************ Sermon on Romans 8:26-27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 5, 2005
"The Spirit Intercedes for Us"
I The Prayer Weakness
A Christians pray. That is one of the ways the children of God distinguish themselves from the children of Satan. In fact, God's children pray constantly. The Apostle Paul can say:
(Rom 12:12) Be ... faithful in prayer.The Apostle sees prayer as being an important part of the Christian life. Christians, by definition, are praying people; they are prayerful people.
(Phil 4:6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
(1 Thess 5:17) Pray continually.
B In this light it is startling, to say the least, to hear Paul say in our text that we Christians "do not know what we ought to pray for" (vs 26).
What does this mean?
In mind here are the many sincere Christians who become tongue tied when it comes to prayer, especially public prayer. These Christians, for some reason or another, are completely at a loss about how to pray or what to pray for.
In mind here are also those times when God's people are confused about what to pray for. I think of someone so full of cancer that doctors give him 2 months maximum to live. He is ready for death and hopes he will die without experiencing too much pain. It is hard to know what to pray for in this situation: do you pray for healing, or a painless death, or God's grace to see him through the pain? Family and friends do not know "what we ought to pray for."
The Apostle has in mind more than just being tongue-tied or being confused. He reminds us, perhaps I can say he even warns us, that even in our prayers for material and physical needs we really don't know what we ought to pray for. You see, when we pray for our needs we often run the risk of dictating to God what we think He ought to do; often times we end up praying for what we want or what we think we need instead of for what God knows we need.
In prayer, then, one sometimes does not know what to pray for.
C The Apostle calls this a "weakness." It is a prayer weakness. Christians have this prayer weakness because in this body and on this earth we are subject to the sin and brokenness of this present age. That's why some Christians stutter and stammer their way through prayer. That's why in some situations we simply do not know what to pray for. That's why our prayers often dictate to God our wants instead of what He knows to be our needs.
Christians also have this prayer weakness because our salvation is not yet a full reality. Christians, in this present world, are a bit like customers in a restaurant ordering a meal without really knowing what is on the menu. What exactly does a customer ask for when he doesn't know what is available? You see, we have to live by hope or by faith and not by sight (cf Rom 8:25) so we cannot really understand the totality of our salvation. Such things as adoption as sons (8:23), the redemption of the body (8:23), the inheritance of glory (8:17), freedom from the law of sin and death (8:2), and no condemnation (8:1), are beyond our full comprehension. Yes, we do have the Spirit of God within us as a down payment, a kind of "firstfruits" of all this (8:23). Yet, we lack not only the fulfillment but also the full knowledge of what this fulfillment will be like. In such weakness we need help in knowing what to pray for. What exactly do we ask for when we don't really know what is available?
II The Prayer Helper
A Our text tells us "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (vs 26).
How, in what way, does it do this?
Our text tells us: "The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."
As Romans 8 makes clear the children of God have two divine Intercessors. According to verse 34 Christ is our Intercessor in heaven (cf also Heb 7:25; I Jn 2:1); and, according to our text, the Holy Spirit is the Intercessor in our heart.
B Our text starts off with the phrase, "In the same way," or as the RSV and the KJV puts it, "Likewise." In the same way as what? Like what? What is the point of comparison here?
The key word here is "groan." We find this word three times in Romans 8:18-27. In each instance the groan is tied in with hope: it expresses an intense longing for the full realization of what is being hoped for.
First, in verse 22 the Spirit-inspired Apostle portrays the Creation itself as groaning, as in the pains of child-birth, for its freedom from bondage to decay. Second, says Paul,
(Rom 8:23) we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.And, third – Paul says "In the same way" or "Likewise" – "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (vs 26).
The Spirit pleads on our behalf with groans. The "groans" of the Spirit do not imply any kind of human prayer. The Spirit's intercession is so perfect it is beyond expression by words.
C A close examination of verse 27 reveals to us that the Spirit does not wing His groaning on our behalf directly to heaven; the Spirit does not bring His intercession to heaven apart from or separate from us. Rather, He puts His perfect prayers within our hearts. After all, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19; cf 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16). So He enters into union with the believer and sanctifies his or her prayers so they are fit and proper.
D What might be the content of the Spirit's groaning intercession on our behalf? What is the content of the prayer the Spirit puts within our hearts?
The word "groan" indicates to us that the Spirit's intercession concerns our future hope. Above all, then, the Spirit petitions God about the fulfillment of His promises and the complete realization of all the joys of salvation. He prays that God will bring to completion or fulfillment our adoption as sons (8:23), the redemption of the body (8:23), the inheritance of glory (8:17), freedom from the law of sin and death (8:2), no condemnation (8:1). On our behalf the Spirit intercedes with God to make all this real in our lives.
That's not all, of course. The Spirit also intercedes with God about all our needs, physical as well as spiritual. As almighty God He knows those needs better than we ourselves do. He knows when we are blue and depressed and need lifting. He knows when we are wavering in the faith and need strengthening. He knows before we ourselves know what sins we must confess and need forgiveness for. He knows we need food, drink, clothing, shelter. He knows our hurts, our concerns, our trials, our insecurities. He knows all these and presents them before the Father in a fit and proper way, in accordance with the Father's will.
"The Spirit helps us in our weakness ... the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."
III The Prayer Listener
A The Apostle James tells us that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b). In saying this, he is telling us that the prayer of a man, woman, or child of faith is powerful and effective. As an illustration of this he directs our attention towards Elijah. From Elijah we learn how great is the power of prayer. We learn that prayer can shut the heavens and cause a drought. It can open the heavens and send down rain. It can send down fire from heaven. It can save a condemned city. It can stop fire. It can defeat an enemy. It can reveal hidden mysteries. It can bring triumph over trouble. It can heal illness. It can lead to forgiveness and the overcoming of sin. Prayer, we learn, is a mighty, powerful weapon for the child of God.
Do you know why this is the case? Today we find out why. It is the Spirit Who makes our prayers powerful and effective. It is because of the Spirit that the prayers of God's people are heard and are answered.
B We can point to two things: first, our God is perfect in His unity – He is a Three-in-Oneness; second, our God is perfect in His knowledge – He is omniscient.
First, we have to point to the perfect unity within the Godhead. God the Father
(Rom 8:27) knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.The triune Godhead is a perfect unity. Within that unity it is unthinkable that the Spirit would put any intercession in the Christian's heart that is not in accordance with the mind and will of God. Within the perfect unity of the triune Godhead the intercessions of the Holy Spirit always meet with the understanding and approval of God.
Consider the prayers of Elijah. He prayed for drought and there was drought. Later, he prayed for rain and there was rain (cf James 5:17,18). His prayers were powerful and effective because the Spirit made them in tune with the will of God. It was God's will to cause a drought; and later, it was God's will to bring rain. Because of the Spirit, then, Elijah's prayers were in tune with the will of God.
Can there be any doubt that God hears and listens with approval to the intercessions the Spirit has put within the Christian's heart?
C Second, we have to point to the omniscience, the perfect knowledge, of the Father. God knows all things and sees all things. He searches the hearts of His children, says verse 27. The Greek word used means the conduction of a thorough investigation, the kind that Presidential candidates go through: God seeks out all the thoughts and desires, expressed and unexpressed, of the human heart. In doing this He finds or hears the unuttered and unutterable groaning of the Spirit. They do not miss the omniscient ear of God. Though they are without words, He hears them and understands them.
More than this, God knows what we ask and what the Spirit asks before the asking even takes place. In Matthew 6:8 Jesus can say, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Can there be any doubt, then, that God hears and answers the perfect intercession the Spirit puts within our hearts?
Do you remember the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? There He struggled with God in prayer. One of the horrors He faced was that He had to pray alone. His disciples were not able to keep watch with Him for even one hour (Matthew 26:39-46). Not for Him was the fellowship of prayer.
In our text for today we are given the assurance that never once do we pray alone. The Spirit of the Lord always prays with us, in us, and for us. It is He Who overcomes our prayer weakness. It is He Who makes our prayers powerful and effective.
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