Prayer and the Victory of Godby John Piper on May 23, 2017
Prayer and the Victory of God
By John Piper
My aim in this message is to leave in your mind the strong impression and conviction that the victory of God is coming and that your prayers are God’s way of accomplishing the victory of Jesus Christ over this world. The title is “Prayer and the Victory of God,” and the point is that the victory of God is coming and that it is coming by means of our prayers. Let me remind you of the meaning of the victory of God.
The Meaning of the Victory of God
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29–31)
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6–10)
“The victory of God is coming and your prayers are God’s way of accomplishing the victory of Jesus Christ over this world.”
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17)
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)
The victory of God is the coming of his Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to punish all who have rejected his grace, to banish all ungodliness and unbelief from the earth into hell, to gather his elect from all the nations, to establish justice and righteousness and peace and joy on the earth forever, and to be worshipped with white-hot affection without end.
This is our “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This is going to happen. It could happen in our lifetime. But it is far greater than any of our lives. God cares about the little details of your life — even a lost key or the earache of a little child. But oh, how much greater is our God and his victory than your and my little life!
Connect to the Victory of God by Prayer
My aim and my prayer through this message is that this year you might feel yourself captured by a cause and a vision a thousand times greater than your life. I pray that you will feel yourself to be part of the coming victory of God. I know that many of you feel: Look, pastor John, you don’t know what I am dealing with. I just want to survive another day. I just want to keep my marriage together and raise a couple decent kids, and keep my nose clean.
Believe me, I’m not opposed to that. My aim is not to burden you. My aim is for you to feel the liberating, energizing power of seeing your all-consuming problems in connection to God’s global victory. God cares about your marriage, your kids, your singleness, your health. But these only have their greatest meaning in relation to the victory of God. I promise you it is not oppressive to see the littleness of your life in connection to the largeness of God’s victory. Every just war that has ever been fought for a great ideal has given meaning to the loneliness, and the amputations, and the widowed moms.
The connection that I want you to see today between your life and the victory of God is the connection of prayer. Your prayers are God’s way of accomplishing the victory of Jesus Christ over this world. I know that for many of you this is way beyond what you usually pray about. I think God wants to change that. I hope that praying for the victory of God in this world will become part of your life. Don’t object by saying, “I’m too small. I’m unsophisticated. I’m not educated. I’m just an ordinary, simple person.” God chose a simple, peasant virgin to bear his Son. And he chooses simple people of faith to bring his victory by prayer. O don’t rule yourself out of this great calling.
Let me show you what I mean by the connection between prayer and the victory of God with some biblical texts and then close with a shocking illustration from Isaiah 37.
I’m going to quote nine texts. Don’t try to look them up. Instead listen carefully and try to fix the connection in your mind between prayer and the victory of God. Ask God to speak to you and seal this truth to your heart and waken a new passion in you to participate in the coming of God’s victory.
In Matthew 6:9–10 Jesus taught us to pray like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The coming of God’s kingdom and the doing of his will on earth the way the angels do it in heaven is the victory of God. This is the consummation of the ages. This is what everything is moving toward. And Jesus says, Pray for it. Pray for it! Ask God to hallow his name. Ask him to bring in his kingdom. Ask him to make his will be done. Therefore prayer is God’s way of winning his victory through you.
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” In other words the good news of King Jesus and his salvation will spread to all the nations. That is God’s invincible purpose and prelude to final victory. But that happens through witnesses and missionaries and evangelists. So what does Jesus do? He says in Matthew 9:37 “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” There is no doubt that this divine purpose to reach the nations will come to pass. But it will come to pass by means of prayer. Therefore prayer is God’s way of winning his victory through you.
“The battles to be fought on the way to the final victory move forward by prayer.”
Jesus told a parable once about an unrighteous judge. The point of the parable was that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). A widow kept coming to the judge and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” Finally he does it because of her persistence. Jesus makes this point: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” (Luke 18:6–8). God’s sure purpose is to give justice to his elect. And his decision is to do it through their crying to him for vindication day and night. This is prayer for the victory of God. Therefore prayer is God’s way of winning his victory through you.
The battles to be fought on the way to the final victory — the battles that prepare the world for Christ’s coming — move forward by prayer. In Acts 4:31Luke tells us of a gathering of early Christians: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” When they had prayed they spoke with boldness. That is how the kingdom advances: Prayer that brings down bold, Spirit-filled witness to Christ. Therefore prayer is God’s way of winning his victory.
The apostle Paul was probably the greatest missionary witness to the victory of God that ever lived. God used him for tremendous breakthroughs for the spread of the gospel. Listen to his repeated plea for prayer as a means to his gospel-spreading ministry:
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). The word runs and triumphs by means of prayer.
“[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). Paul’s boldness in the gospel came from God by the prayers of simple Christian believers.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Romans 15:30). The wrestling of Paul to be faithful in all his sufferings was sustained by a wrestling in prayer by the brothers in Rome.
“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” (Colossians 4:3). Open doors for the spread of the gospel come in answer to prayer. Therefore, in the life of Paul it is plain that prayer is God’s way of gospel victory.
Finally, there is a picture in Revelation 8:4–5 about how the end-time victory of God is finally executed in the world. Here’s the picture: “Another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar [where the prayers were burning before God!] and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” The altar was burning with millions and millions of prayers: “Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” — mounting up over the centuries! And the angel filled the censer with the flame of those burning prayers and threw it on the earth and the final victory of God came. The prayers of the ages bring the victory of God. Not one single cry for the coming of Christ and the victory of God is ever wasted.
The Stunning Effect of Prayer Illustrated
Now to fix this truth vividly in your minds — that the victory of God is coming and that it is coming by means of our prayers — look with me at Isaiah 37 and one stunning illustration of prayer and the victory of God.
Sennacherib was the terrifying king of the great nation of Assyria. He came up against all the fortified cities of Judah where Hezekiah was king (Isaiah 36:1). From a human standpoint Jerusalem was helpless before such a force. He sent his general, the Rabshakeh, to warn Jerusalem to surrender. The Rabshakeh mocks the God of Israel and says that no one can deliver them. Hezekiah tears his clothes and goes into the house of God (Isaiah 37:1). Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that Sennacherib will be diverted by a rumor. So it happens. But the relief is only temporary. Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah with a new threat. Isaiah 37:10: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”
This time the text says in Isaiah 37:14, “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; . . . O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.’” This is a prayer for the victory of God and the salvation of his helpless people before a great enemy.
“The great battle today is fought not with swords, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.”
The key phrase comes in verse 21: “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him: . . . Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”
Then God does what he said. Verse 36: “And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians.” This may be the one stunning fact that acts like an anchor in your memory for this sermon. Hezekiah prayed for the rescue of Jerusalem and the victory of God. And verse 21 says “because you prayed” God sent his angel to slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one sovereign stroke.
One man prays for the salvation of God’s people and the victory of God, and God responds by killing 185,000 soldiers and rescuing his people.
Today the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ are not political or national or ethnic. Paul said, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Until our King comes from heaven, we wish the destruction of no man. As Christians we do not kill our enemies, we pray for our enemies, as Jesus taught us to do (Matthew 5:44).
The great battle today is fought not with swords, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. It is fought for the souls of men. It is fought in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is fought with words of truth and deeds of love and justice. And all of that backed by prayer. The victory will come and will come by prayer.
Therefore, in this new year, pray for the victory of God. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Send forth laborers, O God. Open a door for the gospel. Give boldness to your people. Save the peoples, O Lord. Vindicate your elect who cry to you day and night. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem