Friday, July 11, 2014

Union with the Intercessor

I’m preaching on confession in a few weeks and have been reading the Scripture’s examples. There’s a pattern that has captivated my attention. Sometimes when interceding for either the Church or Nation we pray as those removed – it’s an “us-and-them” prayer. This is usually because we don’t accept any part in the problems for which we are praying. However, I noticed that the O.T. intercessors don’t have this attitude.

Nehemiah: “I said, ‘I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, Who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses’” (1:5-7).

Isaiah: “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts’” (6:1-5).

Daniel: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day - to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. And now, O Lord our God, Who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day - we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name’...I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God...” (Daniel 9:3-20).

The intercessor does not stand apart from those for whom he is interceding. Even if he/she is the only one praying and seeking the face of God, there is no sense of separation from sinners. An intercessor stands both in the presence of God as the sinners for whom he/she is interceding. The intercessor does not pray for them, but for us. The intercessor does not confess their sin, but our sin.

This attitude carried over into the early generations of the Church: “Ye mourned over the transgressions of your neighbors: their deficiencies you deemed your own” (1 Clement 2.6).

Any judgment over this land will begin with the Church (1 Peter 4:17,18; cf. Proverbs 11:31). Peter, quoting the Proverb, speaks of the “difficulty” with which the people of God will be saved. Jesus called it “impossible” (Matthew 19:25,26//Mark 10:26,27//Luke 18:26,27). If the salvation of the Church is such, where is our broken heart for neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, family? Where is our “great sorrow and unceasing grief in...heart” (Romans 9:2)? As long as they’re just categories or ideologies or sins and not people, we don’t make confession to God as one of them. We’ll rail and not weep. They’ll be wicked or ignorant rather than souls on the edge of hell.

Moses said, “forgive their sin - and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:32).

Paul said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).

Can you pray like this? Are you broken-hearted intercessor before God, or venom-spitting idealogue who speaks to God like the throne room is a FaceBook page, blog, radio program, or letter to the editor?

May we learn to pray for them as them. We are, after all, eternally united with Christ, sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit according to the election of the Father. This same Christ with Whom we are one is the same Who “knew no sin” yet was made “to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are united with the One Who “redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). I am not suggesting that we duplicate Christ’s saving work, but that we reflect the heart of the Incarnate One Who became the ones for whom He came to accomplish salvation. If we are united to Him, this attitude/heart ought to be imaged in our intercession for the Church and Nation.

We do not lessen their guilt. They are sinners meriting eternal hell alone and nothing else. Just like us. “Such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Pray as one of them for the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.

Lord, make us biblical, Christ-like intercessors. We have fashioned our tongues (physical and digital) into worldly weapons. Our words are the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34//Luke 6:45), but there’s no heartbreak over the damned in our hearts or words! Create in us the Spirit of the Intercessor for Your eternal glory and – should You will it – their eternal joy! May we stand before You as one of them in confession and intercession, for this is what it means to be unified with the Intercessor.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Covenant Promises in Our Homes

The promise of the new covenant is one of the most precious of the entire Bible: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them [only those who know Him will be in the covenant],’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

In the new covenant, He writes His Law on the heart of the covenant people (see also Deuteronomy 30:6,8; Proverbs 1:23; Ezekiel 36:26,27)! This promise is fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 8:6-12; 9:15; 12:24), and proclaimed weekly at the Table of the Lord (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

His Law is on the hearts of those who are truly the covenant people. But it doesn’t stay there. Remember this other great promise: “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29//Acts 2:16-18). This promise is for all those who “repent” and are “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

The writing of the Law on the heart is parallel to the pouring out of the Spirit. The Word and Spirit cannot be separated. The presence of the Spirit is manifested by the presence of the Word in the heart. The Law, written on the heart of those in the new covenant by the Lord Himself, does not stay in the heart. The Spirit manifests His Word from the heart of the new covenant community members through “prophesy,” “dreams,” and “visions.” These three manifestations will not deviate in the slightest from the Word of God (or they show themselves to be of a different spirit that is not holy).

In the new covenant, the Lord Himself (through His Word/Law and Holy Spirit) works out obedience to His own command: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). I just read this passage to my children last night (we are considering Q.42 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism this week). The Spirit-spoken “prophecy” is none other than the teaching “diligently to your sons” and the “ your the way.” The “dreams” and “visions” are the “talk of them...when you lie down and when you rise up.” This is the blessed man who delights "in the Law of the LORD," and this delight manifests in his "day and night" meditation (Psalm 1:1,2).

Don’t miss the fact that we are to teach our children not just any “words,” but “these words,” commanded by Moses: the Law of God. They will never know their need for Christ apart from “these words” (Galatians 3:22-24). At the same time, don’t miss the fact that you cannot “teach them diligently,” “talk of them,” “bind them,” or “write them” apart from the Holy Spirit, Who speaks His Word/Law from the hearts of those who are the new covenant community in Christ.

“ filled with the Spirit...fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18; 6:4). The instruction to our children of the Law of God in the power and help of the Holy Spirit in Christ is His great means of grace in our homes.