Sam serves on the leadership team at New Community Church in Tacoma as well as with Newfrontiers internationally in Russia, Ukraine, England and, most recently, in Zimbabwe. He has a passion for getting the gospel to the nations.
After the death of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last Old Testament prophets to write scripture, there were no more recognized prophets in Israel for about 400 years. The light of prophetic revelation had gone dim in Israel.
But then as we begin to read the New Testament we are confronted with a surge of prophetic revelation and supernatural events proclaiming that the Messiah foretold by the ancient prophets in Israel is now coming into the world.
An elderly priest named Zacharias is visited in a vision by an angel who declared to him that he and his wife would be having a son in their old age and that his name would be John. He would have a ministry like the ancient prophet Elijah (Luke 1:11-17). Immediately after John's birth the old priest is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to prophesy declaring that his newborn son would prepare the way for the Savior (Luke 1:67-79). His wife Elizabeth also prophesies when visited by her expectant relative, Mary, who gives birth to Jesus. Both Mary and Joseph, her husband to be, experienced angelic visitations announcing the miraculous conception of their firstborn son, Jesus.
After the birth of Jesus, angels declare the details of Christ’s birth to simple shepherds in the countryside near Bethlehem. The shepherds go to see the Child for themselves, and then they announce boldly the things that had been revealed to them (Luke 2:8-20).
When Joseph and Mary present the newborn Jesus to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, an elderly man named Simeon approaches them. The Holy Spirit is upon Simeon, and he takes the baby in his arms and proclaims,
‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’
Then he begins to prophesy to Mary; 'Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.'
When he finishes, an eighty-four year old woman named Anna comes up and begins to prophecy about this newborn child to everyone who was hoping for the salvation he had come to bring. (Luke 2:25-38)
The Christ has come! God-revealing prophetic light is flooding out for all to see. From now on everything God has to say finds its center in this One that was born in Bethlehem!
As we begin to read the story of the church in the Book of Acts we find prophets among them. The first story involving prophets was at the young church in the city of Antioch. Here the message of Jesus had spread through the Gentile population of that city and a powerful church was started among them. A team of prophets came down from the church in Jerusalem to minister to them. One of these prophets, named Agabus, prophesied about a great famine that was coming. The outcome of this prophetic ministry was a dynamic outpouring of help for the Jewish background believers living in Judea who were suffering great poverty. (Acts 11:27-30)
The next time this church in Antioch is spoken about we find that prophets are now a part of the church’s leadership team. It is in this context that by the Holy Spirit prophetic revelation is given to send out Barnabas and Paul into the apostolic work God was calling them to. This was the launching of an incredible wave of church planting out from that church into other nations of the world. (Acts 13)
As churches multiplied among non-Jewish peoples in many different places, a controversy arose among some of the Christians with a Jewish background. They still were arguing that these non-Jewish believers should be called to submit themselves to Jewish laws and practices as a part of their commitment to Jesus. A council was called in the church at Jerusalem to settle this issue. There it was determined that it was not God’s plan for these new believers to have to take on Jewish religious laws and customs as a part of their commitment to follow Jesus. Some men where chosen to carry this instruction to the churches and make sure all understood clearly this foundational apostolic teaching. Barnabas and Paul, who were apostolic, were sent along with two prophets, Judas and Silas. So this important ministry among the churches was to be carried out by a team of apostles and prophets. (Acts 15:25-33)
It becomes clear that prophets had a vital role among the churches of the Book of Acts. These men were leaders. Paul says in the Ephesian letter that the Ascended Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry. (Eph. 4:11) Every church needs exposure to all these gifts Christ has given to his church in order to be fully equipped to fulfill the mission of Jesus and grow to full maturity as the people of God.
Throughout the Bible we encounter the presence of prophets among the people of God. The first person in the Bible to be called a prophet is Abraham. Interestingly this happens in the rather unflattering story in Abraham’s life when he and Sarah travel into the land of Gerar and Abraham purposefully deceives the king of that land into thinking that Sarah is simply his sister when in fact she is his wife. After King Abimelech took Sarah as his own the Lord intervened in her behalf by visiting Abimelech in a dream in order to keep him from sinning by having sex with Sarah. (See Genesis 20)
Then the Lord instructs Abimelech to go to Abraham and return to him his wife. After that he is told to receive prayer from Abraham because he is a prophet! Abraham does pray for Abimelech and God’s judgment averted away from him and all his household.
How is it that Abraham is called a prophet in this story? It certainly cannot be based upon his wonderful performance and actions here. This answer to this question lies in the relationship Abraham has with God and this relationship is purely the result of God’s gracious calling upon his life. God had spoken to Abraham and revealed himself to him. It is on this basis alone that Abraham is called a prophet. It is on this basis alone that Abraham is able to intercede for Abimelech.
A notable thing in this first story about a prophet in the Bible is its cross-cultural nature. Here Abraham, who has come into relationship with the Living God as a result of God’s revelation of himself to him, is speaking with a pagan king who has not enjoyed this relationship in the same way (although it seems like Abimelech was doing better in character development than Abraham at this point). Through Abraham’s coming to him he has begun to know this gracious God of Abraham. This encounter with God is not based on Abraham’s performance but on the very nature of the God Abraham has come into relationship with. This is the first thing in the Bible we learn about what a prophet is!
The presence of prophets and prophecy in the stories of the Bible is seen as a sign of God’s blessing and presence among his people. The writer of the Book of Lamentations speaks of the dark days after God’s judgment fell on the city Jerusalem. God’s hand of blessing was removed from the city because of the rebellion and sin of the people. One of the indicators that God’s Presence was no longer there in blessing was that the prophets no longer received any vision from the Lord. (Lam.2:9) The lack of prophecy was a sign of God’s disfavor.
The Second Century AD, Christian apologist, Justin Martyr used this same understanding about prophecy in his dialogue with a Jewish rabbi named Trypho. In his attempt to convince him that Jesus is truly the long awaited Messiah and that now the people of God are those who put their trust in him, he said to Trypho: ‘from the fact that even to this day the gifts of prophecy exist among us Christians, you should realize that the gifts which had resided among your people have now been transferred to us.’ (from St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho; Chapter 82)
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (Rev. 12:1-5)
This prophetic picture is a mind-transforming drama of Christ’s great victory that he has won for us. This vision starts by looking back in time at a woman who is in labor. This woman symbolizes the people of God through history.
The next thing we see is the grotesque image of a huge red dragon standing poised, ready to eat the baby as it comes out of the womb. All thought the history of the Old Testament Satan had been trying to destroy this Child, which was first promised right after Mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). He thought perhaps he was Abel, or maybe Moses, possibly David or one of the prophets.
Finally the hour came, Jesus was born into the world, the Promised One. Herod came up with an evil scheme inspired by Satan, to try to kill him in his infancy but his plan was thwarted. At the proper time Jesus willingly went to the cross to die. Instead of this being a victory for the dragon this death was his defeat! Jesus rose from the dead and after 40 days ascended to the throne of God in heaven eternally winning our salvation.
This vision ends with the dragon enraged at the woman and is set on making war against her and the rest of her children, that includes all of us who follow Jesus and are part of his people. Satan is angry because he has been defeated and he knows his time is short. Without this prophetic perspective on our history as the people of God we will have a difficult time understanding what God is doing among us now. Prophetic vision does not just focus on what is going to come, it focuses on what has already happened in the past and in this way brings us to prophetic understanding about what is going on right now and what is to come. Through this vision, the Apostle John gives us a sweeping picture of God’s Big Salvation Story to strengthen our faith.
Looking at what God has done for us in the past is essential to living passionately for his glory in the present and walking into the future with confidence in God.
Remembering what God has done in the past is essential to living passionately for his glory in the present. Prophets were often particularly good and recounting the stories of what God had done in the past in order to help the people catch a glimpse of what he desired to do among them in the present.
Reading about the prophets especially in Old Testament times we can see that one of their roles was to bring this sort of historical perspective. They would tell of the mighty works of God in history in order to reveal what He was doing then and there. They would often come on the scene at times when there was great difficulty and say, “Remember what the Lord has done among you in days gone by”, and then proceed to tell a story. Prophecy does not just involve foretelling things, but it also gives prophetic significance to past things. Prophetic ministry involves declaring God’s Big Salvation Story from Scripture and how it is brought to bear on our particular situation at this present time.
The Prophet Samuel is a great example of this. While Samuel was a leader of Israel, the time came when the people asked for a human king like all the surrounding nations had. They felt this would bring them more security and good standing as a nation. Samuel recounted to them stories of how the Lord God had delivered their fathers from Egypt through Moses and Aaron when they cried out to Him. Then he reminded them that when they forgot the Lord they were again delivered into the hands of their enemies. But, when they cried out to the Lord once again, He gave them leaders who delivered them out of the hands of their enemies (1 Sam. 12:6-11). Samuel applied these stories from their history to their present situation. He told them they would be given the king they asked for, but nothing had changed. This new king would not save them. Only God could do that. If they forgot God, what happened before would happen again: their enemies would subdue them. If they would call on the Lord and look only to him, they would enjoy His full blessing upon them as a people.
As members of the church we are called to be a prophetic people. We are called to proclaim the biblical stories that reveal who Jesus truly is and that he is the same today as he was in past history. The works he did then he can do now. We must tell these stories and enter into what that signifies for us today. Revelation 19:10 states, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”. The same Jesus that was working though the church in the early days has not changed. Prophetic ministry in the church gives witness to Jesus’ Presence among us here and now!
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers that makes prophecy a possibility. When John in Revelation gave the prophetic words to each of the seven different churches in Asia Minor there was one common message to every member of every church: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 2:7&17 &29 etc) The essence of prophecy is the Holy Spirit speaking to his people.
Jesus told his disciples that it was better for him to return to the Father because if he didn’t go the Advocate (The Holy Spirit) would not come, but if he goes the he would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus said; “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”(John 16:13-14) The Holy Spirit is passionate about glorifying Jesus. All true prophecy will be focused on the Person of Christ Jesus the Lord and will ignite this passion for His glory in the church.
John starts off this letter by telling us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. He was a man who knew the anointing of the Spirit. Humanly speaking he was powerless and in exile. Yet the anointing of God’s Spirit was unlimited by these circumstances. The result in John’s life was the reality that by the anointed neither was he limited by the present circumstances when it came to bringing glory to Jesus. There is no way to talk about being prophetic without talking about receiving the Holy Spirit’s anointing. T. Austin-Sparks said that the anointing is that ‘first-hand touch with God’. It is only by the anointing of the Spirit that we can know this holy passion for Christ, it is only by the anointing that we can fan that flame in the hearts of others.
In my next post, we'll consider how John’s prophetic visions are fanning the flame of holy passion to see Jesus glorified among his people.
The primary feature of Western Culture since the 17th Century ‘enlightenment’ has been the rationalistic or scientific approach to knowing and understanding life and the world we live in. There was a huge optimism that human ability and reason alone could answer our big questions about life and bring resolution to our major problems. The ‘scientific method’ was to be used to discover natural laws and pave the way toward a better world for all. Within this worldview there was an underlying belief that an ideal objectivity was possible for the ‘researcher’ or ‘observer’, and that which he ‘observed’ was separate from him. Within this framework it was believed that such ‘objective knowledge’ would lead to progress, and single rationalistic explanatory systems would be able to explain all phenomena.
Then came the 20th Century and two World Wars. Concepts like Hitler’s fascism revealed the ugly underbelly of humanistic rationalism reigning supreme. A single rationalistic explanatory system (later called a ‘meta-narrative’ by postmodern philosophers) had empowered a group of people to treat other people in inhumane ways. There arose a deep skepticism about any such ‘meta-narrative’. There was a shift away from looking for an objective understanding of the world we live in. Individuals and smaller groups of people began to construct their own world; their personal stories became their way of interpreting life. Knowledge was understood to come through experiences. Things began to be probed and experienced rather than proved. A general pessimism emerged about the hope of human progress. Now everyone was understood to be subjective: now the ‘observer’ is understood to be a part of ‘the observation’. This approach to understanding life is often referred to as ‘post modernity’.
In cultures dominated by modernity many Gospel preachers taught through sharing a series of principles or ‘spiritual laws’ that fit fairly well into a culture that looked for ‘objective knowledge’. This is not nearly so effective in a culture where post modernity prevails, where personal narratives are understood as the path toward some meaning to life. The good news is that the Bible is not a book of abstract principles; it is made up of individual stories that bring us to God’s disclosure of himself and his ways in the fabric of human experiences. Knowing God through Christ cannot be a reality in one’s life through rationalistic processes alone. It must also be discovered experientially, emotionally and spiritually. In a postmodern culture people tend to seek engagement and dialogue with others. I believe this is a primary reason the Alpha Course has been so effective in many places. One’s own story and the faith stories he holds in his heart can now be seen to have a legitimate place at the table with the all the other stories being told.
Some might argue, “Yes, but by telling God’s Big Story from the Bible aren’t you bringing in another distrusted meta-narrative?” Some postmodern thinkers would tend to say that this is so. However, the Biblical story that our faith depends on does not fit into that category as defined by postmodern thought. It is unlike the ideologies behind such meta-narratives as Capitalism, Scientific Naturalism, Communism or Fascism where the ‘knower’ can look upon the ‘observed’ with a haughty objectivism and justify the use force if necessary to push his ideology through. Believing the stories of the Bible always calls for humility. Time and again the stories show that our confidence has to rest on the faithfulness of God and not our own knowledge. Such a confidence is inseparable from humility before God and our fellow human beings. In other words, to begin to see God’s Big Story from Scripture is to realize that we are characters in his story who totally depend on him for mercy and are not the ones who make the story happen.
Leslie Newbigin put it this way, ‘If the biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to a human being will be one which rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty which is inseparable from gratitude and trust.’ [From; Proper Confidence –Newbigin P. 28] Our confidence in bringing this message to others is not in our own knowledge but in God’s faithfulness and love. We tell the story in humility knowing that it is God’s grace that brings those who hear to the reality the story speaks of.
A good illustration of this happened to Marlene and me recently during our morning Bible reading together. We were reading the story about Second Coming of Jesus from 1 Thessalonians. As we pondered the account of the Lord coming down from heaven with a loud shout from an archangel and a trumpet call of God, with those who are dead rising first, we spoke with each other about what that would be like. We both finally had to plead ignorance because this part of the story has not happened yet and it certainly is not a part of our current experience and knowledge. There will come a day when all this will be clear to us as the Lord continues to unfold his great salvation plan. We agreed that here and now our place is to take confidence in God’s gracious plan for us both now and in eternity. Our confidence is not based in our present understanding of all these things but in the faithfulness of God. The Second Coming of Christ is an amazing story to tell, and we will tell it, but we could never do so with an attitude that claims full understanding of these things or that we could ever make it happen with our own understanding and power.
It is quite popular (and politically correct) to say that there are many different roads that lead to God and what is really important is that one is truly sincere in his or her beliefs. Many argue that it is bigoted, intolerant and unloving to suggest that there is only one way to know God’s love and forgiveness and that all other roads claiming to lead to God actually lead to final disaster.
The story of the Bible runs cross current to these ideas so culturally appealing today. This story reveals that true relationship with God is only possible by hearing the story of Jesus Christ and entrusting our lives into his hands.
For this reason the Apostle Paul said of those who wanted to hinder the telling of this story that they not only displease God but are hostile to the whole human race (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16). In other words, it is totally unloving to stand against the One Story that has the power to bring us to God’s Salvation. Conversely, from Paul’s perspective, the most loving thing a person can do for all mankind is to tell the story of God’s Great Salvation Through Christ to everyone who will listen (Romans 10:14-15).
The art of storytelling is rapidly gaining popularity in the entertainment scene in world-class cities. An intriguing article titled “Testify!” in the January 2011 issue of Christianity Today tells of a storytelling event called “The Moth”, based in New York City that drew 21,750 people to its shows last year. In these events ordinary people tell real stories to a live audience. People are standing in long lines to buy tickets for these events. Such shows are rivaling the stand-up comedy scene in popularity.
I am convinced that one of the reasons storytelling is gaining in popularity in today’s world is a hunger for true and meaningful relationships in the hearts of many people. Shared stories of our history, failures and joys are the fabric that knit us together in community. In a world where many feel isolated from real community there are many ready to pay money to buy a ticket so they can listen to another person make himself vulnerable before an audience as he tells a true story from life. Great storytelling will always involve the struggles and defeats we face, as well as our triumphs.
As followers of Jesus we have stories to tell, stories of our own sin and redemption. We have the stories of the family history of the people who knew the true God of Israel in the Bible. And most wonderful of all, we can share the Good News that anyone who puts their trust in Jesus is made a part of that amazing and eternal story of God’s great salvation. What better story is there to tell?
Some today feel that Chronological Bible Storytelling is a new and unproven innovation. It is important to see that far from being something new and novel it is as old as the Bible itself. Jesus used this approach on the very day of his resurrection. He met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As he joined them on their way they did not recognize him. The two are full of sorrow and confusion over the death of Jesus. Now, here is the newly resurrected Jesus walking along with them. He wants to show them who he actually is. It might have been expected that he would perform some amazing sign for them to show them that his is risen from the dead. But he begins to tell them God’s Great Salvation Story, starting at the very beginning with Genesis and taking them through to the end with the words of the prophets. Then he showed them how he stood at center stage in this great drama. (Luke 24:27)
If those with whom we want to share Christ’s salvation don’t catch the big picture they will be left with many gaps in their understanding of what Jesus has accomplished for us through his death, burial and resurrection. There are key stories they must hear from the Books of Genesis to Revelation in order to catch the full impact of what Jesus has done for us. Without catching something of the worldview brought to us by the story of the Bible there lurks the grave danger of perceiving particular truths of the Gospel in the light of old cultural mindsets and wrong worldview assumptions may remain unchallenged.
I would recommend that every church acquire a means of telling God’s Big Story, starting in Genesis through to Revelation, for all those who are coming into the life of the church. This can be done periodically through a series of stories shared on Sunday mornings in the main gatherings of the church; or perhaps a small group gathering that is ongoing in the life of the church, where newcomers could attend, hear the stories told and participate in discussion around each story. During such times questions will often arise in the group where the story has challenged concepts that run counter to the truth of Scripture.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
Enter your email to receiveregular updates in your inbox:
Confluence4228 S Kingshighway Blvd. Saint Louis, MO 63109 USA Tel: (603) 475-1740