October 25, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“He [God] said He would have destroyed them, if Moses, His chosen one, had not stood in the gap before Him to turn away His wrath.” (Psalm 106.23)
“God says, ‘I searched for someone who would build up a wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it.’” (Ezekiel 22.30)
And the search is on! The lament is great among the people of this nation and among all the nations because it certainly has the feeling that destruction at whoever’s hands is upon us. God has proven in the history of Israel as a developing nation coming out of bondage in Egypt that “if we choose another way different from God there will be consequences we will be unable to bear.” Fortunately, because of the will of God for His people [not just Israel], such choices on our part do not exclude us from His presence. We know, as in the declarations of King David and the Apostle Paul, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God!” But, as has been said in former reflections, the measure of love is for our discipline as well as our goodness. Solomon taught his son this measure with the words “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Sadly, too many desired to interpret that dictum with the worldly understanding instead of the Messianic promise. The call for “tough” love is equally valuable as is “compassionate love.” But, “tough” love was not intended to be “brutal” love. Yes, Solomon knew of “the rod” of discipline and mercy from his father David who sang over him as he had over his flocks of sheep, “The Lord is my shepherd, His rod and His staff shall comfort me.” People, like sheep, have this tendency to “go their own way and must be brought back into the protection and livelihood of the sheepfold.” This may be done with the assistance of other shepherds to define the perimeter and keep watch (as much as they can because herding sheep can certainly feel like herding cats from time to time.) This may be done with the assistance of a herding dog who not only stays on the alert for danger to the flock from the predatory world but continues to act as the extension of the shepherd’s hand from a distance. Then there are those times when the shepherd must resort to “the rod and the staff” to lead, guide, direct and redirect.
I dare say that God’s Word must certainly speak to such a condition as we find ourselves in today with the unbridled culture and climate of shepherdless sheep. And I would hold the Church responsible as well for “dropping the rod and staff” of discipleship to pick up the self-soothing social gospel. And I would not limit the identification of the social gospel to meeting the needs of economically-disadvantaged populations who are then troubled emotionally, physically, psychologically, educationally and medically. These are things we must do for God’s people and those who may choose to become God’s people. The social gospel is a failed experiment because it turned the gospel into a party spirit like an “ice cream social” or a “carry-in dinner.” If all the gospel is is a means to make people “feel better about themselves in this world” and thus contribute to the welfare of those who “made them feel good,” then the gospel is a lie. I believe the Church as a whole has forgotten the power of “the rod and the staff,” the cross, which is the key point of view from which the world must be seen and the key value with which the world must be dealt with and ministered to. The perspective of the cross has been softened by the “social gospel” into a crossing of pool noodles like kids sword-fighting on a summer day. You have to admit that pool noodles offer little protection as swords while their true purpose is to provide a flotation option for those struggling in the water. By application, I would say it this way, the gospel of the modern Church may help keep people afloat in troubled waters but it is a poor solution to identifying the real problems and issues and fending off the true enemies of the people. I have heard it this way, too, that the Church is good at giving a “hand out” but slips a great deal in extending a “hand up.”
To that end I would harken back to the a time in the sojourn of the Hebrews freed from bondage when they found themselves in the midst of a valley filled with poisonous vipers and snakes. The bite of them brought painful death and suffering. It diverted the focus of the entire movement from the Promised Land and caused them to look back to see a hard time as as better time. They desired to escape “immediate” death by clinging to a “slow” death. Either way, it was death not life. Then Moses was directed to put the form of a snake on the end of his staff. He was to lift up that image of what caused their pain and suffering and have all eyes fixed on it. He led those people out of the valley of the shadow of death and the serpents fled back under the rocks from which they came. We hear that story again as a means of connecting physical salvation to spiritual salvation. Jesus declared “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the Wilderness so, too, must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The “rod and staff” which thus formed the cross upon which Jesus was crucified as the Christ was and is the source of our being lead in the paths of righteousness for our salvation and deliverance to the Promised Land.
And now the search is on for “one” or that “group of ones” who will be like Moses in Exodus or a truly righteous person in Ezekiel or an humble priest in Isaiah or one who will take up their cross and follow Jesus as the Christ in the Gospels. “Who will go for US and who will represent US?” asks the Godhead- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “Who will be the one or ones to build up the wall of protection and fill the gap?” they ask. And in Ezra and Nehemiah we see exactly that happening as Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt following the seventy years of captivity in Babylon. It is time for such people to hold fast to the righteous truth of “the rod and the staff,” the authentic and pointed word of God and assume the position of watchmen. It is time for the “pool noodles” of conventional wisdom and party spirit to be cast aside and the shepherd’s crook and prod be picked up, put into use and lifted up to lead, guide and direct those who will be people of God through this valley of the shadow of death into the promised land. If not now, when? If not this, what? If not here, where? The question we do not need to ask is “How?” We certainly know how because “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness of Sin so the Son of God and Man has been lifted up in the Kingdom of God on earth as He is lifted up in Heaven!“
The gauntlet has been laid down and the challenge has been lifted up. We will put on the full armor of God and stand the gap for Your people and for Your Way, Truth and Life by which we can enter into Your Presence with confident thanksgiving. It is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, He who is high and lifted up, that we shall make ourselves known for the sake of others and for Your glory. AMEN.