advocate for you'. And yet in reality, He is acting in the advocate
role for much of our sin-stricken lives.
It must be remembered that the High Priest of the
Old Covenant did not offer up the prayers of the people. Yahweh's
ears were ever open to the cry of the individual Israelite, without
an intercessor. Moses mediated the Old Covenant in the sense that
he obtained it and relayed it to Israel; his mediation was a one-off
act. This is the basis of the NT passages concerning the mediation
of the New Covenant through Christ; He did this through His death
and resurrection (Gal. 3:19,20; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Christ was
the mediator of the new covenant so that the sins committed under
the old covenant could be forgiven (Heb. 9:15); thus His mediation
is not in the relaying of our words to God, but in the sealing of
the new covenant through His own blood. The mediation between God
and man by the Lord is paralleled with His giving Himself as a ransom
on the cross (1 Tim. 2:5,6). This is the sense in which He is the
mediator of the new covenant; He mediated it once, not
in an ongoing sense. Because His mediation was a one-off act, Christ
would not be a priest if He were now on earth (Heb. 8:4). He is
given the title of priest, as He is given the title "
the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5), even though He is not now
a man. He made one mediatory offering for all time (Heb. 5:7; 7:27);
therefore He has nothing to offer now. The High Priest going into
the Holiest is also a type of Christ entering Heaven. He is in a
sense permanently in the Holiest, He bears our names always
before Yahweh; He ever lives, all the time, to make intercession
for us, all the time (Heb. 7:25). Rom. 8:34,35 suggest that the
love of Christ, from which we cannot be separated, is manifested
to us through His intercessions for us. He doesn't offer our prayers
to God all the time; He is our intercessor in the sense that He
is always there as our representative, and on this basis we have
acceptability with God, as we are in Him. This is proof enough that
intercession is not equal to merely translating our prayers into
a language God understands. We offer our prayers ourselves to God,
as men have ever done. We are, in this sense, our own priesthood.
We offer ourselves to God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5). He Himself made
only one offering of Himself; He does not offer Himself again. If
He were on earth, He would not be a priest. It is the fact we are
in Him that makes our offerings acceptable.
The passages concerning mediation we have shown
to refer to the Lord's mediation of the new covenant through the
atonement God achieved through Him. None of them associate His mediation
with the offering of our prayers to God. Indeed, several passages
suggest that the actual fact of the exalted Lord now being in heavenly
places, and we being in Him, is in fact the intercession necessary
to bring about our redemption- rather than His translating, as it
were, of our actual words (Rom. 7:25; 8:34; 1 Jn. 2:1). The references
to intercession likewise never suggest that Christ intercedes in
the sense of offering our prayers to God. " Intercession"
can be read as another way of describing prayer; this is how the
term is invariably used (Jer. 7:16; 27:18; Rom. 11:2; 1 Tim. 2:1).
Thus when Jeremiah is told not to intercede for Israel, this meant
he was not to pray for them; it does not imply that he was acting
as a priest to offer Israel's prayers to God. Nowhere in the Bible
is the idea floated that a man can offer another man's prayers to
God and thereby make them acceptable. The Greek for " intercession"
essentially means to meet a person; prayer / intercession is a meeting
with God. There is evidently nothing morally impossible about a
man having direct contact with God in prayer without any priest
or 'mediator'; the Old Testament abounds with such examples. The
fact we are called upon to make intercession for others is surely
conclusive proof that " intercession" means prayer, not
relaying the words of another to God (1 Tim. 2:1). This meaning
of intercession needs to be borne in mind when we consider its occurrences
in Rom. 8. There we are taught that we know not what to pray for
as we ought; the Lord Jesus makes intercession for us- i.e. He prays
for us- not with words, i.e. not transferring our human words into
God's language, not shuttling to and from between us and God as
it were, but with His own groanings of the spirit. We don't know
how to pray, so Christ prays (intercedes, in the language of Rom.
8) for us.
We must now consider what it means to be acceptable
to God by / in Christ, how we can give thanks to the Father in /
by the name of Christ, if in fact He is not a relayer of our words
to God (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:5). Our acceptability
with God is because we are in the name of Christ by belief and baptism.
God sees our approach to Him as that of His Son (which is another
reason why we don't need Him to be a mediating priest for us; this
would imply that we were somehow separate from Him in God's eyes).
Our offerings are acceptable to God by (Gk. dia, "
in" , on account of) Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5); by / by being
in Christ we offer to God the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).
The fact we come unto God directly dia, " by"
, through, on account of the Lord Jesus does not mean that therefore
Christ must interpret our every word to God; it cannot mean that
in prayer we cannot come directly to the Father. If this were so,
the Lord's model prayer would be seriously lacking in its omission
of any such clause which reminds us that we are praying to God through
the mediation / interpretation of Christ. If English and Greek mean
anything, the Lord categorically stated that He does not
transfer our prayers to God; through Him, as a result of His work,
we have a direct approach to God: " Ye shall ask me
nothing...Ye shall ask [the Father] in my name (i.e. because
you are located there, in that position / relation): and I say not
unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself
loveth you" (Jn. 16:23,26,27). Christ does not pray for us
in the sense of offering up our words of request to the Father;
He prays for us, according to Rom. 8, of His own freewill, with
His own agenda, not ours. The aim of His suffering and Heavenly
mediation today, is that He might " bring us to God" (1
Pet. 3:18). This refers to His reconciliation of us to the Father,
rather than His offering of our prayers. Because we are in His Name,
on account of (" by" ) Him and His work, we can pray directly
to the Father. He does not pray the Father for us.
The fact we praise God and come directly to Him
dia, through the Lord Jesus, does not mean that our words
come to the Father through the Son as if He were a sieve or telephone
line. We come direct to the Father dia, on account of,
for the sake of, the work Christ achieved. The following are a few
of many examples which give the flavour of dia: John was
put in prison dia Herodias, for the sake of Herodias (Mt.
14:3); the Pharisees transgressed the commandment of God dia,
on account of, through, their tradition (Mt. 15:3); the disciples
couldn't heal dia, for the sake of, their unbelief (Mt.
17:20); the Angels of the " little ones" dia
, for their sakes, behold the face of the Father (Mt. 18:10); because
the Pharisees pretended to be pious they would dia, on
this account, receive greater condemnation (Mt. 23:14); the faithful
will be persecuted dia , for the sake of, Christ's name
(Mt. 24:9); dia the elect's sake, on their account, the
days will be shortened (Mt. 24:22). " I thank my God dia
(through) Jesus Christ my Lord" (Rom. 1:8) doesn't therefore
necessarily mean that Paul prays to God 'through' the Lord Jesus
as some kind of connecting tunnel; he thanks God on account of,
for the sake of Christ. The very same Greek construction occurs
a few chapters later: " Who shall deliver me...? I thank God,
through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 7:24,25). He thanks God that his
deliverance is possible on account of the Lord Jesus.
Moses of his own freewill chose to intercede for
Israel, concerning things which at the time they knew nothing about;
things which were almost against their will, in fact. And this is
the prototype of the Lord's mediation for us who know not what to
pray for as we ought. Consider how he prayed for Peter when Peter
didn't realize he was being prayed for (Lk. 22:32). Or how Nehemiah
made his prayer parallel with that of the rest of Israel, and asked
God to hear it- even though he may have been asking for his
prayer and confession to be seen as that of Israel's, even though
they hadn't uttered the same words (Neh. 1:11- in this we see some
shadow of the Lord's present work for us). Moses' freewill interceding
for Israel, not Aaron's offering of their sacrifices, is the basis
of the NT descriptions of Christ's intercession for us in prayer.
Lk. 13:8 records how Christ of His own volition asked the Father
not to destroy Israel at the time He planned, but to give them longer
to repent. This was exactly the spirit of Moses' pleas for Israel.
But this is not the same as 'relaying' the words of human prayers
to God. This is undoubtedly how many of us conceive of Christ's
intercessory role for us; but is this actually what Scripture teaches?
Many of the relevant Scriptures which speak of Christ's activity
for us before the Lord God are not in this context; they suggest
that He of His own will prays to the Father on our behalf concerning
things which are on His agenda for us, not ours. If we confess Christ
before men, i.e. reveal Him to them, He will confess us, reveal
us favourably, in the court of Heaven, before the Father and the
Angels (Lk. 12:8). The Hebrew epistle stresses that the Lord Jesus
usually sits at the right hand of the Father, but Stephen saw Him
standing, in fervent appeal to the Father for him (Acts
7:55). As he saw this happening, he told the court that he saw Christ
standing there. At that moment, the Lord was not relaying Stephen's
requests to the Father; He was intreating the Father in His own
way for Stephen. The fact that the Lord " ever liveth to make
intercession" for us (Heb. 7:25) is an allusion back to Is.
53:12, which prophecies that on the cross, Christ would make intercession
for the transgressors. His prayer for us then, that we would all
be forgiven (and see the prophecies of this in Psalms 22,69 etc.)
was therefore His intercession for our salvation. His whole death
was His prayer / intercession for us. But it was of His own freewill;
He was not relaying our words then. And His intercession for us
on the cross is the pattern of His intercession for us now. This
is- or ought to be- a humbling thought.
(1) Philip Yancey,
Reaching For The Invisible God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
2000) p. 153
(2) This connection is strengthened
by the knowledge that there are many links between Romans and John.
See G. & R. Walker, Romans In The Light Of John's Gospel
(Alsager: Bible Student Press, 1995).
(3) H.B. Swete, The Ascended
Christ (London: L.U.P., 1912).
(4) John Calvin, Commentary
on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Eerdmans ed.), p. 144.