The following article is my response to Robert Vaughn, who is currently serving a life sentence in the California State Prison system. Having been saved, while imprisoned, he has for the past 20 years been a devoted student of the Word. He is a Wesleyan Bible teacher and approved to teach within the Wesley Institute to fellow inmates. To read his testimony or some of his writings, please go to our website here.
Dear Brother Lanny Carpenter,
In Romans 8: 26 (NASB) “. . . The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
The Amplified Bible reads “. . . The Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.”
The ESV says, “. . . The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
The NLT says, “. . . The Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.”
Now my question is this, in John chapter 11: when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it says this in verse 33 (NASB) “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” In verse 38 (NASB) “So Jesus again being deeply moved within.” The KJV reads, “he groaned in the spirit and was troubled” and “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself.” The ESV reads, “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” and “Then Jesus, deeply moved again.” And the Amplified Bible reads, “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and “now Jesus, again sighing repeatedly and deeply disquieted.”
I’ve written all this to ask, what Jesus groaned in his spirit, was the operating in what Romans 8:26, teaches? Because in verse 41 of John 11 Jesus says, “Father, I thank you, that you have heard [past tense] Me” and then He raised Lazarus from the dead.
So when did Jesus pray, that the Father heard Him in answer to His prayer? Was it when He groaned in His spirit twice? Was that His prayer, with groanings too deep for utterance or words?
Thanks for your question to me. I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to answer. I was involved in finishing my Masters’ thesis, and I just recently graduated with my Masters degree. My energy and focus were directed at that, as I am sure you can appreciate.
Jim has spoken highly of you, and I have read some of what you have written. I am impressed by your knowledge of the Scriptures, and I see you, like me, have a real hunger to know more.
That being said let me see if I can answer your question. The Romans 8:26 passage is a great passage for believers. There are several truths expressed there. First, the Spirit helps or assists us. The word literally means “to lend a hand, to come to the aid of.” How does He assist us? He helps in our “weaknesses.” What is our weakness, but that we do not grasp the will of God for our lives, especially in suffering?
Second, the Holy Spirit aids believers when we pray. The word translated “intercedes” has a prefix meaning “on behalf of” attached to it. It literally means “to aid someone by interceding with them and on their behalf.” The Spirit not only aids us in praying, but also prays instead of us, or in our place.
Third, The Spirit intercedes with groaning. This groaning symbolically shows the Spirit’s identification with us as He indwells us and intercedes for us. Groaning has the idea of “inarticulate, emotional cries.” When we groan because we do not know what to pray, the Sprit identifies with us in this groaning and groans with us. God the Father knows the intentions of the Spirit without it being expressed.
So, in summary, when we do not understand what God’s will is as we pray, the Holy Spirit comes along and helps us by interceding with us and on our behalf. He enters into our unutterable groaning and in doing so expresses our desires to God the Father, who listens and answers our prayers.
In the passages in John 11:33 and 38, though the KJV uses the same word as in the Romans verse, it is a different Greek word. The word translated “groaned or deeply moved” literally means “to snort with anger, as of horses.” Used of men it signifies “to fret, to be painfully moved;” then, “to express indignation against;” hence, “to rebuke sternly, to charge strictly.” In this passage some take it to mean Jesus was angry. Some explain the feeling as righteous anger at the hypocritical mourning of the Jews, or at their unbelief and the sisters’ misunderstanding; others as indignation at the temporary triumph of Satan, who had the power of death. However, I do not believe this expresses the word correctly in this context.
It appears to express Jesus’ human emotions. It seems more to indicate that he “struggled for control” within Himself, or His feelings. It signifies that inwardly he was struggling with His emotions as He watched the grief of Mary, Martha, and their friends. The next word, translated “was troubled or was greatly troubled,” is in the middle voice in Greek, meaning He “agitated or troubled Himself.” This appears to apply to the outward show of His inner feeling. He was expressing in His physical body what he was feeling in His spirit.
Now, I am not saying your interpretation is entirely wrong, Robert. Dr. Vic Reasoner, in His commentary on Romans, says, “The fact that the Holy Spirit groans with us legitimatizes suffering in the same way that Jesus weeping with the family of Lazarus shows his sympathy with the human condition (John 11:35). Neither the Son nor the Spirit are helpless or powerless, but neither are they aloof and insensitive.” Jesus’ human feelings toward the human condition of suffering certainly compares to the groaning of the Spirit in aiding Christians in their suffering as they pray. I am not sure they are exactly the same, but there are some comparisons.
You asked, “So when did Jesus pray, that the Father heard Him in answer to His prayer?” Another great question! I believe that Jesus had been praying for the days preceding His entry into Bethany. His answer when informed of Lazarus’ illness was, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4, ESV). I believe He was praying for this end right up to the time of the resurrecting of Lazarus, and He simply prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for being heard. By the way, I believe Jesus provides two aspects for suffering in our lives: The first is so that God may be glorified (11:4). The second is so that our faith may be strengthened. Jesus said, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15, ESV). This miracle also legitimized Jesus as the Son of God by showing He had the power over death, which the Jews knew only God had.
I hope I have answered your questions, at least in a roundabout way! If you have more questions about what I have said, or if you have other questions, I would love to help if I can. Thanks for allowing me this opportunity. I am praying for your ministry there, and covet your prayers for my ministry.
Your brother in Christ