LIVING STONES THEOLOGY: THE GIFT OF INTERCESSION
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
22:1 The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices and say: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made. You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, O infamous city, full of turmoil.
6 "'See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. In you are slanderous men bent on shedding blood; in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. In you are those who dishonor their fathers' bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbor's wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father's daughter. In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD.
13 "'I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. I will disperse you among the nations and scatter you through the countries; and I will put an end to your uncleanness. When you have been defiled in the eyes of the nations, you will know that I am the LORD.'"
17 Then the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into Jerusalem. As men gather silver, copper, iron, lead and tin into a furnace to melt it with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the LORD have poured out my wrath upon you.'"
23 Again the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, say to the land, 'You are a land that has had no rain or showers in the day of wrath.'
25 There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says'--when the LORD has not spoken.
29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. 30"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD."
Intercession is not mentioned as a spiritual gift in the bible. It is mentioned as a role and an expectation of every believer. In scriptures, it is perceived as a ministry that blesses not only churches, ministries and their leaders and the conversion of individuals, it is even a ministry that blesses nations. Yet, like so many of the gifts are also expected roles among God's people, with this one too, there are some who are specially gifted at intercession. Some of the intercessors mentioned in the scripture are Moses, Elijah, Jesus and the leaders of the early church. Without the effectual and fervant intercession of some gifted people of God, the truth is, things fall apart. Intercession is the homework of the kingdom. It is the work that is done in secret which the Lord rewards openly (Matthew 7:3-4). Like students who do all that extra reading at home, who do all their assignments, eventually the rewards show up in their marks. Intercession is the homework of the kingdom. Without this ministry, the church spins its wheels in the icy blizzard of this world. In that analogy, intercession is the traction of the church's work. Intercession turns our worn out summer tires into fresh new blizzaks... Enough already, you get the picture.
This evening, there are two basic principles that are involved in intercession. Regardless of the intercession these principles apply if intercession is to be effective. The first principle is
THE PRINCIPLE OF IDENTIFICATION
Very simply this means that the person who intercedes has to identify with the parties for whom he is interceding.
The church has confessed that Jesus Christ was is completely man and completely God. In theology this is referred to as the two natures of Christ. He was human and divine. The whole purpose of his incarnation, which we begin looking at in our advent celebrations next week, was for Christ, who was in every way God, to become fully human, join with us in our suffering, and suffer for our sins in the obedience of his death. The reason for his incarnation was so that he could make intercession for us, so that he could represent us before God and represent God to us.
This was actually the role of the priest throughout the scriptures. Priests were to be men like other men, familiar with weaknesses, able to identify with those whom they were helping so that they could truly represent them before God.
The gift of intercession contains especially this capacity to identify with others, in their situation, their struggle, their pain, and at the same time to identify with God, who in the riches of his grace and love longs to see people reconciled with him, that all to come to a knowledge of salvation, that people might be healed and restored to life in Christ.
Those who have the gift of intercession experience this identification in their lives. They identify first of all with God's desires. They long to see the realities of his kingdom in this world, in the lives of people, administered through the church. When it comes time to speak, they do. Most of their identification is in an insatiable hunger that is not satisfied until they have seen the grace of God at work. At the same time, when they see the need, they feel the burden. This is not just empathy, though it includes empathy, it is a burden, a worry, a responsibility, something that has to be brought to God's attention for his work, something that sometimes becomes an overpowering concern that God take action. People with this gift sometimes identify so deeply that other parts of life are put on hold for the purpose of intercession for the burdens that the Lord has placed on their hearts.
Do you identify with the needs of others, and do you have a longing to see God meet those needs? So much that it drives you to sometimes very fervant prayer? You may be demonstrating the gift of intercession! The church needs you!
The second principle is THE PRINCIPLE OF MEDIATION
That is the point of the passage that we read this evening. Ezekiel the prophet saw that the just and fair judgement of God was going to be upon the nation of Israel for their rebellion and sin, a judgment that would destroy them as a nation. God who is loving and just longed that somehow they would be saved from that punishment but their was no one to stand in the gap for them, no one who would plead with God for mercy, no one who would argue with God like Moses, no one to argue that God's reputation was at stake, no one to aruge that his purposes were being thwarted, no one to debate that the rebellion of his people is also forgivable. And so, since there was no one to stand in the gap the judgment of God rolled like thunder.
This passage, like so many others in the Old Testament cries out for a Christ, a Messiah, a Savior, one who would be mediator between God and men, who would secure the mercy of God by his intercessions. And so, of course, this passage does point us to Jesus Christ our Lord. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men." 1 Timothy 2:3
But at the same time it points us to the ongoing work that we have today. We to are called to be intercessors through prayer. We too are to cry out to God for his mercy in a whole variety of situations, to remembering the promises of God that secure for us and others God's grace, to struggling with God so that the finger of God will be at work in our time, in our country, in our city, in our church and homes and lives. The gift of intercession includes a theme of mediation between God and others. We are, with Christ the middlemen, the people who stand in the gap so that God's grace might flow to those in need, leaders included.
In the process of this mediation, there are three perspectives that we see in scripture because the dynamic includes more than just God and humanity.
The first perspective is the GODWARD perspective. Intercession clearly cries out to God, pleads for his mercy, longs for his grace, remembers God's promises, in faith clings to God's goodness.
So to, the intercession of Christ on our behalf had a Godward focus. Jesus made atonement for us to satisfy the justice of God. He propitiated the wrath of God. So much of what we theologize about our salvation has to do with what Jesus has done in our relationship with God. In Reformation circles, soteriology has a distinctly God ward perspective.
Intercession also has the MANWARD perspective (without gender bias). Jesus, our intercessor came also to us, and told us to repent, to make changes to our lives because the kingdom of God was at hand. He spoke to us the truth. He healed sickness and disability. He raised the dead, both spiritually and physically. Jesus changed us.
So to, as intercessors, we are called to seek the changes and wellbeing of others so that in the grace of God, they can grow, changes can happen, people are restored to new life by the grace of God. This is the obvious 2nd side to the process of joining with Christ in the work of intercession between God and men. The intercessor often is called to speak, to exhort, to confront on God's behalf as the Spirit leads. There is though, a third perspective, which we have not done enough with in Reformed theology, that is the SATANWARD perspective.
The best instruction regarding this comes from the scriptures and today from third world countries that do not have our materialistic world view. We confess in the Heidelberg Catechism that we have been set free from the tyranny of the devil, but it seldom goes further than that among western Christians. But if we watch, Jesus, our intercessor at work in the scriptures, what do we see. We see Jesus rebuking evil spirits. We see him in an all out war against the forces of evil, using his God given authority to command them, disable them, remove them from their influence on the children of Abraham. Intercessors, wether they like it or not end up facing the challenge of evil head on, and they will find that victory comes only by taking the authority that God has given us to command and disable the forces of evil in this world. Reformed world missions has discovered this truth on the mission fields. Some of the fastest growing churches in the world today are churches in third world countries where preaching includes open confrontations with the forces of evil. This is not emotional manipulation. This is intercessory ministry as Jesus did it. We must stand our ground in Christ against the forces of evil.
Let me conclude by talking about THE HARD WORK OF FINISHING intercession. So often, we start a task of prayer, and after a while, we give up because we see nothing or little happening, or things just seem to get worse.
The challenge of this kind of prayer is to see that when we pray, we are doing the work of the kingdom. Sometimes that takes hard work over a long period of time. Like renovating a house, if we quit in the middle of the project because we just do not see the end product quick enough, we are left with a bigger mess than when we began. Jesus taught that those who interceed must be like the persistent widow who did not give up until she had her fair request. Jesus too, had to persist to the very end. For him, intercession was not completed until he said "It is finished" as he hung on the cross and died. For Jesus, the work of intercession killed him, the work of forgiving us was terminal. Yet it was effective, eternally effective for all who come to him in faith.
This evening I have just touched on some essential themes of intercession. In the future, we will look closer at the important project of tearing down spiritual strongholds as we study the book of Joshua in the Old Testament.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.