“The Ministry of the Intercessor” (Psalm 106:19-23 sermon)

Congressman Kellogg of Illinois read the reply from Secretary of War Stanton: the stay of execution for a young man from his home state had been denied. The young man was scheduled to be executed at sunrise the next day. “This man is not going to be shot,” Congressman Kellogg cried, and he went straight to the White House. The guards at President Lincoln’s door tried to stop him — the President was in bed! — but he swept right past them. Kellogg ran right into Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom and cried out: “This man must not be shot. Why he is an old neighbor of mine; I can’t allow him to be shot!” Lincoln listened quietly to his pleas, and then said slowly, “Well, I don’t believe shooting will do him any good. Give me that pen.” (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 581)

Congressman Kellogg threw dignity and decorum aside, and interceded with the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States, that a young man he knew, might be saved. Congressman Kellogg is the picture of what an “intercessor” is. 

We need intercessors today. Our country needs intercessors today, badly. Our children and grandchildren need intercessors. God’s kingdom work needs intercessors. But what does it meant to be an intercessor? We learn a lot about “The Ministry of the Intercessor” in Psalm 106 this morning: 

 

I.  The Picture of An Intercessor

We read just a few moments ago the description of an intercessor, in the person of Moses here in Psalm 106:

— the Bible says in :19 that the people of Israel made themselves a golden calf — an idol — to worship, in direct disobedience to God.

— Then :23 tells us that God said that He would destroy the people for their disobedience — which is what they deserved.

— But then it goes on to say: “had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him to turn away His wrath from destroying them.”

Israel sinned; God said He would punish them — but Moses “stood in the breach”. That is what an “intercessor” is: someone who “stands in the gap” between God and someone else. See, whenever a person, or a group of people sins, it causes a “breach” (as it calls it here) a “gap” between us and God. This is what Isaiah 59:2 says: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” 

But Moses, the Bible says, “stood in the gap” — he got in between God and the people, and asked that they might spared.  God had just said, “Let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, that I will destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10)

But the Bible says that Moses interceded with God for them. He asked God: “Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind.” He told Him to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens …”.

And the Bible says that “the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” Why did He change what He said He was going to do? Because Moses “stood in the gap” between a righteously angry God, and His sinning people, and pleaded for His mercy and grace for them.  

That is what an intercessor does: an intercessor is a person who “stands in the gap” between someone else and God, and pleads to Him on their behalf, that He might show them mercy and grace.  That is what happened with Congressman Kellogg and Abraham Lincoln: he “interceded” with Lincoln for the young man, and asked for mercy on his behalf.

We also see a second picture of an intercessor in this passage: 

Verses 28-29 tell us that later in the Exodus, Israel again provoked God with their disobedience, and a plague broke out among the people. But verse 29 says: “then Phinehas stood up and interposed, and so the plague was stayed.” Again, Phinehas “stood in the gap” between God and the people, that they might not be destroyed.

We see this in other places in scripture as well. In I Samuel 25, the foolish man Nabal had insulted David and his men, who were now going to his house to destroy him, but Nabal’s wife Abigail went out to David and interceded. She brought out hundreds of loaves of bread, and something to drink, and sheep to barbecue, and she went out to meet David, and bowed before him, and pleaded for mercy on her family’s behalf. And David’s anger was indeed soothed, and he decided to spare Nabal’s household. 

That is what it means to be an intercessor: an intercessor is a third party, who “stands in the gap” for someone, and pleads for mercy on their behalf. 

— that’s what Abigail did with David

— that’s what Congressman Kellogg did with Abraham Lincoln

— that’s what Moses & Phinehas did between Israel and God.

That is the picture, or the description, of an intercessor: someone who “stands in the gap” for someone else with God. 

 

II. Christ As The Intercessor

Now, if this picture seems familiar, it is because it is a picture of what Jesus did for us as well. Jesus Christ is the ultimate intercessor, who “stood in the gap” between sinful human beings and a holy God.

See, just like Israel sinned against God by making the Golden Calf, so ALL of us have sinned against God by disobeying Him and breaking His commandments. We may not have made a “golden calf,” but we have made other idols: we have put other things ahead of God, we’ve made “idols” out of things we shouldn’t have, we’ve decided to do what WE want to do instead of what God commanded us — we have ALL done those things. That is what sin is. Romans 3 says: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” We have all done this.  Because of that, as Isaiah 59:2 teaches, there is a “separation” that has taken place between all of us and God; there is a “gap” between us and Him. This is why we don’t know God; this is why don’t feel close to Him, and don’t receive His blessings. Because our sin has put a “gap” between us and God.

But the Bible says that Jesus came to “stand in the gap” as an intercessor between us and God:

— Isaiah 53 predicted that when the Messiah would come, He would “intercede for the transgressors” by bearing our sins in His body.  And that is just what He did. I Peter 2 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” He paid for our sins, to “bridge the gap” that existed between us and God, so that we could come back to Him.

There is an old witnessing diagram that shows this very clearly:

— It shows how our sins put a “gap” between us and God

— But then it shows how Jesus on the cross, “bridged the gap” and made a way for us to come back to God through the cross. 

Jesus is the ultimate intercessor, who stood in the “gap” between us and God, so that we could come back to Him. 

There’s another story from the time of Abraham Lincoln, about a guard at the White House by the name of Crook, who saw a woman talking to the President’s son Tad outside the White House. The woman told Tad that her little boys and girls were starving because their father was shut up in prison and couldn’t work to earn them food. So little Tad ran to his father with the story. President Lincoln was sitting at a desk with a lot of papers that he had to read through, and with an almost absent look on his face, said he would look into the case as soon as he had time. But Tad would have none of it:  he clung to his father’s knees and begged and begged that the man might be released, until Lincoln finally agreed. Tad then jumped up, and ran back and told the woman that her husband would be set free. She blessed Tad, and cried, and Tad cried, and (the guard) Crook said he had to cry too.” (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 590)

That is a great picture of how the Son went to the Father, and “stood in the gap” and interceded on behalf of a transgressor. That is just the picture of what happened in our salvation. Jesus interceded with the Father on our behalf, “standing in the gap” for us on the cross, that our sins might be forgiven and that we might be able to come back to God.

But the Bible tells us that Jesus is the ONLY way that can happen. I Timothy 2:5 says: “For there is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all …”. The Bible says there is only one who can “stand in the gap” between you and God, and that is Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” 

So the ONLY way you can be saved, is through the intercession of Jesus Christ on your behalf. You cannot “bridge the gap” between you and God on your own. You have already sinned against God. Just like Israel, you have disobeyed Him; what you deserve from Him is His wrath and punishment for your sins.

But Jesus came to earth to be a “Mediator,” as I Timothy 2 says, an intercessor who would “stand in the gap” between you and God, so that you might be saved. If you have never received what Jesus did for you, and repented of your sins, and come back to God through Him, you need to do that, today! 

 

III. Our Ministry As Intercessors

Many of us would say, Pastor, I already knew that Jesus “stood in the gap” for me, and I already HAVE come back to God through the intercession of Christ. Is there something in this message for me? Absolutely yes!  If you have already been saved through Christ’s intercession, then your next responsibility is to imitate Him and be involved in the ministry of intercession yourself. The New Testament calls ALL of us as God’s people to be intercessors, who “stand in the gap” for other people with God in prayer:

— Ephesians 6, after it talks about the “spiritual warfare” with the “rulers, powers and world forces of this darkness,” commands us in :18 to “be on the alert with all perseverance and petition (intercession) for all the saints.” It says we as God’s people are to be intercessors in prayer for each other. 

— I Timothy 2:1 says: “First of all, I urge that entreaties, prayers, petitions (“intercessions”), and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority.”

I Timothy is a book with the stated purpose of telling us how things are to be done in the church. And as it gets into the meat of its content here in Chapter 2, it says “First of all …” — “first of all” means this is to be a priority — let these intercessory prayers be made by the people of God. It shows us the important place that the ministry of intercessory prayer is to have in the church. God’s people are to be intercessors.

— In Romans 10:1 Paul specifically talks about how he prays for the lost. He says of his lost Jewish brothers: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” So Paul was an intercessor for people’s salvation — and we should be too. Prayers for the lost should be some of the most important intercessory prayers that we pray. Jesus “stood in the gap” and died for our sins so that we could be saved — and you and I are to follow Him and “stand in the gap” as intercessors in prayer so that other people might be saved.

— James 5:16 says “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  So scripture tells us that we can intercede for each other for physical illnesses as well.

— In Colossians 1:9 Paul prays that the Christians there would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will — so we should intercede for each other for God’s wisdom and direction too. 

So the New Testament calls us to “stand in the gap” as intercessors: for other Christians, for our country and its leaders, for the lost, for physical illnesses, for God’s direction — in all of these ways and more, God is calling US to follow in the steps of Jesus in the ministry of intercession. 

Now, there are several different methods we can use as intercessors:

— We should intercede for people as part of our regular morning prayer time. I pray through an outline of the Model Prayer each morning, and every day, as I come to the line of that prayer which says “Give us this day our daily bread,” I pray for a list of people and things on my heart: specifically for my family on Mondays, our church on Tuesdays, people with physical illnesses and our nursing homes on Wednesdays, our country and elected officials on Thursdays, and so on. You don’t have to organize it exactly like I do it, but I would encourage you to make intercession a regular part of your daily prayer time. Have lists of people that you are “standing in the gap” for on a regular basis. 

— Then there will be times when there is a specific person or issue that is just so pressing, that you set aside a specific time of prayer — and maybe fasting — for that person or thing. Remember Jesus said some things only happen by prayer and fasting. If you really want to “stand in the gap” for someone, consider praying and fasting for a special period of time for them. 

— Then you can also pray with other people. We do this in our worship services on Sunday mornings, in our Wednesday night prayer meetings (when we have them, or Facebook Live on Wednesday nights now), in our Ladies ministry, and other events and groups. 

— Then we can also pray with others for needs we see on Facebook and social media. In fact, one of the most important reasons I am on Facebook is because it keeps me updated a lot of the needs of our people that I might never find out about otherwise. I know there’s good and bad about Facebook, like there’s good and bad about everything, but one of the good things about Facebook is that it allows us share prayer requests and PRAY for people: we can “stand in the gap” for people when we see these needs. I think that’s a great thing.  

But we need to understand, as God calls us into this ministry of intercession, that it COSTS us something to be an intercessor:

— First of all, being an intercessor means that you must be willing to invest the TIME that it will take you to pray. Really “standing in the gap” for someone is not just a matter of saying to someone in church, “I’m praying for you,” or typing on Facebook, “Praying” — and then forgetting all about it!  Truly interceding means that you take the time, regularly, to bring the needs of that person or group before the Lord, on a regular basis. It costs you time.

— And really being an intercessor also costs you emotionally. When you are truly a Biblical intercessor, you are doing it because you deeply CARE. You care about that person; you care about that marriage; you care about that family; you care about that church; you really care about your country. That’s why you pray. You are emotionally invested in asking God to do something on their behalf. There is an emotional price to be paid when you are really “standing in the gap” for someone.

Just like little Tad Lincoln cried, and all those in that story cried — it was an emotional thing. That’s how it is with intercession. There is an emotional investment involved in it, that is a real part of the cost of interceding. And just because it is an “emotional” cost does not mean that it is not a REAL cost.

The Apostle Paul spoke of “the pressure of concern for the churches” as being among the burdens that he carried as a Christian servant. There is real emotional pressure involved when you carry the burden of a church — ask any pastor who has the responsibility for a flock. Any youth minister who cares about what is happening with his group of kids. Ask any member who has a real heart for their ministry. There is a real weight of concern that is a part of the cost of that ministry. 

And it is the same with the intercessor. When you really care for someone, and “stand in the gap” for them, it is a real burden upon you that drives you to pray for that person, or that church, or that country, or that situation.  Listen: it is much easier NOT to care; it is much easier not to have that burden — just like it is “easier” not to love than it is to love. But God has called us to love; He has called us to care, and He wants us to be willing to pay the physical, mental, and emotional price that is involved in really “standing in the gap” as an intercessor.  

 

CONCLUSION:

God’s ultimate goal for each of us as His people, is for us to become like Jesus Christ. And there is nothing in our Christian lives that is more Christlike, than following in His footsteps by “standing in the gap” for someone in prayer, and adopting the role of an intercessor. That’s what Jesus did for us, that brought about our salvation. And it’s what Jesus wants US to now turn around and do for others, so that they can be saved — or touched, or revived, or changed — or whatever He wants to do in them.  But the Bible makes it clear that He is calling us to this “Ministry of Intercession.” The question is: will we respond?  

I truly believe that THE single greatest determining factor, of whether we will be a great church or not, in the days ahead, will be whether we become a church of intercessors, or not. 

— We can try to be known as the “friendly church,” 

— or the “conservative” church,

— or “the church with the new building,” 

— or the “cool activities” church, or whatever …

And there are churches that are trying to be all those things, thinking that’s the way to success. But if we really want to see lives changed, and really want to see God work in a supernatural way, then what we really need to become is the “interceding church.” May God help us to learn to follow Jesus in this vital Ministry of Intercession.

 

INVITATION:

One of the saddest verses in all the Bible is Ezekiel 22:30, where God is speaking about His sinful people, and He says: “I searched for a man among them, who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it — but I found no one.”

Let’s make sure that can’t be said of our country today

— or your family today

— or your friend

— or our church

Let’s make sure there is SOMEONE who is committed to the ministry of intercession for those we love.  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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