Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prophecy: A Required Course for Christians

“How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken!”   Luke 24:25 (Jesus)
So you’ve got a few hours to spare…
What ARE you going to do with yourself??!!
Bubble bath, nap out on the hammock, a cup of hot tea and a magazine, go for a jog, watch a chick flick?  The possibilities are endless. 
But, why do any of those things when you can study the Bible prophets?!
(Huh?  What are you talking about Willis?)
When you think of ways to spend your free time, studying the Bible prophets doesn’t make the cut, does it?! 
Not for me, either.  In the past, if I had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, I probably would not have prioritized studying the more “obscure” books of the Bible.  Especially the prophets.
Why not? 
I’ll give you my excuses.  See if they match up with yours.
#1:  TOO HARD.
I’ll be honest.  For most of my adult life, I have been less than disciplined about personal Bible study.  You know, the kind where you look things up for yourself.  Where you read the commentary.  Where you ask people questions about what you don’t understand.  Where you want to know not only how a passage comforts you but also what the writer hoped to communicate to his original audience.  The kind of study where context matters.  The kind where you grab on and don’t let go until you “get it”.
During those years when a minute alone was scarce, I frequently thumbed to the Psalms and gospels…the books I could understand…the ones I had already studied.  With all the fervor of a leisurely stroll, I would peruse familiar passages, walking by them and casually saying hello. 
I conveniently skipped the parts I didn’t understand.  That’s natural, right? 
Ok, I have 5 minutes.  Where did I stash that daily devotional book?  Oh, yeah.  It’s on the back of the toilet.  Because I don’t want to waste time…  That’s efficient, right? 
I know why that was my attitude.  I was busy.  Someone was always tugging on my sleeve, calling my name.  That’s legit.  My job was 24/7 for a season.  And, there are some books of the Bible that are very complicated. Ever tried to read through the book of Daniel?  Ezekiel?  Isaiah?  It’s not what you do between nursing an infant and fixing dinner for the family!  That stuff takes work.  Time.  Intention.  And a bit of divine intervention.
So why do it?  Can’t I just leave that to the pastor and then show up on Sunday and let him break it down for me?
If I had a dollar for every time somebody Christian shut down conversation about a complicated Bible passage by saying, “Well, we will never know…some things are just mysteries,” I’d be a rich, rich woman. 
This one is also an oldie-but-goodie: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God is preparing for those who love Him.  We just won’t know until we get there.”  Please, somebody read the rest of that passage!
If I listened to this nonsense, I would assume the case is closed.  No need to study the hard stuff.  According to these folks, nobody will ever know what the more challenging parts of the Bible really mean, so why waste my time?  I don’t really have the time to spare anyway. 
Whew!  Dodged a big one.  For a minute there, I thought maybe I’d actually have to do more than read my devo book while I’m on the potty!
Too bad Jesus thinks my excuses are lame.  He made it very clear how He felt about us knowing what the prophets say.  He wants us to be informed about prophecies so that we will be quick to believe in our hearts when they are fulfilled.   In Jesus’ school of life, ALL Scripture is a required course, prophecy included.  Hate to break it to you.  We are called to do the work.
I discovered that just this week as I was reading a familiar story in preparation for teaching kindergarten Sunday school.  (Cool how the Bible is meaningful for 5-year-olds and adults alike…how it speaks to me over and over in layers…how it is living and active….how it is NEW all the time.)
Let’s look at the story, and I’ll tell you what jumped fresh out of the book of Luke:
Cleopas and another man were walking on the road to Emmaus.  They were discussing all of the crazy events of the last few days.  All of Jerusalem was abuzz over Jesus.  They thought He was the Messiah, but then He was arrested and crucified.  A few women reported having seen an angel who claimed Jesus had risen.  But, when some of the disciples went to the tomb to check it out, Jesus wasn’t there—alive OR dead.  And, they were confused.  What was going on?  There were rumors flying all around.  Cleopas and his companion didn’t know what to believe.
Suddenly, a man appeared on the road with them, seemingly out of nowhere.  He said that he overheard them talking anxiously.  He asked them why.  They said (basically), “Duh.  Have you been under a rock?  Everyone in Jerusalem is going crazy over what may have happened to Jesus.” 
It was the mystery-man’s response that really caught my eye.  “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken!”   Luke 24:25 (HCSB)
At that, the man began to unfold the Scriptures, explaining how the prophecies that pertained to the Messiah all pointed to Jesus.  And, then he reminded them that the resurrection was exactly what was predicted.  That it perfectly fulfilled what was prophesied.  That it HAD to happen that way.
Suddenly the men “got it”—they understood the Scriptures (the prophecies) for the first time—and then they recognized the stranger on the road.  It was Jesus!
Notice how the men recognized Jesus only when they understood the prophecies?  An interesting observation, I think.
The question in my mind is this: If Jesus thought the men were unwise because they were slow to believe the prophets’ messages about His birth, death, and resurrection, will He also think we are unwise if we are slow to believe the prophecies about His second coming?  When He comes again, will we even recognize Him if we are walking on the road with Him?
Now, I have heard many a great sermon that reassures me we won’t be able to miss Jesus’ second coming, so I don’t want you to go telling people I said we could miss it altogether if we don’t study the prophets!  I am posing the question to make you think…  We might not miss the actual return of Christ, but will we miss the signs that it is imminent?  And, if so, what will we miss DOING during that time?  How might that affect the kingdom of God one way or another?
If Jesus wanted people to understand Scripture then, wouldn’t He want us to understand Scripture now?  If He thought prophecy was important then, wouldn’t he think prophecy is important now?  What benefit could there be to us being awake, alert, and ready when we see the things prophesied coming to pass?
There are a bunch of Biblical prophecies that are still unfulfilled.  If the ones about Jesus’ first coming came true, won’t the ones about His return also come to pass?  If recognizing the fulfillment of the first set of prophecies required study and knowledge, won’t recognizing the fulfillment of the others also require study and knowledge?
This line of thinking shuts down my familiar excuses.  Too hard.  Can’t understand it anyway.  Not true!  Jesus said we don’t understand because we are slow to believe in our hearts.  It’s not impossible, we just lack faith.  And we are not tenacious enough to put it all together.  We’re lazy!  We want the 5 minute stroll, not the 4 hour marathon.  We want to be fed like baby birds—food that is already partially digested—instead of having to chew up the gristly meat for ourselves.
What Scriptures encourage us to become mature in our knowledge and in our faith?  What Scriptures support my argument that we cannot skip some books because they are “incomprehensible”?  What Scriptures support my argument that Jesus wants us to know what is coming?  If not the day and the hour, at least the signs?  Among many, these:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil…Now we want each of you to demonstrate…diligence for the final realization of your hope so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.   Hebrews 5:11-14, 6:11-12 (Paul, to the Hebrews about maturing and not backsliding)
Matthew 24-25, when Jesus answers the question from his disciples, “Tell us, when will these things happen?  What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3b)  It takes Him two whole chapters to tell them what they should be watching for!
“Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near!”  Revelation 1:3
“Look, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic words of this book.”  Revelation 22:7, Jesus’ words to John
And, the angel’s words to John shortly afterward: “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.”  Revelation 22:10  (Don’t you think if the angel said not to seal up the book that we might be able to comprehend it…at least at some point in time?)
And, my personal favorite: Daniel 11:32b-33a, speaking of the time when the antichrist is in power on the earth, “…but the people who know their God will be strong and take action.  Those who are wise among the people will give understanding to many…”
Jesus chastised the men on the road to Emmaus for being unwise and slow to believe.  But, in Daniel, we are told that if we choose faith and wisdom, we will be strong, take action, and give understanding to many at a time when there is chaos and despair.  We can be the light-bearers in a world that desperately needs hope. 
I want to be a light-bearer, don’t you?
I know it is not easy to study the prophets.  It isn’t easy to study the Bible at all.  It can be downright confusing.  But, we can do it—especially in a country with so many resources available to us.  I encourage you to not be deterred by those who would tell you that certain parts are not comprehensible or worth your time.  The bottom line is that studying Scripture in its entirety is not really optional.  Remember: Jesus Himself made prophecy a “required course.”
Will you do the work?  Will you be quick to believe in your heart all that the prophets have said?
Lord, help us believe your Word.  All of it.  Ultimately, only You have the power to open our eyes to who You really are and to truth in your Word.  We ask you to reveal it to us.  Light a fire under us.  Make us inquisitive.  Create a desire in us to search Scripture and to spend time studying until we “get it”.  Lord, help us not to disregard prophecy or think of it as weird and incomprehensible!  We humbly ask that you allow us to be the ones who are privileged to take action and instruct many should there be a day in our lifetime when that is necessary.  We don’t want to be unwise.  Don’t let the enemy tell us that parts of your Word are not worth our time.  Help us to take big bites of the real meat as we mature in you.  Don’t allow the milk to satisfy us anymore.  We trust that because your birth, death, and resurrection were prophesied and fulfilled, ALL of the other prophecies in Scripture are a sure thing.  Help us stay alert so that we can fulfill your purpose for our lives.  Amen.
READERS: Responses from Redemption Day are still coming.  It's not too late if you want to tell me what YOU did to celebrate!  In fact, who cares what day you celebrate?  If you missed it on the day after Easter, do it today.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  Then, email me your creative way of remembering that Christ will come again at