Today's Broadcast

His Deepest Desires Revealed

A Message by Sinclair Ferguson

The room was silent as Jesus continued praying—probably as His disciples had never heard Him pray before. Judas had departed, and Peter likely sat disturbed about the denial Jesus had predicted. We saw in the last lesson that Jesus' prayer in John 17 corresponds to the high priest's ritual prayer on the Day of Atonement for himself, his family, and finally, his community. We see Jesus moving on from His petition for the Father to glorify His Son. In this lesson, we will consider Christ's ongoing prayer as He intercedes for the inner circle of disciples (verses 6 through 19) and finally for the entire church through the ages (verses 20 to 26). In the process, as Dr. Ferguson observes, we find Jesus revealing His "deepest desires" to His Father.

From the series: Lessons From the Upper Room

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Spirit's Intercession

  2. devotional

    The Intercession of Christ

  3. article

    The Comfort of Jesus' Prayers

The Spirit's Intercession

Questions about the effectiveness of our prayers are on the minds of believers from the moment of their conversion. What does it mean to pray according to God's will? If I do not pray according to God's will, how can the Lord use my prayers as He says He will? How can I be sure that the Father hears and answers my prayers?

Today's passage deals with many of these issues, as the Apostle Paul gives us further reasons to be encouraged despite our ongoing weaknesses and our struggle with the flesh. The encouragement he gives in Romans 8:18-25 has to do with the certainty of our hope that we will be glorified. It is a future-oriented hope. Verses 26'27 provide encouragement with a focus more on our present circumstances. There is a reason beyond the certainty of our glorification that gives us reason to be confident in the present despite our weaknesses—the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit.

Due to the fact that we still suffer the effects of the fall, our prayers in and of themselves are never sufficient to make us persevere. Our limited knowledge of the situations in which we and others find ourselves, abiding selfishness, and many other factors prevent us from knowing God's will for us specifically in all its fullness. We ought to pray only according to God's will (1 John 5:14-15)—according to what He desires for us—but we cannot do that perfectly. Yet that should not lead us to stop praying or to believe our prayers will be ineffective, for God never considers our prayers in and of themselves. Paul says that the Holy Spirit takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect. He intercedes alongside us and within us "with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). Invisibly and inaudibly, He takes our prayers and makes them conform to the perfect will of the triune God. His ministry of intercession is effectual. God knows and attends to the mind of His Spirit as He prays for us (v. 27). He will always hear and grant the Spirit's prayers. We need not fear that the imperfection of our prayers and the weakness of our flesh will prevent us from persevering to the end or keep us from waiting patiently for the final glory to come. God the Holy Spirit prays perfectly, and His requests for us are always granted. In his commentary Romans, Dr. Douglas J. Moo writes, "When we do not know what to pray for—yes, even when we pray for things that are not best for us—we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit's ministry of perfect intercession 'on our behalf.'"

The Intercession of Christ

One of the most famous backsliders in the history of the church is Simon Peter. This man, who had followed Jesus faithfully in the midst of hunger, storm, and public unrest, denied Him when He made that final journey to the cross. He publicly and boldly denied that he ever had known Jesus of Nazareth. Could such a man, who had turned His back on his Savior, his Lord, his friend, ever again be confident that he would one day enter into that inheritance promised by God?

We can, of course, easily answer the question because we have a record of Jesus forgiving Peter of his sin and restoring him. But what if we did not have that scene recorded at the end of John’s gospel? What if we had no way of knowing for sure that Peter had been forgiven, only that he had continued in the ministry after Jesus had ascended into heaven? Could we, then, know for certain that Peter was restored? It might surprise you that we could.

In Luke 22:31–34, we have a record of Jesus’ prediction concerning Peter’s denial. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” A time would come when Satan would sift Peter, and he would fall under the weight of temptation and deny his Lord. But what did Jesus say about that time? He comforted Peter by assuring him that he would not lose his faith. And the reason his faith wouldn’t fail was that Jesus had prayed for him.

Peter would not fall away from the faith because Jesus had interceded for him. What an amazing thing! And it is even more amazing to consider that He prays for each and every Christian alive today. If you are a Christian, Jesus is praying for you. He is praying that your faith will not fail, no matter how far you fall.

Though Jesus’ work of sacrificial atonement was finished on the cross, His work of redemption did not stop there. He was raised for our justification and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God to intercede for us. We can be confident of our salvation because of Jesus’ promise, “I will pray for you.” We have a living hope and a living Savior, one who is praying every day at the throne of God that our faith will not fail.

The Comfort of Jesus' Prayers

R.C. Sproul

As an ordained minister, I've had experience going to the Scriptures with a number of people in order to help them see what God has to say about many diƒfferent subjects. Over the years, one of the most common questions that I've been asked has to do with the meaning of Christ's work for the security of the believer's salvation. The New Testament gives us many categories for understanding that those who are truly saved will persevere. There is the category of justification, which tells us that we have received the imputation of Christ's righteousness through faith in Him alone and that we are at peace with God—not a cease-fire that can be broken at the slightest provocation, but an everlasting peace wherein the Lord never takes up arms against us again (Rom. 5:1). There is also the category of sanctification, which says God always finishes the work of salvation that He starts: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

In the Philippians passage, we typically understand that it is God, by the Holy Spirit, who is working out our salvation in us, bringing us into conformity to Christ. That, of course, is true, but we should not miss that Jesus is at work as well. Our greatest consolation regarding our perseverance comes from what the New Testament reveals about the present work of Christ. We often speak of the "finished work of Christ," which is simply shorthand to indicate the completion of Christ's atonement—the finalization of His purchase of redemption for us, His taking upon Himself the curse of God. However, Christ's work of salvation did not end there. He had more to do after the cross. He was raised for our justification, and then He ascended into heaven, where He is seated at God's right hand, where He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords, governing creation and ruling His church (Acts 2:33; Rom. 4:23–25; 1 Cor. 15:25).

That is not all. One of the chief emphases of the New Testament in terms of His present work for His people is His intercession. Christ's priestly work did not end on the cross. Every day, in the presence of the Father, Christ intercedes for His people. If, as James says, the fervent prayer of a righteous person "has great power as it is working" (James 5:16), how much more do Jesus' prayers avail for His people?

One of the most important sources of comfort with respect to the intercession of Christ in behalf of the believer is found in Jesus' great High Priestly Prayer, which itself was a profound prayer of intercession. Remarkably, even we are mentioned in this great prayer of intercession. We read in John 17:1–9:

Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. ... For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me,for they are yours.

Look again at verse 9: "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." That's the crux of the matter. Jesus is praying for all those who belong to God, not for everyone on the planet. The Father has chosen a people for Himself—and the same people belong to Christ as well. None of them is lost except the son of destruction—Judas—who being a son of destruction, was never God's child to begin with. Those for whom Jesus prays are the people whom God has chosen, and none of them is lost (vv. 10–19). This includes not only the disciples in the Upper Room who witnessed Jesus' prayer but also those of us who believe in Him today. I said that we are mentioned in Jesus' prayer, and here we are: "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word" (v. 20). We came to believe through the words of the Apostles, and so Jesus prays for us. This is Christ's prayer. We persevere because we are preserved by our High Priest's intercession.

If we take great comfort in the intercessory prayer of a friend or of a pastor, how much more comfort can we experience from the full assurance that Jesus is praying for us? We know that Jesus' prayers never fail. He knows the mind of God perfectly. He knows what to pray for so that we persevere to the end. Moreover, Jesus says the Father will give us whatever we ask for in His name (15:16). If this is so, certainly the Father will not fail to give His own beloved Son what He asks for, and He asks for us to persevere.

The greatest illustration of the efficacy of Jesus' prayer is Peter. Like Judas, Peter had a great fall. Unlike Judas, Peter was restored and persevered in faith. Both of them denied Jesus, but only Peter repented. Why? Luke 22:31–32 gives the answer. Satan asked to capture Peter permanently, but Jesus prayed for him, and that ensured that he would repent. Jesus did not pray for Judas, but He prayed for Peter, and so Peter persevered in faith and repentance. That is great assurance for us all. Those for whom Jesus prays remain in faith over the long haul. If we believe in Christ, He is praying for us every day.

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