Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:34 (NKJV)
Intercession is intervening
More specifically, intercession is going to God on someone’s behalf. In the Old Testament, the priests did this. It was an exhausting, messy business. Think about it. The priests handled the sacrifices for the people. It was physical. It was bloody and messy, but it was critically necessary.
As New Testament believers, we are priests (1 Peter 2:9, Rev 5:10). We have access to God through Jesus Christ, but rather than enter the Holy Place in the tabernacle or Temple, we enter God’s presence through prayer. It a holy privilege and duty, not to be taken lightly. But it is no less strenuous and sometimes no less messy.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at some intercessory prayers in Scripture to learn from them. Let’s start with Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had a tremendous BURDEN for his countrymen. A burden for others and their situations is essential to intercession. We will not pray without one.
Late in the year 446 BC, Nehemiah was in the winter palace of the Persian kings, where he served Artaxerxes as cupbearer. His brother, Hanani, visited with some men who had just returned from Jerusalem. They had gone with Ezra in 458 BC in the second return.
He asked about the Jews who had returned with them. How were they doing? How were things going? A burden for others will show in concern for their well-being.
They told Nehemiah that the people lived in a burned out broken down city. They were enduring the insults and oppression of the locals and it was making life miserable for them.
Nehemiah was overwhelmed with grief, weeping and mourning for days over the news. A burden for others makes us tender-hearted toward them.
In his mourning, Nehemiah prayed and fasted for the Jews in his homeland. It was a serious concern that consumed his attention to the point that he didn’t eat.
Here’s what he prayed:
Nehemiah 1:5 And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,”
Nehemiah is humble, not making demands. He appeals to God on the basis of God’s character, not his own.
Nehemiah 1:7 “We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.“
Again, a humble confession that God owes us nothing, because we are sinful and rebellious.
Nehemiah 1:10-11 “Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.“
But we have a standing because He has called us His people. Then Nehemiah makes his two requests. 1. Hear my pray and the prayer of others. 2. Grant him mercy in the sight of the king.
Those requests also teach us something important about intercession. Nehemiah had enlisted others to pray with him and for him. Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Intercessory prayer is a way we do this.
Second, Nehemiah was resolved to act. We must be willing and prepared to act on behalf of others if we intercede for them.
If you keep reading in Nehemiah chapter 2, you’ll see it was four months before Nehemiah approached the king. His desire act was subject to God’s sovereign timing. In the intervening time, I’m sure there was more fasting, more praying. With Nehemiah’s great burden for his people and their situation how could he do any less?
Who are you burdened for? How are you interceding for them?