Today marks the end of a journey that started nearly 4 years ago.
Sometime around September or October of 2013 (I can’t remember exactly when), for reasons which are not hugely relevant here, I began to study through the prophets of the Old Testament. From Isaiah through Malachi, I have spent my mornings with men who mourned the condition of the Lord’s people, and looked with hope towards a Messiah who would deliver them from their afflictions. I have been profoundly impacted in many ways from this pilgrimage. I would like to say that I am a holier man than I was when I started, but I don’t see any evidence of that. If anything, I see more of my sin, not less. I can only take it on faith that the Spirit is, in fact, sanctifying me.
Christmas, in particular, has become much sweeter, more precious, because it is the culmination of a hope that the prophets, for centuries, longed to see accomplished. I find myself, like them, longing for a Messiah to save and comfort me in my trials. I take greater joy in singing the carols, and in the advent readings, and in the Christmas story in general. Joy to the world! The Lord has [finally!] come! He is here! Come see the Christ child!
I also have been so surprised, amazed, and comforted to see the Gospel so clearly explained in the prophets. (My favorite passage is Isaiah 30:15—the waltz, Bob!—but I have also grown very fond of Hosea 11:8-9, among others.) Seeing God’s extreme, promiscuous love for his people, my affection for Him has grown. I was so enamored with Daniel that I have been teaching it in Sunday School—and still find endless depths of treasure in its stories.
I am saddened, though, by the short shrift (I’m being kind here—it is actually, I think, closer to wilful neglect) today’s evangelical church gives to the prophets. Generally speaking, we hear little of the prophets from the pulpit, unless it’s a moralistic sermon from the first 6 chapters of Daniel, or a few readings from Isaiah at Christmas, etc. Our churches tend to stay away from the “uncomfortable” parts of the prophets—which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of the content. I understand this. God’s judgment is not a pleasant thing to behold, much less dwell upon. And some of the passages are quite opaque, difficult to understand (though much less than I expected before I began my studies). I get it.
But here are the problems:
It’s the Word of God. Period. Really, should I need to elaborate?
By ignoring God’s judgment, we fall into the same sin that the prophets repeatedly warned Israel concerning: thinking that the Lord doesn’t care about sin. The Jews delved deep into idolatry, sexual immorality, and social injustice. Because for centuries Israel and Judah continued to prosper despite their sin, they began to think that the Lord either (a) didn’t see their sin; (b) didn’t care about their sin; or (c) actually condoned their sin. Sure, they had the Mosaic Law, with all it’s warnings, but since none of the threatened judgments ever materialized, the Law became, well, more what you’d call “guidelines.” The thought of judgment became unthinkable, either because God didn’t judge, or he wouldn’t judge them because they were “God’s chosen people,” and thus beyond rebuke. Boy, were they wrong. That’s why the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, and Judah—and especially Jerusalem—to the Babylonians, was such a shock. They simply thought it couldn’t happen. But here’s the deal: God sent the prophets to warn them that it could and would happen. And they didn’t listen to the prophets. Major oops.
We live in a world, a society, even a church that practices and condones idolatry (God wants you to be happy; send that check), sexual immorality (homosexuality is o.k.), and social injustice (abortion is just fine). The West, and America in particular, continues to prosper in this atmosphere of libertinism (and atheism, agnosticism, etc.). The church has bought in to the social agenda of the culture at large. And because we ignore, or actively avoid, the prophets, as they are written in the Scriptures, we tend to minimize our sin and God’s holiness. We mock those few who remind us of God’s judgment. “God is love—nothing to fear from that quarter.” Because we ignore those who are warning us of God’s judgment, we think it won’t happen.
Boy, are we wrong.
But . . .
The prophets also point us to the Messiah, a savior who can redeem us from our sin, and save us from judgment and destruction. “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” Repentance = “God, I don’t want to live like this, but without your help I will. Please, by your Spirit, make me righteous.” Trust = belief, faith. Belief in the Gospel. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.’”
And so, having my soul made anxious for the coming Messiah, I look forward to Monday with great joy and anticipation, when I will read these words: