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11. Being Like Christ: Standing in the Gap


– Chapter 11 –

Being Like Christ: Standing in the Gap

The goal of renewal

What is the ultimate goal of renewal? Without a doubt it is perfection in the Biblical sense, which is to become like Christ. Perfection is a 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, the Source of life and 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, can we have life — eternal life. To make this a reality 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”? How can we do the work of Christ — reconciliation — unless we are like him?

The ultimate aim of per­fection is to be like Christ. What does this mean in practice? Imitate “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” as a hymn puts it? That is certainly in­cluded, but is that the ultimate goal of perfection? Can we describe the goal in more dynamic terms? By “dynamic” we are thinking of a task or mission that we are given to fulfill in this generation. 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 fine to be “nice guys” but that hardly defines our mission in these last days as disciples of Jesus.

What 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 crucial. The latter — to do as he does — would mean that God assigns us a task that He had earlier assigned to Jesus. The purpose of regeneration and renewal is not merely to become nice people, but to fulfill Christ’s saving mission in the world through God’s indwelling Spirit.

Scripture doesn’t just speak of becoming like Christ in some general sense of being good people. We must go beyond that, 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 atone for people’s sins as Jesus did, 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 are 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 wouldn’t know where we are going or understand the purpose of being Christ-like.

Doing the works of Jesus

To discuss this point more fully, we turn to John 14:12, where the Lord Jesus 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 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 in his saving ministry. The Lord does not define disciple­ship only in terms of hav­ing his character, though that is necessary, but stresses that those who believe in him “will” do — not “may” do — the works that he does.

The “will do” (future tense) carries a predictive and promissory force. It conveys the sense of inevitability for the one who believes in Jesus and who, by 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 if we can 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.” This 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. This is Christ-likeness in dynamic terms, seen in a self-giving life that accom­plishes something in the world to the glory of God.

(1) “Works”: Revealing God to the world through Christ’s life, Christ’s words, and the cross

Jesus’ statement in John 14:12 is often understood in terms of miracles, as if he had said, “You will also do the miracles that I do, because I go to the Father.” 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)

Here Jesus speaks of his departure, that is, to die on the cross and return to the Father. This is the “works” he came to do. Ene­mies were conspir­ing to kill him with the aim of ending his ministry, his work. Peter pledged him faithfulness unto death — “I will lay down my life for you” — but Jesus helped him to see his true self: “Will you die for me? You are genuinely willing but not ready. It won’t be today or tomorrow or next week that you’ll be ready for this challenge. You will deny me three times before the rooster crows.”

Peter hadn’t yet reached the level of being ready to particip­ate in his Lord’s “works”. His heroic words show that he didn’t even realize how far he was from being ready.

After Judas had gone out into the night to betray Jesus, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn. 13:31). His being “glorified” refers to his being “lifted up” (12:32) — that is, lifted up on the cross. 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).

Besides the cross, the Lord Jesus engaged in another work of great importance for our salvation: proclaiming 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 “works” and the “words that I say to you”. In this aspect of Jesus’ ministry, doing God’s “works” refers to speaking and teaching.

From the whole context of John 14:12, it is clear that Jesus’ life, his teaching, and his death are his “works,” his min­istry. All these have to do with revealing the Father: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (v.9). Unless Jesus reveals God to us, we will have no way of knowing and believing in God, and no path to eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

(2) No references to miracles

In this section of John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of revealing the Father in his own person, his teachings, and his death, yet 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 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 to do the miraculous. Whether miracles are done regularly through us will depend on the spiritual gifts that God has given each one of us. 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. Paul says, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teach­ers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues” (1Cor.12:29-30). A rhetorical question expects “no” as the answer.

The mission to which we are called is not primarily concerned with miracles but making God known through our lives, our teaching His word, and our suffering for His sake. The purpose of our works is to lead people to eternal life in Christ.

Many Christians are unaware of their calling as Jesus’ disciples, much less the aspect of suffering in that calling. 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). We are called to partake in Christ’s saving work, and even in the fellowship of his suffer­ing. 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).

Christ revealed God not only by his teaching, but above all by his self-giving life and by his death on the cross for our salvation. Shortly 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. (John 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.” (Mark 10:45)

If Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, why would we think that we are here to be served rather than to serve? And what does he mean by serving? It is giving his life as a ransom for many, this being his “works”.

(3) Having a share in Christ’s saving work

Whoever believes in Jesus will do the works that he did. This statement is not limited to “elite” Christians but to all disciples. Hence we too have a part in Christ’s saving ministry.

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, which is to give himself for the salvation of mankind through his life, his teaching, his death. We are called to the same work, namely, the saving ministry the Father had given to the Son. Jesus also says, “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (v.18), a point that is brought out again after his resurrection, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

To be like Christ is to have his saving mindset, which 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 humankind by the blood of the cross, recon­ciling man with God and making it possible for everyone to be­come a whole new person living in communion with God, and to bear abundant fruit through the Spirit, to God’s glory.

How will those who have never had a chance to hear the good news believe in it, and through 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 it those who will perish without it.

Paul was not like some modern evangelists who are content with getting converts. Many evangelists leave the new converts to fend for them­selves, many of whom do not survive. But Paul strived and toiled to present every man mature (per­fect) in Christ (Col.1:28). He labored so that they may become Christ-like so that they themselves may 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.

A picture of Christ’s saving work: Standing in the gap

Now that we have a clearer picture of the saving work that Jesus came to accomplish, is there a concrete way to portray his ministry in picture language that even a child can understand?

The Old Testament gives us one such vivid picture: that of a city rendered defenseless because its walls have been breached.[1] In that des­perate situation, a courageous person comes forward to stand in the gap to repair it. Historically, this is what happened with Nehemiah, who for this rea­son is a type of Christ. From this perspective, the book of Nehemiah ceases to be an ordinary book of limited scope about a relat­ively obscure period in Israel’s history, but one that reveals what it means to stand in the breach.

Sin breaches our relationship with God. “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” (Isaiah 59:2). Sin creates a wide gap between God and us. Who can repair the breach? Who can stand between God and us? Who can mediate between God and man?

Prophets and priests were mediators. The prophet spoke to the people on God’s behalf, the priest offered sacrifices to God on the people’s behalf. Moses served as a prophet, Aaron served as a priest. Together they formed the media­torial link between God and man, for one of them (the prophet) spoke for God, and the other (the priest) represented man. Each represented one side, one party. (Of course Moses also took on an aspect of the priestly ministry by inter­ceding for the people.)

Man is caught in the vise-like grip of a double predica­ment: man is alienated from God and ignorant of Him, and man comes under the guilt and power of sin. The dark­ness of spiritual ignorance and that of bondage to sin both result in death, so they 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 lies at the center 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, but also humanity and all things on earth and in heaven (Col.1:20). Jesus is the glorious and perfect Mediator. All other mediators are types that foreshadowed him.

“Standing in the gap” in the Old Testament

To better understand the ministry of salvation in terms of standing in the gap, let us look at an Old Testament picture in Ezekiel 22:30. Here 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, for it reveals God’s deep longing. God, as it were, is opening His heart to us: “Look into My heart. Feel what I feel, and empathize with My thoughts; for I do not want the people to perish in their sins.” To understand the back­ground to this, 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,” yet could not find one person in all Israel to do His work. Hence,

“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 delivered out of Egypt by His mighty hand, whom He led into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, whom He made into a nation, to whom He sent His prophets, and with whom He 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 proclaim His glory in the world.

God was obliged to stretch out His hand with the sword of judg­ment, yet we also see the anguish of His heart. He didn’t want to destroy Israel. He was looking for just one person to stand in the breach so that He wouldn’t have to destroy the land and His people, but there was no one. God’s righteous wrath against sin gave Him no alternative but to act in judgment: to “consume them with the fire of My wrath”.

The breaching of the walls in Israel

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

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 heavy battering rams. These were long poles made from heavy tree trunks, with the front end having a metal ram’s head with two horns. That is why they are called “battering rams”. This great pole would be suspended by strong ropes from a wooden arch such that it could swing back and forth.

To attack a city, the soldiers would transport the battering ram with its 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 crumble. The battering rams, also called siege eng­ines, would slowly break through the walls. Meanwhile the city’s defenders would shoot arrows and throw down objects such as rocks, from the top of the walls. But it is hard to defeat the enemy with this method because there would often be a defensive roof over the battering ram.

If you read about some of the ancient battles, 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 wonder when the wall will 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 has happened all too often.

The walls of Jerusalem have been breached, and the city is left 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 visited Masada in Israel would know of the trag­edy that unfolded there some nineteen centuries ago. The Jews thought they were secure on the rocky heights of Masada, but the Romans built a ramp right up the mountain and up to the walls that crowned it, and pushed up the siege engines. Soon the Jewish defenders of Masada had that sickening feeling in their stomachs as they heard 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 in Masada do? They committed suicide. I am reminded of the words of Ezekiel: “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (18:31; 33:11)

Ezekiel 22:30 says that God searched all Israel for a man who could 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 one such person.

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

The vines produced sour grapes. Israel was a fruitless nation, so the holy God of Israel had to bring judg­ment upon 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. 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?” (1Peter 4:17,18)

The Church, the glory of Christ?

Jerusalem is sometimes called, especially in hymns, Jerusalem the Golden. This exquisite name was inspired by the golden reflection of the sunlight upon the walls of Jerusalem.

The Psalms sing of Jerusalem as the place where Yahweh, who is light, dwells (Psalm 43:3; 102:16). Isaiah speaks of Yahweh as “the light of Israel” (10:17). Israel was to be a light to the nations, with the nations coming to her light. 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” (Isaiah 60:2,3). The light from Mount Zion — the city of God set on a hill — will be visible to the world and will draw all nations.

Jesus applies this picture to his disciples and the church, who 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). Paul says:

… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 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. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The church in all her glory! Given the spiritual condition of so many churches today, we might think that Paul is referring to some­thing in the future, in heaven. But is there no foretaste of it in the present? What about the words, “that he might sanctify her”? Is that also in the future? The next sen­tence refers to something that has already taken place: “having cleansed her”. There is a past and a future but no present? Or are we saying that the cleansing is not effective until we get to heaven? Is sanctifi­cation or holiness merely a status without a corresponding reality in practical life?

The final and perfect fulfillment of those words in Ephesians will certainly be in heaven; only then will we be totally without “spot or wrinkle”. But does it mean there is no foretaste of this purity in the church on earth in the present age? Does it mean that the church has no discernible spiritual glory while on earth?

Where there is light, there is glory

Glory and light are closely related in Scripture. Where there is no glory, there is no light. Where there is no light, there is no glory. If the church has no glory, it won’t have light. Yet Paul says to believers: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). He does not merely say “you were in darkness” but “you were darkness”. Nor does he say “you are in the light” but “you are light”.

Paul’s dynamic view of the gospel stands in stark contrast to our anemic understanding of it. That is why many Christians have a hard time understanding Paul’s letters. Yet he is only repeating what the Lord himself stated: “You are the light of the world” (Mt.5:14) just as Jesus is the Light of the world (Jn.8:12).

Does the church today function as light? Does it reveal God’s glory? The reputat­ion of the church is so bad today that it is hard to get some clear-minded people to go to church.

Paul in his own day could speak without shame or apology of the church as the glory of God, even if the church hadn’t yet attained to perfection. Can we say the same 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, the glory which is also in Jesus Christ. God is now mani­fested to the world through the church, the body of Christ. Can we speak of the church in the same glowing terms with­out shame or embarrassment?

Israel at one time showed forth the glory of God. In David’s time, the reputation of Israel’s glory spread far and wide. During 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 told only half the true story (1 Kings 10:7). But 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?

Two thousand years separate us from Paul. In his day Paul could still speak joyfully of God’s glory in the church even though the church was not perfect. Can we do that today?

How the walls have fallen. 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 accord the church some degree of respect rather than scorn might still regard her as a cultural relic that has lost its relevance in the modern world. The choice before the church is clear: We either become the light of the world as God meant us to be, or the world will consign us to irrelevance, and God will consign us to judgment.

The Lord is looking for someone to stand in the gap

Now we understand Yahweh’s sentiment in Ezekiel 22:30. Do 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? Yes, before the non-Jewish church (the vast majority of the church today) gets cut off! That may be startling, but it is consistent with what Paul says 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. (Romans 11:21-22)

Paul is speaking to the church. If we Christians do not contin­ue in God’s kindness, we too will be cut off, for we will not receive preferential treatment over the Jews. “Cut off” is a warning not to take God’s mercy for granted.

From Paul’s warning and from the condition of the church today, we see that its days are num­bered, with the days of the Gentiles draw­ing to a close. The city walls have come down in many places, and God is looking for someone to stand in the breach. 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.

Paul has 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 put the interests of Jesus Christ above all else. His other coworkers were preoccupied with their own interests, even in the time of the early church!

Let’s be honest about it. How many of you are living unreservedly for God’s glory and not your own interests? Paul could find only one such person, Timothy. Thank God for people like Timothy, and also Paul, John, Peter, and 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 had. 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 that “Yahweh said that He would destroy Israel” on account of the golden calf (v.19). The Psalmist 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 is 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 make Moses “a great nation” (v.10). But Moses said, “You made me the 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.”

May God spare the church if we had 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 to build up the walls of righteousness.”

The world won’t turn to God until the church functions again as light and becomes what God calls it to be. We must stand in the gap and build the walls of salvation, so that what is written may 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, as we see in Isaiah 30:13, another strik­ing and painful passage. The background to this is seen in verses 9-11:

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”. (Isaiah 30:9-11)

Again a prophet of God is rebuking Israel. Its 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 only wanted to hear “pleasant words,” and urged the prophets to “prophesy illusions”. The people no longer wanted to hear the instruction of Yahweh Himself, not even things about “the Holy One of Israel”! 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 collect a few glowing cinders from a fireplace or to scoop up water from a cistern. It is sin that destroys the walls, whether on the national or the individual level. It is our sins that cause the walls of our salvation to be breached and to collapse.

(3) A vital requirement for standing in the gap

“Like a city that is broken into and left without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Prov.25:28). A city cannot be blamed for its dilapidated condition, but a man will be blamed for his own conditi­on. A man without self-control is like a city left defense­less by the destruction of its walls.

A person who cannot control himself will constantly fall into sin. He sees a pretty woman and lusts after her; he sees a beautiful car and covets it; he sees an opportunity for money and makes a grab for it. Every temptation ensnares him. He leaves himself open to sin, like a city whose walls are breached. He leaves himself defenseless against his mortal enemies (sin, flesh, Satan) that surge through the breach to destroy him. Sin causes a breach, and the way is open for more sin to come in, resulting in yet more gaps in the wall. It is a vicious spiral that culminates in disaster.

Why is self-control so vital to the spiritual life? In the proverb just quoted, we see that the one who has self-control is like a city whose walls are intact. His mortal enemies are kept at bay and unable to harm him. From this secure base he goes forth to gain victory for the Lord.

Self-control in the new person in Christ is not the same as what we in our non-Christian days understood it to mean. As new people in Christ, we have entered into a life that is Christ-centered, not self-centered. Hence “self-control” is actually “Spirit-control,” that is, living under God’s lordship. It doesn’t mean that we become robots, but that through God’s indwelling Spirit we have the power to control ourselves (self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, Gal.5:23, cf.v.22). Jesus wants his disciples to be trium­phant people and not mere robots.

Shall we not stand in the gap?

Where is the one who will stand in the gap and build the walls? Is the church on earth still the glory of God? 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! 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 come upon His people. If we don’t repent before God, the time will come when it will be too late to avert His judgment.

Jeremiah tried to stand in the breach but got pulled away by the scruff of the neck! He was treated roughly and thrown into a pit. Yet when Yahweh’s word spoken through him came to pass, Jeremiah never said to the people of Israel, “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 as he had warned, Jeremiah wept for her. Lamentations is a record of his grief.

Let us pray 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 through the apostle Paul that if we don’t stand in faith but become arrogant (Rom.11:20), and don’t continue in His kind­ness, then what had happened to Israel will happen to us (v.22).

May God grant us grace, compassion, wisdom, and strength to stand in the gap so that He may hold back His right­eous judgment. May the church be spiritually rebuilt and her walls reestab­lished 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.


[1] Graphic descriptions of this are found in Job 16:14; 30:14f; Ezek.26:10f, and other passages. Tearing down houses in order to rebuild and strengthen sect­ions of the walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:9,10) shows the importance of repairing the breaches.


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