God Needs Intercessors
The following is excerpted and edited from a message given at a conference of Americaís National Prayer Committee in January 2007 in Texas.
Let us look at several passages in the Bible Ė in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah Ė in which God says that He needs a man. In Jeremiah 5:1 He says that if He could find one man who loves truth and will do righteousness, He can forgive the whole city of Jerusalem its sin. Abrahamís story ties in here. In the eighteenth chapter of Genesis the beginning is God the Savior, the end is God the Judge, and standing between is Abraham. For a few minutes, the destiny of two significant cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, rested on one person. God is saying, "If I could find oneÖ."
In Ezekiel 22:30 God looks for a person to stand in the gap and make up the hedge so He does not have to destroy the city of Jerusalem. One person can make a difference for God. You do not need to have a mega church. The chapter is about the holy city, where the king is using his position for his own personal advantage and using it with cruelty and at the cost of his subjects. The rulers are using their position to get personal gain. The priests no longer know the difference between the holy and the unholy. Does that sound like today?
We all know the beginning of Isaiah 59: "Behold, the Lordís hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear." There is no problem with God; He is perfectly able. "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His faceÖ. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truthÖ. They hatch cockatriceís eggs, and weave the spiderís webÖ. Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the nightÖ." Itís so dark at noon that you have to turn the lights on morally and spiritually. Thatís a good bit of our culture, isnít it?
"We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is noneÖ. For our transgressions are multiplied before TheeÖ. For our transgressions are with us: and as for our iniquities, we know themÖ. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a preyÖ." What is He talking about? He is talking about the people of God, about the holy city and the chosen nation, the elect people. That is alarming, isnít it?
But thank God, look at the middle of verse 15 and verse 16: "The Lord saw it [Jerusalem] and it displeased Him that there was no judgment. And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessorÖ." A lot of translations say, "no one to intercede." He couldnít find one person, "therefore His arm brought salvation unto Him; and His righteousness, it sustained Him."
Notice again the line, "He saw that there was no man, and wondered [or "was appalled"] that there was no intercessor." There are two shocks in this passage. One is that omnipotence is looking for help. The other shocking thing is that the omniscient One is appalled. I think He knew ahead of time, but it is still shocking. Can one person make a difference? What kind of person does He need? I read this in the Hebrew. He is looking for an intercessor or one to intervene. The basis of the Hebrew word used there is "to meet or encounter." So He is looking for a person who causes two persons who are separated to meet.
How do we get Him and His answer together with this incredible need in the Church? He looks for someone who can cause Him in His adequacy to meet the need in the Church Ė an intercessor.
Christ Our Intercessor In Isaiah 53
Isaiah 53:6 reads: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own wayÖ." There you have the essence of what sin is. We tend to think of sin as a violation of the law, which it is, but before we violated the law, we made a decision inside of ourselves, and we have turned to our own way. The verb used there is "faced" Ė we have faced to our own way. Which way are you looking? Are you looking at Him and His face or are you looking to your own way?
The essence of sin and the sinfulness of man is that we are centered in ourselves. The truth is we are not the center; self is a false center. Sin is centered in us, and the word "self" leads you to that. That helps me with what I think atonement is. It is a cleansing of that inner frame of reference. We are so sinful and self-centered that God has no way to get to us except to appeal to our self-centeredness. He says, "Do you want to go to hell?" and I say "No!" God says, "You need Me." He takes me when I turn and am open, and He, the outgoing One, comes in and turns things inside out. The redemption of someone begins inside a person other than the one who is saved. This is the story based on Isaiah 53:6: All of us have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all. In the literal Hebrew translation it is: God has caused to meet in Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all.
In 1950 one page of "Time" magazine was on a medical case in California. There was a boy 9 or 10 years of age who developed a kidney problem. His body became diseased because of a diseased kidney. That infected the other kidney, so he ended up with two kidneys not functioning properly. His condition deteriorated steadily. The medical team called his father and mother in and said, "There is no way with the medicine we have that we can save him."
The parents said, "Is there nothing you can do?"
The team said, "Well, weíve had one wild thought Ė something that has never been tried. Theoretically it ought to work, but it has never been done so we donít know whether it would or not. We have thought that if we could get someone whose blood type matched his, and could hook the two bodies together, so that the blood from the sick child could flow into the well person and make its way through the kidneys of the well person and then feed it back into your sonís body, it might be that your sonís kidneys could get enough relief that they could recuperate themselves."
Both parents said instantly, "Check our blood type." The blood type of the mother did not fit; the blood type of the father did. And the father said, "Letís go." They put him on the operating table next to his son, and linked the two bodies together. To their wonder and delight, the temperature of the boy began to drop and the temperature of the father began to rise, and they met, leveled off, and then both began to drop. When they had dropped for a while, they disconnected them. They kept both in the hospital for a time. After about nine days they released the boy and he went home, and he may still be living. The father they kept for another two days to watch. On the eleventh day suddenly the fatherís blood pressure rose, the temperature returned, skyrocketed, and he died.
Iíve never thought of the cross and the atonement the same way since. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way, and Jehovah has caused to meet in Christ the iniquity of us all. Christ took my sin. He who knew no sin became sin for me. He took it into Himself. The source of salvation is in Him, not in you or me.
In chapter 59 of Isaiah it says that God looked for a man and could not find one, so when He could not find one, His own arm brought salvation. I had an unbiblical concept of the arm of the Lord. When I read in Isaiah 59:1: "ÖHis hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hearÖ," I thought, "He can take care of it with His power. He can impose the solution." Then I read in Isaiah 59:16 that when He could not find a person, His arm brought salvation. We read in Isaiah 53, "who hath believed our report?" (v. 1). In our language that means something unbelievable. "He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness Öthat we should desire HimÖ. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon HimÖ" (vv. 2-5).
The arm of the Lord is the figure on the cross. I always thought the arm of the Lord was the figure on the throne. If you read carefully Isaiah 40 to 66, you will find that the arm of the Lord is the suffering Savior. The answer was not for God to impose salvation on anything. The answer was for us to impose our problem on Him, and the power of God is that He can take it. When He takes it into Himself, He turns it around, and the salvation occurs in Him just like in that fatherís body for his son. But the father died. In the second person of the Trinity, there is a resurrection. What is it? A life that is in the Father, is in perpetual flow into the Son, as the life of the Son is in perpetual flow into the life of the Father.
So Jesus could say, "If you get Me, you get My Father." When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, He essentially said to them, "If they get you, they get Me, and if they get Me, they get the Father. If they reject you, they miss Me, and if they miss Me, they miss My Father" (See Matt. 10:40). When I first saw what this meant, I didnít want that responsibility. I wanted to say, "This is what you ought to do," and not say, "Iím identified with that message, and what you do with me you are doing with it." That would mean there has to be a similarity and an identification between me and the message. If there is a great contrast between me and the message, then where is Christ? The Father dwells in the Son and now God became a man and it is possible for that God to live in a person. That means you are going to be an open channel through whom the Spirit can flow.
The Father comes through the Son. The Son comes through people like you and me. Jesus said to the eleven and to His friends and the women and children, in John 20:21: "Öas My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." And "Öwhosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted" (v. 23). Jesus is essentially saying, "You are the key between Me and the world the way I am the key between the Father and you." What makes it all possible? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who is in the Father and in the Son comes into me, and imparts the flow of the life of God, which is what produces results.
Bearing Godís Burden with Him
Let me tell you a story about Amy Carmichael. About 1895 she went from Britain as a missionary to India. In India she became very aware of the temple girls. When a father died, they burned his wifeís body with him because they believed he would need her in the next life to serve him. That left the children with no parents. The boys were no problem because they would bring in income, but who wanted girls? So they gave the girls to the gods, and put them in the temples and they became prostitutes. Amy Carmichaelís heart was broken to see these twelve or thirteen-year-old girls serving prostitutional purposes in the temple. She began working to get them out. She was able to get some out and was effective enough that the temple priest got concerned. So the temple priest went to the Indian businessmen. The Indian businessmen went to the British businessmen and said that a Britisher was creating problems. The British businessmen went to the British missionaries and said that one of their number was creating problems. The British missionaries came to Amy and said, "You have to quit this." She asked, "What about the girls?" and they said, "Yes, that is tragic, but you are creating problems and it is going to be too damaging, so you will have to stop this."
At that time she was working to get a girl out of the temple. She thought that the chief priest of the temple, being a religious man, was bound to have decency and compassion in him, but she slowly began to realize from the steely look in his eye and the granite lines in his face, that the girl was a means of bringing in money and he did not want to turn her loose. So Amy had everyone against her. She went to her room, a single missionary girl, got down on her knees, and said, "God, itís not my problem. Iíve done everything I know to do and itís not working. Itís not my problem."
Suddenly she saw the Lord. He wasnít kneeling under a Middle Eastern olive tree. He was kneeling under an Indian tree, and as He knelt there were two streams of tears coming down His face. Suddenly He fixed His penetrating gaze upon Amy. And He said, "Amy, itís not your problem. Itís Mine. Iím just looking for someone who will help Me bear it."
"Surely He hath borne our griefs [pains] and carried our sorrows [sicknesses]." Jesus bore them Ė took them. Remember the story of Abraham before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, how He said in effect, "Shall I share with Abraham what I am about to do?" (Gen. 18:17), and that led to Abrahamís intercession. Jesus said to His disciples that as the Father sent Him, He was sending them. Paul could say, "For to me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21). For whom? For a world.
That has changed my life. The only hope for anyone whom Iím responsible for is for his/her problem to become my problem, to where I carry it within me. When that happens, itís not my problem really, itís His. You get a burden in your heart. You donít sleep quite as well, and you find yourself waking up in the night. Youíre profoundly concerned about a son, a child, a church, a church member, a friend, a country. Itís a burden. An inner voice says, "Iíve given you the privilege of entering into the burden that is in my heart for a world that is lost." That is what Romans is talking about when it talks about the Holy Spiritís unspeakable burden (Rom. 8:26-27). He enters into that unspeakable pain that is in the heart of God. He permits me to enter into it. I have the privilege of entering into His heartache. There is such promise in it.
God said to Amy Carmichael, "Itís My burden, and Iím looking for someone to share it." See the connection? If you make a break in an electric line, the lights go off. You have to have the connection. And somehow, the interpersonal relationships are the connection, and if it isnít there, youíve got Sodom and Gomorrah. The thing I need to start with in my prayer is, "God, where do You want me in this picture? Where can I fit?" Iím not responsible for everybody. Iím responsible for the ones God wants me to be responsible for.
Divine Love Enables to Bear
Returning to Isaiah 59, and "His arm brought salvation" Ė when God could not find an intercessor, He said that He looked for a man and when He couldnít find one, He became one. Do I want to be a part of the answer? The only way I can be a part of the answer, is to be a part of the participation in the problem. And so "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all deadÖ that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Thatís the love of Christ; thatís not human love.
We read in Romans, "And the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy SpiritÖ" (Rom. 5:5). Note the four words: "the love of God." Who is loving whom? There is no way you can tell. It may be God loving me, or it may be my love for God. A world hangs on the difference between those two. Is there a difference between the way God loves and the way we love? How much difference? Is Godís love just bigger than mine? Is it just quantitatively different or is it qualitatively different? The common Greek word that was used for "love" never occurs in the Greek New Testament. The Greek word "eros" was the very broad term in common usage, to include anything that is beautiful and good and true, as well as love between a man and woman, and Aristotle even says it is what holds the planets in place.
When it came to writing the New Testament, the writers used a word very hard to find in classical Greek. The reason they took it was because it didnít have any distinct meaning. The noun "agape" and the verb "agapao" describe the love of God, the subject, where God loves. "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16). What is the nature of the world that God should love it? Godís love is not based on the nature of the world; it is based on the nature of God. Thatís what He is, and it is outflowing love. He doesnít love because of who we are, but because of who He is. That doesnít mean He doesnít appreciate us. He does. Agape love is what you get on the cross: "Father, forgive themÖ." Agape love is what Stephen displayed.
The love of God is to fill us. Thatís the reason Paul uses the concept of fullness so many times. We are to be filled with God. When we are filled with God, do we lose our freedom? No, there is where the freedom is. The freest person who ever lived on this earth was Jesus. He said in effect, "I can do nothing of Myself. I can only do what I see My Father do. I came not to do My own will; I came to do the will of My Father" and He was delighted with it. There is where I find my freedom, my fullness, what I am supposed to be Ė the fullness of God filling me.
First Corinthians 13 is called the love chapter. I always thought this chapter told me I ought to love. There is nothing in this chapter that tells me to love. It tells me what love is. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and haveÖ." Notice: "have," not "do." Agape is not something you do. It is something you receive. If I understand it, thatís grace. What Jesus said on the last day of the great feast in John 7 was: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink... and out of his [inward parts] shall flowÖ." The verb is "flow." When that love flows into a person, it is going to break out and when it does, it flows to another person, and then the other person is going to be open or closed.
Some way or other intercession helps open the way for love to flow from God through us to another person. This is true even if the other person doesnít know anything about the one who is doing the intercession and the praying. In conversions you find that somewhere somebody was that point of contact. Nobody comes alone into the kingdom. We come in webs of relationships. And I like it! It makes us belong to each other. It is a wonderful theology and philosophy. The theology of it is what I find fits life. We mesh.
God needs intercessors. Who will be one?