Luke 3:1-6: The Prophetic Churchby Ed de la Cour on December 2, 2014
Luke 3: 1 – 6
November 30, 2014
“THE PROPHETIC CHURCH”
The Church of Jesus Christ is a prophetic church. The primary focus and chief concern of the Church of Jesus is the revelation of the Word of God, who is none other than Jesus Himself. We are convinced that Jesus is the true Truth about God, about life, and about everything that matters. The Church believes that our task in this world is to declare the name of Jesus as that matchless name that is above every name. Our task is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and to live in such a way that our lives should remind people who live all around us of Jesus. To speak clearly and to live God’s truth vibrantly in this world is the definition of being a prophetic church. In just a few words, that is a short summary of this morning’s message.
Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke through His prophets about His vision for the redemption of the people of God. There’s a scarlet thread, a prophetic thread, woven throughout the Old Testament. The thread is the Good News, seen in the lives of God’s people, but always pointing to Jesus, and to the blood of Jesus. That scarlet thread can be traced from Genesis to Malachi and to the cross.
Somehow the nature of prophecy and the prophetic has changed through the years. Now that we are living in post-New Testament times, many American Christians have a huge affinity for all things prophetic, but their definition of prophecy is a far cry from the definition I just gave. Today many of us see prophecy as having to do with a timeline of events pointing to the soon return of Jesus. Much of the prophetic in 21st century America has deteriorated into speech and language patterns that are dark, mysterious, and esoteric. The American church has seen to it that the ministry of prophecy has become an anemic shell of what God intended. Yes, there are elements of eschatology in prophecy, but God is so much more interested in our declaring the purposes of God for this generation. The Second Coming will take care of itself. What is needed today is a sound word that brings lost and broken people to a place where they recognize God’s love and passion for them.
We see in just these few verses in Luke 3 how God did just that in the life of John the Baptist. First, God anchored the Gospel story in history. There is no question as to exactly what was happening and who was around to witness the events Luke reported. Into that historical context, the Word of God comes with great power. God wants His people to see the power of prophecy, not so we can impress our friends, but so our friends can clearly see God’s truth for what it is.
And so, it was during the reign of certain people and during the administration of certain other high priests that John, the miraculously born son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, began his ministry. The wording of verse 2 is highly significant. We see that John did not one day simply start preaching. Instead, “the Word of God came to John.” God revealed Himself in a way that John found inescapable. If God is calling you, you will soon find you can run from God, but you cannot hide from God for very long. Even in the desert, the word of God will come for you!
John responded to God’s invitation by starting to preach to whoever would listen. He declared to them the purposes of God, and that is the essence of prophetic preaching. John is considered a forerunner because he came before Jesus and he prepared the way for Messiah to be revealed. He paved the way for what God was about to do in Jesus. I suggest that the prophetic church does no less today. The prophetic church paves the way for the purposes of God to come to pass. The prophetic church prepares its community to receive God in the person of Jesus.
Several ministry functions of the prophetic church are outlined for us here in the verses quoted from Isaiah 40: 3 – 5.
First of all, the American church is currently very comfortable here in America. In order for the church to become a prophetic church, we will need to become conversant with desert living. The desert is a hard place to live. The desert lacks amenities. The desert is poor and undeveloped. All of us prefer having fun to working, having amenities to living in hard times. We like happy television shows and we do not appreciate people who bring us down. Many of us would never volunteer for hard work. Desert living is choosing the hard road, the road less traveled. Desert living is leaving America to live in a third world country in order to serve people there for Jesus’ sake. Desert living is joining a small church even though that church lacks programs for every age group because you sense God wants you to minister rather than be ministered to. You believe God wants you to serve rather than be served.
You’ll notice that crowds of people sought out John the Baptist. They left their homes and walked into the desert because they recognized truth when they heard it. Even though they had to leave their comfort zones and go into the desert region to hear that truth, they decided it was a small price to pay. Right now, we are a far cry from such an experience. We are completely enamored with our possessions. We are dependent on our technology. We love being in favor with the powers that be. In our own country, we are staunchly political, but we are not anywhere near as fiercely spiritual about our allegiance to the things of God.
John’s allegiance to his God allowed him to leave the comfort of his home and his family. He made the hard choice to live apart from the masses. He actually had to live by faith that God would provide for him alone in the desert wastes. It was not an easy life for John. He wore clothing made from the hair of camels; so shabby it was only held up by a belt. He ate locusts and wild honey stolen from the hives of bees. John preached prophetically and the desert landscape provided a metaphor for the message he carried. He preached into a dry and dusty land, an arid landscape that spoke to the spiritual dryness of his culture. John knew what it was to live in the desert, in a hard place.
Second, the prophetic person and the prophetic church is God’s voice calling in that desert and declaring the purposes of God. John ministered in an age that was spiritually dry. His voice was used by God to create a spiritual thirst. People began to realize they were hungry for God. They were thirsty for God, and they were willing to travel to an out of the way place in order to find spiritual satisfaction. We could say about John’s life, that even though he was poor and even though he ate locusts, he was rich and nourished by the presence of God.
The prophetic Christian and the prophetic church realize that, just like John, we are living in a dry and empty land. We are full of gadgets and we are full of “stuff,” but we are devoid of purpose and empty of God. This church could be that kind of voice. Even among the manicured lawns of Cape Cod, there is deep thirst and great hunger for the life of God. This hunger is a spiritual hunger that cannot be satisfied by dining in a fine restaurant. This thirst is a spiritual thirst that a handout from a food bank cannot satisfy. Unless there is a prophetic presence, the sense of need goes unobserved and unrecognized. John provided that presence in his day and God is calling you and me to be that provision today. The prophetic church and the prophetic Christian prepares the way and paves the way for people to come to their own realization of need so they may open their hearts to God.
Around us today we see people are doing their very best to live without God. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus said He is the bread of life. Jesus said He is the living water. To live without His touch is to shrivel. To live without Jesus is to waste away and eventually to die of thirst. People came to John because his preaching reminded them of their need. They realized, even though it may be the most painful thing they could have done, repentance was their only hope.
Living a prophetic lifestyle is not about living in some strange super-spiritual way. It’s not at all about preaching. It’s about living. It’s about our behavior, the way we live. It’s about doing our part of the prophetic equation. In the verses before us, Luke quoted the prophet Isaiah. Our part, the prophet’s part of the equation, is to prepare the way for God. We make the paths straight for Jesus to travel. This word is God’s command to us. We are told to prepare. We are told to make straight paths for Him. That’s not God’s job. It is our two-fold job. We are to speak for God. We are the ones calling in the desert. We are the ones who are to live for God, to prepare the way, to make the path straight.
It would be great for us if this were only about preaching. That way, almost everyone would be excused and only the preachers would be responsible to obey the Lord’s word. We like talking and we like preaching, but preaching is just talking done in a formalized manner. The need of the hour is not more preaching. No one listens to the preacher. The need is for our neighbors, our families, and our friends to be able to see Christians living for God. The need is for us to be visible, not living incognito, not hiding our light under a bushel. Living for God is much harder than talking because it requires accountability. Living is not as noisy as preaching and it is also not as potentially hypocritical. If you live your life in a way that is transparent, if your life clearly demonstrates how God is working in your life, people around you are not blind and they will see. They will see that you are preparing the way, that you are making the path straight for God. You are not hindering, you’re not blocking, and you’re not making it hard for folks to see that God is at work in your life.
What is God’s part in this prophetic equation? God does what we cannot do. God’s part is to fill in the valleys. There are big holes, great deficiencies that abound in everyone’s life. All the people we know have weaknesses galore. They have faults aplenty. There are inadequacies all over the place. You and I cannot fill in those valleys. Our job is not to make people less weak. Our job is to encourage them to trust in God who will be their strength. Our job is not to get them to correct their faults. Only the Holy Spirit can lead a person to make a change in their behavior. If we do it, it won’t last. If we try to do it, their response will either come out of guilt or be an attempt at people pleasing. Our job is also not to get people to fill in the blank spots in their lives or to make up for all the ways they are inadequate. God is the only One who is sufficient for them and for you and me. God is the only One who is adequate.
God’s part of the equation is to make the mountains and hills low. We all know there are roadblocks and mountains that stand against the work of God in the lives of people. Can we deliver people from the mountains of bedrock that oppose them? No. Only God can make a way where there is no way.
God’s part of the equation is to make the crooked road straight and the rough road smooth. We prepare the way. We show the love of God. We live transparently and demonstrate the reality of what God looks like in the life of a person. We show what forgiveness looks like. God takes care of opening doors and smoothing out the bumpy roadways. It is the wisdom of God that unlocks doors and opens hearts that had been locked up tight.
Our job is to point to the truth of God’s word, to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done. We are not making big speeches, declaring this and that in flowery, super spiritual-sounding language. Other people can try taking that tack. We can quietly assure them that flowery speech is its own reward. Eloquence might sound good to the itchy ear, but it has a limited shelf life.
We have made prophecy so complicated, and we have so over spiritualized it, that prophecy has nearly lost its value to the modern American church. That was never God’s intent. You cannot find Biblical language to support that end. There is no support in Scripture for prophetic speech that is intended only for the certain few that have received some elevated, super-spiritual and special knowledge the rest of us lack.
In fact, the Bible declares the exact opposite. Peter asks the question in 2 Peter 3: 11 – 12, “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” Holy living is prophetic. Godly lives are prophetic statements. Such lives are open books for anyone who is hungering and thirsting for God to be able to read and then begin their own search for a new life in Christ.
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559