William B. Kessler
The conversation quickly became more difficult. The young woman with tears running down her cheeks asked, "Where is the Lord in my suffering? Why is he silent?" If only she could see him, she said, even for a moment, that encounter would ease her pain. Many of us have had such longings. The longing of the child of God to see the Lord is natural and good. One day that desire will be realized.
And yet in the meantime we know, as weary pilgrims, that God does all things well. He is wise, loving, powerful, and good. He knows what we need, even before we ask. It is not a deficiency that Jesus is out of sight. Rather, he presently carries on an exalted ministry as our High Priest. Indeed, his priestly presence in heaven makes possible a supremely efficacious ministry that can comfort us in our darkest, longest night.
Throughout the epistle to the Hebrews, the writer demonstrates the superiority of Jesus' person and work. Jesus is superior in his offices as revealer and as priest. His mediatorial work as our High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, is given much attention. In chapter 7, the author contrasts the Levitical priesthood, with its inability to bring about perfection, with the order of Melchizedek, which is able to achieve perfection.
Those to whom the author of Hebrews was writing had undergone persecution because of their faith. As they felt the pain of rejection, deprivation, and separation, they were tempted to seek solace in a religion of earthly realities, a religion in which seeing is believing.
The Holy Spirit, however, calls his people to a religion of heavenly realities, realities beheld with eyes of faith. It confesses that the eternal Son of God has fully identified with us. It also teaches that he embraces us through a priestly act of intercession. Since Jesus lives forever as our High Priest, "he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb. 7:25). What a blessed phrase: "He always lives to intercede for them." Jesus always lives to intercede for you.
The ministry of intercession is one of ardent praying on behalf of others. The readers of New Horizons are given a prayer calendar to encourage intercessory prayer for those whose labors in the gospel are supported by the whole OPC. Scripture states that Jesus intercedes on behalf of all the church. In fact, his earnest aim is to pray for his people. A prior glimpse of his ministry of intercession is provided for us in John's gospel, in what is sometimes referred to as Christ's High Priestly Prayer:
I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.... Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one.... My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.... Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.... My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.... Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:9, 11, 15, 17, 20-21, 24)
This prayer, offered prior to Jesus' betrayal and arrest, anticipated a more glorious, exalted ministry of prayer, where he, having completed his atoning work on the cross, would stand in the immediate presence of the Father. It is there that Jesus continues to intercede with faithfulness and power, bringing about the believer's complete and perfect salvation.
Jesus' intercessory prayer serves as a source of comfort. Let me suggest four ways that it comforts and assures you.
1. Jesus' interceding on your behalf assures you of eternal life. Jesus "is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb. 7:25). Philip Hughes comments on this passage, "How can we who draw near to God through Christ fail to be eternally secure in view of the fact not only that he always lives but also that as our ever living priest he never ceases to make intercession for us in the heavenly sanctuary? With him as our intercessor, supporting us with his love, there is no force that can daunt or overpower us (cf. Phil. 4:3; Rom. 8:37)" (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 269-70).
2. Jesus' interceding on your behalf assures you of pilgrim strength, even when you fail. When Jesus informed Peter that he would be sifted by Satan, he added, "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus comforts Peter with the assurance that though he may be tested by the power of hell, he will be strengthened to turn back. When Jesus prays for Peter, it is not a question of "if you turn back," but rather of "when you turn back." When you stumble and fall, Jesus does not turn away, but prays that your faith may not fail. Jesus' intercession will be answered by the Father, who will strengthen you for the pilgrim's journey until you are safe at home with him.
3. Jesus' interceding on your behalf assures you of his love for you. If Aaron, in the old administration, bore the names of the sons of Israel upon his heart as he wore his breastpiece (Ex. 28:6ff.; 39:1ff.), then with greater delight our High Priest has our names upon his heart. You are remembered by our Lord as he prays to the Father for you. Jesus prayed for Peter by name during his earthly ministry. Is it too much for him to remember you by name in his heavenly ministry? Jesus says he knows his own sheep by name (John 10:3, 14). When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, he called him by name (Acts 9:4). Surely our High Priest knows your name and prays for you. When you think that you are alone and no one cares about you, remember that your Savior knows you personally and prays for you by name.
Furthermore, as your High Priest, Jesus fully identifies with all that you face in life. He has suffered. He was tempted in every way. During his life on earth, "he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death" (Heb. 5:7). And so our High Priest is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). He understands and has compassion for you. He knows, he feels, what you are going through, and so he prays for you.
4. Jesus' interceding on your behalf assures you of intimate communion with God. His praying for you is not pleading with a displeased, angry Father. Rather, his intercession is in harmony with the Father's will to love you and communicate all spiritual blessings to you as his children.
The culmination of blessing is to be in the presence of God, enjoying communion with him. As our High Priest, Jesus has led the way in this communion, representing us before the Father. Because he has been made like us in every way, yet without sin, our humanity is in the presence of God and receives the fullness of blessing. Geerhardus Vos explains, "Through the priest the people enter representatively into the sanctuary of perfect communion with God. Thus the priest not merely works in their interest, but also receives and enjoys in their behalf the fruit of his own labors. He dwells with God as the first heir of the blessedness to which his ministry has opened the way" (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, pp. 137-38). This blessing of being in the presence of God is now, and will be fully, communicated to you in Christ.
We are even now in the presence of God. We are exhorted to "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16). And by faith you should recognize that "you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:22-24). An intimate communion with God is yours by faith. It will never be broken, because Christ prays for you before the Father.
And in the future, you will fully experience what is yours now by faith. Jesus is interceding on your behalf in order that what he experiences fully now will be fully experienced by you throughout eternity. The goal of Christ's mediatorial work, then, is nothing less than the perfection of the covenant of grace. That goal is to be in the full presence of our God, that he might delight in us as his people, and that we might enjoy him forever as our God.
The author is pastor of Grace OPC in Columbus, Ohio. He quotes the NIV. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2006.