Category: Intercession in Spiritual Warfare

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.  



Intercessory Prayer in Spiritual Warfare, Part I

In the Same Way. . .

In the last article in this Blog titled “Spiritual Weapons, Part IX,” the importance of intercessory prayer and its connections with spiritual warfare was discussed and illustrated.  In this article, we will continue to see how this aspect of Spiritual Warfare worked powerfully in both the life of Daniel and in the ministry of Jesus.

You will recall, I hope, the following passage:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  . . .Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.  (Romans 8:26-27, 34)

We saw that the “groanings” of the Holy Spirit in us are one form that prayers of intercession may take, particularly when we don’t know how to pray.  Remarkably, two accounts from both the Old and the New Testaments provide insights into how this type of prayer works.

The Story of Daniel

We read in the 10th Chapter in Daniel that the prophet is deep in prayer for three weeks, fasting and praying prayers of repentance on behalf of Israel, when he sees a vision:

I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. (vs. 5-6)

Daniel is so overwhelmed by this vision that he falls to the ground:

So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. But I heard the sound of his words; and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground. (10: 8-9)

The angelic messenger raises Daniel up and speaks to him:

 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.  But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.” (10:12-14)

This passage  provides a remarkable perspective on the spiritual realm, particularly concerning the spiritual warfare we have been learning about.  It’s clear that Daniel’s prayers of intercession for Israel have an instant effect, even though he doesn’t see the immediate result.  So often we seek instant results because of our physical limitations in the realm of the flesh.  

However, Gabriel, the angel, had immediately set out to come to Daniel, but he was prevented by one of the “rulers of darkness” in charge of Persia.  It wasn’t until Michael the Archangel came to help in the battle that the evil spirit was overcome and Gabriel was able to come in response to Daniel’s prayers.

One wonders what might have happened had Daniel given up and quit praying after only a few days!  Plus, the next battle the angel says he must fight is with the “prince of Greece,” an indication of the next earthly dynasty to come.  See the angel’s prediction in this passage:

Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince. (vs. 20-21)

This narrative from the Book of Daniel is especially enlightening in connection with the engagements we may experience in spiritual warfare.  It’s comforting to know that not only are we given the spiritual weapons we need,  and we can pray even when we do not know how to pray, but also that the angelic powers of God are fighting on our behalf as well.

Of course, this story took place before the victory of Jesus Christ over the principalities and powers of darkness and the rulers of wickedness in high places.  Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.”  And he gave us the command to enforce His victory by using the authority given to us by Christ Himself, who told us to spread His Gospel to the whole earth in His name.

In our next article, we will consider similar evidences of intercessory prayer, particularly prayer that is similar to Paul’s “groanings in the spirit,” in the ministry of Jesus.

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