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Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

Since I had very little part in putting it together I am free to say that Issue 2 of Conversation is a really high quality magazine. If you haven’t got a copy you must (paper or e-copy).

At 42 pages it’s substantially fatter than the first issue. More articles, more cutting edge comment and analysis, more media reviews, more news from the Christian world, more conversation stirrers.

The theme of this issue is faithful Bible preaching and I’m particularly enjoying Harrison’s article pulling lessons from the Puritan’s on truly great preaching. Then there are very powerful pieces by Adisa and Polle on servant leadership and suffering, Lydia on Prophet Owuor, Kigame on the Bible, Fidel on City Girl…

Go on… get with the conversation.

 

contributors 2

 

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Micro-preaching small groups – wrestling with Malachi on tithing

More great Christ-centred preaching from Job

Luther in 30 minutes

Pastoral Ministry – How do I know if pastoral ministry is for me? And interesting debates on ‘calling’ and the role of women in church ministry

Mission lessons from the life of Gladys Aylward

Wonderful applications and encouragements and challenges on gospel-driven, gospel-shaped living flying out of Ephesians 4:17-5:21

With the 2nd years – NT and contemporary Prophecy

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In morning devotions at iServe Africa we’ve been preaching through the Minor Prophets and came across the famous Micah 6:8. It’s the banner of a thousand Christian organisations. And as a mission statement for an NGO or mercy ministry it’s a good one. These things are very much on God’s heart – justice, mercy, humility. May the Lord increase and establish those working towards these things. But as a summary of what the Christian life is all about or as a sermon (and it is a very tempting 3-point sermon: 1. Do Justice; 2. Love mercy; 3. Walk humbly) there’s a problem. It’s not good news. It’s simply Law. It condemns and kills me; it doesn’t bring me life. If I just preach this verse and exhort people to those three things then I’ll either just kill people and drive them to despair or, worse, I’ll flatter people that they can sort themselves out and do the right thing – pure moralism. What’s the answer? Context, context context…

What came out very clearly as we read through the whole book was that the verse actually comes in the context of a searing indictment of the sin of God’s people. Micah 6 is a bit like 1 Corinthians 13 (the famous wedding passage on love). Just as the point for the Corinthians is that they haven’t got love in their church so Micah exposes how God’s people haven’t been doing justice, loving mercy or walking humbly with their God. They know full well what He requires (Micah 6:8a – this isn’t new stuff; it isn’t a lack of knowledge problem), what’s more they know God’s massive grace and love (Micah 6:1-5), and yet they are completely corrupt, violent and running after other gods.

When God turns up in person a few hundred years later it’s no different – even the disciples fail to walk humbly with their God (Mark 9:33-34) – and mortal man, who knows full well what is good (Mark 12:32-33), pours out his corruption, violence and pride on God himself (Mark 14:10-11). Are our hearts different? Mine isn’t.

The point of Micah 6 is to destroy our hope in our own goodness and set us up for the punch-line of the whole book:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19)

That is our hope. Not our justice or mercy or humility. Jesus. The perfectly just, delighting-to-show-mercy, humble-to-the-cross one who takes away our sin once and for all. Isn’t that what we want to be preaching? That’s where the good news and life transforming power is.

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At the August ‘First Priority’ prayer meeting we read 2 Chronicles 18 – the gripping story of the faithful prophet, out-numbered 400 to 1, standing before the kings of Israel and Judah. Harrison provoked us to think through a number of questions:

  1. Why are we seeking the Lord’s will?  Jehoshaphat has just led a greater revival than his father Asa (2 Chron. 17) but now he’s throwing in his lot with the terrible apostate king of Israel Ahab (2 Chron. 18:1-3). Unlike the northern king, Jehoshaphat is still concerned to “Enquire first for the word of the Lord” (v4).  But why?  Is he really willing to obey it?  It turns out later that he is not (v28).  Are we looking to God’s Word to rubber stamp what we already think and want?  How different are we from Ahab who’s main concern is for someone to tell him something good about himself (v7)?
  2. Who is our master?  For the 400 prophets it’s pretty clear who’s the boss – the king – their pay master general.  For Micaiah it’s also clear – “As the Lord lives, what my God says, that I will speak” (v13).  What about for us?  Who are we ultimately trying to please – our mentor/supervisor/senior pastor/bishop, our congregation (what their itching ears want to hear), ourselves, or “the Lord sitting on his throne” (v18)?
  3. Are we more concerned for passion or for truth?  Zedekiah ben Chenaanah has a very powerful message. He ‘goes symbolic’, he declares “Thus says the Lord”, what he says is followed by multiple ‘confirming words’ (v10-11)… but it is just hot air.  What do we mean when we say that a sermon was “powerful”?  Do we want preaching that blows the roof off and sends us out pumped up to take on Ramoth-gilead or do we want the truth?
  4. Are we willing to be unpopular?  The 400 prophets have strength in numbers and the favour with those at the top of society.  Micaiah is pressurised (v12), slapped in the face (v23) and imprisoned (v26). The same happens to Jesus and then Paul and then to thousands of those who have preached the pure Word of God through the ages.  Much as we pray and work with all His energy for a revival of faithful Bible teaching we had better get used to the fact there will always be great resistance and very rarely will faithful prophets be in the majority.
  5. Are we under judgment?  When we look ‘behind the scenes’ and see why the 400 prophets are united in false prophecy (v18-22) we have to face the possibility that a rise in false teaching may be a judgment from God. Praise God that even in judgment he remembers mercy and has his true prophet in place (v7), responds to the desperate cry of the Davidic king (v31), preserves a remnant (1 Kings 19:18) and soon brings a new revival (2 Chron. 19-20).
  6. What kind of message do we have?  At first sight (or hearing) the message of the 400 prophets sounds like good news (v5-11) while Micaiah’s message sounds like bad news (v16-22).  We might start thinking, “So the prosperity gospel preachers have got all the good news and we just have bad news to tell people?” But look closer and follow where it leads and you find a different story. The message of the false prophets is, “You strive and God will give you victory” – and it leads to destruction (v34). The message of the true prophet is, “God is desperately concerned for his sheep and their shepherd who are heading for disaster and he’s graciously giving you this warning ahead of time” (v16) – all you have to do is believe this message and sit still and you will live. The words of the false prophets tie on heavy burdens and make empty promises.  But the faithful preacher has the words of eternal life, the voice of the Good Shepherd, grace and safety – words that sting at first and cut down pride but only to heal us and free us and lift us up to the throne of grace.

At the same ‘First Priority’ we looked at the country of Germany – where the Reformation began 500 years ago. We could see various parallels between Micaiah ben Imlah and Martin Luther.  Both massively out-numbered – almost lone voices preaching the truth in the midst of thoroughly corrupted and twisted religion. Both preached the inability of man and the sovereignty and love of God.  Both hauled up before the authorities (having been lent on very heavily to just go along with the official Church view).  Both declared their consciences bound to the Word of God.  And both suffered for their stand. 

Latest estimates suggest that in Berlin today only 0.1% of the population are evangelical Christians.  There is great need of a new revival, a rediscovery of the power of the Word of God, the beauty of Jesus, the good news of grace alone, justification in Christ.

  • For a good brief profile of the German mission context see here.
  • For more prayer resources on Germany see here.
  • For an example of mission from Kenya to Germany see here and here.

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How do the apostles and other disciples preach the Prophets in the book of Acts?

  • They preach Christ crucified – Peter’s expository sermon on Joel (and a passage from Joel that seems at first sight to be more about the Spirit than Christ) begins, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth… crucified” (Acts 2:22-23). Philip picks up on Isaiah 53 and “beginning with this scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).  It may be true that less that 2% of OT prophecy is specifically Messianic in the direct sense of Isaiah 53 but the apostles have got the message of Luke 24:26-27 that the prophets’ business was preaching the sufferings and glories of Christ (Acts 3:18; 10:43; 26:22-23).
  • They hold out the OT hope of the resurrection – Paul sees his message as completely consistent with the hope of the prophets and their hearers through the centuries. It’s focus in the resurrection day which has now been guaranteed and begun in Christ (Acts 24:15,21; 26:6-8). Paul and the apostles are not trading in cheap quick worldly hopes but holding out an awesome Christ-centred eternity.
  • They transpose certain OT themes and imagery into a NT key – We have discussed before how the OT curses and blessings are racketed up and these are massively important when it comes to handling the prophets (see Acts 3:26).  Other themes include the land, the Temple, Jerusalem and Israel which are seen through the lens of Christ as prototype or synecdoche for the New Creation, Christ and the Church. E.g. look at Acts 15:14-17 in context where the days of the restoration of the Davidic ‘tent’ are understood as the days of the church.  As we were reminded at ‘Raising the Bar’ in February the way you know when to make these sort of transpositions is simply by knowing our Bibles better – there are no short cuts. We need to know the whole Bible story more and more in all its scope and detail and gradually see more and more of how and why the NT makes its myriad connections and allusions to the OT.
  • They don’t over-allegorise – The apostles don’t go to the extreme of reading gospel meanings in every single word of the prophetic texts. They understood that sometimes the prophets use poetry, sometimes prose, sometimes they are speaking to a specific historical context, sometimes they are making more shadowy and distant prophecy.  It’s interesting to compare how Stephen (Acts 7:42-43) and Qumran (esp. CD 7:14-15) interpret the same passage – Amos 5:25-27. Qumran uses all sorts of linguistic tricks to read the ‘tent’, the ‘star’ and the ‘images’ allegorically as referring to their righteous community being persecuted and forced into exile – the complete reverse of the passage’s meaning. Stephen takes the plain sense and historical reference of Amos seriously as talking about the idolatry of Israel in the wilderness and the unstoppable slide from there to the Babylonian Exile.
  • They argue from the text – You see Paul reasoning, explaining, proving from the Scriptures in Acts 17:2-3 and again at the end of Acts we find “from morning to evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from… the Prophets” (Acts 28:23). He wasn’t just shouting at them. He wasn’t just using emotive anecdotes.  He was appealing to the minds of his hearers, attempting to show them from the words and clauses and arguments of the Prophets that Jesus really was the one they promised.

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Prophecy?

Just type “prophecy” into Google and you will come up with hundreds of thousands of sites. Most of it completely bonkers. When is prophecy authentic? Do we need it? What’s it for? There are a lot of things that could be said on the subject but four questions spring to mind as particularly important ones to ask:

  1. What exactly do you mean by prophecy? Sometimes our confusions and debates over this issue come down to different vocabulary and church cultures. What you call prophecy I might call a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom or a burden or a hunch. Some people might say “God said to me” while others might describe the same experience as “A picture came into my mind” or “I feel that the things I’ve been reading in the Bible recently and certain circumstances and conversations are all pushing me in this certain direction.”  In some ways it doesn’t matter too much but it can lead to confusion or, at its worst, putting a feeling on the same level of authority as the Bible.
  2. How does it fit with the biblical picture of prophecy and of the Christian life? There’s massive variety in the content and form of biblical prophecy but it is interesting that in the New Testament the few prophecies that we have recorded are more often warnings of suffering than promises of blessing. Agabus prophecied famine (Acts 11:28) and persecution (Acts 21:11). The prophecies to the churches (Rev. 2-3) contain more rebuke than affirmation. Jeremiah warned of false prophets declaring “Peace, peace” and “It shall be well with you” (Jer. 6:14; 23:16-17).
  3. Does it glorify Jesus? This is absolutely crucial. The Spirit of prophecy is the breath of Jesus, his self-revelation (Rev. 19:10) just as the Jesus is the Word of God, the Father’s self-revelation (John 1:1). The Spirit’s desire, in prophecy as in every other utterance he inspires, is not to exalt man but to humble man and exalt Jesus (John 16:7-14). Is the prophecy I’m hearing giving me a vision of me-and-my-prosperity or of the Jesus of the Bible, the risen crucified Lord, the Lamb who was slain?
  4. Is the Bible enough for you? Often our seeking after ‘new words from God’ comes from a spiritual restlessness and lack of faith in the Bible as the completely sufficient Word of God. When we are not enjoying the amazing feast of soul-satisfying, life-giving words in these 1200 pages, when we fail to see new and wonderful pictures of Jesus in this Word each day, when we are not resting in the wonderful promises there that He will be with us and sustain us and carry us through all the pains and uncertainties of life to an unspeakably wonderful eternity, when we are not content with Jesus’ words written for us then inevitably we will start seeking after other food, other pictures and other promises. There may well be authentic prophecy in our time and in our churches – we pray that it would be Jesus-exalting and true to the reality of following him in the way of the cross – but we do not need it. We have The Faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Let us rejoice in that.

P.S. For what it’s worth (and I wouldn’t go to the stake for this) my personal understanding is that prophecy, as a fully inspired communication, a) will continue in the church until the day we see Jesus face to face (1 Cor. 13:8-12); b) is probably quite rare (just as miraculous healings are happening today but much less frequently than in the times of the apostles); c) seems to function mainly as a kind of naming or framing of contemporary situations  with Old Testament images and metaphors (e.g. Rev. 11:8) so as to move the heart of the hearers to flee idolatry and run to Christ (I’ve done some research on this summarised here). But I may be wrong on this – what I’d want to underline is point 4. above.

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