The Making of a Prophet
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:1-6)
These words describe the beginning of this gospel age. After four hundred years of silence, God spoke again. And the voice by which he spoke was John the Baptist, that mighty Elijah, specifically raised up by God to prepare the way of the Lord, by whom God shook the heavens and the earth.
In Ephesians 4:11 the Holy Spirit tells us that Christ’s ascension gifts to his church include apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets. In that 4th chapter of Ephesians the Apostle was inspired of God to quote a portion of Psalm 68, which is a prophetic declaration of the accomplishments of Christ as our Mediator. Redemption has been accomplished by the blood of Christ. His resurrection declares that the sins of God’s elect, which were made his and imputed to him, have been put away by his sacrifice. The Man who died for us at Calvary is now enthroned in glory and has received gifts of grace, gifts which he daily bestows upon his church for the salvation of his people.
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.”
These ascension gifts of Christ, as I said, include apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets. It is obvious that there is no continuing apostolic or prophetic office in a strict sense. The last apostle was Paul, and the last prophet was John the Baptist. Evangelists, as the Word is used in the Word of God, are not itinerant preachers, but what we now call missionaries, church planters. Pastors and teachers are those men called and gifted of God for the work of the ministry, preaching the gospel in a local church, building up the saints in the faith, edifying the body of Christ. The words “pastors and teachers” might be read more accurately “pastors/teachers.” They do not refer to two separate offices, but to the work of the pastor.
Because the term “prophet” is given as an ascension gift of Christ to his church, it is obvious that the word does not apply in this context to an office that was terminated before the Lord’s ascension.
It is very difficult to find anything useful being said or written in our day on the ministry of these men. What is a prophet? The word, as it is used regarding the New Testament era, seems to refer to men with extraordinary gifts, men who have a remarkable understanding of the Scriptures, men who have a keen awareness of the times in which they live and the message required to meet the need of the hour.
The work of the New Testament prophet is shrouded in indefiniteness and lost in a fog of haziness. We know the old definition, “A forthteller rather than a foreteller." We apply the term generally to preachers as spokesmen for God. But here is a distinctive calling separate from that of evangelist or pastor. Yet, the prophet may be an evangelist or a pastor.
A prophet, in this distinct sense of the word, appears to be a man distinctly gifted of God to lead his people in crucial times, with boldness and authority, which only God can give. Clearly, there were such men in the early church (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1). At least six are named in Acts 11 and 13: Agabus, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucious, Manaen and Saul.
There have never been many prophets, at least not many true prophets. But are there none? Our times cry for such men. Is there not a prophet? Are there none today to stand in the gap and dare speak for God? Never was the need greater and the supply smaller than today.
The prophet is a voice in the wilderness. It is his business to sound the trumpet, proclaim the Word of God, and press the claims of the sovereign God upon the hearts and lives of men. He does not work on details or set up programs. He does not devise schemes to raise funds or plan stage productions. A prophet does not belong on boards and committees. He is a solitary soul and does his best work alone. He is not a parrot, a puppet or a promoter. A prophet is never a team player. He is not a religious politician. He is a voice, a lone, dogmatic voice.
He is nothing but a prophet. If he tries to be or do anything else, he is an embarrassment to himself and to everyone around him. He is not a politician; and he is never popular with politicians either in state or church. He is not cowed by dignitaries. When necessary, he will call Herod a fox, even when he knows it may cost him his life.
A prophet is an unreconstructed rebel, an odd number in a day of regimentation. He has no more patience with mere religion than Isaiah had when he thundered against it, or Amos when he called on Israel to come to Bethel. It is his business to say what others cannot, will not, or at least do not say.
The politician has his eye on the next election, instead of the nation’s welfare. And I fear most preachers are more politician than prophet. They are more interested in your approval than your soul. They have their eyes on denominational promotion, the next rung of the ladder, a higher seat in the synagogue, and being called a rabbi.
The prophet has no ax to grind, but lays the ax of Holy Scripture to the root of every tree in the groves of the world’s idolatry. He does not know the meaning of the word “compromise.” His subject never varies. He relentlessly calls rebels to surrender, demanding utter surrender to the claims of Christ, the crucified, risen, exalted Lord. — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” — “All flesh is grass!” — “Behold, your God!” — “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!”
As far as God’s prophet is concerned, the grass is no greener in the next pasture. He seeks no man's office, position or honor. His concern is for the will, and glory, and truth, and kingdom of God.
Churches today are looking for scholars, specialists, socializers and showmen. We need some seers, some prophets who, like Isaiah, have seen God in His holiness, themselves in their sinfulness, and the crucified Lamb of God in the midst of His throne.
The prophet does not pack the house, or produce impressive statistics. He may get but poor response; but whether they hear or not, those who hear him know that a prophet has been among them. People do not crowd churches to hear prophets. In an age of ear-itch religionists, most everyone calls God’s prophets “troublers of Israel.” And wherever a prophet’s voice is heard, trouble, of one kind or another, is sure to follow. Whenever John the Baptist, or the Apostle Paul came to town, whether they preached in the church-house, the jail-house, or the open fields, either a revival or a riot broke out. No one ignores a prophet!
The prophet is never popular with the Pharisees, and has no desire to be. Organized religion is never more organized than when it attempts to silence a prophet. “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" “Ye are the children of them that killed the prophets.” So said the greatest of prophets to the Pharisees of his day. From Abel to Zacharias, our Master said, prophets have been stoned while living and honored when dead. Let no one be misled by the monuments men build to dead prophets. They are only the gestures and attempts of one generation to cover up the crimes of their fathers in preceding generations.
The prophet is not popular at home. In all four gospels we read our Lord's declaration, "A prophet is not without honor save in his own country and in his own house.” But prophets do have their reward, and so do those who befriend them, even with a cup of cool water. God will not overlook the “prophet’s chamber,” where his unpopular servant has been made to feel at home.
There are not many candidates for Elijah's mantle. His path is not an easy path to follow. There are many ways of getting rid of prophets. John the Baptist's head is not brought in on a charger these days. There are smoother and more skillful ways of silencing lone dissenters like Micaiah in these days of refined malice against God. Some can even be promoted into silence. Success has stopped some mouths when persecution failed.
Like John the Baptist, the prophet is out to pull down the high places, build up low places, and make a way for the Lord. His theological interpretation of Holy Scripture is not a matter of learned speculation, but of passionate conviction. His preaching is not intended to make sinners feel good about themselves, but to bring them down in the dust before God by the burning, penetrating application of His Word to their hearts. Others may comfort when afflicted; but the prophet afflicts the comfortable. We are trying to accomplish now by pep, publicity, propaganda and promotion what once was done by preaching. The woods are full of trained religious personnel, (They are called preachers!); but we need prophets, men in whom the Word of the Lord burns like fire, men who carry and are weighed down with “the burden of the Word of the Lord!”
Any young Elisha in line for Elijah's mantle will need the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. He may irk those who like to preserve the status quo, for he is a disturber of Israel, but no one else can take his place. Oh, may God raise up some prophets in our midst in this dark, dark day!
Perhaps He will cause some Samuel to read these lines long after my name is forgotten among men, who will hear what the Lord says and who will speak what he hears. There is not much prospect as to pay, promotion or prestige. But there has always been "yet one man" who will scorn the hatred of Ahab and seek the honor of God.
Luke 3:1-6 describes the making of such a man, the making of a prophet. Prophets are made, called, gifted, raised up and sent forth by God, at the time and in the place where they are needed, to “prepare the way of the Lord!”
God raises up a prophet when a prophet is desperately needed. I cannot think of a time in Scripture when God raised up a prophet to twiddle his thumbs, sipping tea with old ladies, coaching little league ball teams, or running businesses. God’s prophets are raised up to meet the crying need of His people in the hour of desperate need, with evil abounding on all sides. He raised up Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. He sent Samuel to find His chosen king for Israel and establish him as God’s King. The Lord God called Elijah to lead Israel, while Ahab and Jezebel sought to establish idolatry. He sent Isaiah to proclaim His salvation, when all hope seemed to be gone. And He raised up Jeremiah to prepare the people for judgment.
In a time of desperate need the God of Glory raised up John the Baptist, as a mighty Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord. Verses 1 and 2 tell us that John the Baptist was sent into the world at a time of abounding social, political and spiritual wickedness.
Who can imagine a time more infamously evil than the days of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother, Philip? These men made our modern Washington crowd look like a bunch of Augustinian monks! When John the Baptist came preaching the gospel, the world seemed to be given over completely into the hands of the wicked. As Job put it, “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked” – (Job 9:24). If these men were the rulers of the world, what must the people have been like?
The religious world was in just as sad a condition as the political world. In fact, religion was so degenerate, even among the Jews, that it was just a reflection of the world. Instead of converting the world, the world had converted the church. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.
The Word of God specifically stated that there was to be but one high priest; but the Word of God was no longer in vogue. It was irrelevant as far as the religion of the age was concerned. The church, the priests, the preachers, the religious leaders of the age did everything, gauged everything, made every judgment, and formed every doctrinal statement by opinion polls, by the opinions of a godless, reprobate people!
We must never be in despair regarding the truth of God and the cause of God in this world, no matter how bleak things may appear. Let us never allow the wickedness of the age in which we live deter us from the work God has given us. — “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). What God has done in the past, he can do again. – When darkness abounds, it is only a good background upon which God may be pleased to show forth his blazing glory in Christ!
A prophet is a man distinctly called of God. – “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (v. 2). A message from heaven came upon his heart, seized his soul, captivated his mind and took over his life. I do not know how to put my finger on it, but I know this: – No man has any business engaging in the work of the ministry who has not been called of God to the work. He who runs without being sent, has no message to deliver, no work to do, no mandate to accomplish. But when a man is called of God, he knows exactly what he must do. He knows exactly what his message is. And he goes about his work with the tenacity of a mule and the courage of a lion.
If a man is called of God to this great and glorious, heart-rending work, he knows the Word of the Lord, the message of the Gospel. He is gifted of God to preach the gospel, “apt to teach.” Such a man does not have to look for a place to preach, or promote himself in any way. God puts him in the work. John was in the wilderness when the word of the Lord came to him. If a man is called of God, God gives him a hearing; and he is engaged in the work. This call of God separates the man called and gifted of God unto the work of the Gospel (Romans 1:1-4). No man is called of God to preach the Gospel who is not preaching the Gospel.
God’s prophet is a man with a message, a clear, distinct message from God, demanding the surrender of rebels to the throne of the great King! — “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v. 3). The “baptism of repentance” (believer’s immersion) is the Gospel ordinance by which believing sinners are commanded and delight to confess their faith in Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:36; 10:48; 22:16). In the ordinance of baptism we symbolize the finished work of our Lord Jesus, our death, burial and resurrection with Him as our Substitute.
The words, “for the remission of sins,” should be read, “because of the remission of sins.” We are not baptized to have our sins remitted. We are baptized because Christ has put away our sins by the sacrifice of Himself. Baptism is the believer’s declaration that he has been turned to God by Christ Jesus. John came preaching repentance, the turning of sinners to God by the Savior; the very same message Gospel preachers in every age are sent to proclaim, redemption accomplished by the crucified Savior (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
God’s prophet is a man who knows who he is and what he must do. He is just a voice. It is his business to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.
“As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth” (vv. 4-5).
Every Gospel preacher is sent of God to tell eternity bound sinners that they must prepare to meet God, to tell them by what path God comes to them and by what path they must come to Him, and to declare it plainly. It is the business of God’s ambassador to your soul, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, to fill up every valley, pull down every barrier, make every crooked thing straight and every rough thing smooth, which stands between your soul and your God.
God’s prophet is a man who goes about his work with the confidence of absolute success. We know that our work is not in vain in the Lord. We know that God’s Word will not return to him void. It will accomplish that which he pleased. It will prosper in the thing to which he sends it. And when our work is done – “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (v. 6). You will see God’s salvation, either as a believer or as a rebel; but see it you will, either to the saving of your soul or to the damning of your soul (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). You will acknowledge and confess the salvation of God, either in the blessed experience of repentance, or in the horrifying experience of everlasting torment.
Prepare to meet thy God!” Are you, or are you not prepared to meet God? Are you washed in the blood of his dear Son? Are you robed in his righteousness? Do you have on the wedding garment of his grace? Are you prepared to meet God?
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