Updated: Jan 31
In a little while, we will recite the Nicene Creed. Near the end of that affirmation of faith, we will each individually state, in essence, “I believe God has spoken through the prophets.”
Today, we have a reading from Jeremiah, who is recognized as one of the “major prophets” of Judah. That distinction can be seen by the recognition he gets from Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam. All three religions now believe God spoke through Jeremiah.
The problem for Jeremiah was Judaism did not believe that when Jeremiah was alive.
Jeremiah was deemed a “false prophet” and thrown into a cistern, where he sank into the mud. When he didn’t drown, the intent was to let him stay there and just starve him to death; but before that could happen, he was rescued by a Cushite (an African – Ethiopian). Once rescued, he was jailed. After Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was freed, with Nebuchadnezzar ordering that Jeremiah be treated with respect.
If you recall, a few weeks back, when we celebrated the Feast of St. Stephen, we read in Luke how Jesus said Jerusalem was “the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her.” Jeremiah was one of whom Jesus was referring.
When we say we believe God has spoken through the prophets, we have to remember that Jesus was a prophet too. We can assume Stephen was a prophet as well, because we read from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles that the synagogue of the Freedmen stood up and argued with Stephen, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” When one has the “wisdom and the Spirit,” one is speaking for God, thus a prophet.
It is presumed that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews of Rome while he was imprisoned there. He, too, was speaking for God, as one filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul was a prophet, thus we believe God spoke through him.
So, when we state that we have faith that God speaks through the prophets, we can understand that everything we read each Sunday is the word of God, written by human beings through whom God spoke. We believe God spoke through Jeremiah, King David, Paul (or whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews), and Jesus.
Through Jeremiah, God said: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
While God said that to Jeremiah, would it not apply to any and all prophets of God?
God then said through Jeremiah: “You shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them.”
The same can be said of David, of Paul, and certainly of Jesus. God knew they would all serve Him … before they were born God knew … before they were adults God knew … before some even knew they would be God’s prophets God knew.
In David’s Psalm 71, he wrote: “I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; From my mother’s womb you have been my strength.”
Scholars of David have said he would often stay up nights, with his harp and candlelight, waiting for the words of God to flow through him in song. It would have been so much easier for a king to get a good night’s sleep, let court musicians write songs for him to approve, rather than stay awake, writing emotional songs – of lamentation or praise … but when the voice of God is whispering in your ear, who can ignore that? When God speaks, prophets listen.
In Luke, we find Jesus teaching in one of the synagogues of Jerusalem, on the Sabbath. When one reads between the lines, so to speak, we can imagine how Jesus taught like a prophet. He was inspiring those who listened … speaking with wisdom and the Spirit. Jesus was not simply reading the Torah and asking questions, such as, “What do you think about that?” We can assume that when we read in Luke, “the entire crowd rejoiced at the wonderful things Jesus was doing.”
That describes his teaching as much as anything, if not more than Jesus healing a woman on that Sabbath.
The healing of the woman took less than a minute, as far as the reading goes. Luke said, “When Jesus saw her, bent over and unable to stand up straight, he called over to her and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Think about that.
Jesus is teaching and he stops in mid-thought to heal a lame woman. One could assume she was keeping others from hearing him; but more probably, Jesus wanted her to be able to hear his words spoken with wisdom and spirit about the lesson. He called over to her because he could see she was impeded and her condition kept her from hearing prophecy interpreted. As long as she was in pain. she could not benefit from the lesson and neither could those near her. When Jesus saw that, so he then laid hands on her and immediately she was healed.
I imagine Jesus then continued, “Now … as I was saying ….”
The leader of the synagogue found reason to criticize Jesus for his healing on the day of rest; however Jesus called that criticism hypocritical. After all, isn’t teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath technically working? Wasn’t being a prophet of God on a Sabbath one of the wonderful things Jesus was doing, which was recognized by the crowd who listened to him? Healing a woman on a Sabbath was just as natural as teaching, and those who were critical of God’s work being done on God’s day … they were put to shame.
You see, when Jesus was prophesying, some of what the old prophets had written wasn’t then recognized as being about Jesus. They recognized that Jeremiah was right … after all he warned about came true … a verified prediction; but they did not then realize how Ezekiel and Isaiah had written about the coming of Jesus, who was in their midst. So, teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath was a good chance for God to speak through Jesus, enlightening the hearts and minds of devout believers in God … to receive His messages through Jesus.
Jesus would be doing more of this type of “hind sighted” prophesying on the road to Emmaus, when (in an unrecognizable form after the Resurrection) he amazed those listeners, whose eyes were opened and their hearts lifted. All of the Apostles, once they were filled with the Holy Spirit, explained Biblical prophecy like this too.
Prophets are always expected to be clearly pointing to things in the future, so we can test them for accuracy. But Paul explained how the Holy Spirit not only leads one to prophesy, it also leads one to explain prophecy, as well as heal by a laying on of hands. So, prophets do other things, besides seeing the future. They follow God’s lead, through the Holy Spirit.
In the Hebrews reading, we read Paul tell his fellow Christian Jews, “You have not come to something that can be touched.” Paul counseled others filled with the Holy Spirit, who had come to that epiphany WITHOUT a blazing fire, WITHOUT darkness, WITHOUT gloom, WITHOUT a tempest, and WITHOUT the sound of a trumpet. The first Christians were NOT hearing “a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.” They would interpret the words of prophets … telling the Good News to welcoming ears.
Could the same words written by Paul be just as easily read as if he was prophesying a coming time when all those things mentioned … all that was not something believers would have to deal with then … would sometime in the future come to pass? Read them again … don’t the words of Paul sound a little like the prophecy of John … and of his flow of words from God, in The Revelations?
John is another recognized prophet, thus we believe God spoke through him …
Perhaps … however … we believe without completely understanding everything written?
We believe through faith … even though you read The Revelation of John … or Daniel … or Isaiah … or Ezekiel … or Hosea … or Jeremiah … and we find we have come to something that cannot yet be touched by our understanding.
As Jeremiah said, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
We believe that.
Do we believe God stopped speaking through prophets?
Are we all so filled with intelligence … not necessarily the wisdom and the Spirit of the Holy Spirit, but that of science, history, and technology, medical breakthroughs, and books written by smart men and women who we let guide our decisions – that knowledge influences us to think that we don’t need to believe in prophets anymore?
Since the deaths of the Apostles, roughly around 100 A.D., there have not been many new books written that have been given canon status. The ones written that we read from each Sunday, they took about 300 years to gather up and be read by holy men, who then had to determine which ones came from God’s inspired writers, and which ones were less holy. We trust those judges were inspired by God to know such things, but who has judged since then? Who judges divinely inspired people now?
Today, we hear the title “prophet” tossed around fairly liberally. We hear stock market analysts called prophets. We see inventors and innovators, those well ahead of the times, all called prophets. A prediction, based on percentages and chance, is now associated with a prophecy … although man-made, not the word of God.
The History Channel has produced numerous shows announcing many “modern” personalities as “prophets,” due to some uncanny accuracy that appears noteworthy.
By “modern,” I mean since the Renaissance.
How often do we not call those “false prophets,” because some are not recognized as Christians, or because none have written works judged to be accepted as holy?
Didn’t Paul tell the Hebrew people of Rome to be glad they were NOT hearing a voice whose words made them beg that not another word be spoken?
It used to be said in television commercials, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” As popular as that advertising campaign was, it trained us to listen to the false prophets of Wall Street. We learned to trust financial advisors and beg to hear their words about the future … never begging them to stop.
Jeremiah was deemed a “false prophet,” who the Judeans begged to stop prophesying what the people did not want to hear. They tried to kill him … but he lived and was proved right. He wasn’t a false prophet.
Jesus suffered a worse fate, as did Paul, Stephen, and most of the Apostles.
John wrote The Revelation in captivity, on the island of Patmos, with that book taking 350 years to be added to the Holy Bible.
People want to hear more when the speaker is painting pictures of success and profitability. However, start talking about, “a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom,” and people start yelling, “Shut up!”
The key is, as God told Jeremiah … “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
The message may not be one the crowd wants to hear. The miracles may not be recognized as truly holy until much later. Or they may be criticized because they were done on the wrong day, and not judged as worthy according to the agendas of groups.
But, the repeated pattern has long been to kill the messenger and ignore the message.
Our faith is to believe God HAS spoken through the prophets. Between the lines we can equally assume: He IS speaking through prophets, and He WILL AGAIN speak through prophets, just as we believe Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. If once, then always.
God always says the same thing through ALL His prophets, with the only differences being based on the times surrounding an individual prophet; but Jeremiah’s times reflected Jesus’ times, and Jesus’ times reflected John’s times, and John’s times reflect our times. The truth is true at all times.
Because of that, when God whispers in your ear regularly, you can listen to all the pretenders, just like you can listen to men telling fish tales and children telling fibs.
No harm, no foul. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but pretend words of prophecy never hurts … listening to them.”
When God is with you, He will expose all the lies through wisdom with the Spirit.
If you are blessed to understand a prophecy, you will be amazed, like the people in the Temple on that Sabbath when Jesus taught. Once you know the truth, then … tag, you’re it. You are also a prophet.
Let everyone know not to believe a lie … let everyone know the truth … and why. Expose false prophets from the position of inspired truth. Do not run from them from fear, cursing their words as you flee.
“Do not be afraid” means walking with that whisper of God in your ear. We should always welcome news from God, which can come from the lips of those brought to us, specifically because God wants us to hear it … and respond through Faith. The last thing we want to do is refuse to listen to what God wants us to hear.
The next to last thing we want to do is not pass along to others what God wants all of us to understand.