Friday, August 24, 2012

The Ministry of Prayer

God set the priests apart to serve him by ministering to Him, by standing before Him on behalf of the people as intercessors, by carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and by blessing the people in His Name (Deut 10:8). The priests were assigned to uphold the Word of God and the Presence of God, to praise Him continuously, and to pray without ceasing (Jer. 33:18). 

Under the New (Renewed) Covenant, Christ, in a first for a priest, finished his work and sat down (Heb 1:1-3). Because of Him, we who are followers of Christ are a priesthood of believers called through the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:5-6) to continual prayer and blessing (1 Thess 5:17; Heb 13:15).

At the altar of incense, an essential part of the morning and evening service was the censer of incense. The priest would carry a censer of hot coals and throw the incense onto them, pouring forth smoke and fragrance before the Presence of God. The smell of the incense filled the sanctuary like the fragrance of the nard poured over Jesus’ feet by the sinful woman filled the house at Bethany (John 12:3).

David wrote Psalm 141 as an evening prayer (Psalm 141:2). He calls on the Lord to hear him and come quickly to him (Heb 2:18). He then asks the Lord to allow his prayer to rise before Him like incense and the lifting of his hands like the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:10). David stretched forth his hands in believing and fervent prayer, like the standing of a priest blessing the people. It is the only way of grasping mercy. The priest lifted his hands above his head and pronounced Num 6:24-26.[1] The Apostle John in his heavenly vision saw the golden vials of incense in heaven, the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

How is incense like prayer? First, incense was beaten and pounded before it was used. Acceptable prayer, David says, comes from a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). Second, it was of no use until fire was put under it, fire taken from the altar. Nor is prayer of any virtue or power which was not put through the fire and is not kindled from the fire of the Holy Spirit from our Altar, Jesus Christ. Third, it naturally ascends toward heaven. Prayer is designed to ascend to the throne of God (Psalm 5:3-4).

Just before the incense was burned, a lamb was devoted every morning and evening in the Temple. A lamb. Our prayers every morning and every evening are a sacrifice of praise to the Lamb upon the Throne. The altar of incense was just outside the Holy Place where the blood of atonement would be sprinkled on the four corners. The coals, the blood, and the incense were all a necessary picture of the intercessory work of the Lord Jesus through His Blood to pay the debt of punishment for us.[2]  

Without the incense to throw on the coals from the altar, the priest was not allowed into the Holy Place. In the same way, prayer opens the door to a personal relationship with the Lord. Acceptable, prevailing prayer is a sweet-smelling savor to the Lord. Our intercession is founded on the Atonement. His Atonement was done by His Intercession for us.[3]

[1] When Zechariah the priest came out to pronounce the blessing, he was speechless (Luke 1:22).
[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), 118-131.
[3] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), 3:312-14.