1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20—Series C)
“Prayers for All People”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
September 18, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Timothy 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. 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. 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. 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.
“The Prayer of the Church is so long. We stand there while prayers are said for the government and the military, for the poor and the needy, the hungry and homeless, for schools and communities, for the victims of natural disasters, for the sick and dying. It seems like the special intercession list never gets any shorter; it only gets longer. Why do we have to pray for so many people and situations? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t know? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t even care about?”
Have you ever felt that way about the Prayer of the Church? By the time we get to the prayers the worship service is about ¾ over. You know you’re getting close to the end of the service and you are maybe thinking about getting on with the rest of the day. If the prayers were shorter, we would get to communion faster, and if we get to communion faster, church will be over sooner and we can move on to the other things we want to do with our day.
I once heard a story about a prayer group in a congregation. They wanted to get together and pray for the congregation, the world, and those in need. They opened up their group to requests from the congregation and the congregation gave them prayer requests—a whole lot of them—for people in the church, for friends in Florida, for an uncle in Arizona, for a neighbor’s son in the Marines, for this, for that, and for the other. At the prayer meeting, one of the members was heard to say, “This list for prayers is too long. We’ll be here way over the half-hour we had planned. We need to put a limit on who people can request prayers for, just members of our church, and nobody else. We don’t have that kind of time to include all these extra people and situations.”
If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and me, do not pray for people, who will?
God in His mercy and grace desires that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It is God’s longing that every person comes to know his or her sinful, lost condition, to realize their helplessness to change that condition, and to repent of their sins by the power of the Holy Spirit while trusting in faith that Jesus Christ is their only Savior from sin, Satan, and death. All of humanity is on the Lord’s radar screen for forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Not one individual is ever left out from God’s free offer of grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom, not just for some people or certain people, but for all people.
“Ransom” is a word that evokes the image of the marketplace, particularly the slave market. The ransom was the price paid to purchase a servant or slave from indenture or slavery. Jesus is the One who came to pay the price for securing freedom for those in slavery to sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ Himself is also the price paid, the ransom price required to secure our freedom.
Picture yourself, and all other people, as helpless slaves, chained in the marketplace on the town green, standing on the auction block with no hope of freedom. For all you know, you will be purchased by an evil taskmaster as bad as the one in whose chains you now stand. Amazingly, along comes Jesus. He takes His place among you and the rest of the slaves. He fully identifies with all of you as He becomes one of you. Then He pays the price for your freedom, and incredibly, the price is His own life. Jesus’ precious blood is poured out on the auction block of the cross. What a powerful image! You look up and there stands Jesus, giving Himself for you, standing in your chains, shedding His blood for you, buying your freedom and the freedom of everyone else in the whole world. “You are all free!” the auctioneer says. “The price has been paid.” The eternally valuable blood of Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, and the precious treasury of His merit on the cross—this was the payment to buy freedom for you and for the entire world, freedom from all sins, from death, and from the power of Satan.
But not all people receive the gift of this freedom in Jesus Christ. Not all people are saved from their sins, from death, and from the devil’s power. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom have not been acquired for them by Jesus. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom are not available to them through the Gospel. Not all people are saved because not all people want the free gift won for them by Jesus. They reject the Gospel truth of God’s Word and the free gifts of forgiveness and life purchased and won for them by Jesus. People resist the working of the Holy Spirit through that Gospel Word. Tragically, those who reject saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord also throw away the privilege to call upon the one, true God in prayer. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ may pray to God and expect to be heard. Only Christians and the Christian Church—believers in Jesus Christ—can effectively pray.
Christians owe it all to Christ that we can approach God in prayer, presenting our requests before Him. Only when a person trusts in the merits of the Savior who won our forgiveness will our prayers touch the heart of God. We read in our Lutheran Confessions that “prayer relies upon God’s mercy, when we believe that we are heard for Christ’s sake. He is our High Priest, as He Himself says, ‘Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it’ (John 14:13-14). Without this High Priest, we cannot approach the Father” (Ap. AC V 212). And that’s what we read in our Epistle text, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” For this reason, the prayers of unbelievers, however sincere, are altogether in vain. Before a person can truly pray to God, he or she must trust in Christ alone as their one mediator.
This, then, brings us back to the questions of the day. If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and I, do not pray for people, who will? The answer is no one. Christians, the Church, we are the ones who alone can come before God to pray for unbelievers (the world), and expect to be heard for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Mediator.
Because Jesus died for all people so that all people might be saved, Christians respond to His great love and grace in their lives by praying for all people. Because it is good and pleasing to God who commands us so to pray, we offer requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people. We pray for our governmental leaders as authorities instituted by God who deserve our honor and respect even if we are in disagreement with them. We pray for the sick and dying, for the needy, the lonely, and the hurting. We pray for the high and the low in society, for the good and the evil. We Christians must do this, not just for one another in the household of faith, but especially for the non-believers. All people, but especially those who do not know Christ as their Savior, need the prayers of the Church, the very people who have the “ear” of God and are heard by Him because we have received the gift of faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
No one else can pray for people like you can because you are a Christian. No other group of people can pray like you can as a Christian congregation. You have the honor and privilege of praying not only for the Church but also for those outside the Church, for the world and all people according to their needs. What an awesome responsibility God has entrusted to you! What a joyful task we have as individuals, as prayer groups, as a congregation, to take the time to pray for all people. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes, how much time it uses up in our day, because our prayers are of eternal value. We are praying for many who cannot pray for themselves and their own needs since they do not confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are praying for many who cannot pray for their own salvation. So we pray that they too might come to the knowledge of the truth of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel.
So maybe the Prayer of the Church isn’t too long after all. Perhaps the special intercession list ought to get longer. After all, we get to pray for so many people and situations! We get to pray for people we don’t know, for people we don’t like or perhaps even care about. We are privileged to pray for people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ by faith! ‘Cause if we don’t, who will? Amen.
 Illustration taken from Just Words by Jacob A.O. Preus, St. Louis: Concordia, 2000.