Allen Jackson - Standing In The Gap - Part 1
Then the idea at the moment for me is that standing in the gap is choosing to be a difference-maker for the kingdom of God. It's not always about great numbers or some big public stand. It can be done in a quiet place or in an after overlooked place, but when you decide to stand in the gap, you make possible a different outcome for other people. And I've come to the conclusion that in many instances, they won't even notice that it's happening until a later point in time when they look back and they'll realize that the presence of someone else made possible in advance that brought good things to them.
And I'm asking you to consider a different kind of discipleship for yourself. I'm asking you to consider something beyond faithful church attendance and heightened biblical morality and a generosity of spirit and a generosity of resources. I'm asking you to take a step towards a bolder place where you purposefully and intentionally say, "I'm gonna stand in the gap". We'll build a list of characteristics and I don't want to get ahead of myself as we kind of walk it out together in scripture, but I can tell you this, it's gonna take a bit more courage than what we've imagined was associated with just attending church.
See, I think if we're going to see renewal come and awakening come, if we're gonna see a reversal of trends come and be clear on this, there are multiple examples in history, both American history and church history where the people of God have brought about significant cultural change. We processed some numbers last week around the Civil War, more than a million people included in those casualties list to turn back a tragic miscarriage of justice. That's a part of our national history. And people say to me now, our nation is so divided, not as divided as it needs to be. If we're gonna continue behaving the way we are, there better be some division in our nation... or the church will have completely capitulated. What are we doing? We'll have to have the courage to say, "Yes, it's an awkward place, but I'm gonna choose to stand for a God perspective".
People who will stand in the gap, not belligerent people, not angry people, not vengeful people, not people who are unforgiving or unnecessarily violent, but people who will stand for the principles of the kingdom of God. All right? So that's our target, and we're trying to build understanding of what this is about. Ezekiel 22 Is or text, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I wouldn't have to destroy it, but I found none. So I'll pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they've done".
Why would you make the...be vulnerable. Why would you take the risk? Why would you put yourself out there to be a person who stands in the gap? Because you're standing between someone or some group of someones and the judgment of God. Jeremiah 15, the Babylonians are headed to Jerusalem. The fate of Jerusalem is a sealed certainty. "And God says to Jeremiah, 'Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to these people.'" The implication is so clear that Moses and Samuel had stood before God on behalf of other generations and God had responded because those individuals stood in the gap but if they joined forces and presented themselves along with Jeremiah on behalf of that sixth century group of people in Jerusalem, God said it would make no difference.
So the big picture view is there are times and seasons when there were individuals who changed the course of what God could and would do on behalf of his people. And there are times and seasons when those individuals didn't present and the judgment of God came upon his people. Look, standing in the gap is a significant assignment, it's more than something casual, it's more than trying to get your spiritual ducks in a row so you and your two kids and your dog are all in the place you need to be. It's an awareness that we're kingdom people, but our life assignment is about something more than just me, that God would use your life for his purposes and what's entailed in that.
For the evening, I wanna do one more case study and I chose, I really took this out of our daily readings these last few days, and I just chose a couple of big blocks of scripture because as we started into Deuteronomy, it seemed to get so personal to me for Moses. Now, when you're hammering your way through Leviticus and Numbers, there's a lot of instructions going out to a lot of people and a lot of things happening, but when you turn the page into Deuteronomy, all of a sudden the pronouns become first person. Moses is saying, "I and me," this is not separate in any way and I thought perhaps we could get to a bit of that.
I wanna just ask some questions before we look at the text. Do you think the slaves of Egypt would've escaped without Moses participation? You know, there's this a group of us that would say, "Well, God would've done it for them with or without Moses". Well, God did it individual and Moses was uniquely prepared. I believe he would've ultimately delivered them, but I don't know that the timing would've been anything like it was. Would those same people have made the journey to the Promised Land without Moses engagement with him? It's highly doubtful. The plagues alone wouldn't have done it. The Red Sea alone wouldn't have done it. They would've turned back when they got to Marah in Exodus 15, 72 hours on the other side of the Red Sea event, they would've gone back. Would they have understood worship? Would they have had a tabernacle? Would they have found the Ten Commandments?
You see that the role Moses played in that journey was critical. I want to invite you towards this, that God has something for your life, it may not be on the magnitude of Moses, they're not gonna take five books of the Bible and hand them to you, but in your family system, on the street where you live, on the job site where you'll be this week, in the factory floor where you work, in the courtroom that you pass through, or the operating suite that you occupy, are we willing to be a person who stands in the gap? Are those spaces going to be different because we were present? Are we gonna make it possible for there to be different outcomes for the individuals around us? Will we imagine that we have done our spiritual business and just try to go as covert operatives through the world?
It's an important question, and I want you to look with me in Deuteronomy 8. I think this was the reading for Saturday, could have been Friday, I think. And I wanna just draw your attention to how personal this is Moses delivering this message, it feels almost parental to me. This is far, this isn't a sermon or this isn't just an historical recitation. Chapter 8, in verse 1, it says, "Be careful to follow every command I'm giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert those 40 years, to humble you and to test you in order that you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands".
See, God knows what's in our heart, he knows the beginning at the end, the ending at the beginning. You and I have to find out what's in our heart. What will we do under the stress? What choice will we make? And here's the reality. We may not get the choice right the first time, and in brokenness and humility and repentance, we come back to the Lord and say, "Lord, I'm sorry," and God and his grace and mercy will give us another opportunity. Verse 3, "He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna". Do you have room for that that God would purposefully put you in a place to humble you? To show you that you're not self-sufficient? "Which neither you nor your fathers had known to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord".
What was so real to me was this journey Moses has made with his people. Moses could identify the hand of God in moving on their behalf, inviting them to be changed and transformed. There was a meaning for it, a purpose to it, a context that they themselves often didn't see in the midst of the struggle and the daily grind and the heaviness and the pushback in the same way that a parent could observe the struggle in a child with a sense of an overarching sense of context and purpose and accomplishment to encourage the child and to guide them through. Children don't feel that, they just know it, they don't want to go to school, they don't want to get up, they don't want to eat their vegetables, they don't wan to wash their face or brush their teeth. They don't want to be polite and they don't want to share. That takes a voice beyond themselves to help them get there. You and I need a voice beyond ourselves, and are we willing to allow God to use our lives in such a place?
Verse 15. "It was God that led you through a vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and watered as lot, waterless land, with venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you out of water out of a hard rock, gave you manna to eat. You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hand have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God for it's he who gives you the ability to produce wealth and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your fathers as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be," what? "Destroyed". Does that word give you pause? He didn't say you'd be disciplined. You'd be reprimanded, you'd be slapped on the wrist. You'll forfeit some of your profit. He said, "If you forget the Lord your God and you follow other gods, then you bow down to them".
Now, I know we don't bow down to little statues typically any longer that are made out of wood or metal, but that's really a very narrow definition of idolatry. Idolatry is about priority, and anything that has priority in your life above God is an idol. You in effect bow down to it, you serve it, it owns you. And please hear what Moses is saying 'cause he's one of these people who stood in the gap. I want to take note of his counsel. He said, "If you ever forget and you embrace idolatry, I testify against you, you will be destroyed". And there is ample history of God bringing destruction to his people, the covenant people of God, the group that walked through the Red Sea and ate the manna and drank the water from the rock were destroyed in the wilderness. Moses has my attention.
Chapter 9, "Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord". There isn't anybody in history could have said that with the same authority that Moe could. He walked in out of the desert to get 'em. He said, "Pack your bags, we're leaving". He made the whole journey with them, and now that they're just about finished, he said, "Remember this and never forget. You provoked God to anger from the day you left Egypt until you arrived, you have been rebellious".
And then he gives them the examples. "At Horeb you aroused the Lord's wrath. When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, I stayed on the mountain 40 days 40 nights; I ate no bread and drank no water and the Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. The commandments were at the end of 40 days and 40 nights, the Lord gave me the tablets, the tablets of the covenant. Then the Lord told me," look at verse 12, this is fun stuff. "Then the Lord told me, 'Go down from here at once because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt.'" This is like parents. Your kids are driving me crazy.
God said to Moses, "Your people that you brought out of Egypt," well, excuse me sir, but I think you were involved. "They have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have cast, made a cast idol for themselves". "And the Lord said, 'I've seen this people, they're stiff-necked people indeed. Let me alone, I can destroy 'em and blot out their name from under heaven. I'll make you into a nation stronger. So I turned and went down the mountain.'" Look in verse, "When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord and you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded. So I took two tablets and threw them out of my hands". Verse 18, "It gets intense again, then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights; I ate no bread and I drank no water because of all the sin you'd committed".
How easy would it have been for Moses to have been so angry, so embittered, so critical, so judgmental, but he takes an entirely different posture. He's an intercessor, 40 more days, 40 more nights fasting on behalf of a rebellious, stiff-necked, idolatrous people who've complained about him and grumbled about him and organized rebellions against him. "For 40 days and 40 nights, I ate no bread and I drank no water because of the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord's sight and provoking". How often do we get angry at ungodly people? And here I see Moses, this man occupying this unique space. "God be merciful to these people". He had every reason to have been filled with anger and resentment. "God be merciful, I'll make a sacrifice on their behalf. I'll forfeit my food, I'll forfeit my comfort. I'll forfeit my convenience".
How far removed is that from contemporary ideas around American Christendom? We think of sacrifices when somebody sits in our seat at church and we sit behind them one row without saying anything, and we just sit and stare at 'em through the whole service. See, I don't believe you leave slavery and live a miraculous existence and occupy a promised land unless there's some people willing to stand in the gap. I'm asking you to begin to think with me about some new responses. I don't intend to dictate to you what they need to be, but I'm asking you to begin to say to the Lord, "Lord, I don't want to just be a consumer". Verse 19, "I feared the anger and the wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me".
What was it that motivated Moses? He feared the wrath of God. "The Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too and I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you made and I burned it in the fire". See again, if I took a contemporary Christian response, we would've had a discussion on tolerance. We'd have talked about all the people that worship idols and how we needed to have compassion on them and insight for them, and what a hard place the Israelites were in. "I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you made, and I burned it in the fire and then I crushed it and then I ground it to powder as fine dust and then I threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain".
He intended to be done with it. "You also made the Lord angry in other places, Taberah, Messah, when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, 'Go up and take possession of the land that I've given you.' But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You didn't trust him or obey him. You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you". Again, this is the covenant people of God, and Moses is having a pretty plain, "Would you say"?
Now, I took Moses's life and I think you'll know most of this story, but I just wanted to walk through it with you for a moment because I think our tendency is to want to imagine that to be a person who stands in the gap, you have to be a unique sort of a person. And I think we'll find reasons to give ourselves latitude, pain, you know, things that have happened to us. And we'll say, "Well, you know, not me," but I want, there's just a list of bullets, and these are all straight out of Moses life. You'll know them if you've watched, most of them you'll know if you have watched Cecil B. DeMille. We start, he was rejected as an infant. I know you can tell the story and say that his parents spared him. They hid him for a season but they got to the point where hiding their child was no longer convenient for them, it put them at two great a risk.
So they put him in a basket and set him adrift in the Nile River. Now, you can put dramatic spins on that, folks, that's rejection. Can we agree? That's a tough way to begin your life. And then he grows up as a foreigner in the palace because apparent, it seems to be from the context of scripture. It's known that he was drawn from the river, and even though he grew up as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he understood and those around him understood he was a descendant of the Hebrew slaves. So he grows up never quite fitting in, and it has an impact on him because when we see him as a young man, he's filled with rage and anger. When he sees an Egyptian taskmaster and abusing a slave, he doesn't show him his palace credentials and suggests that he redirect his activities, he kills him.
It's a pretty logical outcome of the rejection, the displacement in the palace, he's an angry young man and now he's a fugitive. He can no longer stay in Egypt and all of the privilege that has defined his life, all the knowledge that he's gained from growing up in Pharaoh's palace, all of the special opportunities, all of the things that had uniquely giving him a life opportunity seem to have just evaporated in a moment and he's a fugitive. And for decades, he lives as a Bedouin sheep herder, quite literally on the backside of the desert until one day he has this remarkable encounter at a burning bush. And it always seems to me that the scripture says, if you look at Exodus 3, it says, "When Moses turned aside to see the bush that was burning, God called to him from the bush".
The implication it seems to me is that Moses had passed some other's opportunities and had never turned aside to look. That on this particular day, if he'd have kept moving, God would've stayed silent. This wasn't an encounter Moses sought, it isn't something he's volunteering for, God is recruiting him, but it requires Moses participation. And he's a very reluctant recruit. Do you remember the story? And he says, "Well, who will I say sent me"? And God says, "You tell 'em I AM sent me". And he says, "Well, what if they don't listen"? And he says, "Well, what's that in your hand"? It's a staff and throw it down, it became a snake, Moses ran. Smart man. And God said, "Go back and pick it up". And it became a staff again. And he said, "Yeah, but still and," "Put your hand in your cloak". And when he took it out, it was leprous, incurable disease. "Put it back". It's better again. "Yeah, but I don't talk plain".
Now God's getting angry with him. I mean, Moses is not anxious for this assignment. He's tried Egypt, it didn't work well, it was a painful place for him, from his childhood, from his young adulthood. He failed in that place, it's not a place he's anxious to revisit. And he certainly doesn't wanna go back with an assignment to tell Pharaoh that the slaves have to be set free.
See, I'm not sure that this notion that we...to being a person who stands in the gap is something that you embrace with like joy and high fives. We'll see yet I'm not finished with everything I wanna bring you, but in many instances, it seems to me that there's enough awareness that when you make the choice, you understand you're embarking on a journey that is not necessarily about convenience or comfort. And are you willing to do it? And may I tell you the truth, most people's answer will be no. We have to be pretty persistent just to fill volunteer slots for children's ministry. Standing in the gap is a different kind of an invitation altogether. Say, "Oh, I don't have to do this, I'm a Christian, I've said this". I'm not calling your eternity into question, but I want to call into question, your imagination that serving the Lord doesn't require something of you.