Our faith is sustained by the prayer of Jesus. Rev. Stephen Coleman preaches on Luke 22 in chapel at RTS Washington.
Good afternoon, it’s a delight for me to be with you all, friends and colleagues and students. It occurred to me on the way over that I probably should have picked something having more to do with Christmas; I don’t know why that didn’t come into my mind at all. But I decided to preach from Luke 22:31–34. Let me read this and then I’ll pray. Luke 22:
Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” And Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me.”
Our God and Father, we thank you that you speak to us a good word, a word of mercy, of grace, and of comfort, that you have given us the gift of your Son and that in him we have a great High Priest who intercedes for us and prays for us and sends us his Holy Spirit. We give you thanks for your Word and pray that you would apply it to our lives, that we might love you more and care for our neighbors as you would have us. We ask this in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Jesus Reveals the Spiritual Drama Underlying the Crucifixion
These words, coming as they do on the heels of the Last Supper, take us in a way from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell. Jesus speaks these words to Peter and, really through Peter, to all of his disciples who were there gathered with him. And these words undoubtedly would have taken that joy and peace and fellowship—if you could imagine, that would have characterized that time together with Christ at the Supper—would have taken that joy and peace and fellowship and disrupted it, overturned it.
Jesus pulls back the curtain to reveal the spiritual reality that is taking place on that terrible night. In this brief exchange between Peter and Jesus, the disciples are given a picture, a glimpse, as it were, into the drama that’s taking place behind the drama. As they’re about to behold the drama of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, the drama of Pilate’s court and the drama of the cross, what Jesus reveals to them is that behind it all, there’s another drama, a heavenly drama taking place, and that is that Satan is standing in God’s heavenly court and asking for permission to destroy these 11 men. And so why does Jesus do this?
He does not do this to unnecessarily scare or frighten his disciples. That’s not his purpose here. Jesus’s purpose is very clearly to prepare his disciples for the trauma they are about to experience. He knows that he is about to die, and he knows the deep trauma his death will create for his disciples. He knows how Satan will use their sin, how he will use his own death to try to disrupt and destroy the disciples’ faith.
Jesus knows this. And as he looks out at his disciples, what he sees is the seedbed of his church. If you could try to imagine the compassion and the love he would have for these men and seeing in their eyes, as it were, all those who would believe in him through their testimony. And so he prepares his disciples for the horror they are about to face. Trying to think of an illustration or analogy for these sorts of things is almost futile. But the one I came up with would be perhaps a father, a parent, preparing to die and speaking to their children and trying to prepare them for what life will be like without them. When they have to witness the parents’ suffering and sickness and death, trying to prepare them for that, at least in some small degree.
Jesus knows that as his road to glory leads through the cross, so too will their road to glory lead through much suffering and temptation, doubt and failure.Jesus does this, preparing his disciples, and he does so with the knowledge that they will not face the sorrows and the temptations, the doubts, the sins, the failures, all of these things that lie before them, he prepares them by letting them know that you will not face these things alone. “You will not face them on your own strength, but you will face them,” he says, “with the power of my prayer.”
Jesus knows that as his road to glory leads through the cross, so too will their road to glory lead through much suffering and temptation, doubt and failure. And what Jesus wants Peter and his disciples to know here is that it will not ultimately be on the basis of their faithfulness to him, their devotion to him, their obedience, that will guarantee their safe arrival, but rather his faithfulness, his obedience, his devotion to them. It’s these things that will secure their arrival and our arrival safely to our heavenly home.
Jesus Prays for the Fallible People Whom He Loves
I want to consider with you three things we see in Jesus’s words to Peter, and the first thing I want you to note is for whom it is that Jesus prays. It’s important to note that when Jesus says in verse 31, “Satan demanded to have you,” and in verse 32, “But I have prayed for you,” the word “you” here is plural. He’s speaking to Peter, in a way, he’s speaking through Peter to all of the disciples. Satan demanded to have all of you. And so he says, and I have prayed for all of you.
And it’s helpful, I think, to remember where it is we are in our narrative, where we are with the disciples. If I had taken the time to read what immediately preceded these verses, we would have seen the disciples arguing about who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. If we had kept reading the text immediately following, we’d see Jesus’s disciples once again misunderstanding the nature of his kingdom. Even in our text, we’d say that it’s addressed mostly to Peter, we’re given a picture of Jesus’s disciples when he says to Peter in verse 32, “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
So who are these brothers? They are those who need to be strengthened. They need to be strengthened because they are weak. They’ll need to be strengthened because they will have fallen. They need to be strengthened because they will have sinned. And so Jesus’s disciples are those for whom he prays, not those who are trophies of obedience, trophies of courage and loyalty and models of great faith and great piety at this point, no. The disciples here are weak, confused, doubting, failing, wayward. But they are chosen and loved by Jesus and therefore they are trophies of the greatness of God.
Do we live lives as testimonies to [God’s] grace, willing to speak of it to others?And though he is speaking to all the disciples, he speaks to them through Peter, and this is appropriate because Peter, as you know, often stands as the representative of the disciples, just as he represented the disciples in his great confession. Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” That confession was the disciples’ confession, though uttered by Peter.
So too here, Simon Peter’s great sin, that sin of denying Jesus, represents how each of the disciples in their own way will abandon Jesus. You’ll remember that at one point they all flee. They will all forsake Jesus; they will all disassociate themselves from Jesus, and so Jesus speaks most directly to Peter as if to say, “You will be the one who will fall the farthest, and as the one who falls the farthest, you will therefore be in the best position to strengthen your brothers as your brothers wonder, ‘Does God’s grace extend to even me, someone who would abandon him in his time of need? Does God’s grace reach down that far?’“ Peter, of all the disciples, would be in the best position to be able to say to them, “If God’s grace extends to me, it can extend to you as well.”
Jesus on the same night gives his disciples that new commandment, “As I have loved you, love one another.” And so how do we think of one another in the church, in our schools, in our relationships? How do we think of our brothers and sisters? Do we look at them from a position of superiority? Judgementalism? Of “I would never do that”? Or do we look at them from a posture of fellow beggars, fellow sinners in need of the same grace and in need of it in abundance? Do we live lives as testimonies to that grace, willing to speak of it to others?
Jesus prays for doubters, he prays for cowards, he prays for the faithless, the self-confident, and the self-righteous.Remember, brothers, sister, that those in our churches, those in our communities who confess Christ, who love Christ, these are those for whom Jesus died and these are those for whom he prays. Jesus prays for doubters, he prays for cowards, he prays for the faithless, the self-confident, and the self-righteous. That’s for whom Jesus prays.
Jesus Prays to Protect His People with Power from His Finished Work
Second thing we see is why Jesus prays. He prays to protect his people. He protects his people. He protects them from the attack of an enemy who desires nothing less than their complete and utter destruction. Look at Jesus’s words. He says, “Satan demanded to have you.” Could you imagine more terrifying news, that the arch-accuser stands in God’s holy presence at God’s throne room, his courtroom and demands your soul and my soul? And he makes a passionate plea to be allowed to tear us to pieces, and we need to remember that Satan has a case, a fairly good case. It’s a case that says, “Simon Peter is a rebel, a sinner, and rebels and sinners belong to me.” “Coleman,” he says, “is a rebel and a sinner and a rebel and a sinner belongs to me.
On the day when Jesus hangs and dies on the cross alone, forsaken by his friends, Jesus knows how his disciples would feel. “God has forsaken us.” And even more so on that day that Jesus rises from the dead, and the disciples realize whom it is that they had abandoned. They would feel it all the more. “This is the Lord who we forsook.”
Jesus’s prayer . . . is a powerful prayer because it is a prayer that is attended by his own blood.“Surely, God has handed me,” they would have thought, “over to Satan.” And what Jesus says, looking forward to that experience that his disciples would undergo, says, “I have interposed my prayer. I’ve interposed my word, my requests before my Father.” Jesus’s prayer, therefore, is a powerful prayer because it is a prayer that is attended by his own blood.
You remember how the priests in the Old Testament would enter once a year. The high priest would enter once a year on behalf of the people, and he would represent the people before God. And you remember how he had to enter the most holy place: he entered with the blood of an animal, of a sacrifice. So too Jesus, as he enters into his Father’s presence in heaven, he goes to his Father on our behalf, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with his own blood. And it is on the basis of Christ’s finished work, therefore, that he intercedes for his people.
The fact of the matter is that apart from the intercession of Jesus, the continual ministry of Christ the High Priest, our flesh with its sin, our failings, the devil with his accusations, the world with their testimonies against us, all of these would utterly undo us, utterly overwhelm us, utterly destroy us. But we ask ourselves, therefore, in the face of such power, what hope do we have? And Jesus says to you and to me, he says, “You have the power of my prayer. I’ve prayed for you, I am praying for you, and I will always pray for you.”
Take comfort that as everything around you, everything in you, might speak a word against you, Jesus speaks for you.This is the reason that the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes that Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. And so beloved of God, may I encourage you with this, to take comfort. Take comfort that as everything around you, everything in you, might speak a word against you, Jesus speaks for you. Not on the basis of a hope or a wish, but on the firm basis, the sure basis, of his accomplished work.
Our Faith Is Sustained by the Power of Christ’s Prayer for Us
Then thirdly, and finally, what does Jesus pray? Jesus tells us in verse 32, “I’ve prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” That our faith would be secure, that it would be firm, that in the midst of hardships and trials of this life, in the face of accusations of our conscience and the devil, we may again turn to Jesus, no matter how far we’ve wandered, no matter how far we’ve run. That we may look again on the Son and believe and therefore have life.
Our faith, brothers and sister, is sustained by the powerful prayer of Jesus, and what this means is that our faith is also a gift of God’s grace. It’s not the case that faith once given then is sort of ours to keep alive all on our own. Now the Coleman family has not had the best luck—luck’s not the right word in this room, providence—with fish, with pet fish. When they’re given to us, they’re definitely alive. But then it’s sort of up to us to keep them alive, and we do a fair job at that.
Our faith, brothers and sister, is sustained by the powerful prayer of Jesus.But this is not the case with our faith. It’s not that God gives it to us and then says, “Here, grow it. Take care of it, preserve it. It’s all on you now. It’s in your court.” Dutch theologian pastor Klaas Schilder put it like this. He said, “The preservation of faith, too, is solely the product of grace.”
So how does God answer the prayers of Jesus? He answers the prayers of Jesus by this word that I preach. He so preserves our faith as we hear it and believe it and attend to it, the gospel of free grace, the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Through the means of grace, the sacraments: baptism, the Lord’s Supper. God has promised to do this very thing to all, for all who come to him in faith: to strengthen us in our weaknesses, to assure us that we belong to him, and to remind us that the faith that God, by his grace, has given to us is a faith that he will preserve through the power of Jesus’s prayer.
Praise be to God for that. Let’s pray.
Our God and Father, we are grateful that even your Holy Spirit makes our prayers perfect in your presence and that your Son speaks to you a word on our behalf. A word of forgiveness and mercy. A word of reconciliation and restoration. And that we might have hope, knowing that you have done all that is necessary to accomplish our salvation. We do ask that you would forgive us for our sins yet again and renew in our hearts a deeper commitment and desire to follow after Christ as faithful disciples, knowing that it is not our following that earns us our standing in your presence but Christ’s. May we follow him with joy and gladness and freedom, knowing that we’ve been bought with a price and loving Christ because of it. We thank you for this good word. We thank you for Christ, our High Priest. And we ask that you would bless us in the RTS community, especially at this time of year, looking forward to finals and the end of the semester. Would you bless every student, every professor who calls this place their home? In Jesus’s name, Amen