Prayer

Are You a "Modern-Day Jonah"?

 When was the last time you prayed for President Obama? When was the last time you prayed for Secretary of State John Kerry? When was the last time you prayed for Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg? America’s leaders have threatened religious liberties and promoted laws that undermine biblical principles. Our leaders need our prayers. If our leaders need our prayers, why don’t we pray? Do you not pray for our leaders because we do not know we are supposed to? Or because we do not see its value? Or maybe we don’t pray for our leaders because we do not want God to show his mercy and compassion to those we disagree with?

We may be “modern-day Jonahs[1]” who are unwilling to follow God’s Word because we do not like those who God wants us to help. After God brought Nineveh to repentance and relented of the coming disaster, Jonah was exceedingly displeased and very angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah knew that Lord’s desired to extend his compassion, but he did not want Him to extend it to Nineveh. I wonder how many Christians do not pray for President Obama because they don’t want God to extend him mercy.

Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to teach him how the church ought to behave as the household of the living God. After charging Timothy to wage the good warfare he begins to lay our practical instructions for the church to live as his representatives in the world. The first instruction Paul gives is to pray for all people.

The Prayers for the People

            Paul begins, by saying, “First of all.” The first thing that the church must do to wage the good warfare is to pray. 1 Timothy 2:1-2,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

He lists various types of prayers. Supplications indicates a deep spiritual need, prayers are a general term for all request for God, intercessions focus on prayers made for believers and thanksgiving gives a motivation for asking in one’s prayer to God. The goal is not to provide specific kinds of prayers, but to underscore the importance of all kinds of prayer for all kinds of people. Notice who the prayers are offered, “all people.” Prayer shows our trust in God’s power. Prayer is humbling ourselves before God.

            We are to pray for all kinds of people. We are to pray for our families, our friends, and the members of our church. We are to pray for our enemies, our lost neighbors, and those who persecute us. After exhorting us to prayer for all people, we are exhorted to prayer for our national leaders, in their context, “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Do you remember who their leader was? Nero. A Roman emperor who is remembered for his intense persecution of Christians. The 1st Century Christians did not approve of Nero’s practices, but they prayed for him. They prayed for him because God told them too. When Peter and the apostles were charged not to speak of the resurrection of Christ, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Beloved, we must obey God. Pray for your leaders: The President, the Supreme Court, Congress, School Principals, the City Council, and all who have influence over others.

            And here is what we are supposed to pray, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We pray for governments that they allow Christians to freely practice their faith in Christ. Persecution was very intense in the first century. Paul wanted the government to allow believers to live out their faith before the world. He wanted peace for the church so that she could flourish. If the church flourishes, the gospel advances. The free proclamation of the gospel will cause people to hear and believe and receive eternal life.

America has experienced the freedom of proclamation without the threat of harm. Let us not forsake the great privilege that we have and let us pray for our government that we are able to keep it. And let us pray for our brothers and sisters under totalitarian regimes who do not possess the same freedom as we do. AB Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, “was said to wake up in the morning, bow on his knees, clutch a globe, and weep in prayer[2].”

The Pleasure of the Savior

            There is another motivation other than peace. We pray for all people because it pleases Jesus Christ. “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) Jesus is pleased when his people live honorable lives before the watching world. Jesus is pleased when his people who are zealous for good works proclaim the excellencies of the gospel. It pleases Jesus because he desires all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. There is salvation in no one else. Jesus delights in salvation.

            First, we want Jesus’ desires to be our desires. We should desire all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. We should desire democrats and republicans, sex slaves and slaveholders, Islamic extremists and Syrian refuges, as well our children and neighbors. We should desire all people to be saved because this is the declared will of Jesus. The same language is in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.: Verses like may create a question like, “If salvation is the clear desire of Jesus, and Jesus is sovereign over all, then why are all people not saved?” We know that faith only comes through repentance and faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we know that not everyone believes in Jesus so we know that not everyone is saved. How can we make sense of this?

            Theologians have proposed that there are two wills of Jesus: a decreed and declared will. Moses writes, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) One pastor explains that, “His decreed will involves what He ordains to take place in the world, while His declared will includes what He commands and makes known in His Word.[3]” We have to hold fast what is clear in Scripture. We know God has said, “Do not murder,” and yet we know that it was His will to murder His Son to pay for our iniquity (Ex,20:13, Isa. 53:10, Acts 2:23).

God’s decreed will can never be thwarted. We see this throughout the Bible and clearly here in Daniel 4:34b-35,

“for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

God does not tell us everything, but we know that nothing can stop his will. He works all things to the counsel of this will. John Piper points out,

God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28)[4].

God does not reveal to us everything, but we know that Jesus desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And therefore, we should love all people and desire them all to be saved. We are called to obey his revealed will and leave the secret things to God. He will reveal all things in His own time.

The Price of the Mediator

            Whenever one sees salvation, they will also see judgment. God delights in the salvation of people, but salvation comes at a price. It comes at the price of the death of the Son of God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) This is an amazing verse. First, there is one God. All people everywhere need to honor God for He and He alone is their Creator. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is one Sovereign Creator over this world and that is Yahweh Elohim, the Creator and Covenant God of Israel.  Second, there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. God is holy and righteous. He stands opposing sinners and sin. No one who is unrighteous can stand in his presence. Fear and terror should come to heart of everyone who stands before God, Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

            Thanks be to God that He has made a way for us to come to him. We have been reconciled, ransomed back to God because the righteous came for the unrighteous. Jesus is the perfect and only substitute for the salvation of sinners. Jesus was fully God so he was able to stand as a righteous sacrifice. Jesus was fully man so he was able to stand in the place of sinners as a representative of rebellious humanity.

Theologians call this the hypostatic union which speaks of the two natures of Christ which became orthodox doctrine at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Jesus and Jesus alone is uniquely qualified as the mediator between God and man. He was always divine and in his incarnation, he added humanity to nature giving us the “God-man, Christ Jesus.” And notice what this God man did, “he gave himself as a ransom for all.” Jesus gave his life no one took it from him. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18)

            Our Savior paid the ultimate price to buy us back from the grave. He paid the price of blood for Scripture is clear that without the shedding of blood there is not the forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). A ransom is the price paid to buy back a prisoner or a slave. Our mediator gave his life as a ransom for all to buy us back from slavery to sin and death. And He died for all. He died so that now anyone who would turn from their sins and trust in Christ would be forgiven. If that is true, then, why would we not want to herald this message?

The Preacher of the Lost

            The church has a message to proclaim. We are witnesses of the gospel. We share the testimony of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Paul reminds Timothy of why he was willing to endure so much persecution and why he would give himself to those he once despised. “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:7) We follow in Paul’s footsteps. We must herald the gospel of Christ. We must preach.

            We pray that the government will allow us to preach freely. We pray for the power and passion to preach freely so that Jesus would be pleased. And we preach because there is salvation in no one else and no other name under heaven which men can be saved because there is one mediator between God and man. We have been entrusted with the beauty of the gospel. The King of the university has set us apart to be used to call people out of darkness and into his wonderful light. We have the great privilege to point people to the only true and lasting hope in the world.

            So we pray for all people. We pray for our leaders. We pray for the pleasure of our Savior. We pray because we desire all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If the end goal of our prayers is God’s glory and delight, then why would we not pray, even for our president? Let us not be “modern-day Jonahs”, but let us obey God and beseech him in prayer for all people that His name would be glorified and his salvation would extend to the end of the earth.

 

[1] I received this idea from Jonathan Parnell’s article that can be found here http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/three-reasons-to-pray-for-president-obama accessed 2.17.16

[2] David Platt in Christ-centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1&2 Timothy and Titus page 26

[3] Ibid. 28.

[4] https://www.monergism.com/topics/god%E2%80%99s-attributes/decree-god accessed 2.17.16