Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – What was old becomes new

During the Sundays of Easter passages from Acts are substituted for the Old Testament passages. I have said this multiple times, and usually I say it to help you, beloved reader, know why it is a passage from Acts. Today I tell you because this passage from Acts is as informative about faithful practices as any Old Testament passage. Let me show you why.

“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

The prophets from the Old Testament are said to have been filled with God’s Spirit, and acted according to that guidance and inspiration. Here we see a new believer who is filled with the exact same essence of God and testifies to it.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” (Verses 56 – 57)

But he is ignored and set upon just like any prophet from the Old Testament.

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verse 58)

Unlike the Old Testament, however, unbelievers do not stop at just threatening his life but actually take it. Remember, beloved reader, how many times the Lord’s prophets had to flee in fear of their lives? It as if the reactions of those times were exacerbated with the killing of Jesus Christ. Taking a life is no longer an unthought of act, but one that is gaining acceptance.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)

But just as Jesus’ death was the beginning of a wave of persecution, so was Jesus’ willingness to give up his life. And even in death remaining faithful to the Lord who was followed and served. It was one thing for Jesus the Son of God to be willing to give up his life, but such faithfulness in humanity was new and unheard of, except maybe in Old Testament times.

And do not think, beloved reader, I have overlooked who was present at Stephen’s death. Here we have the foundation of the Lord getting ready to call a new prophet who would carry forth the Lord’s word and Jesus’ work. No, beloved reader, we have missed out on nothing by not having an Old Testament passage. May we learn lessons from scripture where ever we may find them. Selah!

What should a good “Prophet” say and do. (The Psalms Passage)

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” (Psalms 111:1-2)

Being called out as a “prophet” can mean a wide variety of things – all dependent on how one defines “prophet.” The way the Old Testament passage of yesterday defined it (the allusion to the Messiah aside) it simply meant someone who sought to understand God and explain the God they came to know to others. And since God clearly said that the Lord will put the words in the prophet’s mouth, anyone who was faithful to God could be and be called out as a prophet.

Verses 1 & 2 from Psalms 111 adds to this when it says that the great works of the Lord are studied (and by implication should be studied) by those who delight in them. What better training for a beginning “prophet” than to study the great works of the Lord.
“Full of honour [sic] and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures for ever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and awesome is his name. (Psalm 111: 3-9)

Yesterday we also read what would happen to a “false prophet”, one who claimed to speak in God’s name but did not. Having read all the attributes of God’s great work, and by implication how great God is, it is puzzling to think that anyone would not want to speak the words of God. Whatever we might say, and whatever we might do pales in comparison. Why follow any other god or our own agenda when there is something much better. Truly the psalmist speaks wisdom in saying . . . “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise [sic] it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever.” (Psalms 111:10)

The Raising of Prophets (The Old Testament Passage)

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:15-16)

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. God’s people who had been brought out of Egypt had seen the power of God and knew it to be more than they could take in or comprehend. However, they needed to have knowledge of God to know how to live – for it was just a scary proposition NOT to live according to God’s laws, statutes and commandments. So a solution had to be found. And the solution was for someone amongst God’s gathered people to be chosen and singled out. Would you want to have been that person, beloved reader?

Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. (Deuteronomy 18:17-19)

The “me” of this passage, and the narrator thus far in Deuteronomy is Moses, so the prophet who would be raised up from amongst them would be someone much like Moses. By the end of the book of Deuteronomy Joshua has been installed as their new leader. But beyond the leadership of Joshua there is the promise that God will always raise up a prophet amongst God’s people. And to that prophet the people of God should look for direction and guidance. They do not need to look outside of their faith circle for someone to guide them. Ultimately the line of prophets lead to the Messiah. And from that point on all other leadership needs to be under Christ.

From the time of Moses to the time of the Messiah there were many prophets – some self-prophesied and some named by God. Those who God called were sometimes honored and sometimes not. Just as it was with Moses, the people of God ignored the true prophets at their peril.

But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:20)

And those prophets that were not called by God but pretended to speak in God’s name, and those prophets who did not speak in the name of the true God . . . well, the Old Testament describes their fate.

Even though the Messiah has come and left a rich legacy of prophecy, God still calls out some to speak in the Lord’s name – not just in the name of God but also in Jesus Christ’s name. And the same cautions apply. If you, beloved reader, are called by God and Christ our Lord to speak, may you speak only what God and Christ command you to. And may you be listened to, bringing glory and honor to your faith and beliefs. Selah!

MURDER . . . It’s a generational thing

Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.” Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.” (Reference: Luke 11:47-51 )

I am still thinking back to my discovery yesterday of a posting I did five years ago when I suggested that we place ourselves in the role of defending innocents from persecution and death. I don’t know about you beloved, but it lifted me out the fog and funk I am been feeling. We sling opinions and perspectives around so much that we get into a mind set where everyone else is so wrong on everything and we are the only ones that have a firm grip on proper beliefs. And we forget that innocents are too often the collateral causalities in religions battles.

The prophets that God sent were simply, as best as they were able, following God’s instructions as they understood them. I balance large caveats on this not because I belief they were culpable and so should have been able to avoid the persecution and death that visited upon them. Nor do I think that God’s prophets should expect a violent death at the hands of others. Being called to live as God directs, and to speak as God calls one to should not end in a death sentence. It often does, and Jesus warned his followers of this. But that does not mean it is acceptable for others to put them to death, and certainly not those who should be fellow believers.

And with that, we find ourselves clearly in the world of historic Anabaptists. No matter how extreme the established church of that time found them, putting them to death was wrong! And I think the historic Anabaptists have every right to number themselves amongst the prophets in these verses from Luke. This applies also to everyone who has been put to death or persecution because of their belief in God.

Beloved, I certainly feel more balanced now than I have been the last few days. May you accept with good will and tolerance differing opinions from fellow Christians. Let us stop the animosity or worse that we find amongst professed Christian believers, and the tide of animosity or worse that is evident in the world today. Selah!

Families of the Prophet & the Covenant, and Families of Faith

“It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  (Acts 3:25 )

Peter was preaching in the Temple, and so was talking to his fellow Jews. But Peter is also the one who spoke up in Jerusalem, reminding his fellow apostles and others that Jesus/God came also for the Gentiles. (It was in Act 15:6-9 and I wrote on it several days ago.  Post from June 21st) Peter’s recognition that faith comes both through traditional family lines (referring to the Hebrew prophets and God’s covenant with the people who would becomes the Jews) and God’s covenant through Christ is an important one.

Believers come to faith from many backgrounds. It used to be, two or three generations ago, that Mennonites came from Mennonite backgrounds – what used to be called “cradle Mennonites.” But the spread of Mennonite/Anabaptist faith has become global and we rejoice in this. The Confession says, “Families of faith are called to be a blessing to all families of the earth.” The Confession is referring to both church families and generational families who hold a common faith belief. But families of faith are no longer defined by who one’s parents were or where one was born. Faith comes on the wings of the Spirit, and the Spirit blows where It will. We need to remember that when we think of families that are a blessing and families that are blessed. In fact so diverse is the Mennonite family of faith (and indeed all denominational families of faith) that not all can trace family lines back to Abraham; and therein is the blessing that God promised to Abraham – that all families of the globe are blessed through the faith that Abraham had, and the faith that inspired his life and the lives of his children.

Can you imagine that gentle reader? We assume that Christians can trace their way back to Abraham, but if Abraham is truly a “spiritual father”, then even the thinnest and longest traced genealogy may not find its way to Abraham. This is what by a truly global faith. And it is what God envisioned. There is more that can be said about how we treat our “spiritual” brothers and sisters. But I think you can guess what I would say.

May you gentle reader give thanks for those who are your families of faith, and may you both bless and be blessed by them. Selah!