Sunday, January 29, 2012

Discerning a Prophet


Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Mark 1:21-28

Should you trust me?  As the pastor of a church and a preacher, I have roles to fill; often more than one role depending on circumstance and need.  Some roles I think I do very well in; others, well, I just do the best I can - just as you do.  What should be clear in all circumstances, however, is that in every role and under every circumstance, I as a human being (like all of you!) am fallible; which is to say, I am quite capable of being wro ... *ahem* ... wrrrrrrrooooo ... well, you know.

Some consider me to be a little too "legalistic" - and to an extent I probably am because I am also somewhat of a traditionalist and a believer in "rules" and consistent standards instead of chaos!  I have a deep and abiding appreciation for traditions of the past; and I can appreciate rules that have value toward good order.  Rules can sometimes be cumbersome, I agree, but the ones who don't like rules are usually those who prefer to set and live by their very own rules.  When we participate in the life of the Holy Church, we celebrate the past in the joyful anticipation of what is to come; and rules help a body to coalesce as a single entity.  Both are good and both serve useful purposes, but it is also important to remember that both are means to an end and not the ends themselves. 

I know you can trust me to do my very best, but this is not nearly as important as you believing you can trust me - but never blindly especially when it comes to the Word of the Lord!  I hope you appreciate that when I bring the Word to you, I bring you what I earnestly believe to be a genuine and honest reflection of what is already written, even as I often try to "push the envelope".  I trust you will read and engage scripture for yourselves so you can measure what I offer in the true spirit of the Word.  If you do not read and study Scripture for yourselves, however, you can only - at best - take what I say with a grain of salt because you have nothing authoritative against which to measure.  And no, your opinion independent of scripture is not "authoritative".  Nor is mine.

It ultimately boils down to appropriate authority, and no preacher, pastor, prophet, or priest has authority unto himself or herself even as we are endowed with certain authority relative to the offices we serve.  This is not to suggest you are required on any level to agree with me - or with any preacher, for that matter.  Always agreeing with what is said by a preacher, priest, or prophet is not the point of preaching OR prophesyingIt is about engagement.  It is about listening with an open mind and considering what is before us within an appropriate context.  It is about "testing the spirit" [of a speaker] as expressed by 1 John 4: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit ..."  They are to be tested not according to what you or I THINK or what you or I would LIKE to hear but according to what you and I KNOW from Scripture.  

Consider these words from the prophet Jeremiah (11:1-3); "The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 'Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the people ... and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God of Israel: Cursed is the one who does not obey the words of this covenant.'"  Or consider these rather ominous words from Christ Himself (Mt 6:1-15): "If you forgive others their trespasses (debt, sin), your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."  And I have to tell you these words fly in the face of "pop" Christianity.

Both are a prophetic voice; and even though both seem "predictive" of what may to come to pass, neither is a definitive look into the future.  Each message requires a response, and each response will determine what will be ahead.  So prophesy is not exclusively about seeing blindly into the future and predicting a particular outcome regardless of present circumstances.  A prophetic voice must necessarily reach into the past (for instance, to the Law of Moses which contains the terms of the "covenant" Jeremiah speaks of), use that past to speak to the present circumstance, and call the people of the Lord forward and into hopefully a positive response and out of a state of complacency.

Consider the Lord's word to the prophet Ezekiel (3:17-19, 21): "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me.  When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die', and you give him no warning nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you warn the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul ... Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul."       

For those who do not bother with the Bible and / or do not feel a need to, there is little one can say because they have no basis upon which to engage discussion and spiritual consideration.  Biblical principles and secular social ideas mix like oil and water, and many are being led astray because they are forming an opinion based only on observation and what just "feels right".  It doesn't mean they are automatically "wrong", of course, but it is not unlike making a financial or investment decision without reading all available information so that an informed decision can be made.  We would not do such a thing with our money - SO - why on earth would we be so careless with our immortal souls??

There have been prophets, and there will be prophets until Kingdom comes.  Moses reminded the people of Israel that there will be a prophet "like him" who will be the important voice to keep Israel moving in the right direction, and the judgment will be fierce against those who refuse to listen to that prophet - AND - the judgment will be fierce against those prophets who remain silent in the face of evil or who choose a more "free lance" approach to preaching; going it alone and just making something up for less-than-holy objectives that may appeal to the masses, make people feel good about themselves, and may sell a lot of t-shirts and bumper stickers, but it will still leave the Lord's people substantially hungry, just as it is written in Ezekiel (34:2a, 3): "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves ... you eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings [for yourselves],but you do not feed the flock."

A thorough reading and study of Scripture will clearly indicate that the Lord is fiercely protective of His people, but living in willful ignorance of His will, His Laws, and His statutes means we will inevitably mislead others and will not even know to correct them when they go astray.  I have long maintained that prayer is the only way we can discern the will of our Holy Father, but such prayer must be carefully weighed in accordance with what is already written for our appropriate use, as we are instructed in 1 Timothy 3.  But we cannot use something about which we have no knowledge.

But what of this "new teaching" the people in the synagogue are marveling about (Mark 1:27)?  What are they hearing that they've not heard before?  Well, we don't really know.  We can see the encounter Jesus has with the unclean spirit, but the passage tells us before this conflict that the people were "astounded at [Jesus'] teaching" (Mark 1:22) because He spoke with "authority", unlike the scribes; but we are not told what a "new teaching" might be.  It could be a safe bet, however, that none of these who were present had ever seen a man exorcised of an unclean spirit!  It is likely, however, that what they are hearing is not "pop culture theology" but a genuine rendering of the Word of the Lord.  That would be new to them just as it is to us today.

What seems "new" to them, I think, is that perhaps this is the first time in memory that there has been a true "prophet" among them (yes, I know Jesus is much more than a prophet!).  When the Lord commissioned Ezekiel to prophesy to the people of Israel, He did not guarantee His prophet any success, but He did guarantee there will be no doubt about one thing: "As for [the people of Israel], whether they hear or whether they refuse - for they are a rebellious house - yet they will know that a prophet has been among them" (2:5).   

Whether I or any preacher occupying a pulpit is a divinely commissioned prophet is, again, not the point.  It is engagement.  It is the knowledge of a divine Covenant whose terms you and I are called to be familiar with.  It is a Covenant you and I are called to sign on to.  It is the Covenant of Life.  It is the Covenant of Christ.  AMEN.

2 comments:

Brielle said...

Hi Pastor,
A prophet doesn't tell any new thing; they tell what God has planned from the time of creation, but men have changed the story to suit their times and needs.
So the prophet's tale sounds new and different, but really isn't.

Look around you and pick a person that you would consider the least likely to be a prophet and you'll most probably find that is the one God has chosen.

The Almighty told me audibly, "The name of my son is not Jesus". Before you react; read and compare John 6:45. Men lead us to Jesus but God leads us to Yeshua.

If you're interested in reading and find out more, I have written articles at http://www.helium.com/users/310828

and on my blog page at http://nabi1-brielle.blogspot.com.au/

If you've got any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Regards,
Margaret/Pearl/Brielle

Michael said...

Hello, Brielle, and thank you for taking the time to comment. However, in reading your comment I cannot tell that you read my entire post because you seem to take exception to the theme. Between what you write in your comment and what I wrote in my post, I see no conflict.

As to whether the Lord told you - or anyone - anything "audibly", well, I will defer to Scripture. Are you suggesting a conflict between the English "Jesus" and the Hebrew "Yeshua"? Or am I misunderstanding or missing altogether your point?

Shalom,
Michael