Rev.8 — THE CONQUEST OF PRAYER
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 14th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 8.
Have you ever wondered if your prayers effect anything? What if you didn’t pray – would it have any effect on real events – or just you? We know that we are supposed to pray the Lord’s Prayer, for example, but does it really change anything, especially since we have been told what to pray? Isn’t prayer just about changing the way we think? And what about prayers that don’t seem to be answered?
This morning we want to talk about the prayers of the saints and what God himself says about their spiritual and physical effect on the world.
God is Interacting With the Prayers of His People.
God is Listening to Our Prayers: The seventh seal is opened and there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. One interpretation of this silence is that heaven is holding its breath just before the terrible events that are about to take place.
However, the immediate context is that the prayers of the saints are being offered. And the 7th seal is all about what will happen with those prayers. It is not unreasonable then, to suppose that the 1/2 hour of silence is the silence of God listening to or attending to the prayers of his people. This is in keeping with what happens next in the passage, and suggests a more pastoral meaning to heaven’s silence.
Rather than a silence of dread, God is giving attention to the prayers of his people. God is shown, here, not to be a God of fate who simply does as he will without reference to his people. Rather, after the period of listening God begins to set things in motion with his angels – the passage continues to bear this out…
God is Enjoying Our Prayers: The prayers of the saints are offered with “much incense” to become a pleasing aroma and an acceptable sacrifice to God. The image suggests that God delights in and enjoys our prayers – not because they are prayed well, but because they are mixed with the grace of Christ.
God is Responding to Our Prayers: The prayers of the saints are then mixed with fire from the altar. God mixes the prayers of his saints with his own purposes. If ever we can say that God listens and is affected by our prayers, changes his mind on an issue, decides differently because of prayer – it is here. God, in a sense, allows the prayers of the saints not to change his purposes – but to inform how his purposes will be carried out through specific situations. Like Moses praying that God would not destroy the Israelites – we are heard and God is willing to be influenced.
God is Answering Our Prayers: This mixed censer, then, is hurled down onto the earth – the prayers of the saints mixed with the fire of God’s purposes. There are rumblings and flashes of lightning and an earthquake as God speaks. The image suggests the voice of God speaking into being what the mix of his purposes and our prayers have become. Things are effectually changed by our prayers because God is willing to hear and act on them.
God is Using Our Prayers to Break Down Spiritual Strongholds.
Wait: What about the first 4 Trumpets? Are they literal or symbolic? The answer is “Yes!” Remember that Revelation is often showing us the spiritual realities behind physical events. The 1/3 destruction of the earth may certainly take place through man’s negligence or through natural disaster. But what is much more important – and what we need to pay attention to – is the spiritual symbolic meaning of these things.
Siege Trumpets: The image of the 7 trumpets comes from the book of Joshua, where the Israelites were told to march around the city of Jericho once a day for 6 days and then 7 times on the 7th day blowing the 7 trumpets. as a way of laying siege to the city.
The siege looked pointless – ineffectual – ridiculous. The Israelites walked around the walls without making any threats or battle cries for six days. Jericho’s walls were legendarily thick. But as the Israelites carried out this seemingly pointless task in obedience to God’s command, the walls completely collapsed and Jericho was completely overtaken.
God is Calling Us to Believe and Pray: So what is the connection? The Trumpets of Rev.8-9 are called forth by the prayers of the saints. The prayers of the saints, which look weak, drowsy, ineffectual – as we pray for God to intervene in impossible or overwhelming situations in which we can only imagine an evil outcome – The prayers of the saints for those whose hearts have impregnable walls of hostility or apathy towards Christ – are sounding the Trumpets. God is answering by bringing His pressure to bear on situations – God is laying siege. The destruction of the trees and grass and water sources and light and trade are all pictures of God laying siege – putting pressure on the self-content and hostile who are opposed to him.
2Cor.10:3-5 says this… “3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…”
In other words, God calls us to pray…
~ For the apathetic and/ or hostile lost – the spiritually unassailable – that their arguments and unbelief would be demolished.
~ For areas of sin in our lives or the lives of others that bind and oppress – that they would be overcome.
~ For situations out of which it seems only evil can come – for good and redemptive things to happen.
God is actively demolishing the strongholds of unbelief, hostility, blindness, sin in the lives of those we pray for. We should pray, then, for those who seem spiritually unassailable and not despair because our prayers appear to be weak.
God is Using Our Prayers to Display His Glory.
Plague Picture: If the Trumpets remind us of Jericho – the actual plagues – (sea turned to blood – fire from heaven – darkness) remind us of the plagues of Egypt. The plagues of Egypt accomplished two things.
1) They brought Pharaoh (who claimed to be a god) to the place where he was humbled before the true God and let the Israelites go.
2) They displayed the power and glory of God over all creation.
God Calls Us to Pray for His Glory in Larger, More Global Situations: Something profound is being said about prayer through these images. The prayers of the saints – our prayers – are humbling those opposed to God and bringing about situations in which God is recognized and worshipped – and glorified. The prayers of the saints, in other words, are creating a witness to God’s glory. (Story of Nebuchadnezer, Daniel 4).
Though this may seem like too much to expect, this is what God has done throughout history. The problem is not that God has ceased to desire to publicly bring glory to his name – the problem is that the church rarely thinks in these terms or prays in these terms. But God is able to humble dictators and drug cartels and presidents and corporations and to bring his name glory and even to bring about public proclamation of his name. More importantly, God desires to do this.
One of the things that we see through these overwhelming visions in Revelation – and that God surely intended the overwhelmed churches of Asia Minor to see, is that God’s witness and work are not limited to our very local and personal situations. God is at work and hears our local and personal prayers – but God is also calling us to believe and pray for his glory to be shown and his salvation to come to nations – like North Korea, China, the U.S.
Pray then, for God’s glory and Gospel to be displayed and made known in nations like North Korea where there is no tolerance for Christian faith. Pray for God’s power to be publicly seen in our nation. When you see or hear about someone who arrogantly opposes Chrstian faith, ask God to humble and to show himself to that person. Learn to pray for God’s public glory.