Minor Prophets I: Ascension Sunday
Today we begin a series of sermons on the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets. This coincides with our celebration of the Ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2).
What are the Twelve Minor Prophets? Hosea through Malachi. They are called the “minor prophets” not because they were all underage, nor because they were twelve hopefuls that never made it to the big leagues. They are called “minor” mostly because they are all quite short and are often somewhat lesser known. There are sixty-seven chapters from Hosea to Malachi compared to forty-eight in Ezekial and fifty-two in Jeremiah and sixty-six in Isaiah. The time period of these twelve prophecies stretches roughly from 760 B.C. to 430 B.C., approximately 330 years.
What is striking is that the Twelve Minor prophets have since very early been roughly considered one book. They were very early compiled on to one scroll, and it has been thought they their order and contents speak to each other, tracing themes, filling themes out, comprising a broader story than any one, single prophecy alone. While the order of the OT is different in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Twelve are found in the same order together as they are in our English Bibles.
What we want to do during this series of sermons is broadly two fold. First, we want to become familiar with a generally unfamiliar tract of scriptural land. If there’s a section in your Bible that seems most obscure, I’m guessing the Twelve Minor Prophets would rank up there. Related to this, is specifically our desire to see Jesus here (Lk. 24: 27). Second, as we launch this series at Ascension and Pentecost, we want to learn from these prophets what the prophetic office means. What were prophets for? How is Jesus our Prophet? Is there any sense in which Christians today are called to be prophets?
What is a prophet?
A prophet is a friend of God. The first person in the Bible named a prophet is Abraham (Gen. 20:7). He is called a prophet in the first instance on account of his ability to speak to God on behalf of others. This ability first showed up when the Lord told Abraham about His plan to inspect Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:17-21). Abraham stood before the Lord and spoke to Him on behalf of the righteous in the cities, particularly his nephew Lot and his family (Gen. 18:22-33). This close relationship between Abraham and God was a unique friendship. In fact, Scripture tells us that Abraham was a friend of God (Js. 2:23, cf. Is. 41:8, 2 Chron. 20:7). We see this again in Moses, the Great Prophet of the Old Covenant. He too spoke with God directly on many occasions, and because of this was also known as a friend of God (Ex. 33:11). Through his trials, Job comes into direct contact with God (Job 38-41), and as a result of this relationship, God treats Job like Abraham: if Job prays for the three false friends, they will be forgiven for their folly (Job 42:8-10). Prophets are God’s closest friends. He confides in them and seeks their advice. In 1 Kings 22, Micaiah prophesies against Ahab, claiming that he will be killed in battle despite the four hundred other prophets who promised the king success. When Micaiah is questioned about it, he explains that He saw Yahweh sitting on His throne with all the armies of heaven all around Him (1 Kgs. 22:19). He was there in the presence of God when it was determined that a lying spirit would be placed in the mouths of the other so-called prophets. Like Micaiah, other prophets saw the Lord on His throne and frequently spoke with the Lord, like Moses, face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (e.g. Is. 6, Jer. 1, Ez. 1). Amos says that God does nothing without first checking with His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
Are There Prophets Today?
People frequently end up making two mistakes when they think about prophets and prophesying in the New Covenant. Some assume that modern prophets must have similar visions and hear voices. Failing that, many others assume that prophecy has ended and there is nothing corresponding that gift today. On the one hand, there does seem to be some aspects of prophecy that have come to a close. One of the chief purposes of the prophets of old was to foretell Christ (1 Pet. 1:10-12). At least this aspect of prophecy is finished because Christ has come, and Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God to us. We are not lacking anything in Him. Paul says that Jesus laid unique foundation for the church with apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). But given the fact that Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God, there is an ongoing prophetic dimension to the Church and in the lives of Christians. God came near in Jesus so that we might know Him, so that we might talk to Him face to face as friends. Paul says that we have this intimate friendship with Jesus through the gospel (2 Cor. 3:18). Jesus said that He came to lay His life down for His friends, and His friends are those who obey His commands and love one another (Jn. 15:12-15). And like Abraham and Moses, this friendship with Jesus means knowing God and speaking to Him about the world (Jn. 15:16). We don’t have to have an exhaustive policy forbidding God from acting in extraordinary ways sometimes, but we can also rest in the fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ and His Word.
This has a great deal to do with the Ascension. On the one hand, God came down to make us right with Him. Sin is alienation from God, enmity with God. In our fallen state were enemies of God (Rom. 5). But the death of Jesus is God’s great act of friendship toward us, the faithful love of a friend that takes the death we deserve, shattering the spell of sin, causing us to love Him in return. But now restored to friendship with God, Jesus ascended to heaven to be our advocate with the Father, ever interceding for us. As our High Priest, He presents His own blood for our forgiveness, but as the prophet greater than Moses, He speaks on our behalf and on behalf of the world (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 7:25). But the Spirit has been poured out in our hearts to teach us to call out to God the Father directly in Jesus’ name (Rom. 8:15-17, 8:26-27). The spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of friendship with God.
What does it mean that we are the friends of God? Some people have a trivial view of friendship and so to say that they are friends with God is to trivialize God. He’s just a flavor of the week, another face in the yearbook. But God is the Creator of the Universe. He is holy, just, and beyond comprehension, and the incomprehensible loves His people and wants to know them.
Friends spend time together. Friends enjoy each other’s company. Friends know one another well. Friends have access to each other. Friends can speak for one another. Friends defend one another from sin, slander, and harm. Friends correct and confront one another in love. Friends forgive one another. Friends are fiercely loyal to one another. God wants our undivided allegiance. Friendship with the world is adultery (Js. 4). The Spirit yearns for our hearts jealously.
Do you pray? Jesus says that you do not have because you do not ask (Mk. 11:24). Jesus speaks specifically of the ascension says that when He goes away, we will ask of the Father in His name, and He will answer (Jn. 16:23-24). Prayer is speaking to God. Prayer is a prophetic office. When you pray, you draw near to God in friendship through Jesus, and when you pray for others, this is one of the kindest, most friendly things you can do.
As you draw near to the God, you will be equipped to draw near others. In fact, in some mysterious way, drawing near to God is in fact drawing near to others.