Reading and praying this morning, I was arrested by the lesson from Numbers 16:
…and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them. For wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.” So Aaron took it as Moses had ordered, and ran into the middle of the assembly, where the plague had already begun among the people. He put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. (vv. 44-48)
Aaron reminds us that Jesus is our High Priest, standing between us and the judgment our race goes out of its way to merit. Incense represents a pleasing offering to God, and only the perfect offering of Christ on the cross can make up for the way we live life on our own terms rather than as an offering to our Creator. Incense also symbolizes prayer, and Jesus is the High Priest who “…is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)
After offering the morning “Suffrages” (a short litany for the church and the world), I found myself praying them again later, with that picture of Christ standing between those who will draw near to God through him and the many plagues that are upon us in this fallen world. I prayed something like this:
Show us your mercy, O Lord; And grant us your salvation.
Jesus, stand betwen our self-centered, sin-enthralled race and the judgment we deserve.
Clothe your ministers with righteousness; Let your people sing with joy.
Jesus, stand between all the flaws and falsehood in our churches and the rejection we deserve.
Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety.
Jesus, stand between our corruption of your creation and the disasters that afflict us through it.
Lord, keep this nation under your care; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
Jesus, stand between this abundantly blessed yet ungrateful nation and the calamity we risk.
Let your way be known upon earth; Your saving health among all nations.
Jesus, stand between misguided peoples and the spiritual forces that deceive them.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Jesus, stand between suffering people and the despair that can engulf them.
Create in us clean hearts, O God; And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
Jesus, stand between our flesh and the “second death” it courts.
Churches fret and strive about so much – too much, really. If we neglect the proclamation of the true High Priest, the only one who can stand in mercy between humanity and unsparing divine justice, we are truly disposable. Plague infested, toxic waste.
May we be thankful that he lives and stands in prayer for us.