I Thessalonians 5:18-Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:1-I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.
Intercessory prayer is prayer for other people. If we are commanded here to pray for everyone, then we will never have a shortage of things to pray about, right? Jesus was an intercessor. He prayed often for others. Isaiah 53:12 tells us Jesus would not only bear our sins on the cross, but He would pray for sinners everywhere. Isn’t that awesome? He willingly died for us, taking the punishment we deserved, and then He prayed and is praying for us to wake up to our need to accept what He has done!
He prayed in Luke 22:23 for Peter, that his faith wouldn’t fail when he was going to be tested. We all need people to pray for us during difficult times that try our faith.
He prayed in John 14:16 that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to comfort us and help us. What an awesome pray to pray for those who are struggling, for those who feel unloved, for those who are grieving, for those who need direction.
John 17 is the record of what is called the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. Jesus prayed that we would be one—that we would act like brothers and sisters in Christ and have a united witness in the world. He also prayed that we would be protected as we lived in this world.
Jesus is actually praying for us as we speak. That is the promise of Scripture in Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25. I want to look at one of Jesus’ intercessory prayer episodes in John 11. Here Jesus prayed at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus.
John 11:38-44 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
We don’t know the content of Jesus’ prayer regarding the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and honestly, we don’t know when Jesus prayed for Lazarus to be raised from the dead or even IF he prayed for Lazarus to be raised from the dead. What we do know is that Jesus prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father thanking God the Father that He always heard His prayers.
I don’t know if Jesus prayed for Lazarus before He even got to Bethany, as He had been out of town when news of Lazarus’ sickness reached Him. I don’t know if He prayed for Lazarus during the trip to Bethany. I don’t know how He expressed His desires to the Father regarding Lazarus and the would-be outcome. I do know that all throughout chapter 11 there is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that Lazarus will be raised. So, my guess is that Jesus had been talking with the Father about Lazarus well before He reached Lazarus’s tomb.
Since we don’t know exactly what Jesus prayed, we can’t use His prayer as a formula for our own prayers of intercession for other people, but we can see at least three things that Jesus was concerned about, three things Jesus expressed as outcomes of this situation that would be good for us to pray for others as we lift up their needs.
- Pray for people to believe in Jesus.
Look again at verse 42: “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you SENT me.”
Why is it important for people to believe that Jesus was sent by the Father? This story about the death of Lazarus really tells us more about the life and the mission of Jesus than anything else. While Lazarus’s name may appear as the heading of the chapter in your Bible, it isn’t really about Lazarus as much as it is about Jesus, who He is and what He can and will do.
Lazarus, Mary and Martha knew who Jesus was. They believed He was the Messiah. They knew His presence in the world meant that something had changed about the powers of death. Look again at verse John 11:25-27 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 (Martha said) “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Why do we need to pray for people to believe in Jesus? Because He is the way to God. Because He is eternal life. Those who believe in Him will not experience death the same way as those without Him will. If death is the worst possible thing we could face, and if knowing Jesus transforms death into something positive and wonderful, then surely life is also transformed and is better with Jesus in our lives.
Why do we need to pray for people to believe (vs 42) that God sent Jesus? Because there is a relationship between the Sender and the Sent that is critical for us to understand. When we think about the fact that the Father sent the Son, we can reflect on the heart of God as is expressed in the mission of Jesus. If I sent someone to do something for me, that person would be representing my desires, my wishes. That person would be a reflection of myself. Jesus is a reflection of the love of God that people need to see and experience. We need to pray that people will understand that Jesus was sent by God so that they can be led to discover who God is and what He desires for their life.
Jesus wasn’t a rogue prophet. He didn’t appear on the scene in order to develop a following for Himself. He wasn’t on a mission of His own making. He was sent by a loving God to demonstrate what God desires for all of us to know and embrace: There is life, eternal life, abundant life inside a relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Lord.
Galatians 4:4-5 4 But when the time had fully come, God SENT his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Jesus had been SENT by God to redeem the world and in the process, He was revealing what God the Father was like. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was meant to help those gathered there, the disciples, Mary and Martha, and several who had come to comfort them. It was meant to help them move to a place of firm belief about who Jesus was and about what He came to do.
The prayer Jesus prayed, whatever the content was, was meant to have this as the end result-that those gathered at the tomb would be convinced that Jesus had been sent by God to bring new life to all who would believe in Him. Our prayers for other people should have the goal that their faith in Jesus and in His work, should increase. More than those gathered there needed Lazarus alive, they needed to believe in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.
Jesus’s ultimate goal was not to see Lazarus live, but to see those gathered there believe that He had been sent by God.
That should be one of our goals as we pray for people. Yes, pray that they are healed. Yes, pray that their relationships are reconciled. Yes, pray that they can come out of addictive lifestyles, but pray that they will know and believe that Jesus Christ is the Answer to every problem, even the worst one we could face, which is death itself. Pray that people believe He was sent by God to show us the Way in this life and the Way out of this life. Pray that people will know Jesus in the midst of their situation and draw ever closer to Him because Jesus is the PLAN of God to help us in life’s trials. When we pray for people to believe God has sent Jesus, we pray for people to know the PLAN OF GOD.
The second concern of Jesus that I see expressed in this story, the second goal that He had, if you will, is that those gathered at Lazarus’s tomb would see the glory of God.
- Pray for people to see God’s glory. Turn, please to Exodus 34.
While you are turning there, let me say that early in the Lazarus story in verse 4, after Jesus heard about Lazarus’s illness Jesus said: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
Then later in verse 40, after He commanded the stone to be moved from Lazarus’s tomb and Martha reminded Him that there would be a horrific smell, Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you would see what I can do?” He didn’t say, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see a miracle?” No, He was most concerned that those in attendance would see the glory of God. Jesus executed the Plan of God in an attempt to reveal the Person of God the Father to those who would desire to see and know Him. We see a connection here between the Glory of God and the Person of God the Father.
Moses prayed in Exodus 33:18 to see God’s glory. God heard His prayer. He hid Moses in a cleft in some rocks and allowed His glory to pass by. Look at Exodus 34:5-95 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” 8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
Notice that when Moses saw God’s glory in all of its splendor, when he got a revelation of God’s compassion and graciousness and patience and love and faithfulness and the scope of His commitment to so many people, like the expanse of His generosity towards thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands for generation upon generation upon generation, it caused Moses to fall on His face in worship. AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED NEXT is so awesome! Because the revelation of God’s glory, is truly the revelation of God’s character, Moses felt empowered to intercede for the nation of Israel. He prayed for Israel to be forgiven. He prayed for God to strive with them and to take them as an inheritance for Himself.
Seeing God’s glory gave Moses the insight he needed in order to pray for the entire nation of Israel. There is a direct tie between our understanding of who God is and our ability to pray for others. Moses was as fed up with the Israelites as God was. He would have been happy to get away from them, but seeing God’s glory, seeing God’s character, seeing God’s commitment to love and be compassionate towards Israel gave Moses the ability to pray for them even though he wanted to wring their necks.
When we pray, “Lord, show me your glory,” we’re actually praying, “Father, reveal to me who you are,” and when we truly see God, we can start to see others through His eyes which will lead us to pray that they too, will see God’s glory for themselves.
When we pray for people to see God’s glory, we pray for people to know the PERSON OF GOD. Oh church, more than people need to experience the miracle of God in a moment in time, they need to know the person of God for a life-time.
The final outcome Jesus had in mind, as I read it, is that Lazarus, after he was raised from the dead, would go free. Jesus instructed people to take off Lazarus’ grave clothes and to let him go free. He was no longer dead. He wasn’t to look like or live like a dead man.
As we intercede for people and pray for people to know God’s plan in their circumstance and to draw closer to God’s Personhood, His character, we can also pray for people to live free as they are transformed by the POWER OF GOD.
- Pray for people to live free.
Here is the Holy Spirit piece to this Trinitarian message on intercessory prayer. Jesus is the Plan, God the Father is the Person, and the Holy Spirit is the Power to see it all come together.
What is happening here in the story of Lazarus is not only a physical, literal depiction of resurrection in order to prepare people for the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, but it is also a picture of what happens spiritually when a person accepts the Plan of God for salvation and enters into a relationship with the Person of God. There is an empowering process that takes place when the Holy Spirit gets ahold of a person and enables them to live free of the things that are associated with spiritual death, the things that are associated with the old life they had before they accepted Christ.
When we intercede for people, we can pray that they will have the power of the Holy Spirit to be transformed in their experience and to shake off anything that looks like the sinful, spiritually dead way of living for which Christ has set them free.
Jesus told those at the tomb to take off Lazarus’s grave clothes. What good would it do for him to be alive but have bandages over his eyes which would keep him from seeing? He needed to be able to see in order to enjoy life to the full. Listen, a lot of people will be healed because of your prayers or a lot of people will be blessed in some way because of your prayers, but what they need more than the answer to their prayers is to see that God was at work in their lives so that they can glorify Him in their healing and in their blessing. We need to pray for a spiritual awakening, an empowering to see God. We have a whole generation of people walking around who cannot see God because of the lifestyles, because of the sinful graveclothes with which they are bound. One of the most powerful intercessory prayers we could pray for someone is that they could see that God is at work in their lives.
What good would it do for Lazarus to be able to walk freely yet be restricted by strips of linen which would inhibit his ability to move? Lazarus was alive. He needed freedom to live. This is the role and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He gives us the freedom to live the kind of life that God has planned for us.
When we pray for people, let’s not pray for the bare minimum. Let’s not pray that they are simply healed or that they are just saved. Both of those requests are monumental for sure, but let’s also pray for a move of God in their life that removes anything from them that would hinder them from living free. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
Some here today need to be loosed from addictions to substances, loosed from sexual addictions, from shopping addictions, from gambling addictions, over eating, binging and purging habits, cutting on yourself and others kinds of traps we have fallen into. To be a slave to that which destroys your body, your mind, your relationships and your financial well-being isn’t living. Christ wants to set you free. We want to pray for you. The Spirit of God can enable you to live free.
Some here need to be free from lying and deceit, from manipulation and game playing, from making threats toward others just to try to get your own way, from gossiping and spreading false rumors about people. That lifestyle will exhaust you and drain your mental and spiritual energy. It will cost you relationships and earn you a reputation that you are someone no one can trust.
Some need to be loosed from negative self-talk and self-loathing. You aren’t the broken piece of garbage you have come to believe you are. You aren’t unlovable. You aren’t doomed to be who you have always been and to do what you have always done. We want to pray for God’s Spirit to liberate you so that you can have abundant life in Christ.
Some of you need to lay down the bullying, the drama, the cursing, and the partying that are keeping you walking in darkness. They aren’t forms of power and life. They are empty, powerless, and won’t give you any long-term satisfaction. They are graveclothes that keep you living in the shadows, in the darkness. You were made for more.
We need to pray that people will not only have graveclothes removed, but we need to also pray they will have graveclothes replaced with new clothes, new robes. People need to be clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). They need to wear His robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). They need to have on God’s protective armor (Ephesians 6).
We all know people who are walking around in graveclothes. These are people who have accepted God’s plan of salvation. These are people who have entered into a relationship with God. Yet they are still bound by their past. They are still bound by sin. They are still bound by the things of this world. We need to pray for a liberating experience with the Holy Spirit that will free them to fully live.
All you need in order to become an intercessor like Jesus is the same compassion He had. Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. It is here in John chapter 11:35. It preceded the raising of Lazarus from the dead. We see again in John 11:38 that Jesus was deeply moved. His heart was stirred. He was emotionally invested. When we are touched by the need of others, God can use us to accomplish His work as we pray these, the prayers we should pray for others. Let’s pray people accept God’s Plan of Salvation. Let’s pray God will help people have an encounter with His Person, with His glory, and let’s pray for the Spirit of God to loose people and enable them to walk out of dark, cold, and stale places into newness of life in Christ.