The Danger of False Prophets

During the days of Ezekiel, as Jerusalem was about to fall to the Babylonians, God expressed great anger against false prophets. Men and women were still in Israel, still speaking as though from God, and still misleading people. The nation was being misled by people who used their authoritative-sounding speech to make money.

Ezekiel 13:1-7

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. 6 They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. 7 Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

In the Pentateuch, God made it clear that a person who was a false prophet in Israel was to be put to death. Here, we see that, though such was the law, many people still found the idea of declaring a false statement to be from the Lord too tempting. And God will bring judgment on such people.

And here we are, it is around 2600 years later. Is there something to learn? Yes. God hates false prophets still. God will still not tolerate it when a person claims to speak for him but does not. God still knows it is utterly wrong to comfort the guilty or to condemn the innocent in the name of the Lord. And God will move to protect his word.

Think about that as you consider what you listen to as teaching from the Lord. Think about that as you consider what you hear people say who claim to have knowledge of what God wants. Think about that, and be very careful with how you allow your ears to take in something with God’s name attached.

The true prophet in the Old Testament only communicated to the people what God had really said. In most cases, that was less a prediction of the future and more a proclamation of what God’s written word had already promised.

Now, in our world, we live in a very new era. The Holy Spirit now personally indwells believers. And the Holy Spirit has inspired a completed canon of Scripture. What then will a prophet have to do? The answer should be that a man or woman who wants to tell you what God has said should be telling you what is clearly written and taught in the Scripture. God has indeed spoken. We have his word written down. And we need to be called to obey that word, to be convicted by that word, and to be encouraged by that word.

The Holy Spirit does not live in us to give us mystical visions of the future. The Holy Spirit will work with the written word of God to help us be illumined, allowing us to understand and apply the word of God to our lives and circumstances. And a person who wants to tell you or me what God says needs to be rightly handling the word of God aided by the Spirit of God.

IF you have a person tell you that they know God is telling them something, be very careful. Is what God is telling them what he wrote down? Is what the person claims consistent with the word of God? If it is in violation of the word, it is clearly false. If it is in keeping with the word, then you know that extrabiblical revelation was not needed for you to have that word.

When we see God speak strongly against false prophets, we should be drawn strongly to the word of god. Pray a lot. Love the word. Be constant in Scripture. Listen to faithful, biblical teaching. But be very wary of a person who tells you that God is telling them something not in the word.

A Prophet Has Been Among them

There are some single lines in the Bible that ring in my ears every time I hear them. One such line is found in Ezekiel 2. I hear the sound of this sentence, and it sort of has the impact of hearing the Rocky theme for a preacher who cares about what he is doing.

Ezekiel 2:3-5- 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.

God is sending Ezekiel to a people who have been stubborn and disobedient. His job will be to tell this rebellious people the word of God. And any preacher would wonder what he should think about the mission. What if I’m not successful? What if they will not listen?

God says to Ezekiel, and this is what rings in my ears, “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” No matter what they do, whether they listen or not, they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Christians, does this not set your blood aflame? We are in a stubborn and fallen world. We have a gospel to proclaim. They may not listen. But do we not want them to know that there have been preachers of God’s word among them?

And pastors, does this not set your heart aflame? We will stand in pulpits. We will bring the word of God to a people, some of whom care and some of whom are ticking a box on their to-do lists. But you and I, we can preach the word. We can tell the truth. We can refuse to compromise. We can make sure they know that a prophet of God has been among them.

A Surprising Source of Persecution

Why does the world persecute believers? That is happening around the world at a surprising rate. But, why? Why would you want to attack a person, doing them physical harm, casting them from your society?

I think, if we stop to really put some thought into this, we will see that we are not as sure about why people persecute believers as we think. For example, in most countries, Christianity is not a political movement that is endangering the present governmental power structure. Genuine Christians have not historically been militant or physically aggressive. (Yes, I know about the crusades, and I reject that those had anything to do with genuine Christianity.)

At the end of the day, the world will oppose Christianity because the world opposed Jesus. The Savior told us that in John 15 and Matthew 5. But you are unlikely to get the world around you to say that directly either.

What has me thinking about this is the strange reason that Peter tells the church that the world will oppose the first century believers living in Asia Minor.

1 Peter 4:4-5 – 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Peter says that the world will oppose the church because Christians will not join with them in their evil actions. Can you imagine? Is it possible that a major source of problems for believers is not that we stand and fight against the world, but simply that we will not join in with things we cannot morally approve? Isn’t the battle cry of the present culture one of tolerance?

I think, if you have watched anything from the political realm over the last few months, you know that tolerance has little-to-nothing to do with the world in which we live. In the US, there are groups who will only be satisfied with the full assimilation or elimination of groups who oppose them. You either join in with the new morality, or the new morality will try to destroy you.

In the book of Revelation, we read about the 666, the mark of the beast. You know that many people have debated that mark in many ways and drawn many conclusions. But one thing is often not said about it which should be said. Something about that mark, that stamp of belonging to the world, is the key to commerce. If you will not wear that badge, you will be put out of business and starved out of society. Ignoring whether or not that number refers to an individual person or whether or not it is a visible marking on the body, is it not telling that John wrote of a time when, if you will not be able to be marked as one of the society at large, the society will try to drive you from the very marketplace?

Christians, the world around us will not think that we are great friends of theirs who just don’t go and do all the things they go and do. If you think that your church will grow big and strong by convincing the world of our goodness by telling them, “We are just like you guys except for our faith,” you are missing the clear promise of the word of God. The world does not look at the church as a collection of nice men and women, treasures to the community, who just happen to lean right morally. No, they are shocked and offended that you will not leap with them into sin, and they will malign you. The world will see us as a threat, not for attacking, but simply for not applauding them. And If you do not see that, you are not reading much in the news.

But Peter also reminds us that the Lord is in control. Our God reigns. Our God is the righteous judge. Our God will call all people and all deeds into account. Our God calls all people everywhere to repent and come to Jesus for salvation. And our hope is not in becoming popular in the world today. Our hope is in being faithful to Christ and living under his lordship for eternity.

My goal here is surely not to leave us thinking all negative all the time. Not all who are not Christians will hate and malign believers. Nor are all towns destined to immediately become bastions of persecution. But we are foolish if we do not see that there are trends of this sort of persecution flowing through politics and higher education all over our land. There are corporations where Christianity and Christian values would get you fired. There are cities where businesses run by openly Christian families are unwelcome. Social media is full of virtue signaling and morality testing that growl to the world that if you do not agree with them, if you do not give to their cause, if you do not applaud their agenda, they will bring the wrath of the Internet down on your organization, shame you, boycott you, and put you out of business. (Note, Christians, I will also say to you that many of us have earned this behavior by practicing it first when Christians held more political sway in our country, so I’m not after us playing the victim here.)

Our point is that we must be ready to live in a hard world. Our lives need to be faithful. But we cannot expect acceptance from a world that is shocked that we will not leap with them into the same pool. But we trust our Lord, we know he will set the world right, and we live to his glory even when it costs us.

Hope in What is to Come

When people think of discussions of end times theology, we so often get bogged down in symbolism and timelines. What is the beast? What does that number mean? Are those years literal or figurative? Does this happen before that?

In my read through Isaiah, I found myself captivated by a passage that I think points us toward the reign of Messiah as King on earth. For sure, the things we see here are things that we should be pressing toward today as the church obeys the Lord’s command to have dominion on earth. And I think that these things are going to be perfectly seen at the return of the Lord.

Now, before we try to figure out if my eschatology or my present focus is right or wrong, how about we simply look at some promises that the Lord has made that we can find great joy in? IN fact, why not look at this and see what you find most joyful and hopeful for those who know the Lord?

Isaiah 32:1-5

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
5 The fool will no more be called noble,
nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.

Think about what we see in these 5 verses. A truly righteous king will reign with righteous princes under him. Any world in which politics is not the cesspool that we see today is a better world. And I think that the prince here is Messiah, an even better picture.

But also we see wonderful things . Blind eyes see. Deaf ears hear. Cluttered minds think clearly. Tongues that just can’t make words come out of dear little mouths are now free to speak and sing. This is a glorious world to come.

And we also see that fools and scoundrels are no longer seen as heroes. Instead, righteousness is honored and treasured. Folly is no longer worshipped. All this sounds like bad business for Hollywood and corrupt politicians, but it is great for a world in which we actually want to live.

The beauty is, we see these things when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, clarity of mind to the oppressed, and speech to those who could not speak. Jesus showed us that he brings this glorious world. The church is to press toward that world. And the Lord promises us a day when Christ returns, and then the full joys of such a kingdom will be realized.

God often reminds us in his word to hope in heaven, to hope in the return of the Lord. Let’s not forget to do that on our day to day living. Let’s remember that Christ sets right the wrong of the world. Let’s remember that he is our glorious King. Let’s long for his return. Let’s rejoice in his promises. Let’s find that joy motivating to be a part of pushing back the darkness in our present world as we live for the one to come.

Walking in the Truth

When the apostle John was old, he wrote two lovely, short letters to churches and friends. And in them, we learn something about what makes an old apostle happy. While that might not strike you as the most important thing to think about in 2018, stop and really give it a second. If the apostles are the men chosen by God and sent out by Christ to communicate the word of God and lay the foundation of the church, what makes such men smile matters. And John, the last remaining apostle, has told us what makes him smile.

3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

There it is. What makes an old apostle happy? It makes him happy when he hears that his children, those who have been taught by him and shepherded by him, are walking in the truth.

I would suggest, dear Christians, that this is what the Lord wants of us too. He wants us to walk in the truth. These are easy words, but they require us to take them seriously.

Truth is an easy word. But to accept it here is to accept the fact that there is such a thing as truth. Truth is true, for real, no violations or gradations. There is such a thing as truth in which we are to walk.

Christian, this is the word of God. You and I are to believe that truth begins with Jesus, the Son of God, the word of God. We must believe that God’s truth is revealed as holy Scripture. And we must believe the claims and teachings of Scripture.

But we are not only to believe the truth—that is actually the easy part. We are to walk in the truth. That means that we, as followers of God, not only believe the word of God, but we do what it says. When the word says not to commit sexual immorality, we are to obey. When it says husbands love your wives in such a way that you would lay your life down for her just as Christ did the church, you obey. When the word tells us to worship the Lord together and not to give up that practice, we obey. When the word tells us that the God who made us is to be our number one priority, that we are to have no other gods before him, that we are not to make up things to worship in his stead, we must obey this. When the word says not to kill the innocent, we obey. When the word says to care for the needy, we obey. When the word says to pray for our political leaders, we obey. When the word tells us to avoid gossip, slander, greed, drunkenness, sexual deviancy, violence, abusive speech, and so much more, we obey.

And to walk in the truth is to obey the command to make the Lord our God our first love. We are to believe in the holiness of God and let that overflow in worship. WE are to find delight in the character of God and his mind-blowing mercies on us. We are to find our joy in the glory of the Lord and let that thrill our souls for eternity. We are to live in a loving relationship with the Lord now, with his Spirit living within us, even as we long for an even better day when we live in the eternally sinless state to come. We walk with our eyes fixed on heaven and our hearts set on the Lord. And we strive with every step to reflect the glory of our God in the here and now.

You see, walking in the truth is beautiful. It is to believe the word so as to have it shape your life in every step. Such faithful living makes an old apostle happy. And I think we can see that, since the Lord inspired John to tell us this, it pleases the Lord too.

No Jesus, No God, Know Jesus, Know God

Sometimes the word of God is complicated. Sometimes it is simple. This is one of those simple days, and we must not miss it.

What I want to remind us of today is not a complicated truth. Nor is what I want to remind us of today a politically correct sentiment. But it is exactly what the Bible teaches.

Let us remember that the Bible is clear and unchanging. The Bible is the word of God. The Bible reveals to us God’s truth, not the socially constructed truths of our generation.

OK, here is the simple truth, claimed clearly from Scripture.

1 John 2:23 – No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

What do these two sentences say? If you deny Jesus, you do not have a relationship with God the Father. If you have Jesus, you have a relationship with God, the whole God of the Bible—Father, Son, and Spirit.

Again, super simple, right? Of course it is. But it is also foundational to Christianity. We cannot look at that verse and soften the claims to fit the desires of our society. True Christians are bound to the Scripture.

So, what do we do in a world that rejects this claim? First, we continue to believe it. If you say no to Jesus, you say no to God. If you know Jesus, you know God.

Second, we continue to love and show kindness to the world around us, even that world which rejects the Savior. Why? Some would say that we do this in order to persuade others to believe. God certainly wants us to continue to share Jesus with others. But I would suggest that we show goodness and kindness to others because all people have been made in the image of God. That means all people have value, Christian or not. Christians do not assault, attack, or otherwise act cruelly toward those with whom they disagree. But Christians do not let go of biblical truth simply because it is no longer socially popular.

So, I suppose the two sentences above lead us to some important questions. Do you know Jesus? Have you repented of your sin and entrusted your entire life to him? Have you yielded to Jesus in faith and committed all of who you are to him, his commands, and his glory? Do you have his grace? If so, then you have life. Keep following him.

If you have not come to Jesus, know that the Bible says that you are choosing to stand in opposition to God. There is no other way to put it. The sentences above are too simple and clear. You can freely decide that you do not care. You can decide that you will not submit to the Lord. You can decide that you reject all of the Bible. Or you can, by the grace of God, turn, reject sin, believe in Jesus, and be saved.

Grace and Repentance

I love grace. I really do. I love to recognize how deep is the love of God for his people. I think, in many situations, we fail to realize just how marvelous it is that the Lord would actually choose us and love us, love with a genuine affection and not a begrudging forgiveness. God calls us his children and really loves us like a good Father loves his children.

But if we focus so much on grace that we forget that salvation is transformative, we have a problem. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet the call to salvation in Scripture is always both repent and believe. Salvation comes to us when we trust in Christ. But trusting in Christ includes a yielding to his lordship and repenting of sin.

Think of this paragraph from John.

1 John 1:5-10 – 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Look at the two sides of the coin that simply cannot be ignored. God is light. God has no darkness at all. So all who claim to belong to the Lord turn from sin, from darkness, and walk in light. That may sound all spiritual, but it really is not deep. God is good. If we are his, we will walk in goodness. God hates sin. If we are his, we will walk in righteousness and not in sin.

But, if we took that light and dark stuff as the only message, we would be overwhelmed. You are a sinner and so am I. Christians are still battling sin, and we do not always win in our day-to-day. So does that mean that, if my life has sin in it, if I ever fail, then I am not a true Christian? Praise God, no! Verse 8 reminds us that a claim to have reached sinlessness in ourselves would be us calling God a liar. But, what marks Christians is that we confess our sin, find cleansing in Jesus, and then strive to change and walk in the light as Christ is in the light.

What makes this passage so beautiful and so worth considering on any day is that it paints the picture of us rightly. It shows us grace and repentance side by side.

Are you a Christian? I hope that you are someone who has come to Jesus in faith and repentance to find salvation. If you are, then walk in righteousness. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not turn from sin and seek to obey Jesus. Living a life that obeys the commands of God is part of biblical Christianity. And any faith that pretends that we are not supposed to be changed and to live righteously is an antinomian religion, something wholly non-Christian.

But, before we let the burden of law and righteousness crush us, we also see that Christianity is a gracious, cleansing, loving thing. WE confess our sin. WE own our failing. We bring it to Jesus. And he cleanses us. That means both that we are forgiven and that we are helped by God to live more purely. We are sanctified by the Spirit of God so that we actually turn from sin and walk in the light.

So, dear friends, test your claim to faith. Are you walking in the light? Are you battling sin? Where there is sin, are you confessing it and bringing to Jesus? Are you being cleansed and led to repentance?