The word ‘intercession’ generally means praying for someone else (although, it can also be used of praying for oneself). We are called to intercession: ‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority’ (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
Jesus is the great intercessor. He ‘made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12). He ‘is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34). ‘He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’ (Hebrews 7:25). The Holy Spirit also intercedes for us: ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express … the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will’ (Romans 8:26–27).
In the Old Testament passage for today, we see Isaiah’s role as an intercessor. Interceding for others is part of the role of a prophet (Genesis 20:7, 1 Kings 13:6, 17:20ff, 2 Kings 4:33, Jeremiah 7:16, Amos 7 etc.). Intercession was also made by kings, for example, David (2 Samuel 7:18ff), Solomon (1 Kings 8:22ff), and Hezekiah (as we read about today). Intercession is a key part of leadership – we are called to pray for those whom we lead.
1. Intercession for seekersPsalm 83:1-18
This psalm is a prayer of intercession – interceding for people to have knowledge of God’s final vindication, and for this to result in conversion prior to that final day.
The surrounding nations want to destroy the people of God (v.4). Yet, the psalmist sees this more as an attack on God himself. He refers to them as ‘your enemies’ (v.2) and states how they ‘form an alliance against you’ (v.5). This is a reminder that an attack on the people of God is ultimately an attack on God.
The prayer of the Psalm is that God’s enemies will be routed (vv.9–15). However, it is not merely a plea for destruction, it is also intercession for conversion. ‘Cover their faces with shame so that they will seek your name, O Lord’ (v.16). There is an inherent desire that others would seek the one true God. ‘Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth’ (v.18).
Lord, I pray for all those currently on Alpha, that they will seek your name, O Lord. And Lord, as we see so much opposition and attack, we pray that you will act; that you will not keep silent; that people know that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
2. Intercession for healingActs 28:1-16
I have sometimes heard it suggested that Christians should no longer pray for physical healing. It is argued that miracles of healing were particular to the ministry of Jesus and the immediate period after his death and resurrection. Some have even suggested that already in the period covered by the book of Acts miracles were dying out. However, this is clearly not the case.
When a viper fastened itself on Paul’s hand he shook off the snake into the fire and suffered no ill effects (28:3–5). Here we are in the last chapter of Acts and we read of how Paul is an example of Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 16:18: ‘They will pick up snakes with their hands’.
When Paul and those with him were in Malta they met with Publius, the chief official of the island: ‘He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him’ (Acts 28:7–8).
This is such a simple model for us to follow. First, when Paul heard that Publius’ father was sick, he acted in faith. He believed God was able to heal him so, ‘[He] went in to see him’ (v.8).
Second, he acted with boldness. Publius’ father was presumably not a Christian. Yet Paul was courageous enough to offer to pray for him, and to do so publically, laying hands on him. It might have been tempting to think, ‘What if he’s not healed?’ ‘Will I look a failure?’ ‘Will it bring the gospel into disrepute?’ But Paul took a risk. He acted in faith. He prayed, laid hands on him and God healed him. ‘When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured’ (vv.7–9).
Far from dying out, there is an explosion of miraculous healing as the book of Acts comes to an end. Luke clearly sees that this is something that continues in the life of the church. The real question is not, ‘Does God heal today?’, but, ‘Does God answer prayer today?’ If he does, why would we exclude something as important as health? Prayer for healing is an important part of intercession.
In my own experience, Pippa and I have prayed for so many people over the years. It is certainly far from the case that all have been healed. We do not pray for the sick because they all get healed. We pray for them because Jesus told us to do so. Over these years we have sometimes seen extraordinary healings. Do not be discouraged. Keep on praying with faith and boldness, love and sensitivity.
Lord, help us to have the courage to take every opportunity to lay hands upon those who are sick and to pray for their healing. Thank you that you are a God who heals today.
3. Intercession for deliverance2 Kings 19:14-20:21
Sometimes in your own life you may be faced with seemingly overwhelming problems. This is a great model of how to deal with them. Hezekiah did not despair. He did not panic. He did not give up. He turned to God in prayer.
This account of Hezekiah’s prayer and God’s deliverance is recorded three times in the Old Testament (see also Isaiah 36–39 and 2 Chronicles 32). Further, the events of this period are corroborated by Babylonian sources.
When Hezekiah received the threatening letter and was faced with a seemingly overwhelming problem, ‘He went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord’ (19:14). He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord … you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see … Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God’ (vv.15–19).
Hezekiah’s intercession begins by consciously recognising who God is. As Andrew Murray says, ‘The power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom we speak.’ When we intercede we are speaking to the one who alone is, ‘God over all the kingdoms of the earth’ (v.15). God has the power to resolve these seemingly overwhelming problems.
Hezekiah’s prayer was for God’s honour and glory, ‘so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God’ (v.19). Jesus taught us to start our prayers, ‘Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:9–10).
I love the expression, ‘He … spread it out before the Lord’ (2 Kings 19:14). Hezekiah spoke to God about the problem. The apostle Paul writes, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6–7).
The prophet Isaiah sent a message to Hezekiah saying that God had heard his prayer. He delivered the people from the threat of the Assyrians in answer to Hezekiah’s intercession.
Hezekiah also prayed for his healing. He was ill, at the point of death (2 Kings 20:1), and he interceded on his own behalf: ‘Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord’ (v.2). Again, God answered his intercession: ‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you … I will add fifteen years to your life’ (vv.5–6).
Hezekiah experienced God’s amazing blessings in answer to his intercession. However, the passage ends with a note of warning. When envoys came from Babylon, Hezekiah showed off all his treasures (vv.12–15). He appeared to be taking the glory for all that the Lord had given him. Isaiah told him that as a result, ‘nothing will be left’ (v.17). If we take the glory for what the Lord does for us, it is at our own peril.
Lord, as we look around at the state of our city, our nation and our world, we need your deliverance. You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see. Lord, would you pour out your Holy Spirit again. May we see people seeking your name again. May we see miracles of healing. May we see the re-evangelisation of our nation and the transformation of society, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.
Paul had had such a long and traumatic journey to Rome. No wonder he was pleased to see the Christian community awaiting his arrival. Even though travelling is now so much easier, Nicky and I really appreciate the kind, smiling people who have met us at airports and driven us to our destination. Wherever we have been in the world the Christian community has looked after us in amazing ways.