Beckett: Sermon – Our Mediator Who Hears Your Prayers (Thanksgiving)

Date: November 23, 2022
Festival: Thanksgiving Eve
Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-6
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; Luke 17:11-19
Sermon Hymn: LSB #782 Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings

Exegetical Statement: To restore proper order to the Church amidst the presence of false teachers in Ephesus (1:3-11), Paul begins first with urging Timothy to four categories of prayer: supplications (a humble awareness that God supplies all we need for this life), prayers (the general word used to refer to all forms of prayer that make requests before God), intercessions (prayers made on behalf of others), and thanksgivings (humble acknowledgement that God has given us our needs unmerited). Paul urges Timothy, and therefore the Ephesian Christian community, to engage in these prayers on behalf of others. He does this first by saying these prayers are for “all people,” meaning they do not discriminate with their prayers. Such people include even kings and “all who are in high positions.” Paul wrote this epistle in the year AD 65, which was during the reign of Emperor Nero (AD 54-68). Thus, Paul wrote these things during a time when Nero was brutally persecuting Christians; therefore, Christians are even to pray for wicked rulers and all who serve them (“all who are in high positions”). The purpose for such prayers is “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” At first glance, these prayers appear to be self-serving—that they are for our own benefit to live in peace as Christians, which is not a bad reason to pray. Yet these prayers are also for the good of all people and the rulers for whom we are to pray, because it is for the good of society that the Church proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, we pray because God desires “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, there is one Mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ, “who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” Christ’s ransom does not discriminate; therefore, neither do our prayers, so that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth in Christ Jesus, who is Truth. The text therefore challenges its hearers to pray all forms of prayers not just for themselves (supplications), but also for the good of others (intercessions, thanksgivings). It further challenges the hearer to pray for the wicked rulers in their day, just as the Ephesians were challenged to pray for wicked Nero. This will be a difficult word for parishioners to hear in a culture where politics is an idol in many hearts and as they will likely think of specific examples of wicked presidents, governors, congressmen/women, etc., especially with it being just a week and a half after Election Day. At the same time, however, the text also encourages the hearer to approach Christ in prayer, their only Mediator before God the Father, with confidence that He has ransomed them from all their sins, for which we give thanks.

Focus Statement: God has given you direct connection to pray to Him through Jesus Christ your Mediator.

Function Statement: That my hearers might pray regularly not just for themselves but also for others, even our wicked rulers.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Who of you would like to walk right up to the President and give him a piece of your mind, telling him everything he’s done wrong? But let’s be honest, there are far too many barriers standing between you and the President. You can’t just walk right up to the front door of the White House, ring the doorbell, and expect him to answer. First of all, the gates are locked; and if you hop over, the guards will shoot you. The Secret Service certainly won’t let you in without being vetted first. You also don’t have the right connections to talk to the right people at the right time to receive an audience with the President. Insofar as he is concerned, you’re a nobody. Who are you to request the President’s undivided attention? Sure, he’s the servant of We the People, but he’s not going to take time out of his day to listen to your complaints. How could you possibly gain access to the most powerful person in the world?

Similarly, there are barriers between you and God. God is eternal; you are finite. God is all-knowing; you know very little. God is perfect; you are a sinner. Most of all, God is holy; you are prideful. It is separation like these that make us wonder with the psalmist, “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” [Psalm 8:4].

Let’s go back to the White House. What if the President looks out his window and sees you? What if he gives the command and his security detail escorts you right into the Oval Office? And what if the most powerful man in the world listens to every single word you have to say and promises to answer your requests? This is too good to be true. It’s a pipe dream. Why would the Commander-in-Chief give you the time of day? But with Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man, you have direct access to your heavenly Father, the Lord of Hosts, the most powerful Being in the universe. You get to approach God’s throne with confidence to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [Heb. 4:16]. No vetting process, only trust as a dear child trusts their father. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s no pipe dream. This became possible on one fateful morning.

The Jews wanted Barabbas the murderer, and the Roman soldiers were bored and wanted to have some fun by torturing Jesus. Herod wanted a show. Pilate wanted to wash his hands of the matter. The high priest Caiaphas wanted death, and the executioners wanted Jesus’ blood. So, they beat Him within an inch of death and with His back lacerated, they shoved the crossbeam upon His back; and after He carried His cross to Golgotha, they nailed Him to it. And there He hung, giving Himself as the ransom for your sins.

As Mediator, Jesus ended the separation between a holy God and a sinful, wretched people on the cross. On the cross, He did only what God can do—offer a sinless life of perfection. On the cross, He did only what man could do—bleed, suffer, and die. This He did as a ransom for all—and that means you. And what is a ransom? It is a purchase. Just as the first man and woman sold themselves to sin, death, and the devil in the Garden of Eden, so Jesus gave Himself over to these enemies in the Garden of Gethsemane as the price to ransom you from that unholy trinity: sin, death, and the devil.

And because He is risen from the dead, you have direct access to God, the Lord of Hosts. Notice how many times the word “all” appears in the epistle reading: First of all, we are to pray for all people, on behalf of all, so that we may live in all godliness, for God desires all people to be saved, and Christ whom God gave as a ransom for all. You therefore have the right connection with the right Person at the right time to give all your requests to God. Therefore, Paul urges Timothy, the Christian community in Ephesus, and you to engage in four categories of prayer: supplications, which are requests you make to God to supply your every need; prayers, which is the general word referring to all forms of requests to God; intercessions, which are prayers you make on behalf of others; and thanksgivings, which are prayers of humble acknowledgement that God has given you your needs.

Because of Christ’s ransom for all people, you have direct access to the Lord of Hosts to make supplications for whatever you need. This is what you pray for when you pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What does this mean? As the Small Catechism explains, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realise this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” So, not only do you have the right connection through Jesus to ask for your daily bread, you also have many opportunities to give thanks to your heavenly Father for supplying your daily bread, such as when you pray before every meal or thank God for someone He’s given you in your life. For your Father in Heaven loves to give you your daily bread and He loves to hear your thanksgivings.

In this petition, we pray not only for what we need in our bodies, but also that we might live “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” To that end, Paul writes we are to pray for kings and for all who are in high positions—those who are in the service of our rulers. Yes, this means we are even to pray for our wicked rulers and their servants because it is also our rulers whom God uses—whether good or evil—as His means to give us our daily bread. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism:

In short, this petition applies both to the household and also to the neighbourly or civil relationship and government. Where these two are hindered so that they do not prosper as they should, the necessities of life also are hindered. Ultimately, life cannot be maintained. There is, indeed, the greatest need to pray for earthly authority and government… Though we have received from God all good things in abundance, we are not able to keep any of them or use them in security and happiness if He did not give us a permanent and peaceful government.

LC III, 73-74

So, you have direct access to the Lord of Hosts also to pray for our rulers—to make intercessions for them—whether they’re good or evil. If they are good rulers, we recognise it is only by God’s mercy, and so they are in constant need of our prayers for God’s blessings to continue. If they are evil and therefore in open rebellion against God, then we are to pray for their repentance, even when they deny the Church a peaceful and quiet life. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to pray for their kings during the reign of Emperor Nero, who is infamous for brutally murdering Christians, for example, using their corpses as light posts to light the streets of Rome! Yet just as we ask God to give us food and drink, a devout spouse and children, and to keep our household in good order, so we also pray for our good and wicked rulers; for God desires even them to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ.

Now, I won’t pretend it’s not difficult to pray for our wicked rulers, but the apostolic command is still there. We even have Christ’s command, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” [Matt. 5:44]. Ultimately, we see this displayed in Christ when He prayed for you, His enemies, in Gethsemane and even died for His enemies, just as Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Rom. 5:10]. Christ loves His enemies, and He has called His disciples to display the same kind of selfless love in prayer.

Photographer unknown. Taken near Epehy, France, September 18, 1918.

A helpful image that displays what such prayer looks like is an image I saw from World War I recently. The image was taken in France on September 18, 1918. In the image is a German army medic lying on a stretcher in the dirt, dying from his wounds. And kneeling over him is his enemy, a British army chaplain praying for him. I have no idea what was going through that chaplain’s mind, but he’s probably seen many of his own men—his own people—die at the hands of their German enemies, praying over them just as they died. And yet, he takes time out of his day in the midst of war to kneel and pray for his enemy who is dying, likely committing him to the merciful hands of our Lord. Whatever the chaplain’s experiences, I imagine it might’ve been quite emotionally difficult for him to pray for his enemy, yet he obeyed the Lord’s command.

How might we pray for our enemies, even our wicked rulers? For this, we must always go to the Scriptures. Many psalms are dedicated to praying against our enemies, but since our wicked rulers need repentance, we can also turn to the penitential psalms to pray on their behalf because only with a heart turned to God can a ruler govern with righteousness. We can pray Psalm 51, for example, changing the pronouns or even using their names as we intercede for them. It would go like this:

Have mercy on him, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out his transgressions. Wash him thoroughly from his iniquity, and cleanse him from his sin! …Against You, You only, has he sinned and done what is evil in Your sight… Purge him with hyssop, and he shall be clean; wash him, and he shall be whiter than snow… Create in him a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within him… Restore to him the joy of Your salvation, and uphold him with a willing spirit… Then he will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. Deliver him from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of our salvation, and his tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness.

For remember, the pronouns in this psalm originally say “me” and “I.” You, too, were God’s enemy. Yet Christ prayed for you in Gethsemane. “I am praying for them,” He said. “I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” [John 17:9]. You are His, and He prayed for you. Therefore, He commands us to pray without discrimination since He did not discriminate when He chose to die as a ransom not for a selected few, but for all people—for you. And now, God the Father does not discriminate the prayers you send to Him, which are pleasing like incense through Christ your Mediator, to whom belongs all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

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