We saw in the last post how the woman in Revelation 12 could be seen as Israel. Now we look at the second option of her as the Church. This time the twelve stars could be seen as the twelve disciples and the sun and moon representing the breadth of the Church as her members “shine like stars” in a dark world. However adding metaphor to metaphor is not the real point. We, as a Church, are a people called to pray.
The early apostles set the identity of the Church and Paul, like a Moses of old, wrote down the grace principles in his letters and his life. In one word Paul modelled intercession. He, like the sign of the pregnant woman, knew all about making disciples through painful spiritual travail.
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4:19
We see this same committed intercession at the end of Romans 8, a passage which “hinges” significantly to the beginning of Romans 9, and which shouldn’t be stopped by the chapter numbers, but should flow on to reveal Paul’s pained identification with his brother Israelites. One thread of chapter 8 is the incredible commitment and love that God shows in Christ to His people. There is NOW, “no condemnation”. For “ If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” There is also no accusation: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And no separation: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Romans 8:31-35
The climax to all this come in the last verse as Paul emphasises the certainty and indestructibility of our place in God’s heart:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” v.38-39
He is emphasising the “no separation” love he knows of Christ – and yet he is prepared to go beyond promise, beyond even his own blessed experience of Christ’s intimacy, stepping boldly into the realm of identification and suffering for his own people.
“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers , those of my own race, the people of Israel. ” Romans 9:1-4
The man who so confidently proclaimed to the Philippian church: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” now has unceasing sorrow for his brothers. This is the paradox of our Christian pilgrimage on earth. Sorrow and joy often meet in the same heart, sometimes in the same instant, both intensely real and yet not hijacking one another in the mature believer. Tears and laughter can share an instant in the hidden heart of the intercessor.
Like his ancestor Moses of old, and his beloved Jesus of the cross, he is willing to sacrifice even his own salvation, such is the passion of his prayer.
“But now, please forgive their sin– but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:32
Christ’s living body on earth also modelled the obedience of intercession as an almighty God identified with the pain and lostness of His people with powerful tears.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5: 7
Before a waiting and watching world, imprisoned in the depths of sadness and suffering, the Church, the body of Christ, stands. May the multitudes see our tears and prayers as we are sent out in the same intercessory spirit as Christ himself.
Paul makes an interesting statement of Christ’s passion in Colossians 1:24,
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
What is lacking? Surely there is no lack on the side of Christ’s full redemptive act. The lack is on the other side of the cross, as the Church is challenged to pick up the missionary baton of intercession and take Christ’s love to the end of the earth – on knees first, and then aeroplanes! It is not a redemptive lack, but an intercessory missionary lack! The power and passion awaits those who dare “rejoice” in suffering for the Gospel.
“To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” v.29
This is a call for the church to “labour”, to birth the reigning male child, Christ’s Kingdom, into the world.
I’ll end by going back to Romans 10:1, which encapsulates Paul’s longing – the Church’s longing and hopefully our own longings in intercession, for people to be saved. Paul prays for his brother Israelites here, but you can use these lines to pray for those closest to your own heart.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”