Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
Sunday, May 2, 1999
When Jesus Stands Up
In a world of danger, the natural impulse is to want to play it safe. Self-preservation is one of our strongest instincts. How many people really would be willing to lay down their life in an act of battlefield heroism? We never really know until we’re placed in a situation where we’re called upon to make that kind of a life or death decision. We may underestimate the type of sacrifices we would make or we may underestimate how fast we’d run in the opposite direction from real danger.
Pastors cringe inwardly at the prospect of having to confront real sin in the life of their church. “Can I really preach strongly against gambling when the wealthiest member of my church has a large financial stake in the passage of a pro-gambling measure? How can I preach on the dangers of teen sexuality when two of the leaders of my youth group have been caught in a compromising situation? Won’t they think I’ve loaded my guns just for them to humiliate and embarrass them?
I can imagine how Stephen may have cringed when he had to stand before the Sanhedrin. We don’t know much about his background. He was one of the Greek-speaking Jews who was appointed to the ministry of caring for the widows in the distribution of the food. His life is characterized over and over again by the use of the word fullness. He was full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. His speech before the Sanhedrin affords a glimpse of how full of the Spirit he really was. He could have attempted to sugar-coat his message so as not to offend or he could have “told it like it was.”
His speech led to his martyrdom. Was his martyrdom worth it?
Think of what Stephen accomplished. He was able to give a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the history of Israel’s rebellion against God. Time and again, God sent His messenger only to have stiff-necked and rebellious Israel stone him, kill him, or ignore him. They not only killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One — now Stephen accuses the Sanhedrin of murdering the Holy One. I wonder if he cringed at the message the Spirit gave him for that body. How dare this upstart accuse these religious leaders — the guardians of the law — of not obeying it!
The fury of those who have been nailed for their sinful, recalcitrant hearts is no match for the glory of God. In this vignette of the first Christian martyrdom, we see a portrayal of each of the three persons of the Trinity taking note of Stephen’s plight.
The Holy Spirit is filling Stephen so that he may have boldness to speak truth to power. God the Father is seated in glory in Stephen’s vision and Jesus is standing up in response to the urgent need of His witness.
Why does Jesus stand up, though?
There are two primary suggestions. One is that He is standing in an act of judgment against those who are persecuting His spokesman. The other is that He is standing to receive His first martyr. Either way, it encourages me to know that when I take a stand for Jesus, He takes notice of it. Scripture speaks of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Everything He needed to do for my salvation has been done. Yet when one of His children is in trouble, He rises to his defense.
If you knew beyond any question that Jesus would stand to support you and to defend you, what would you try to do for Him? (Mark A. Johnson)
Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
Sunday, May 9, 1999
Making Known the Unknown
How do we characterize the times in which we live? How do we assess the times in which we live? Are people secular or are they pagan? Have they abandoned the idea of God altogether or have they devised gods of their own making? In spite of the fact that many people seem turned off the the church, there is a lot of “design your own spirituality” around these days.
Humanity is incurably “religious.” That neighbor that never darkens the door of the church may have an intense interest in spiritual things. She may have her own rituals and her own means of reaching out to her “Higher Power.” While it probably doesn’t acknowledge Jesus Christ, it is at least indicative of her spiritual hunger.
That’s the point. Regardless of how we assess the future of the institutional church, regardless of whatever philosophical climate may lead us to believe that people are hostile to the things we hold dear, people are born spiritually hungry. There is a longing in us for God that only He can satisfy.
If you can imagine going to the philosophy colloquium at Harvard and using your best arguments for why you believe in God and why you honor Him with your life, you can imagine what it would be like for Paul to go to the Areopagus in Athens. Paul doesn’t go with merely a simplistic, subjective re-telling of his own experience.
Although he does relate his testimony many times in the book of Acts, when he gets to Mars Hill, he goes toe-to-toe with the best philosophical minds of ancient Greece. He also demonstrates an awareness of their beliefs and arguments. He finds those places that make for points of contact with the true gospel and gives a well-crafted rhetorical introduction to Christianity.
The spiritual hunger of the Athenians is seen in their fear of “leaving out” the true God. Paul had fled to Athens after a negative experience in Thessalonica and Berea. Brilliant and well educated, he had no doubt heard of the splendor that was Athens. Instead of marveling over its architectural grandeur, he was apoplectic to learn that the city was “full of idols.” He took advantage of the opportunity to reason in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearers in this intellectual capital of the Empire. Could Paul say he had preached in Athens if he had not reasoned on the Areopagus, though?
Paul addressed them as “very religious,” a term whose meaning is sufficiently vague that it could be either a compliment or a put down — either you’re a very pious person, or a very superstitious person. Their devotion was seen in the fact that in addition to all of their pagan idols, there was an inscription — “To an Unknown God.”
Even though much of our intellectual life has been shaped by the ancient Greeks, that philosophy indicated a hunger for God that had, as yet, been unfulfilled.
This God they were afraid of leaving out could not be contained in their temples. The Greeks knew what is was to fashion a deity out of a piece of stone or of precious metal. That type of “religiosity” did not and never could satisfy them. While humanity has tried to fashion a god out of stone, God created humanity out of the dust of the earth. As the pundit said, “God created humanity in His image and humanity has been trying to return the favor.”
Paul’s pre-evangelism began with some acknowledgement of God as creator. Every blessing we have comes from Him.
God is not content to fashion humanity as a bunch of robots — He wants to make Himself known. It is ironic that the Athenians could fashion a pantheon of all conceivable deities, yet fail to recognize the one, true, transcendent God. This God is Lord over both history and nature. He made humanity to fill and inhabit the earth and He has set the places where they live. Paul quotes the pagan philosopher who said, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
This God is close to us. Paul said in Romans, “The word is near you, it is in your heart and in your mouth.” He also wrote in that epistle that He has revealed Himself in nature.
This God is both judge and savior. If we think of God as our creator, it is preposterous to think that we could fashion Him with our own hands out of a piece of stone. As this God reaches out to people, He demands repentance. He is striving to make Himself known and ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. He wants to save, but if judge He must, then judge He shall.
It’s not specifically spelled out in obvious terms here, but Paul starts where the people are in terms they can understand and then reasons from then through God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. He ends by speaking of crucifixion and resurrection. I’d say that’s a good model for folks who will preach to pagans in the new millenium. (Mark A. Johnson)
Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)
Sunday, May 16, 1999
So That We May Be One In Christ
Unfortunately, there is disunity in God’s Church. At first it was a family squabble. One group put Scripture above Church structure and called for change. They were rejected and protested. One family became two, Protestants and Roman Catholics. The squabble snowballed. Soon, the Protestants began disagreeing with each other. Disunity reigned.
That doesn’t sound anything like this prayer. Jesus prayed that His disciples may be “one.”
In February of 1996, at the Promise Keepers Pastors’ Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, Max Lucado said, “On the last night of his life our Master did not pray for the health of the disciples; for the success of the disciples; even for the happiness of the disciples. He prayed that they would get along with each other.”
I. It Starts with us
It has to start with us. We have to take the first steps. We have to stop doing and saying those things that cause and further the disunity among us.
One day a man’s wife brought home a monkey. His children were thrilled but he had all kinds of questions. Where was the monkey going to eat? His wife said that it was going to sit at the table and eat with them, just like the rest of the family. Then he asked her where it was going to sleep? And she told him it was going to sleep in their bed. Then he asked, “But what about the smell?” And she said, “Oh, he’ll get used to you. I did.”
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Unity has to begin with us. It has to begin with us, we have to be one with Christ, first. And it has to begin in our Church.
II. We Have to Pull Together
Second, being one with Christ, we have to pull together.
At a Midwestern fair spectators gathered for an old-fashioned horse-pull (An event where various weights are put on a sled hitched to a horse and pulled along the ground). The grand-champion horse pulled a sled with 4,500 pounds on it. The runner up was close, with a 4,400 pound pull. Some of the folks wondered what they could pull if they were hitched together. Separately, they had totaled nearly 9,000 pounds, but when hitched and working together as a team, the winning horses were able to pull more than 12,000 pounds. Almost three times what either one of them could pull, alone.1
Imagine the force we could exert as a congregation, or as the Church in the world, if we all “pulled together as a team.” We can’t accomplish as much if we’re going in ten different directions.
III. We Have to Keep Climbing
The cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant draws cartoons to go with pithy sayings called “Pot Shots.” One shows two people climbing a mountain in knee-deep snow. The caption reads: “Keep Climbing Upwards! You may never reach the top, but it’s in that direction.”
The secret is not giving up. Unity isn’t easy. Most of us have never learned how to disagree in love. Christian unity is not determined by whether we agree with each other about every interpretation of scripture or doctrine or form of church government but whether we love one another, and whether we reflect the love of God.
We have to work to break down the racial and denominational barriers that divide us. We’re called to demonstrate our unity in Christ through love. Christ’s prayer and Christ’s command is still that we be one. (Billy Strayhorn)
Pentecost Sunday (A)
Sunday, May 23, 1999
In the One Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
On February 2, 1985, the Daytona 500 auto race had just begun. The drivers were just beginning the third lap, when all of a sudden the $250,000 machine, driven by professional driver Donny Allison, rolled to a stop on the infield side of the track. When it was checked, they found out that no one had filled it with gas.2
Can you imagine the embarrassment? During one of the top races in the country, one of the top drivers in auto racing stalled because he had run out of gas. Unfortunately, that is where many individuals are in their spiritual life — trying to drive and live on an empty tank.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the day we mark as the birthday of the Church. This is the day God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the people of God to do the work of God. This means that none of us ever have to attempt to live the faith or to walk the walk or to do the work of God on an empty tank ever again.
Through the Holy Spirit, every Christian has access to the power of God in Christ. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, understood the importance of the Holy Spirit. He wrote that through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit each Christian should:
Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.”
Through the Holy Spirit we are empowered to carry out the will and the work of God and to live as God’s children.
The Holy Spirit’s power and presence is not a one time event; it is ongoing. None of us really know what God has in store for us. The disciples didn’t. God could be calling someone into ministry or into the mission field, right now. God could be calling someone to be part of God’s healing ministry through the medical or counseling profession. But like the disciples, everyone who follows Jesus answers and is responding to God’s call. They have heard the voice of Jesus say, Follow Me.
William Morrow once said, What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.3
Today we are lucky. We not only get to hear the Spirit’s witness, we get to see it moving and working in our lives and the lives of others.
It is a great privilege to tell the story of our Savior. But it’s an even greater privilege to empower others to tell the story. That’s really what this day is all about. From this point on, because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we will never be the same. God has a claim on us and we upon God. We will be one with God and one in the Spirit. And God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will lead us as we share the Good News through our words and actions. (Billy Strayhorn)
Trinity Sunday (A)
Sunday, May 30, 1999
Progress in the Midst of Imperfection
There are not many perfect days. The phone rings before I leave home with people who want to talk “before I get too busy with work.” When I arrive at the church there are phone messages that interfere with my perfectly planned schedule of daily activities. Then, a church member drops by “just to chat.” So much for my perfect schedule!
Most of us will have difficulty accomplishing anything if we wait for perfect conditions. In Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, it is important to see the context in which Jesus addresses the disciples. Jesus issues the commission to the disciples in the midst of uncertainty.
I. The Presence of Problems
Matthew tells us that “the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had directed them” (vs. 16). The betrayal of Judas is fresh in the minds of the disciples, and the absence of Judas cannot be overlooked. The group is incomplete, yet the ministry of the eleven must continue. Not only is Judas absent, Matthew tells us, “but some doubted” (vs. 17). Despite the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the situation surrounding the disciples is not perfect.
Congregations often try to create the perfect situation so they can begin to live out the Great Commission. They search for the perfect time where there will be no distractions and no disagreements. They search for the perfect program or presentation that can teach them to fulfill the Commission. Jesus addressed the disciples in the midst of uncertainty. The disciples still had questions concerning the events that had just occurred. Jesus was aware of their struggles. He also knew that there would never be the “perfect time” for ministry. Even in the midst of difficulties, congregations must focus on the words of Jesus to “make disciples.” Problems and distractions must not keep us from fulfilling the mission of the church.
II. The Assurance of Power
Before giving the actual command to make disciples, Jesus makes a statement concerning authority or power. Jesus makes an important Christological statement: the ruling authority of Jesus is a present reality. The Commission is possible because the power to fulfill it is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Doubts arise when individuals begin to examine their gifts and abilities. It is easy to see our imperfections and question our value to the kingdom of God. It is through prayer that I am reminded of the necessity of the power of Christ in my ministry. When doubts arise, we must be assured of the power of Christ that allows us to minister in Jesus’ name. Acts 4 focuses on the boldness of Peter and John as they proclaim Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. This is the same Peter who only days earlier denied Jesus. What made the difference in the life of Peter? The assurance of the power of God in his life changed Peter from a questioning disciple into a bold proclaimer of Jesus.
III. The Protection of God’s Presence
The words, “I am with you always,” remind us of God’s presence with us as we minister in the world. Most people carry pictures in their wallets or purses. Parents like to brag on their children. Spouses keep pictures of mates close by as a reminder of their love for each other. These pictures are important, but they will never substitute for the presence of these individuals, nor can they provide protection. Jesus promised that His spirit would be present with believers as they sought to make disciples of all nations. (Toby Ziglar)
Proper 5 (A)
Sunday, June 6, 1999
The Promise to Abraham
In Romans 4, Paul argues that Abraham was the first person of faith. Paul argues that Abraham acted in faith before he received the mark of circumcision. Paul also uses the Abraham motif in Galatians 3 to refute the Judaizers who believe that Gentiles should be circumcised and follow the Law. Paul uses Genesis 15:6 to argue his case, since Abraham is not circumcised until Genesis 17:24. Therefore, the justification of Abraham could not have been dependent upon the rite of circumcision. Abraham was justified by faith and not by the Law. Paul attempts to show that the Christian faith is rooted in the faith of Abraham.
I. Understanding the Promise
Paul stresses the priority of the promise of God to Abraham and makes it independent of the Law. The traditional Jewish view tied the promise of God to keeping the Law. Paul emphatically states that the promise comes to Abraham through the righteousness of faith apart from the Law. A survey of the Old Testament shows time and again the failure of Israel to keep the Law. The result of their disobedience leads to the exile. There is deliverance from the exile, however. God’s promise to Abraham will be fulfilled not because of Israel’s ability to keep the Law but because of God’s faithfulness to the promise made to Abraham. Paul states that the promise must depend on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace…” The ability to fulfill the promise rests with God and not with the descendants of Abraham.
God’s promise is independent of our ability to be faithful. A careful reading of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is one reminder to us of the ability of God to keep the promise given to Abraham without human help.
II. Trusting the Promise
Paul’s quotation from Genesis 17:5, “I have made you the father of many nations,” seeks to include Gentiles into God’s promise to Abraham. He recalls the story of Abraham and Sarah and how they were beyond child bearing years when they were promised a son. Again, it is in faith that Abraham trusted God even though he was about 100 years old. In verse 22, Paul ends his remarks about Abraham as he began. Abraham’s faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Abraham’s life is based on his belief that God will keep the promises made to him. In Genesis 12 Abraham obeys God and separates from Lot. Abraham goes in a direction he has never been, trusting God to guide and protect him. In Genesis 22 Abraham places Isaac on the altar, trusting that if God requires the sacrifice of Isaac, God will still keep the promise to Abraham of being the father of many nations. The writer of Hebrews 11 recounts the faith of Abraham in every aspect of his life.
It is Abraham’s ability to trust in the promise that makes him the exemplar of faith.
III. Accepting the Promise
Abraham’s faith in God is an example to Christians. Just as Abraham received the promise of a son in faith, Christians should exhibit that same type of faith in receiving the promise that God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s promise to Abraham would have been in vain unless a son had been born. Likewise, the Christian faith would be in vain unless God raised Jesus from the dead. Paul shows that the same life-giving power that provided Abraham a descendant is still at work in the world. The promise made to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ. The faith of Abraham as exercised by believers in Christ will indeed make Abraham the father of many nations. His example of faith will serve as the model for those who accept the promise and believe in Christ. (Toby Ziglar)
Proper 6 (A)
Sunday, June 13, 1999
Working in the Harvest
This is one of the most characteristic statements Jesus ever made. And in this statement, we see some clear differences between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. As they looked at irreligious people the Pharisees would have seen chaff waiting to be burned up and thrown in the fire. Jesus, on the other hand, saw them as wheat, precious grain to be gathered up and saved. The Pharisees were looking and even praying for the destruction of sinners. Jesus gave His life for sinners.
I. The Fields Are White
First, Jesus; said the fields are white.
I am not a farmer, but I understand that when the tops of the grain are white, that is an indication that the crop is overly ripe. Jesus may have been saying that there is an urgency involved in our recognizing the potential harvest around us.
All around us there are people who need to know Christ. Perhaps they just moved down the street from us and we don’t know their names. Maybe they have lived down the road from you for years, and you’ve never considered their spiritual condition. But they’re there. Many seeds have already been planted in people’s lives, and the fields are white.
II. The People Are Waiting
Lonely people are waiting for someone to befriend them. Hurting people are waiting for someone to help them make sense of their brokenness. People are waiting. They are waiting for someone to show interest in them. They are waiting for someone to reach out to them. They are waiting for someone to invite them to church. Scholars tell us that the majority of unchurched people in the country would go to church if someone were to invite them.
A seminary professor used to tell about a janitor who worked every day cleaning up after the professors and students who passed through the halls every day. After seeing him day after day for years, the professor struck up a conversation with the janitor one evening as he came to empty the waste basket from his office. They talked about family and sports, and then the professor asked the janitor where he went to church. The janitor said. “I don’t go to church.” The professor then asked if the janitor was a Christian. The janitor said, “I don’t know. I guess not.” The professor said, “What? You mean you have worked here for all these years and you are not a believer? Why not?” And the janitor replied, “I guess you’re the first person who’s ever mentioned it to me.”
III. The Workers Are Few
Finally, the workers are few. When Jesus said “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest” it wasn’t because God was lacking, but because we are. It’s not that there aren’t enough churches in this country to reach people for Christ, it’s that there aren’t enough people who are out working in the fields.
How about you? Are you sitting in the manor house, enjoying watching other people work? There are lots of folks with you. They believe it’s the staff’s job to witness. They say that we pay missionaries to win the world to Christ. My job is to be here on Sunday mornings, holding down my space in the pew. Is that where you are?
Or maybe you’re out in the barn trying to get ready to go to work. That’s admirable, but some people have been in the barn for years. They don’t go into the fields because they aren’t confident yet. They aren’t mature enough in their faith yet. Maybe by next Fall they will be ready to work. There is value in preparation, but sometimes we can take so much time practicing, that we never get on to the field of play.
There’s a third option. And that’s to get out in the fields. Even though you may not have all the answers. Even though you may not feel fully prepared, will you take the risk of working in the harvest? If you take that risk, you may be amazed at seeing God work in your life to do more through you than you could ever imagine.
The fields are white. They are ready for harvest The folks are waiting. Will you pray that God will make you one of His workers?
Proper 7 (A)
Sunday, June 20, 1999
Victory over Sin
Recently in a Pastors’ meeting, we were talking about things we would like to see happen in our churches. There are a lot of worthwhile things we’d all like to see happen — ministry in the community, social justice for the poor, broken families put back together. Aren’t all of these worthwhile things really a subset of victory over sin?
What about our private life? No matter how saintly we may come across, there is some deep, dark, unsanctified corner of our life where it seems that sin holds sway.
I. We Have Died to Sin
Anders Nygren has said that the theme of Chapter 6 is salvation from sin. The Baptist theologian Dale Moody says that the theme, more positively, is sanctification. Sanctification, simply put, is the life-long process by which we are made over to be more like Jesus. Some say that sanctification is the process of the removal of the power of sin from our lives.
Paul said where sin abounds, grace abounds. The next natural question is, “If that’s the case, I ought to sin more so that God has a greater opportunity to be gracious. Shouldn’t I sin more so that grace may abound?” That’s what Rasputin thought. That view marks an arrogant presumption upon the grace of God. It becomes what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.
Paul says, “You have died to that lifestyle, how can you live in it any longer?” That raises a real paradox for us. We are saved and know that we are free from sin, but we still sin. How can that be? Paul answers, “It has to do with what happened at that moment in time you were saved.”
Through baptism, you were buried with Christ into His death. Now by His Spirit, He is in the process, of working into our being all of its implications.
II. We Are Free from Sin
If you have died to something, it means that it no longer has any sway over you. Ultimately, dying to sin means that sin will not ultimately be victorious in my life. Jesus Christ will be victorious. By the Holy Spirit working in your life you can have the resources to triumph over those besetting sins that dog our steps.
A former marine described his fear of his Drill Instructor. He had memories which were only too real of the misery imposed upon him by that Drill Instructor. He would stop at nothing in asserting his superiority over his poor recruit. The marine would snap to attention whenever the DI came near — even after leaving the Corps. That is, until he recognized the DI no longer had authority over him. As the Marine was free from his DI, we are free from sin.
III. We are Alive to Christ
The Christian life is one of reckoning ourselves alive to God but dead to sin. A saintly medical missionary to Africa was recounting a situation where her stress was about to get the best of her. A wise African pastor said, “I notice you drink a lot of coffee. Whenever you take a sip of your coffee, pray silently ‘Lord, cross out the I.'”
Victory over sin is the process of crossing out the I and reckoning ourselves alive to Jesus Christ. (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 8 (A)
Sunday, June 27, 1999
How Do You Know?
How do you know who’s really right when it comes to knowing what God will do? Have you ever been in a situation and sought godly counsel from several different people hoping that through their words, you would discern the voice of God? In mulling over the options you face about whether or not to pursue that job offer in a different city two very godly, devout, and wise people may give conflicting advice. Who’s right?
It’s simply not possible to track out every possibility and contingency when planning our future. Nor is it possible to predict what God will do, always. We know He will always deal with us with love and compassion and in a manner consistent with what He has already revealed in Scripture, but we see “through a glass darkly” when it comes to specifics and particulars.
Jeremiah and Hananiah were at odds over exactly how God would deal with His disobedient child — the people of Judah. They both agreed that a yoke of bondage would be placed upon them. They disagreed as to how severe that yoke would be and how long it would be upon them.
In Jeremiah 27, the weeping prophet spoke forth with such great authority that all of the nations of the Earth belonged to the Lord and the Lord could use whomever He would as His servant. How else could Nebuchadnezzar be referred to as “my servant?” He is very forceful in his declaration that those who disagree with his message are not speaking for God.
Hananiah was in a bit of a bind then. He was one of these so-called prophets who didn’t want to acknowledge that Nebuchadnezzar would be given any opportunity to rule over God’s people but after Jeremiah’s declaration, what choice did he have? Perhaps he could say that it won’t be that bad. That’s precisely what he did. He said, “After only two years, Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke will be broken, Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin and all of the other exiles will be allowed to return to Judah and all will be peaches and cream.”
In Jeremiah’s response, we catch a glimpse of the character and hopes of God’s tender-hearted prophet. There had been times before when Jeremiah was forced to declare that God had had enough with His people and that He wouldn’t listen to them anymore. Yet, in and through it all, he held out hopes that God would indeed “bless” his ministry with visible, positive “results.” He hoped against hope that perhaps God’s judgment of His rebellious people could be forestalled.
When Hananiah prophesied a quick end to the exile, Jeremiah said, “I sure hope you’re right. Amen, May it be so!” Jeremiah hoped that he himself would yet be proven wrong in prophesying the destruction of his people.
Yet, there is a way to know which prophet is speaking God’s words and which prophet, so-called, is merely voicing his own hopes for wish fulfillment. It has to do with the age-old test first mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy 18:22. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 13:5, though, indicates that even a false prophet may prophesy something that comes to be true but even that is not the ultimate test of a prophet. The ultimate test of a prophet is adherence to the Word of God.
Jeremiah could have counseled those listening to be patient and to repent while they were waiting. In two years, they would know if Hananiah was right and thus gifted as a prophet or if Jeremiah was prophesying the words of God.
How do we know in our day and time? We so familiarize ourselves with God’s Word that our relationship with Him is so close that we know His heart. We learn to listen to the inner witness of His Spirit who confirms in our hearts and our consciences right from wrong. (Mark A. Johnson)
1Parson’s Bible Illustrator for Windows
2William R. Lampkin, Minute Devotions, (Lima, Ohio: Fairway Press, 1990).
3Homiletics: April – June 1996, p. 26.
Sermon Briefs in this issue are written by: Mark A. Johnson, Managing Editor, Preaching, Jackson, TN; Billy Strayhorn, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Joshua, TX; Greg Barr, Pastor, Potomac Crest Baptist Church, Woodbridge, VA; and Toby Ziglar, Pastor, Rivertown Community Church, Conway, SC
Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)