Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Most Christians are familiar with what Christ has done on the cross and what Christ will do when he returns in glory. What may be less clear for some of us is the continuing work that Jesus is doing for us now.
The answer to that question is, Jesus Christ is interceding for us.
He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
The word intercede means literally, to move or pass between. It is to stand in the gap between two parties. This is what Jesus Christ is doing now! He stands in the gap between us and the Father, bringing us to the Father and holding us in relationship with him. He lives for this purpose! There is never a time when he is not actively engaged in this ministry on our behalf. It is his continuing work.
Our Great High Priest
On the cross, Jesus accomplished all that is needed for your salvation. In heaven, he applies all that he accomplished on the cross to all who believe in him. And he does this by presenting you to the Father as his own! He brings you before the Father, and the Father sees you in him.
Mark Jones comments, “There is no Christian alive who has not had Christ mention his or her name to the Father.” Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for you.
We have a great High Priest who carries our names on his heart into the presence of the Father, so that the Father sees us in Christ, in his dearly loved Son. In Christ, God receives you as someone who is clothed in his righteousness. God will hear you when you pray as someone redeemed by Christ.
But what does this look like?
What Happens When You Pray
In Revelation 8, what we have is like a movie that jumps back and forth between two things that are happening at the same time—in heaven and on earth. The camera moves from one to the other to show us what happens in heaven when Christians pray on earth.
Scene One: The seals are opened in heaven.
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)
Something that is sealed or hidden, something that has been kept secret is opened up.
Christ, the Lamb, pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of what happens in heaven. When the veil is pulled back, all of creation collectively holds its breath. Then the camera moves from the scene in heaven to what is happening on earth:
Scene Two: Christians are praying.
The prayers of all the saints… (Revelation 8:3)
The saints are praying. In the Bible, the word saints is used to describe every person who, through faith in Christ, has become a child of God and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But what happens when believing people pray?
Scene Three: Christian prayers are made fragrant.
Scene three takes us back to heaven again. Something happens in heaven when Christians pray on earth! Our prayers ascend to heaven, but before they reach the throne of God, something happens to our prayers on their way up. What happens to them makes them powerful and effective.
Another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (Revelation 8:3-4)
The sweet smell of incense overwhelms the stench of anything that is stale or anything that stinks. In the Old Testament, God commanded that Aaron, the high priest, burn incense in the place where prayer would be offered (Exodus 30:6, 7). This reminded the people that they needed the perfume of God’s mercy to fill the place where prayers would be offered on behalf of the people.
Revelation 8 takes this picture from the Old Testament and applies it to what happens when Christians pray today. Perfume is sprinkled on our prayers on their way up to the Father.
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When you pray, you will often feel that your prayers are very inadequate: Am I asking for the right things? Am I asking in the right way? Am I asking with the right motives? Here we are being told that our weak, stumbling, and often feeble prayers are perfumed, so that the stench of all that is stale, unworthy, confused, foolish, or mistaken is taken out.
Our prayers are sweetened by the Lord himself so that—despite all of the inadequacy we see in them—they are made powerful and effective when they are received by the Father.
Jesus lives to make our weak, stumbling prayers effective. He stands between us and the Father. Our weak prayers are sanctified and made fragrant through the blood of Jesus, so that the stammering prayers of people like us should carry weight with Almighty God!
Scene Four: The effects of prayer on earth.
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:5)
Things happen on earth because of the prayers of believers, sweetened by Christ. When you see that, and when you believe it, you really will be motivated to pray, even when you feel the weakness of your own prayers. This is a truth that has the power to transform your prayer life.
Pray with Confidence
So friends, here is a marvelous truth that should give us the greatest encouragement to pray:
We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14)
When you feel a sense of your own unworthiness, the answer is that Jesus Christ is your great High Priest. It’s his great work to present you to the Father in himself, to supply everything that you need, and to sweeten your prayers through the merits of his blood and so to make them effective before God.
And because you have a great High Priest, there is no need for you to be shrinking back and saying, “Well, who am I to pray? I’m not worthy. There is no point in me praying because I only stumble around, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.” No! You have a great High Priest, and if you belong to Jesus, you can come to God with confidence.
So then, “let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).