March 20th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
John 17:9, 20
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 17:9, 20
3-20-83 8:15 a.m.
God love them, God love you, and the Lord bless each one of you listening and sharing this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Intercessory Prayer. In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, which is an intercessory chapter, our Lord’s high priestly prayer, in verse 9 of John chapter 17, our Lord says, “I pray for them…for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. I pray for them” [John 17:9]. Then in the twentieth verse of the same seventeenth chapter of John, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word” [John 17:20]; and that prayer comes down to us and includes us; our Lord’s intercessory remembrance of us.
As I prepared this message, I came to the conclusion that you could almost tell the story of our Savior in His praying. The Gospel of Mark in the first chapter starts off with our Lord in Capernaum [Mark 1:21]; and the disciples are seeking Him. Finally they find Him praying [Mark 1:35-37]. On the other side of the Sea of Galilee, because of His great miraculous power, the people sought to make Him a king [John 6:15]. They could overcome the Roman yoke; they could find victory in revolutionary contest with the empire itself if they had Jesus. Here’s a man that could feed an army on a few loaves and a few fishes, and here’s a man who could raise a soldier who was killed from the dead. They sought to make Him a king. That pleased the disciples, and they egged it on. But the Lord sent them away; the Lord sent the disciples away, and Himself departed into a mountain alone and apart to pray [Matthew 14:23].
Before He chose the twelve apostles, Luke says that our Lord prayed all night long [Luke 6:12]. Imagine out of such humble peasants to choose a Peter and a John and a Matthew. Our Lord prayed when the Greeks came to see Him, representing the cultural world, the civilized world [John 12:20-21, 27-28]. Our Lord greeted them and all involved in the worldwide message of salvation; the Lord prayed. Our Lord prayed before He blessed the loaves and the fishes [Mark 6:41]. Our Lord prayed before He opened the eyes of the blind [Mark 7:34 (deaf)]. Our Lord prayed before He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:41-42]. Our Lord prayed when He looked into the face of Simon Peter and said, “Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat . . . But when you are converted, when you come back, strengthen the brethren. I have prayed for thee” [Luke 22:31-32].
Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane [Matthew 26:39-42]. Our Lord prayed on the cross [Luke 23:34]. Our Lord prayed as He ascended up into heaven, reaching forth His hands in blessing upon the watching, waiting disciples [Luke 24:50-51]. And according to Hebrews 7:25, which is one of the great verses of the Bible, “Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” What a tremendous emphasis upon intercessory prayer in that verse—our Lord, one great mighty act of dying, after three years of ministry [Matthew 27:32-50], and now over almost two thousand years of intercessory prayer [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. I wish I could have heard the Lord as He looked into the face of Simon Peter and said to him, “I have prayed for thee” [Luke 22:32]. But according to Hebrews 7:25, our Lord today remembers us in intercessory prayer. Doubtless we could not stand before the onslaughts of Satan if our Lord did not intercede and stand for us in heaven.
And our Lord seeks intercessors. God searches for men and women who can pray. I just see, just watch, nobody explains anything; we just see how God does, how He makes His universe, how He runs this world. We don’t explain it; we just see it: the seasons as they come and go, the sun that shines, the laws of the harvest. One of the things that God has done in His universe is, He seeks prayers, and He answers prayer, and if there are no prayers and if there are no intercessors, God visits judgment upon the people. I turn in my Bible to Isaiah 59, and I read in verses 15 and 16, “Truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey…and I saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor” [Isaiah 59:15-16].
I turn the page of this prophecy of Isaiah to chapter 63, verses 4 and 5: “For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart…and I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold” [Isaiah 63:4-5]. The next chapter, chapter 64, verses 6 and 7: “We are all as an unclean thing, and our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee” [Isaiah 64:6-7]. I turn the page to the prophet Joel, prophet Joel, chapter 2, verses 16 and 17:
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, Where is thy God?
As you know, there was no intercessor to pray, and the Lord’s righteous judgment carried away the people into captivity, destroyed the nation, destroyed the Holy City, destroyed the temple of worship; because there were no intercessors [Isaiah 64:7].
When we look at our assignment today, we are brought to our knees. We can’t help but feel our need of God’s help in the assignment that is given to us. We need praying for ourselves; we need it. How many times do we find the apostle Paul beseeching his brethren to pray for him?
- In Romans 15:30, “I beseech you, brethren, for Jesus’ sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive in prayer to God for me.”
- I turn again to Ephesians, the last chapter: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…for me” [Ephesians 6:18-19].
- I turn the page again to Colossians, the last chapter: “Continue in prayer…withal praying for us” [Colossians 4:2-3].
- And I turn the chapter to Thessalonians, the last chapter: “Brethren, pray for us” [1 Thessalonians 5:25].
- And in 2 Thessalonians, the last chapter: “Finally, brethren, pray for us” [2 Thessalonians 3:1].
- And I don’t take time to read 2 Corinthians 1:11 and Philippians 1:19 and Philemon 1:22 where the apostle pleads that they remember him in prayer.
Our assignment is so enormous that we can’t help but fall on our faces before God as we face what God has laid upon us to do.
Praying for our lost world; I don’t even know how to begin to intercede for the lost of the world. There are more than two million who die every month in one nation alone—China—without Christ. How do you pray for them?
Our nation stands in the need of prayer. There is a disintegration in the American republic that is evident on every side. Our nation needs praying for.
How do we run our church without prayer? God has ordained that our power and our strength be found in intercession, in prayer [Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1]. We have a prayer ministry here at the church that goes on twenty-four hours every day, seven days a week, but we need intercessors; we need people to volunteer to pray. And we stand in the need of prayer before the humblest, smallest little child. How can we convert anyone? I never feel so inadequate as I do when a little child is brought to me. As long as I have been in this ministry, and as much training as I have had for it, yet in the presence of the smallest, littlest child, how could I convert or regenerate a soul? I am cast upon the mercies of the Lord.
A call to prayer, I cannot sleep;
A midnight vigil I must keep.
For God doth call, I hear Him speak
“To prayer, to prayer, I but repeat;
The need of such is everywhere.
It fills the earth, it fills the air;
The urgent need of urgent prayer.
To bended knee, to bended knee,”
God’s call to you, God’s call to me.
Because what is and is to be,
Shall reach throughout eternity.
Dear friends I say, again I say,
A truth has burned in my heart this day:
It’s the need of prayer, let come what may;
We can ne’er overcome, until we pray.
Awake, awake, ye saints awake;
Your place of prayer, believe and take.
Stand in the breach for Jesus’ sake
‘Ere souls be lost, too late, too late.
[“To Prayer! To Prayer!” Fred Page, 1947]
Standing in the need of prayer; and this is one ministry in which all of us can share, all of us. We may not all be gifted in certain ways, maybe not endowed from heaven with certain appointments and talents and gifts, but there is one ministry into which all of us can enter, and that is to bow before our Lord and pray.
There are not verses more meaningful in the Bible than found the last two of the fourth chapter of Hebrews, Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we have not an High Priest,” in heaven, up there before God’s throne of grace, “We have not an High Priest who cannot be moved, touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find help in time of need.” Boldly, we are invited and encouraged to come boldly. It is a ministry into which all of us can enter.
Announcement is being made about our pre-Easter services. For many, many years, as you remember, they were conducted in the Palace Theater. And the first year that I came to be undershepherd of this church, after the death of the great pastor Dr. Truett, the first year I was preaching at the Palace Theater in those pre-Easter services, and after that one midday hour, beautiful day, I was walking out of the theater toward Elm Street through the main corridor. And as I walked through the corridor, I saw a little wisp of an old woman, bent over, standing there. And when I came to her, she spoke to me, and I paused and visited with her for the moment. And she said that because she was so crippled and so old, she couldn’t come to church; but, she said, she so wanted to see her new pastor, and a friend and a neighbor because of the beautiful day had brought her to the theater that noonday in order for her to see her pastor, her new pastor. Then she said, “I am so poor and so old and so crippled that I can’t help you. How I wish that I could.” Then she added, “All I can do is just pray for you.” I put my arm around her dear old soul, and I said, “All you can do is just to pray?” I said, “Dear, dear, precious saint of God, that’s more than everything else put together besides.” Pray: all of us can enter into that ministry. We can get on our knees, we can get on our faces, we can shut the closet door, and we can pray. It is the source of the power of God in our work for Him.
May I point out, in these few moments that remain for me, what intercessory prayer will do? First, what it will do for us who pray. I was given a tract, and I had never read anything like this:
The farmer’s wife told me that her husband was out in the barn sorting sheep. So I went out to see how he did it. Seeing I was interested, the sheep man came over by the door of the barn. He wiped the perspiration from his face. “Working with sheep,” he said, “takes lots of patience. Sometimes we have a hard job to get some of the little lambs started taking milk from the mother. They can’t find the milk, so we have to help them. Now, a hired man usually doesn’t like to bend down to help them. He tries to kick them around to the mother’s side. But that is no way to do. I always get down on my knees with the lamb; then it is easy to help the little thing, and soon he learns. But you just have to get down on your knees. There is no shortcut. You have to get down on your knees if you’re going to help the little lambs.”
Then the pastor writes,
A true shepherd knows what it is to get on his knees with the lambs: it is hard to kick a lamb when you’re on your knees for them in the presence of God.
I never had heard of anything like that.
A hired hand working with the sheep just kicks the lamb to the side of the mother, but a true shepherd will get down on his knees and work with the little lamb that it might learn to nurse. And it is hard—he says—to kick a lamb when you’re down on your knees.
And I thought about us: if we were down on our knees, praying for others, it’d be hard to kick them, to criticize them, to be caustic, to belittle, when you’re down on your knees praying for them. It changes us; we become somebody else when we pray for these that God has placed upon our hearts. The results that come of intercessory prayer: it’s a miracle what happens when we pray for these who maybe are our enemies. Our Lord said in the fifth chapter of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, we are to pray for those who hate us, and we are to bless those who despitefully use us [Matthew 5:44]. And when He was dying on the cross, He did that [Luke 23:34]. And the profound effect that it had upon the Roman soldiers, and particularly the centurion, is the same effect it has upon us today: our Lord prayed that God would forgive those who were driving nails through His hands and His feet.
When the Lord God Jesus said to Saul, “Saul, it is hard for you to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:5], what did He mean? He was referring to the fact that Saul of Tarsus had never seen a man die like Stephen. Saul was presiding over the execution, the stoning of Stephen [Acts 7:58]. And he lifted up his face, did this first martyr Stephen, and it was like the face of an angel [Acts 6:15]; and he asked God to lay not the sin to their charge [Acts 7:60]. And Saul couldn’t forget it. When he went to bed at night, the face of Stephen was before him. When he tried to read his Bible, the face of Stephen was on the pages of the scroll. When he walked through the hours of the day, there was the memory of Stephen haunting him. How would you forget a man like that? It has a profound effect upon those who dislike us.
May I say one other thing? It is our great instrument, power of bringing people to the Lord. I read some statistics this week in preparing this sermon. I am not encouraged by many of them. Practically no one, the statistician says, is converted to Jesus listening to the radio or watching television; the percentage is almost infinitesimal—and the same way about all the other things that the church engages in—but the statistician said practically all of the people that are won to the Lord are won through personal, family, friend, intercessory appeal, invitation; family members and close friends, practically all of them. Well, I look at my own life; that’s true with me. I’ve done this world without end in the years of being a pastor. How many of you were won to Jesus by somebody? Or how many of you were won by listening to the radio or even by listening to the preacher? Practically everybody will raise his hand: “I was won to Jesus by somebody.”
I was in a conference in Canada, and two laymen took me to dinner. And just interested in them, I said to the first layman, “How is it that you came to be a child of God?”
And he said, “I went to see my mother in Vancouver, British Columbia, and she insisted that I go with her to church. So I got up Sunday morning and went with my mother to church.” And he said to me, “As I sat there, I wondered at the inanity of these people. Why are they here? And why would they come? It was meaningless to me, but on account of my praying mother I attended church while I was visiting her those several weeks in Vancouver, British Columbia.” Then he added, “I don’t know how to say it, and I don’t know how to describe it, but one night I got out of my bed, and knelt down by the side of my bed, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart, and He did; and I was saved.”
So the other one, he said, “When I was nine years of age, I was under deep conviction. And I went to my father, weeping, saying that I was a lost sinner, under deep conviction. And my stern father said to me, ‘Son, you don’t understand; you are too young.’” He said, “For years and years after that, I never felt, never, any word from heaven. Then,” he said, “I married a beautiful Christian wife, and we have several beautiful, precious Christian children. And they prayed for me, and when I was forty-two years old that feeling came back, and I gave my heart to the Lord.”
Then he said to me, “My mother died a month ago. And as I sat by my mother, the last thing she said to me was this: she said, “Son, when your father died, your father said to me, ‘Sweet wife, you and I made a terrible mistake. When that boy was nine years old, and I sent him away, wife, that was the biggest mistake of my life.’ That’s the last thing that your father said to me, and son, I want to say the same thing to you. Son, I ask your forgiveness. We made the biggest mistake of our lives when you were nine years of age and we sent you away; you were ‘too young.’”
O Lord in heaven! First of all, how we need fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors, to pray, to pray; and how we need to be sensitive to those who are touched by the Spirit of God in answered prayer.
And may the Lord, in this precious moment this morning, through the loving remembrance of others who have invited you to Jesus, may the Lord’s Spirit have free way in your heart. “I’m coming today, accepting Jesus as my Savior,” or “I’m coming today to put my life in the circle of this dear church,” or “I’m answering some call from heaven. God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life.” On the first note of the first stanza, welcome, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.