THE PROPHETIC CALL OF THE CHURCH
“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience (James 5:10).”
The book of James is an interesting and controversial book. The German Reformer, Martin Luther, viewed it as “chaff amongst the wheat.” To the mind of Mr. Luther, Brother James drew too heavily from the wisdom of God’s Law. Perhaps, he thought this New Testament epistle was more suited for the Old Testament, rather than the New. Regardless, he thought James lifted up the Law of God to the point that it cast too great a shadow over the grace of God to suit his theological tastes. To Mr. Luther, this constituted “chaff amongst the wheat.”
Most scholars agree the epistle of James was written by the step-brother of our dear Lord. If so, clearly, he had a privileged position to observe our Lord not only based upon His public persona, but by being brought up in the same home. Apparently, he was not always a fan of his big brother. He participated in the family taunt to provoke Jesus to go the Feast in Jerusalem, knowing full well that there were enemies seeking our Lord’s death (John 7:1-9). I imagine living with “Mr. Perfect” had the potential to produce a dangerous jealousy.
Thankfully, James grew older and became wiser. He eventually came to understand the true nature of his elder brother. He was God in the flesh. Through the years, James rose in prominence. In the church and throughout Jerusalem, he was known as James the Just: The Safeguard of the People. He was also called Camel Knees.
One day the city fathers of Jerusalem came with a request. They asked James to climb up to the pinnacle of the Temple and address the city. They hoped James would help quell the rumors that were circulating concerning the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ. James honored their request and took his position high above the gathering crowds. He then proceeded to assure everyone there that everything they had heard about his elder brother concerning the Gospel of the Kingdom was absolutely true. He was indeed the promised Messiah. Obviously, this message was not received anon with joy by those who asked James to “set the record straight.”
Betrayed by the truth, the city fathers called to those near the brave man of God. “Throw him down,” they cried. James hit the ground with a thud. Amazingly, the great fall did not kill him. Living up to his name, Camel Knees, he rolled over on his knees, presumably to pray for his persecutors like Jesus and Stephen before him (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). The frenzied crowd at this point took up stones to pelt him to death. The barrage of stones failed in their deadly mission. One can only presume God desired the people to hear more of James’ prayers for them. Finally, a fuller, who makes cloth bulkier by dampening and beating it, smashed the man of God in the head with his iron instrument. James, the brother of Jesus, mercifully succumbed to death and received a martyr’s crown.
James is writing to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” These were Jewish Christians under the boot of religious and civil tyranny. His purpose was to reach from Jerusalem as a faithful elder of Christ to care for their souls and encourage them to press on in the faith. In our opening verse, James 5:10, he wraps up his epistle to encourage the fledgling church to draw strength, inspiration, and encouragement from the prophets who had gone before them. In other words, he was seeking to tie the church to the prophetic realm of Almighty God.
Where would he get such a notion? Perhaps, he paid attention to his brother’s famous Sermon on the Mount. Maybe the Beatitudes helped to lead him in this direction. Matthew 5:10-12 states:
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
The connection our Lord is seeking to make here is irrefutable. Once again, the witness of God’s word seeks to bind the church to the prophets of old. In other words, the plight of the prophets would be similar to the plight experienced by God’s people. In other passages, Jesus declared, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (Matthew 23:24).” He further warned the religious leaders of His day in a parable found in Matthew 21. He told them that the Kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation worthy to bear the fruit thereof. All this was due to their rejection and mistreatment of the prophets and Himself (Matthew 21:33-46).
Jesus as Prophet
In Matthew 16:13-15, Jesus asked two profound questions. God’s word states:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
It is interesting to observe the view of Jesus by the people of His day. They related His ministry to the prophets of old. All the men mentioned were bold, righteous men of God. They were rough, tough and hard to bluff in their service to the Lord. Apparently, there was something in our Lord’s manner, perhaps, it was the fire in His eyes or the thunder of His voice that reminded the people that someone like Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist was in their midst. We know Jesus confronted Israel’s evil just like Elijah (1 Kings 18; Matthew 23). He wept over the city of Jerusalem like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1; Luke 19:41). He even warned the Jews not to trust in being the physical seed of Abraham as the basis for their salvation like John the Baptist (Matthew 3:9; John 8:39).
Besides this, remember how Jesus defined John the Baptist? He asked the people:
What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
Jesus reminded people of John the Baptist. This view was so strong that Herod the tetrarch erroneously believed Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1, 2). Obviously, this view of Christ is conspicuously absent in the modern day church and the corrupt culture we have failed to impact. Most folks today view Jesus as an effeminate guru that wouldn’t harm a flea and His bloody cross as a good citizenship award. The civil and religious leaders of His day knew otherwise.
Obviously, this modern view of our Lord is a far cry from the people of Jesus’ day. And whether consciously aware of it or not, the people back then were adding their amen to a prophecy given by Moses. God promised to raise up a prophet similar to him. Acts 3:22, 23 records:
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.
The Nature of the Prophetic Call
Jeremiah 23:22 states, “But if they had stood in my counsel, (false prophets) and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” The prophetic realm is the realm of reformation. It is a call to reform our ways, thinking, and behavior that is out of step with God’s righteous and holy character. Mankind tends to forget and go astray. God, in His faithfulness, raises up prophetic witnesses to bring us back into remembrance. He faithfully calls us back to the ancient paths we abandoned to our own demise (Jeremiah 6:16). The New Testament counterpart to this divine calling would be our Lord’s admonishment for the church to be salt and light in our perverse and corrupt world. Ultimately, this call is to protect people from the idolatry and immorality, which invokes God’s wrath upon disobedient men and nations (Deuteronomy 28).
Parable of the World’s Hill
To illustrate the importance of prophetic ministries in our day, consider this modern day parable. I call it the Parable of the World’s Hill. It seeks to distinguish the difference between mercy ministries and prophetic ministries in our crooked nation.
Picture, if you will, the world as a hill. The masses of the world gather at the top and by their foolish, sinful behavior cast themselves headlong off the cliff. At the bottom, some of the Church waits for the inevitable thud. Thankfully, a mercy ministry ambulance picks them up and whisks them away. Christians then work feverishly to try to piece back together again the broken lives impacted by the fall.
Prophetic ministries, however, make an extra effort to climb up to the top of the hill and place itself between the foolish, sinful behavior and plead with the world, “DON’T JUMP.” Prophetic ministries seek to intervene before the world mangles itself by hurling their lives against the reality of God and His moral commandments.
A good example of this difference is the battle against the culture of death fueled by abortion. Thank God for post-abortive, mercy ministries that help women cope with the aftermath of the grievous sin and crime they committed against their own offspring. Prophetic ministries seek to intervene in order to spare men, women, and children the horrors of abortion. Thus, the more we have prophetic ministries, the less we have need of mercy ministries. Both are important, however, when it comes to serving our Lord and loving others in His name.
As a wise man once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” especially, when it comes to the many issues in this life mankind will inevitably experience. Whereas mercy ministries seek to provide a cure after mayhem and disaster strike, prophetic ministries seek to prevent disaster from happening in the first place. Mercy ministries bind the wounds, while prophetic ministries seek to prevent the wounds. In other words, it is better to avoid disobedience, idolatry, and immorality, which devastates lives and ruins nations. How will men and nations know what is the source of their calamity? God raises up and sends forth prophetic witnesses.
Typically, the world will not manifest bulging veins and secular denunciations if the church exercises mercy ministries. In fact, the world may even render reluctant praise towards those in the church who feed the poor or clothe the naked. On the other hand, the world and even segments of the church will bear “tooth and claw” and howl against those who have the courage to “stand in the counsel of the Lord to turn them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” This situation is responsible for the majority of the church supporting mercy ministries while distancing itself from prophetic ministries. Our nation is bearing the fruit of this lopsided emphasis by the American church, which seeks to sever the tie between us and the prophets of old, our Lord and the Apostles sought to establish.
Lastly, in order for the church to be effective in the prophetic call, we must get over the suffering and death issues. As Christians, we must get use to the idea that we will suffer for two reasons. We will suffer for doing what is right and we will suffer for doing what is wrong. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There is a connection between sin and suffering. In fact, Peter taught, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1).” The Psalmist would concur, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word (Psalm 119:67).”
If we suffer for being a true Christian, however, God’s Spirit and glory rests upon us and is working for us an eternal weight of glory (1 Peter 4:14; 2 Corinthians 4:17). Revelation 12:11 sums up the prophetic call to the church to defeat Satan and evil, God’s word declares, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” So Be It!