St Paul's UMC
Sunday, August 7, 2022
  • Way Maker
  • Blessed Be Your Name
  • Doxology
      • Isaiah 62:1–7MESSAGE

      • Colossians 4:12–13MESSAGE

  • Intercession
    In this sermon series, we are looking at persons in the New Testament who by their witness and example model for us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Now you would think, that would be a difficult task to do with someone like today’s model disciple: Epaphras – few people have probably ever heard of him. His appearance in the Bible is minimal – his name appears twice in Paul’s letter to the Colossians and once in his letter to Philemon, where in his opening remarks Paul writes in 1:23,
    Philemon 23 ESV
    Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you,
    That’s it – not too much to go on there.
    Yet it is the two brief mentions of his name in the letter to the Colossian church that we witness the kind of disciple that he was. More importantly, Epaphras provides us with a spiritual practice we desperately need to exercise today.
    In this letter, Paul is writing to a church he had not yet had the opportunity to visit – but one he was indirectly connected to. The church in Colossae (Co-los-eye) mainly formed under the teachings of a young hometown evangelist named Epaphras who was taught and trained by Paul himself.
    Listen to what Paul has to say about this church in Col. 1:3-8
    Colossians 1:3–8 ESV
    We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
    So in the first mention of his name, we hear that Epaphras was a “faithful minister” – because he taught the true message of the gospel. He taught the people about God’s grace, of God no longer holding people’s sins against them, that Jesus had taken their sins and nailed them to the cross when He himself was crucified. By repenting (turning from their sin) and following Jesus, the people now have hope which results in hearts full of faith and love. This community had become one filled with love and word of their love was spreading throughout the region.
    That is the power of the gospel – it transforms communities.
    Paul mentions Epaphras again in chapter 4, as we heard in this morning’s reading. Epaphras was no longer in Colossae, he had taught them, help them establish a church, then as an evangelist – moved on to his next assignment. But that does not mean his work for the Colossian church was over. Col. 4:12-13
    Colossians 4:12–13 (ESV)
    Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.
    He is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers.”
    The actual Greek word is “agónizomai” from which we get the word agonize. Paul is describing Epaphras’ prayer life in the way of one who is “struggling/contending with an adversary”.
    This is not the kind of prayer that we commonly offer up, it is not grace before a meal or “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep” – those acknowledgments of God’s goodness and provision are wonderful – but when is the last time you contended with our adversary? When you agonized in prayer for others? What Epaphras teaches us is that sharing the good news of Christ is the first step, but then we must pray that the seeds take root and begin to grow - that our enemy does not uproot what we have been planting.
    Remember Jesus’ parable of the sower? A farmer went to sow seed and he did so liberally. He threw seed everywhere. Some seed landed on a hard, packed pathway and birds came down and ate it up. Some landed on rocky ground with shallow soil, so the plants sprouted up but there was no roots so the sun scorched the plants and they died. Some seeds fell among thorns, the plants grew but the thorns choked them out. Finally some seed fell among good soil and grew abundantly. Later, Jesus explained the parable to his disciples in Matt. 13:18-23
    Matthew 13:18–23 ESV
    “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
    Epaphras understood this parable. He knew it was not enough to teach the gospel, he had to wrestle in prayer for the souls of those who received the Word. He knew the enemy was real, that Satan was prowling around the church – seeking to sow seeds of disunity and discord. Satan was using false teachers once again to nullify the power of the gospel – this was known as the Colossae heresy. This is why Paul wrote this letter to the church, and why he contended in prayer for them as well.
    Colossians 2:1–4 ESV
    For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
    Our much needed lesson from Epaphras and from Paul is this – disciples of Jesus Christ spend time wrestling in prayer for the souls of other people.
    We have a word for this: Intercession. Intercessory prayer is prayer for the needs of others. We lift others up in prayer – first the Body of Christ, those within the church, and then the needs of all people. This is engaging in Spiritual Warfare – and prayer is where the battle is fought.
    Intercession is found throughout the scriptures.
    When the wickedness of the people in the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had gotten so bad that God sent his angels down to execute judgment – it was Abraham who interceded on behalf of the people. In Genesis 18:22-26
    Genesis 18:22–26 (ESV)
    ... Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
    In a fascinating display of negotiation skills, Abraham talks the Lord down to sparing the two cities if only 10 righteous are found. Now, did Abraham really change the Lord’s mind?
    I think that is the wrong question to ask – the right one is “what does God expect of his people? He expects us to intercede for one another. By the way, the angels never did find even 10 righteous. But they did rescue Lot and his family, Abraham’s cousin, and sent them out of town before destroying the whole valley.
    On several occasions, Moses interceded for the Israelites when they continually disobeyed the Lord.
    Exodus 32:31–32 ESV
    So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
    Moses identified with the people and asked that his fate be the same as theirs – he loved his people, and I believe that is what God expects from us. We are to love our people.
    The prophet Daniel identified himself with his people and served as an intercessor.
    Daniel 9:4–5 ESV
    I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.
    Identifying himself with his people, he then makes his plea
    Daniel 9:17–19 ESV
    Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
    One more example of intercession comes from Jesus Himself, before he was arrested, as he prayed to His Father, out loud, for the benefit of his disciples.
    John 17:13–17 ESV
    But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
    Jesus prayed that the Father would protect us from the evil one and that we would be sanctified in truth (made holy). In praying for us, Jesus shows us that we need to go to the Father in prayer for one another.
    Intercession is hard fought prayer. It is praying with our spiritual eyes open – knowing that we have an enemy actively working against us to destroy the works of God. Scripture shows us that:
    God desires us to intercede for others
    We are to love people – all people
    We must avoid any sense of self-righteousness, identify with our sinful generation, and seek His mercy
    Jesus has given us full access to the Father
    I’m going to bring this sermon to a close and ask that we move into a time of intercessory prayer. I will lead us off, but I invite you to pray out loud as well as the Lord leads you. Shall we pray?
    Lord, I pray for:
    · Your Word to take root in your people. That each person here may stand firm in all of your will, mature and fully assured
    · Lord may we receive the wisdom and knowledge the Spirit gives. May we live a life that is pleasing and full of good works that bring you glory.
    · We are a sinful generation – we worship lesser gods – we put wealth and status above you. Show us your mercy, even though we are undeserving.
    · Lord, thank you for rescuing us from the dominion of darkness and bringing us into the kingdom of your Son whom you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
      • Philemon 23MESSAGE

      • Colossians 1:3–8MESSAGE

      • Matthew 13:18–23MESSAGE

      • Colossians 2:1–4MESSAGE

      • Exodus 32:31–32MESSAGE

      • Daniel 9:4–5MESSAGE

      • Daniel 9:17–19MESSAGE

      • John 17:13–17MESSAGE

  • Cornerstone
      • 2 Corinthians 13:11MESSAGE

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