This morning we are going to begin an extensive study on the subject of prayer. ‘Why prayer? you might ask. Let me give you a few of my reasons:
1) We all have areas in our lives that desperately need prayer
Jesus said that there are some issues in life that are only going to be resolved as the result of intense prayer. Some Bible translations include the word ‘fasting’ as well. If you’re here today and say, “I don’t need prayer”, it’s probably not because you don’t need prayer; but because you don’t realize how much you need prayer. I know that there are some things in my life that needs prayer. I’m sure you do as well. Therefore we need to learn how to pray.
2) I want a deeper relationship with God
I’m not satisfied with where I am at in my relationship with Christ. Sure, I know Christ as my Savior. But I want to feel closer to Christ and I want Him to have more control over who I am. Therefore I need to pray.
3) Sometimes I grow lazy in my prayer life
A couple of weeks ago I shared with you about a time in my life when the Lord felt so real and close to me that I could almost reach out and touch Him. His presence was all around me. But that’s not always the case. There have also been times when my relationship with Christ hasn’t been all that it should be and it’s not His fault – it’s mine. Christ doesn’t drift away from me. I drift away from Him. Therefore I need to pray.
4) Being a person of prayer is a part of my being a follower of Jesus Christ
Prayer in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ is not a suggestion. It’s a command.
I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons we could come up with why we should pray, but that’s probably enough to get the point across. My goal is not to make us feel guilty because we’re not praying. My goal is to encourage us all to get on our knees and faces before God and to pray. So where do we begin?
Today’s message is entitled – “The Confidence to Pray.” Perhaps the reason some Christians don’t pray is because they don’t feel worthy, or they don’t know how to pray. My goal is to give us a biblical foundation for why we should pray, how we should pray, and what God has promised to us if we will pray. If I teach even a portion of what the Bible says about prayer, we’re going to be on this subject for a long time. Hopefully, somewhere down the road, we’re going to experience a revival of prayer. I believe that if we experience a revival of prayer, we will experience a revival in every part of our Christian walk. So get out your Bible and let’s get going.
I want to begin with something that happened while Jesus was still on the cross.
Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom…
Notice once again, at the moment Jesus committed His spirit unto His Father and He died, the Bible says that in the Jewish Temple, the veil was rent or torn completely in half from top to bottom. What does that mean and why is it important?
I. Approaching God – Before the Cross
A. God Was at a Distance
Approaching God ‘before the cross’ was very different than it was ‘after the cross.’ Let me explain.
Although there are some incidents found in the Old Testament where certain men had a close relationship with God, for the most part this was the exception and not the norm. For most people living during the days of the Old Testament, God was at a distance.
Consider even the prayer life of the great man Daniel. We all know that Daniel was a great man of prayer. Yet the Bible says that Daniel prayed – went into his house and prayed three times a day with his windows opened towards Jerusalem. (see Daniel 6:10) What does that tell us? First of all, we all would do good to set aside three times a day to pray, however the reason Daniel did this was because that’s a good Jew did. They prayed three times a day: morning, noon and night. It was a part of their religion. Secondly, Daniel prayed with his windows opened towards Jerusalem. Why? Although Daniel had a deeper relationship with God, his prayer life was still linked to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Daniel did what he did because of what Solomon prayed when he first built and dedicated the Temple.
1 Kings 8:44 “If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen (Jerusalem) and the house (the Temple) that I have built for your name, 45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.” ESV
Why did the Jewish people face Jerusalem when they prayed? It was because they believed that God stayed inside in the Temple, and in particular in a part of the Temple known as the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place.
B. God Was in the Temple
The Temple was the center of all Jewish religious life and activity. That’s why it so upset them when Jesus said that He would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Scripture seems to indicate that even after the church was born, the church often met near the Temple. Acts 3 speaks of Peter and John going to the Temple at the ninth hour, or 3 pm, at the time of prayer.
C. Approaching God
Not everyone could go directly into the Temple. Actually only the priests that were on duty at that moment could enter the Temple itself. Everyone else was restricted.
1. The Temple
a. The Most Holy Place
The Jews believed that God dwelt at the very heart or core of the Temple in a place called the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies. The Bible says that when Solomon first build the Temple, he prayed this prayer – “Now arise, Lord God, and come to your resting place…” (see 2 Chronicles 6:41 NIV)
Then we read –
2 Chronicles 7:1 When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.” NIV
Many refer to God’s glory in the Temple as His ‘Shekinah Glory.’ The word ‘shekinah’ is not in your Bible. It comes from a Hebrew word which means ‘to dwell.’ The Shekinah Glory refers to God’s glory dwelling in the Temple. In the minds of the Jews, God came and dwelt in the Most Holy Place of the Temple.
b. The Holy Place
Second in sacredness to the Most Holy Place was the Holy Place. It was here that a priest would come twice each day to trim the wicks of the great Menorah and to refill their containers with oil. Here also would he attend to the golden altar that set before the Most Holy Place by making sure that there were coals burning in it on which he would place incense as a sweet smelling aroma before God. Scripture teaches us that this was a symbol of prayer before God. We could say that a priest would come each morning and each evening to present the prayers of the people to God.
2. The Courts
Then came the various courts assigned to various people, according to your importance.
a. The Court of the Priests
If you were a priest, you could come and pray just outside the door of the Temple.
b. The Court of Israel
If you were a Jewish man, you had a special area just outside of the Court of the Priests.
c. The Court of the Women
If you were a Jewish woman, you could pray in an area outside of the Court of Israel in a place known as the Court of the Women.
d. The Court of the Gentiles
And if you were Gentile, you had an area way outside of everyone that was known as the Court of the Gentiles, which in the eyes of the average Jew, wasn’t much more than the parking lot.
3. The Great Veil
The point I am trying to make in all of this is that God was always at a distance. God was so awesome and holy, no one ever dreamed of coming near to Him. To emphasize this even more we need to take a moment and consider the great veil that hung in the Temple.
A priest would come each morning and each evening into the Holy Place to perform certain duties. We read from the book of Hebrews –
Hebrews 9:6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
Only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement would dare enter into the Most Holy Place and then only when he was assigned to present before God the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
Separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was a great veil or curtain. Some historians tell us that this veil was as thick as a man’s hand, while others say that it was almost 4” thick. It was massive. The great Bible scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that it took 300 priests to handle it. This great and massive veil hung from the ceiling to the floor, and from wall to wall.
What was the purpose of the veil? On one side of this veil was the glory of God and on the other side was the sinfulness of man. As I’ve thought a lot about this veil and what it represented, I was reminded of the story of a man named Moses. The Bible says that God would speak to Moses like a man might speak to his friend. On one occasion, Moses asked God – “Show me Your glory!” In other words, “Lord, I want to know you more.” You may not realize this, but that’s a need in every man, woman, boy and girl. The Bible says that God created us for His only pleasure and glory. We were made to have a close relationship with God.
God loved Moses very much, yet the LORD said, “No man can look directly into My face and live.” (see Exodus 33) In other words, no man can look directly upon the awesome glory of God and live. Many say that the veil was a barrier between God and man. In many ways, the veil was there to protect sinful man from looking upon the glory of God.
The unveiled glory of God is too great, too awesome, and too holy for sinful man to see and live. Even on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest was to enter into the Most Holy Place and sprinkle blood upon the Mercy Seat, the first thing he did was to fill the room with smoke from incense burning on hot coals, so as to put a protective barrier of smoke between himself and the Shekinah glory.
Scripture tells us that bells were sown to the bottom of his robe so that ‘…its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.’ (Exodus 28:35) Apparently, the bells bore witness that he was ministering before the Lord and that his ministry was being accepted. But what about the part that says – ‘…so that he does not die’? Some believe that this means that as long as the bells could be heard, the people would know that all was well. But what if the bells could no longer be heard? Apparently, this would indicate that something tragic had happened and that the high priest had perhaps been struck dead by the LORD because he was not ministering properly. (see Exodus 28:43) There is a Jewish tradition that says that a rope was tied around one of his ankles so if this occurred, his body could be retrieved without anyone entering the Holy of Holies. There is no scripture that supports the proposal of the rope and therefore it is unknown as to whether or not this actually happened.
Here is another way to consider the great veil. Often times a bride will wear a veil over her face as a part of her bridal gown. Why? The veil is a symbol of the woman protecting herself and her beauty and reserving it only for the man to whom she is willing to pledge her life. The whole issue of biblical modesty is not to degrade women, but rather to exalt women. A woman’s beauty is to be so special that she veils it from contamination.
For over 1,500 years, that great veil hung in the Temple, separating God’s holiness from man’s sinfulness. That is until something incredible happened.
Matthew 27:50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom…
An earthquake didn’t tear the veil. No man tore the veil. God tore the veil, giving to us full and complete access into His presence.
II. Approaching God – After the Cross
God ripping the veil into teaches us two very important truths:
A. The Barrier Between Man and God Has Been Removed
Hebrews 10:11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.
For 1,500 years a High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal upon the Mercy Seat. The Bible says that this had to be done over and over again because the blood of animals can never take away man’s sin. All the blood of all the animals never opened the veil.
It was not until Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the the cross that the veil was torn away and we were invited to come into God’s holy presence. Until then, there was a barrier between us and God. But once Jesus offered His blood , and once His flesh for us was torn -the veil was torn and we were invited to come into God’s presence. The Bible says.
Hebrews 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
The ‘holiest’ or most holy place referred to here is not some room in a man-made temple. It’s the throne room of almighty God in heaven!
B. God is Inviting Us to Come Near
Hebrews 10:21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…
There are many reasons why you and I should pray. We all need prayer. Scripture commands us to pray. But perhaps one of the greatest reasons is because we can pray. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have full and complete access to God.