You are here

10. Being Like Christ: Standing in the Gap

Chapter 10

Being Like Christ: Standing in the Gap

1. The Goal of Renewal: To Be Like Christ

What is the ultimate goal of renewal? Without a doubt it is perfection in the Biblical sense, which is to become like Christ. In this sense it is an expression and demonstration of God’s overwhelming power in our lives by which sin is consistently over­come and we are being transformed by the Spirit ever more into the image of Christ.

Sin is to be feared because it destroys our relationship with God, who is the Source of life and of every good thing (James 1.17). Sin breaches our relationship with God, creating a wide gap between Him and us. Separated from Him, we are cut off from life and from every blessing that originates from Him. Only when the breach is repaired, the gap is closed, and we are reconciled with God, having a new relationship with Him, can we have life—eternal life. To bring this about is no easy thing. But Jesus in his self-giving love came to accomplish this very thing for us through his life, his teaching, and above all his death on the cross.

When we receive the new life from God do we just sit back and enjoy it, or are we called to follow God in His “ministry of reconciliation,” as expressed in 2Cor.5.18: God has “reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. But how can we do a work like Christ (the work of reconciliation) without being like him?

The ultimate aim of per­fection is to be like Christ, the perfect man. What does this mean in practice? Does it mean to imitate “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” as the hymn puts it? That is certainly in­cluded, but is that the ultimate goal of perfection? Could we describe the goal in more dynamic terms? By “dynamic” we are thinking of a task or a mission that we are given to fulfill in this generation. In other words, are we to be meek and mild as an end in itself? Or are these qualities, among others, meant to accomplish some­thing great­er in us for the sake of God’s glory and the welfare of His people? It is good to be “nice guys” but that hardly defines our mission in these last days as disciples of Jesus.

What then does it mean to be like Christ? There are two aspects to this: to be as he is, and to do as he does. Both are important. The latter—to do as he does—would mean that God assigns us a task that He had earlier assigned to Jesus. In other words, the purpose of regeneration and renewal is not merely to become nice people in this world, but to fulfill Christ’s saving mission in the world through God’s indwelling Spirit.

Scripture doesn’t speak merely of becoming like Christ in some general sense of being good people, though that is obviously import­ant. We must go beyond that: We need to be like him in following him, taking up our cross and, if necessary, laying down our lives for God’s people and for the salvation of the world. We cannot of course atone for people’s sins (only Jesus can do that), yet we are to receive his atoning life and transmit it to others. Unless we live as Jesus lived and fulfill the mission that he fulfilled, we are not truly Christ-like, not even if we consider ourselves meek and mild.

Catch a vision of our task and calling. Living sacrificially for Christ and for the church of God is something that needs to become, by God’s grace, a vision in our hearts. Few people have a vision today. If we don’t have a vision, we won’t know where we are going or understand the purpose of being Christ-like.

In summary, the goal of renewal is perfection, and perfection is to be like Christ. To be like Christ is both to have his character and to walk as he walked. In practical terms, this “walking” means doing the work that he did, accomplishing the vital task that God has entrusted to us. But we must first be like Christ before we can do anything like what he did. Only to the extent that we become like Christ will God enable us to do what He calls us to do.

2. Doing the Works of Jesus

To bring out this point more fully, we turn to John 14.12. This verse is familiar to many Christians, but do we understand it? Here the Lord says,

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. (NKJV)

Anyone who believes in Jesus—any disciple of Jesus—will also do the works that he does. A Christian is not only called to have a Christ-like character but also to do as the Lord did, continuing his saving ministry. The Lord does not define disciple­ship only in terms of having his character, though that is absolutely necessary. He stresses that those who believe in him “will” do—not “may” do or “could” do—the works that he does.

The “will do” (future tense) carries a predictive and promissory force. It expresses inevitability in the case of the person who believes in him and who, consequently, through the work of the Spirit is becoming like him; it is not just a vague possibility. Doing his work is not an option that we might choose for our spare time or when we are in the right mood. Everyone who truly believes in Jesus “will” inevita­bly do the works that he did.

Many people see this verse as a great chal­lenge. But they also see it as something optional, as though it is up to us to choose whether to do as the Lord did. How easily we say, “Lord, I’ll give the matter some consideration: When I retire and have some spare time on my hands, I may start doing what you have done.” That is wrong. Whether you have been born again can be seen by whether you are doing what he did, in the way he wants you to. That is Christ-likeness in dynamic terms, seen in a self-giving life that accom­plishes something in the world to the praise of his glory.

(1) “Works”—Revealing God to the World through Christ’s Life, Christ’s Words, and the Cross

Jesus’ statement is often understood in terms of miracles, as though he had said, “You will also do the miracles that I do, because I go to the Father.” That is not what he said. A basic principle of exegesis is to examine the context. In the preceding chapter we read:

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (John 13.36-38, NIV)

Jesus spoke of his going away, that is, to die on the cross and to return to the Father. That is the “works” he came to do. Ene­mies were conspiring to put him to death, hoping that this will end his ministry, his work. Peter assured him that he would not stand idly by: “I will lay down my life for you.” But Jesus helped him to see his true inner self, “Will you die for me? There is the willingness but you are not yet ready. It won’t be today, or tomorrow, or next week, that you’ll be ready for this challenge. In fact, you will deny me three times before the cock crows tomorrow morning.”

Peter hadn’t yet reached the stage where he was ready to participate in his Master’s “works”. He didn’t even realize how far he was from being ready, hence those heroic words. When con­fronted with that part of the Lord’s ministry or “work” which in­volved his arrest, an unavoidable step to his crucifixion, Peter prompt­ly denied the Lord.

After Judas went out into the night to get Jesus arrested, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jo.13.31). His being “glorified” refers to his being “lifted up” (12.32)—that is, “lifted up” on the cross. And by his death he glorified the Father. This was the “work” he came into the world to do. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do” (John 17.4, ESV). Here Jesus specifically refers to the offering up of himself on the cross for our sins as his “work”.

But before he went to the cross, he engaged in another work of great importance for our salvation: He proclaimed God’s word. In John 14.10, just before the verse we are studying (v.12), “works” is mentioned again: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does His works.”

Note the connection between “His works” and the “words that I say to you”. Doing God’s “works” in this part of Jesus’ ministry refers to his words and his teaching.

Let us summarize what we have observed thus far. In the context in which John 14.12 stands, it is clear that Jesus’ life, his teaching and his death are his “works,” his min­istry. All of it has to do with revealing the Father: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (v.9). The importance of these works is seen in the fact that unless Jesus reveals God to us, we will have no way of knowing God and believing in Him. It is through knowing God that we have eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (17.3).

(2) No References to Miracles

In this section of Scripture in John’s Gospel, we have seen that Jesus speaks of his revealing the Father in his own person, his teaching and his death, but there are no references to miracles.

In following Jesus, our mission is likewise to communicate God’s life and God’s teaching to the multitudes. The doing of miracles is not the primary concern, though they are certainly not excluded. Let’s get this point clear in our minds lest we be swayed by well-meaning people, especially our charismatic friends, who interpret John 14.12 wholly in terms of doing miracles.

It is possible that in serving God we may find ourselves in a situation in which we are called upon to do something miraculous. But whether or not various miracles are regularly done through us depends on the spiritual gifts that God gives to each one of us. But if the Lord’s statement, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do,” is limited to miracles, it cannot possibly apply to all believers. This is clear from Paul’s rhetorical question, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teach­ers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?” (1Cor.12.29-30, ESV). A rhetorical question calls for the answer “no”.

The mission to which we are called is, therefore, not primarily concerned with miracles but on making God known through our lives, through teaching His word, and through suffering for His sake. The purpose of these “works” is so that people may come to eternal life in Christ.

Many Christians are unaware of their calling as Jesus’ disciples, especially as it relates to the significant place of suffering in that calling. That is why they cannot make sense of Paul when he says that in his own sufferings, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col.1.24, ESV). Paul knows that we are called to partake in Christ’s saving work, and this would include having a share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings for man’s salvation. Sad to say, this vital teaching has largely been lost today, and that is all the more reason to restore it. For “to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil.1.29).

God was revealed in Christ not only by his teaching, but above all by his self-giving life and death—his death on the cross—for our salvation. Not long before he spoke the words in John 14.12, he had already said:

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” But he was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which he was to die. (Jo.12.32,33)

“For the Son of God did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mk.10.45)

If our Lord did not come to be served but to serve, do we think we are here to be served rather than to serve? And what does he mean by serve? He explains it as giving our lives for others. This serving, this giving his life as a ransom for many, these are his “works”.

Whoever believes in him, Jesus said, will do the works that he did. His words are not addressed to elite Christians but to all his disciples. Accord­ingly, we too have been given a part in Christ’s saving ministry.

(3) Having a Share in Christ’s Saving Work

Jesus says to his Father in his high priestly prayer, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which You gave Me to do” (John 17.4).

How did Jesus glorify the Father on earth? By accomplish­ing the work the Father had entrusted to him. That work consisted in giving himself for the salvation of mankind, whether in his life, in his teaching, or in his death. We are called to the same work. The saving ministry that the Father had given him, He now gives us. In what is often called his high priestly prayer (John 17) Jesus said, “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (v.18). This point is brought out again after his resurrection, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,’ ” (Jo.20.21)

To be like Christ is to have the same saving mentality that Christ had. His way of thinking is expressed powerfully in Paul’s words, “that I may by all means save some” (1Cor.9.22). This was a slogan of Paul’s life. He wanted to save people by all means, just as his Lord came to save people by all means.

Jesus redeemed mankind from sin by the blood of the cross, recon­ciling man with God and making it possible for man to be­come a whole new person living in communion with God, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring forth abundance of fruit to God’s glory. But how can those who were never given an opport­unity to hear this good news believe in it, and by that faith enter into its blessings? How will they hear if we don’t bring the good news to them? Whose responsibility will it be if they perish without having had a chance to hear? Will it not be ours? Christ provided the water of life; it is our responsibility to bring that water to those who will perish without it. That is our share in Christ’s saving work.

Paul wasn’t like some modern-day evangelists who are content with getting converts. Many evangelists leave the new converts to fend for themselves, many of whom don’t survive. But Paul didn’t work like that. When people committed themselves to the Lord, Paul strove and toiled to present every man mature (per­fect) in Christ (Col.1.28). He labored so that they may become Christ-like, that Christ’s mind would be imparted to them, that they may in turn live a self-giving life that communicates Christ’s life to others. The aim is to establish a new community—the church—which is not just a community of the saved, but a community of the saving; not just a community of the loved, but of the loving.

3. A Picture of Christ’s Saving Work

Now that we have a clearer picture of the saving “works” that Jesus came into the world to do, is it possible to portray his ministry in picture form or picture language, which would be easy enough for even a child to understand?

The Old Testament provides us with one such vivid picture: that of a city rendered defenseless because its walls have been breached[28], and in that desperate situation a courageous and self-giving person comes forward to stand in the gap to repair it. Historically, this is what actually happened in the case of Nehemiah, who for this rea­son is a type or portrayal of Christ. Seen from this perspective, the book of Nehemiah ceases to be a mere book of limited interest to us about a relatively obscure period in history, but a book that tells us what it means to stand in the breach.

Sin breached our relationship with God. As Isaiah put it, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (59.2). Sin opened up a wide gap between God and us. Who can repair the breach? Who can stand between God and us? Who can act as mediator between God and man?

Prophets and priests were mediators. The prophet spoke for God to the people; the priest offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. Moses served as prophet, Aaron served as priest. Together they fulfilled the mediatorial link between God and man, because one (the prophet) spoke for God and the other (the priest) represented man, that is, each represented one side, one party. Moses, however, did also take on an aspect of the priestly ministry by frequently interceding for the people.

Man is firmly caught in the viselike grip of a two-sided predicament: On the one hand, man has become alienated from God and ignorant of Him; on the other hand, he has fallen into bondage of the guilt and power of sin. Both the darkness of spiritual ignorance and the darkness of bondage to sin, both of which result in death, have to be dealt with. Jesus dealt with the bane of spiritual ignorance through his life and teaching, and with the evil of sin through his death and resurrection.

The cross stands as the central point of his mediation: his teaching points to it and his resurrection vindicates it. It was on the cross that Jesus with outstretched arms reconciled God and man, man with man, and indeed all things whether on earth or in heaven (Col.1.20).

The glorious Jesus is the perfect Mediator. All other mediators were types that foreshadowed him. This Jesus is our Lord who calls us as his disciples to follow in his footsteps and carry his sal­vation to the ends of the earth.

4. “Standing in the Gap” in the Old Testament

To better understand the nature of the ministry of salvation in terms of standing in the gap, let us look at an Old Testament picture that we find in Ezekiel 22.30. Here Yahweh God says to the great prophet Ezekiel: “I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.”

This verse is important to me and I hope also to you, be­cause it expresses God’s deep longing. God is, as it were, opening His heart to us and saying, “Look into My heart. Feel what I feel, and understand My thoughts; for I do not want this people to perish in their sins.” To get the background, let us read verses 28-29:

And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” when Yahweh has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and the needy, and have oppressed the sojourner without justice.

God was searching through the land of Israel, which was corrupted by sin and rebellion, for just one man. He said, “I looked for a man among them,” but could not find a single person in all Israel to do His work. Therefore,

“I have poured out My indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord God. (v.31)

Do you feel God’s heart in these remarkable verses? Can you, as it were, put your hand on God’s pulse and feel it? Israel—a people whom God had delivered out of Egypt by His mighty hand, a people whom He had led into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, a people whom He had made into a nation, a people to whom He had sent His prophets, a people with whom He had established a special relationship—this same people had gone the way of sin, committing extortion and robbery. This was the sorry situation of Israel, a people redeemed by God and called to show forth God’s glory in the world.

God was obliged to stretch out His hand with the sword of His judgment. Yet we also see the anguish of His heart. He didn’t want to destroy Israel. He was looking for just one person who could stand in the breach so that He wouldn’t have to destroy the land and His people. But there was no one. As a result, God’s righteous wrath against sin compelled Him to act in judgment. He was obliged to “consume them with the fire of (His) wrath” because they gave Him no alternative.

5. The Breaching of the Walls in Israel

Let us try to understand the picture of a person who stands in the breach. A breach is simply a big gap in the city wall.

Why do city walls collapse? One reason is the failure to maintain them. Walls, like buildings, need constant maintenance. Without proper main­tenance, they will eventually crumble.

Another reason is that sections of city walls are some­times knocked down in battle. In ancient times, an enemy force would typically attack a wall with great battering rams. These were long poles made from heavy tree trunks, with the front end often having a big metal ram’s head with its two horns. That is why they are called “battering rams”. This great pole was suspended by strong ropes from a wooden arch in such a way that it could swing back and forth horizontally.

To attack a city, the soldiers would transport the battering ram with its supporting structure mounted on a platform with wheels. They would push the device up against a city wall, and the soldiers would heave back the heavy pole and slam it into the wall. The great metal head would pound its way into the wall as the stones slowly begin to crumble. In this way the battering rams, or “siege eng­ines” as they are also called, would gradually break through the walls. Meanwhile, the city defenders would shoot arrows and throw down rocks and stones, or whatever else was available, from the top of the walls. But it was hard to defeat the enemy with this method because there would often be a big defensive roof over the battering ram.

If you read some of the ancient battle ac­counts, you would know that the sound of the battering rams sickened the stomachs of the inhabitants. Imagine that your city is surrounded by enemies, and you hear the sound of battering rams in action. Boom! Boom! Every blow causes your stomach to cramp, and you start wondering when the wall is going to crumble. The people inside the city are on edge waiting for the moment of destiny. When it finally arrives, the enemy warriors will pour in through the breach like a flood. It will spell the end of the city and possibly the nation. Sadly, this kind of thing occurred all too frequently.

Do you see the picture? The walls of Jerusalem have been breached, and the city is almost defenseless. The wall is the main line of defense, and once it collapses there is no more security or salvation. The enemy will pour in like a flood, bringing death and destruc­tion.

Those who have been to Masada in Israel will know about the tragedy that unfolded there some nineteen centuries ago. The Jews thought they were secure on the massive rocky heights of Masada. But the Roman soldiers built a ramp right up the mountain and up to the walls that crowned it, and pushed the siege engines up. Before long, the Jewish defenders of Masada had that sickening feeling in their stomachs as they listened to the pounding of the battering rams. Boom! Boom! Every boom brought home a nauseating reminder of imminent death.

And what did the defenders of Masada do? They built another wall inside the outer wall so that when the outer wall collapses, they would have a second line of defense. But that did not stop the Romans. They bashed down the second wall as well. And what did the people on Masada do? They committed suicide. When I ponder on this historic event, Yahweh’s words through His prophets ring in my ears: “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek.18.31; 33.11)

Ezekiel 22.30 says that God searched through all Israel for a man who would rebuild the wall and stand before Him in the gap on behalf of the land so that He wouldn’t have to destroy it, but He couldn’t find even one such person!

To gain an even clearer picture, let us back­track to Isaiah 5, to the picture of God building a nation: The Lord had a vineyard (the nation of Israel) located on a fertile hill. He dug the vineyard and cleared it of stones, and planted choice vines in it. He built a defensive watchtower to protect the vineyard, and hewed out a wine vat. The final outcome, however, was tragic. Israel sinned griev­ously, and Yahweh said to them, “O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah … what more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?” (vv.3-4)

The vines produced sour grapes instead of good grapes. Israel was a fruitless nation, so the holy God of Israel had to bring judg­ment against His own people:

So now let Me tell you what I am going do to My vineyard; I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become tram­pled ground. And I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briers and thorns will come up; I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it. (vv.5-6)

God will judge all sinners whether they are His people or not, whether they are believers or unbelievers. That is an inescap­able truth. It is written:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1Pet.4.17,18)

6. The Church, the Glory of Christ?

We have just seen God’s judgment on “Jerusalem the Golden,” as Jerusalem is sometimes called, especially in hymns. This exquisite name was inspired by the golden reflection of the sunlight when the sun shines upon the walls of Jerusalem.

The Psalms sing about Jerusalem as the place where Yahweh, who is the Light, dwells (Ps.43.3; 102.16). Israel had God’s light. Isaiah spoke of Yahweh as “the light of Israel” (10.17). That was why Israel was to be a light to the nations, and why the nations would come to her light. As the prophet Isaiah says, “Yahweh will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isa.60.2,3). God’s glory is their light. The light from Mount Zion— the city of God set on a hill and which cannot be hidden—will be visible to the whole world and will draw all nations.

Jesus applies this picture to his disciples and the church, for they are meant to be the light of the world, the spiritual Jerusalem that cannot be hidden (Mt.5.14). God’s people are the new Jerusalem that reflects His glory. Jerusalem is a representation of the church (Heb.12.22,23; Gal.4.25,26).

The Scriptures say that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” so “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph.5.25-27).

The church in all her glory! Given the spiritual condition of so many churches today, we may think that Paul is referring to something in the future, in heaven. But is there no foretaste of it in the present? Then what about the words, “that he might sanctify her”? Is that also in the future, even though the next sen­tence has to do with what has already taken place, “having cleansed her”? So she has been cleansed, but she won’t be sanctified or holy until she gets to heaven? There is a past and a future but no present? The cleansing is not effective until we get to heaven? Has holiness or sanctifi­cation (the two words have the same root in Greek) become a status without a corresponding reality in practical daily life?

Certainly the final and perfect fulfillment of these words in Ephesians will be in heaven; only then will we be totally without so much as a “spot or wrinkle”. But is that to say that these words are not true at all with reference to the church on earth at present? That the church is without any actual discernible spiritual glory while on earth? Is that the Scriptural teaching?

Where there is Light, there is Glory

Glory and light are closely related in Scripture. Where there is no glory, there is no light; and vice versa. If the church is without glory, it won’t have light. And what does Paul say about true believers? “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph.5.8). Paul does not merely say “you were in darkness” but “you were darkness”. Nor does he say “Now you are in the light” but “now you are light”! Nor does Paul say that we have light in the Lord, but that we are light in the Lord.

How dynamic is Paul’s understanding of the gospel! And how anemic and feeble is ours by comparison! Little wonder that many Christians have the greatest difficulty understanding what Paul says in the epistles. Yet what the apostle writes is exactly the same as what the Lord himself stated unequi­vocally: “You are the light of the world” (Mt.5.14).

We are light because he who is the Light of the world (Jo.8.12) dwells in us. If he who is the Light dwells in us, how can we not be light? If he who is the Life lives in us, how can his life not be seen through us? If his life and light are visible in us even to some extent, are we not manifesting his glory to that extent?

Looking at the church today, can we say it is functioning as light? Does it reveal the glory of Christ? Is it not, contrarily, a sad fact that the reputation of many churches is so bad today that it is hard to get some clear-minded people to go to church? Is the church the glory of Christ today? Do our hearts not ache because of the present state of so many Christians?

Paul in his own day could speak without shame or apology of the church as the glory of Christ, even if the church hadn’t yet attained to perfection. Can we say the same thing today? In Ephesians 3.21 Paul says, “To Him be the glory in the church and in Jesus Christ”—in that order! Paul is saying that God’s glory is manifested at the present time through the church, which is “in Jesus Christ”. Jesus is at this time manifested to the world through the church, which is one main reason why the church is called “his Body”. If glory is to be given to God in this present age on earth, how will it come to Him if not through His church?

Can we speak of the church in the same glowing terms as Paul did with­out embarrassment or shame? Or do we quietly avoid these verses today, not knowing what to do with them?

Israel at one time showed forth the glory of God. In David’s time, the reputation of Israel’s glory spread far and wide. In Solo­mon’s reign, the queen of Sheba traveled a great distance with a large retinue to listen to his wisdom and to behold the glory of the land. She had previously thought that the reports about Israel were exaggerated, but upon arriving there, she discovered that the re­ports had in fact told only half the true story (1 Kings 10.7). But sadly that glory was short-lived. In Christ, the church has One who is incomparably greater than Solomon (Mt.12.42; Lk.11.31), but is his glory seen in his people? Will people come from afar to seek the One greater than Solomon in the church?

Two thousand years separate us from Paul. In his day Paul could speak joyfully of God being glorified in the church even though the church was not perfect. Despite its faults and problems, Paul could say without embarrassment that the church brings glory to God. Can we do that today?

How the walls have fallen in many places. Huge breaches are there for all to see. The city set on a hill can hardly be described in terms of “glory”. Being a city that cannot be hidden, neither can her failings. In the secular west, those who still treat her with some degree of tolerance rather than with scorn or ridicule, might regard her as a cultural relic of some interest though without much relevance for the modern world. Thus the choices before the church are clear: We either become the light of the world as the Lord meant us to be, or the world will consign us to irrelevance—and even worse, God will consign us to judgment.

7. The Lord is Looking for Someone to Stand in the Gap

Now we understand Yahweh’s sentiment in Ezekiel 22.30. Can we feel God’s profound disappointment when He says, “I looked through all Israel for one person to stand in the gap and to rebuild the walls, but I found no one”?

God is searching through His church in the world today, but will He find anyone to stand in the gap before the Gentile church gets cut off? What did I just say? Yes, before the non-Jewish church (which constitutes the vast majority of the church today) gets cut off! That is startling. But do we not remember what the Apostle said in Romans 11.21-22:

For if God did not spare the natural branches (the Jews), neither will He spare you (Christians). Note then the kind­ness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

Paul was speaking to the church. The Jews had been cut off; their spiritual walls had fallen; they had gone into defeat. Similarly, if we Christians fail to continue in God’s kindness, we too will be cut off. The Apostle warns us: Don’t take God’s grace and mercy for granted, because if you do, “you too will be cut off”.

We should heed Paul’s warning and see from the present condition of the church that its days are num­bered, that is, the days of the Gentiles (our own time) are drawing to a close. The walls of the city of glory have been breached in many places, and God is looking for someone to stand in the breach. But, alas, just as God could not find a man in Israel to prevent the destruction of Israel, so today He must be having a hard time finding the right person (or persons?).

I remember Paul’s disturbing words in Philip­pians 2.20-21: “I have no one like Timothy, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Paul could not find anyone apart from Timothy who would put the interests of Jesus Christ above all else. His other co-workers were preoccupied with their own interests—even in the time of the early church!

Let’s be honest about it. Shall we ask for a show of hands from those who think they are living unreservedly for God’s glory and not for their own interests? Well, I’m not going to put you through any such embarrassment, because I fear that few could in all honesty raise their hands. Even Paul could find only one person at that time—Timothy—who was not absorbed in his own interests.

Thank God that there was someone like Timothy—and also Peter and John and Paul, and a few others, otherwise what would have happened to the church?

(1) Moses as a Model of One who Stood in the Gap

The history of Israel is a history of people who have stood in the gap. If no one had stood in the gap, Israel would not have lasted as long as it did. It would have disappeared long before its destruc­tion as a nation by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. Israel survived for a long time only because in every generation, by God’s grace, there was someone to stand in the gap. But in the end, there was no one to stand in the gap, and disaster came upon Israel.

Moses was one who stood in the breach. Psalm 106.23 says, “He (Yahweh God) said that He would destroy them,” that is, destroy Israel on account of the golden calf (v.19). The Psalm continues: “Moses His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.”

Had Moses not stood in the breach and turned away God’s wrath, the history of Israel would have ended right there. The “walls” had collapsed in the wilderness because of Israel’s unfaith­fulness. Moses stood in the gap to turn back God’s anger, pleading with Him not to destroy Israel (Ex.32.9-14), preferring instead that his own name be blotted from the book of life (v.32).

Moses was saying in effect, “Lord, if You’re going to destroy Israel, remember that it was You who appointed me to lead Israel. I confess my guilt because I have failed to lead Your people into righteousness.” Moses was not just being humble; he took upon himself the responsibility for Israel’s failure. That’s surely why he said, “Blot me out, I pray Thee” (Ex.32.32), even though God did not lay blame on him. God was about to destroy Israel, and even told Moses, “Of you I will make a great nation” (v.10), but Moses replied, “You made me leader of this nation. I don’t want to be a great nation apart from them. If you’re going to destroy them, destroy me with them.”

Would be to God that He perhaps spare the church if we have the spirit and attitude of Moses to say, “Lord, if You’re going to cut off the church, please don’t spare me, for I have failed in my task and duty. I have failed to build up the walls of righteousness.”

The world won’t turn to God until the church again functions as light. We cannot fulfill our task in this generation until the church becomes what God meant it to be. For this reason we must aim to stand in the gap and to build the walls of salvation, so that what is written may finally be fulfilled, “You shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (Isa.60.18).

(2) Sin Causes the Walls to Collapse

It is sin that destroys the walls. This we see in Isaiah 30.13, another striking and painful passage. Verses 9-11 provide the back­ground:

For this is a rebellious people, lying sons. Sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of Yahweh; who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”; and to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us pleasant words; prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel”.

Once again a prophet of Yahweh God is rebuking Israel. Israel’s appalling spiritual condition reminds us of Paul’s statement that the time will come (and is it not here already?) when people will no longer endure sound doctrine, but will seek out teachers who will tickle their ears (2Tim.4.3). Israel too only wanted to hear “pleasant words,” and beckoned the prophets to “prophesy illusions”. The people no longer wanted to hear the instruction of Yahweh, nor even about the Holy One of Israel Himself! False prophets were leading people away from the path of right­eousness. In verses 13-14 Yahweh continues to say through Isaiah:

This iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern. (ESV)

Here is a high wall that is so utterly demolished that you cannot find any fragment large enough to scrape up a few glowing cinders from a fireplace or to scoop up a little water from a cistern. Let us understand the picture: It is sin that destroys the walls. This is true on the national level and also true on the individual level. It is our sins that cause the walls of our salvation to be breached and finally to collapse if not repaired—if not repented of.

(3) A Vital Requirement for Standing in the Gap

Proverbs 25.28 says, “Like a city that is broken into and left without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” A city cannot be blamed for its dilapidated and vulnerable condition, but a man can be blamed for his own condition. Here a man lacking self-control is compared to a city left defenseless by the destruction of its walls.

Sin causes a breach, and once the breach is made, the way is open for more sin to enter in, resulting in yet more gaps in the wall; thus a vicious spiral is started which culminates in disaster.

A person who cannot control himself constantly falls into sin. He sees a pretty woman and lusts after her; he sees a beautiful car and covets it; he sees money or status and makes a grab for it. Every temptation ensnares him. He leaves himself open to sin, like a city whose walls are breached and broken; he leaves himself defenseless against man’s mortal enemies (sin, flesh, and the devil) who surge through the breaches to destroy him.

Why is self-control so essential for the spiritual life? Looking at the proverb just quoted, we see the important message it conveys: He who has self-control is like a city whose walls are firmly intact. By it his mortal enemies are kept at bay and unable to harm him. From this secure base he can sally forth to gain victories for the Lord.

What is self-control? It is important to see that “self-control” in the new person in Christ is not the same as what we understood it to mean as non-Christians. That is because as new persons in Christ, we have entered a life that is Christ-centered (as distinct from self-centered). This means that “self-control” is replaced by “Christ-control,” that is, living under his lordship constantly.

But Christ-control doesn’t mean that Christ turns us into robots which he manipulates, but that through God’s indwelling Spirit, we have the power to genuinely control ourselves by His enabling grace. Jesus wants his disciples to be genuinely trium­phant people and not mere mechanical robots. This self-control, produced in us through the Spirit, is called a “fruit” of the Spirit (Gal.5.23, cf.v.22).

What is the relevance of this discussion to our present subject of standing in the gap? It is now clear that only a person in whose life the spiritual “walls” are not breached or broken[29], but which stand solidly intact because of Christ-centered self-control—only such a person can stand in the gap.

Shall We Not Stand in the Gap?

Brothers and sisters, where is the person who will build the walls and stand in the gap? Is the church on earth still the glory of Christ? Jeremiah lamented over a ruined Jerusalem, with its walls crum­bled and its glory departed. He wept over the city. He tried to stand in the breach, but they did not let him! As a result, God’s anger was so kindled against Israel that He said to Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster” (Jer.11.14). It was too late. God’s judgment had gone forth against His people. If we don’t repent of our stubbornness towards God, the time will come when it will be too late to avoid His judgment.

Jeremiah tried to stand in the breach but he got pulled away by the scruff of the neck! He was treated roughly and was even thrown into a pit. Though he was utterly rejected, when the word of Yahweh spoken through him came to pass, he never said to the people of Israel, “Ha, I told you so! You’ve got what you deserve!” On the contrary he is called “the weeping prophet”. When his warnings to Israel came to pass, and she was cut off exactly as he had warned, Jeremiah wept for her. The whole of Lamentations is a record of his grief; that is why the book has that title.

Let us earnestly hope, pray, and labor so that the day will not come when we will weep because God has cut off the Gentile (non-Jewish) church. He had already given clear warning of this through the apostle Paul, that if we don’t stand by faith in Him but become arrogant (Ro.11.20) and don’t continue in His kindness, then what happened to Israel will also happen to us (v.22).

May the Lord grant us grace, compassion, wisdom, and strength to be willing to stand in the gap so that He may hold back His righteous judgment. May the church be spiritually rebuilt and her walls re-established as the walls of salvation. May she again bring glory to God in these last days so that multitudes on earth may find salvation within her walls.

 


[28] Graphic descriptions of this are found, for example, in Job.16.14; 30.14ff.; Ezek.26.10ff. Tearing down houses in order to rebuild and strengthen sections of the walls of Jerusalem, Isa.22.9,10, shows the importance of repairing the breaches.

[29] Or if they were breached in the past, they are now fully repaired.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church