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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 28 2023

The blessing and responsibility of intercessory prayer

The Bible has many examples of those who prayed for others, most notably Jesus Christ. He even prayed for those who were crucifying Him saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do(Luke 23:34).

In his epistles, the Apostle Paul consistently mentions his prayers for others, and wrote to the Philippians, “Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy” (Philippians 1:4). In another instance he tells the Colossians he and his companions, “do not cease to pray for you” (Colossians 1:9). Paul also asked others to pray for him and his fellow workers: “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

As Christians, we ought to pray for others, both for their physical and spiritual needs. Paul’s chief concern was for the spiritual welfare and faith of those God was calling, but there is also a need to pray for the physical welfare and health needs of others. The Apostle James wrote about this when he told Christians to “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

One of the earliest recorded examples of intercessory prayer is the example of Abraham interceding for his nephew, Lot (Genesis 18:16-33). Abraham had just been told the wicked city of Sodom would be destroyed. Realizing his nephew, Lot, and his family were in Sodom, Abraham interceded with God on their behalf. First of all, he pleaded that the city be spared if 50 righteous people were found there. When the Lord said He would not destroy it if 50 righteous were found, Abraham then asked Him to consider 45, then 40, and finally 10. The city of Sodom was destroyed, but God did hear Abraham's prayer and provided a way of escape for Lot.

Moses also beseeched God for the nation of Israel saying, “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy…” (Numbers 14:19), and Paul instructed that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).

We should also pray for the world situation and the promised salvation when Christ returns. Daniel prayed for his nation, asking God to forgive the sins of his people which had caused their captivity in Babylon. Daniel chapter 9 records this remarkable prayer when Daniel set his “face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications” (verse 3), pleading with God: “O LORD, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem” (verse16).

These examples of intercessory prayer, beseeching God for others, demonstrate the role of a mediator, mirroring Christ’s role as the “Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5). Centuries before Christ’s ministry, Isaiah prophesied Him pouring “out His soul unto death” and being “numbered with the transgressors” for whom he “made intercession” (Isaiah 53:12). Christ died for our sake, and now, as the risen Christ “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25), entering “into heaven itself…to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Jesus made a very specific intercessory prayer, recorded in John 17, just before His betrayal, crucifixion and death. He interceded with the Father on behalf of His disciples. “I pray for them… whom You have given Me, for they are Yours ... .Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:9-11).

As previously mentioned, even while Jesus was enduring the agony of crucifixion, He prayed for and interceded for those who were killing him (Luke 23:34), and in Romans 8:34, we read of Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for all of us. As Christians, we are called to “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Therefore, as Christ appears for us before God, so ought Christians come before God’s throne in prayer on behalf of others. Making intercessory prayer to God for others is a defining characteristic of a true Christian.