Prophecies for us all
Readings: Romans 8:22-27
Now I have no idea how each of you regards the brown book under the seat in front of you. I used to love reading books on Science Fiction and Fantasy. That brown book is neither of those. It’s a book about the relationship God had, has and will have with His final creation - us. Our own understanding of what is in that book and its message to us is one of the most important things in our lives.
In our Gospel Reading, we heard that “the prophet Isaiah had said, “‘He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.’” (Vs 17). We now know he was talking about Jesus but the prophet probably didn’t. What do those of us who actually read the Old Testament think of the prophecies made there? How could they have known what was going to happen hundreds of years after their lives had ended?
I read about some work of Peter Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena College, in California. He worked with 600 students looking at eight specific prophecies about Jesus. These were:
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
A messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1)
The Messiah will enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
The Messiah will be betrayed by a friend and suffer wounds in His hands (Zechariah 13:6)
The Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver
The betrayal money will be used to purchase a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13)
The Messiah will remain silent while He is afflicted (Isaiah 53:7)
The Messiah will die by having His hands and feet pierced
The studies came up with extremely conservative probabilities for each one being fulfilled, and then considered the likelihood of Jesus fulfilling all eight of those prophecies.
The conclusion to his research was staggering. The prospect that anyone would now satisfy those eight prophecies was just 1 in 1017. Now that’s far too many zeros for the ordinary human mind to take in. So he described it like this:
"Let us try to visualize this chance. If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all of the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. (Now let we Brits consider the size of Texas. That one state is almost 3 times the area of the UK). [Peter Stoner goes on - ]
“Now, suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. (A silver dollar is 26.5mm, a little over an inch in diameter and is 2mm thick). “That number of silver dollars will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.
"Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies, using their own wisdom, and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time
So, if it was totally impossible for the prophets to have used their own wisdom and knowledge to prophesy about these things, where did these visions of the future come from? We know that there is only one answer to that. They came from God, mainly via His Holy Spirit.
I think in Old Testament times, much attention was given to prophecies about the near future, like who was going to win a battle, or which country was going to be top-dog within, say, a lifetime. I don’t think people, even those at the top, gave much thought to what the prophets were saying about the far-distant future. Why would they?
We’re just the same. If we weren’t, then we would have learned from the scriptures to take in their messages and at least try to avoid the pitfalls. A puritan is described as a person who is strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so. Would the puritan-like Victorians believe Timothy’s prophecy, when he said around 800 years after Isaiah, that “ People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 2:1-5 NIV). No they wouldn’t have believed that prophecy and neither would we, had we been alive then. And yet after a whole century has gone by, here we are, at the very place Timothy prophesied. Those who deny this is happening in our world today are either blind, living in a cushioned environment or too caught up in their own lives to notice what is going on around them. Not happening in our street? Maybe not but we wouldn’t have to travel very far to find it.
And isn’t it true? I don’t think that any at time in recent history have ordinary people been living just for the “Now” as much as they do today. Most people don’t want to hear that the lives they’re leading will bring judgement on them in the end. Quoting Isaiah again, after the LORD had told him that judgement was coming on Jerusalem, he told those people that, 12 “The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. 13 But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!” (Isaiah 22:12, 13 NIV). I wonder how many people felt that way just before our two World Wars, or any other war for that matter? I think that would have been more understandable than that same attitude being lived out today.
Possibly that might be the excuse people have for not reading their Bible. Even many Christians say that the Old Testament was just for the Jews and the New Testament is for Christians. So who were these Jews for which, what we call the Old Testament, was so important? Well, there were all of the apostles for a start. Probably almost all of the 3,000 people who became believers in Jesus, after hearing Peter talk to them, following the coming of the roaring wind of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Can we think of anyone else, who believed in them and used these Scriptures all of the time. That of course was Jesus. So the words of the Old Testament were very important to them and so they are to us. Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy”
(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV). Well, the brave individuals, who accepted that “blessing” in the Old Testament, didn’t do so well.
Prophecies were very important to the people of that time but only the ones they liked. A bit like now. They would have been even more important had people acted upon them rather than ignoring them. Worse than ignoring the prophecies was the way the prophets were treated. You’d never have known that they were bringing important messages from God to His people. Here are a few of these brave souls:
Isaiah was sawn in two with a wooden saw by Manasseh, that most evil King of Judah.
Amos, was tortured by Amaziah, not the King of Judah Amaziah but the priest of Bethel and then martyred by that priest’s son.
Habakkuk was stoned in Jerusalem by the Jews
Jeremiah, my favourite Old Testament prophet, because he always spoke and obeyed the will of God even when he knew it would bring him suffering. He also was stoned by the Jews in Egypt, because he rebuked them for worshipping idols.
Ezekiel was slain by the chief of the Jews in the land of the Chaldeans, because he rebuked him for worshipping idols.
Ahijah was slain by a lion. Can’t find out whether this was brought about by people or if it was just one of those things.
Zechariah the son of Berachiah, the priest, was slain by King Joash between the steps and the altar. He sprinkled the prophet’s blood upon the horns of the altar. The other priests buried him. It’s said that from that day God forsook the temple, and angels were never again seen in it.
Micah suffered martyrdom by Jehoram, King of Israel.
There are differing stories about how some of these prophets met with their deaths but it would appear that it was a dangerous occupation. Of course these are the prophets we know about because they’re in our Bible. Heaven knows how many other prophets met with an unenviable death? Possibly hundreds at least.
Timothy said the people of his time wanted to hear what Micah had said,
‘“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say.
“Do not prophesy about these things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
“If a liar and deceiver comes and says,
‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’
that would be just the prophet for this people!”’
(Micah 2: 2, 11 NIV).
There are certainly people who would indeed welcome such a prophet today. However, as we know, these were false prophets.
Well, I’m now pretty convinced that the prophecies we’ve heard of in the Bible this morning were messages from God to His creation, the people of Planet Earth. We heard them come from proven ones about Jesus and, as far as I’m concerned, the ones about the kind of society we’re becoming. That in itself is very worrying but if these prophecies have come true, what of the ones about our future. No one knows if these prophecies refer to times in the far distant future, or are coming upon us soon.
Let’s jump forward to almost the end and we see in Revelation that, 15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NIV).
And what about what for most of us, especially those suffering in any way, is the most wonderful prophesy. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).
So what about those prophecies? Well, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it? However, as I said, that was the end and it doesn’t come the blink of an eye. There are stages prophesied, through which we, or our descendants will have to pass and not much of it is very pleasant. The prophecies in Revelation are taken by some to be symbolic with dragons and giant beasts etc. But, even if that’s so, the prologue to His coming is frightening for those who will have to endure it.
The Bible describes events and conditions that would mark “the conclusion of the “the end of the world.” [as we know it] (Matthew 24:3; AKJV).The Bible also calls this time period “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1 AKJV) and “the time of the end” (Daniel 8:19 GNB). Here are some outstanding features of last-days, or end-times, prophecies:
World-wide war.?— (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:4.GNB).
Famine.?— (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:?5, 6. GNB).
Great earthquakes.?— (Luke 21:11.GNB).
Epidemics of “deadly diseases.”? — (Luke 21:11.GNB).
Love growing cold and increase of evil in the world.?— (Matthew 24:12.GNB).
Ruining of the earth by mankind and the punishment of those who do it .?— (Revelation 11:18.GNB).
And from Timothy we hear, 1 “Remember that there will be difficult times in the last days” . 2 People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, and irreligious; 3 they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce; they will hate the good; 4 they will be treacherous, reckless, and swollen with pride; they will love pleasure rather than God; (2 Timothy 3:?1-4 GNB).(Full quote)
Denying the power of God.?— (2 Timothy 3:5.NIV).
Increased understanding of Bible prophecies, including those related to the last days.?— (Daniel 12:4).
Global preaching of the good news of the Kingdom.?— (Matthew 24:14.KJV).
Widespread apathy and even ridicule toward the evidence of the approaching end.?— (Matthew 24:37-?39; 2 Peter 3:?3, 4.KJV).
The fulfilment of all these prophecies, not just a few or even most of them.?— (Matthew 24:33.NIV).At some point, we have to decide whether or not we believe in these prophecies. If we do, then we should believe in all of them, the good and the bad; the nice ones and the awful ones. If we don’t believe in prophecies, why should we believe that “we were included in Christ when [we] heard the message of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation. When [we]believed, [we] were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13.NIV) .
So, when is all this supposed to be going to happen? Even Jesus didn’t know, only his Father in Heaven (Matthew 24:36 NIV). He scolded the religious leaders for being able to read signs about the weather but not for seeing the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2 NIV). When you look around you, or read a newspaper or see the TV News, don’t you get the feeling inside you that some of these signs are already happening? People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; disobedient to their parents and irreligious. Swollen with pride; they will love pleasure rather than God. Doesn’t that strike a chord anywhere? If there is even the slightest possibility that we are approaching that cataclysmic time, then shouldn’t we be doing something. I don’t mean doing something about what’s happening; there’s no way anyone can stop the roller coaster. But surely there are things we can be doing; should be doing. What about those who are drowning through lack of belief?. How do we get them into the lifeboat?
Jesus said we must, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14 NIV). But what about those travelling on the wide road? What will their experience of the return of Jesus be like? Well, what did He say about that? He said, 37 “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37 NIV).
Are there people we know to whom we should be showing the path to the narrow gate? Of course there are! There will be people for whom we’re the only person who can do that. Think of just one person, possibly a really nice person or even a loved one, that a word from us could direct them to the Narrow Gate. We know where it is, because we’ve been through it. Give them the chance of the eternal life, we already have. Frightened of being laughed at? Frightened of the law, which seems to be increasingly opposed to the spreading of the Gospel? The reward of seeing a soul saved is truly worth anything that can be thrown at us. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. We should just do it. Amen.