Intercessory Prayer in Spiritual Warfare, Part II

The Story of Lazarus

The story begins when Jesus is first told that his friend Lazarus is sick.  Jesus immediately says, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:5)  

John’s narrative makes clear that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v. 6), but when Jesus hears that Lzaarus is sick, He stays two days where He was and delays going to see him.  

After the delays, Jesus then tells his disciples that they will go see him and the disciples ask why Jesus wants to go to Judea when the Jews were only recently trying to kill Him.  Jesus responds to them saying, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep” (v. 12).  

The disciples then ask Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover “(v. 13), yet Jesus only spoke figuratively of Lazaarus’ death using a sleep as a metaphor for death.  When the disciples take Jesus literally, however,  Jesus says in plain language, “Lazarus is dead,” adding that He is glad He was not with Lazarus:  “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 15).

This part of the story of Lazarus may help us understand why our prayers may not always be answered instantly.  Why did Jesus delay?  Actually, it was to strengthen the faith of His disciples rather than discourage them.


Jesus Wept

Nearing Bethany in Judea, the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, Jesus and the disciples hear that Lazarus has been dead for four days, a length of time that seriously withstood any kind of healing, for it was believed that the person’s soul left the body completely after three days.  

In fact, Martha and Mary both individually chastise Jesus for delaying so long that it was too late for healing, yet Jesus asks them to have faith and believe.

What follows in the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is the verse nearly everyone can quote from memory because it is so short,  “Jesus wept” (v. 35).  Seekers may neglect to ask why Jesus wept?


Lazarus Come Forth!

Afterwards, seeing that Jesus is so moved, the gathered Jews confer with one another saying, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” (37)

Jesus knows Lazarus will rise from the dead.  He told his disciples even before departing for Judea that this would happen. And after arriving in Bethany, He was affirmed with Martha and Mary that he would live.  

The question must be asked: Why, then, is Jesus so moved that He weeps?  And why does He weep at the tomb of Lazarus?

Jesus knows the end of the story, so why does He weep?

The story continues, however, describing how Jesus is again “deeply moved” (v. 38), before He moves closer to the tomb and engages in a debate with Martha:

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, *said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone.

Then comes a significant moment that de-mystifies all that has occurred to this point in the narrative. Jesus prays aloud, saying, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me”(v. 41).

There is no doubt that Jesus prayed “without ceasing,” just as we are instructed to do by the Apostle Paul (I Thessalonians 5:17).  And we know that Jesus had already been led by the Holy Spirit through the gift of knowledge that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.  

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

We must ask again, therefore, why  was Jesus “deeply moved within”?  And why did He weep?  

I believe that these were indicators that Jesus was praying with “groanings too deep for words.”  In many ways, this incident mirrors what happens on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection:

And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.  (Acts 2:3-4)

Some of the devout Jews living in Jerusalem gathered nearby.  They were living there having come from many different countries, or “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5),  Hearing the believers speaking after being filled with the Holy Spirit, these Jews exclaim, “we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God” (2:11).  Yes, some heard their own languages in the prayers of the believers as they spoke in tongues, but these Jews heard the believers speaking the “mighty deeds of God.”

This story reveals two very significant truths.  

First . . .

First, this “speaking in tongues” is a powerful spiritual gift, listed by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12:10.  

Cessationist teachers, however, those who teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit passed away when the apostles passed away, have taught against the use of this one gift in particular and even forbidden its use.  Therefore, they have deprived the Church of a powerful tool for prayer and personal edification (see I Corinthians 14:4), especially when we do not know how to pray.  

Yes, Paul preferred the gift of prophecy in church services, but not because he was denouncing the gift of tongues.  He wrote,

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (I Corinthians 14:18-19)

He was merely emphasizing the fact that in church services all present needed to be considered and edified, with none left out.   He states that everything needs to be done decently and in order.

In fact, Paul writes that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else, while adding that “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” while one who prophesies edifies the church.  He concludes, “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy” so that all may learn and all may be edified (I Corinthians 14:3-5).

Second. . .

Second, this “speaking in tongues” is not ecstatic gibberish, but prayer to God.  Nor is it a “message” from God to His people.  Rather, it is similar in essence to the “groanings too deep for words” description in Paul’s letter, the groanings of intercessory prayer.  



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