For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Look at a Prophecy in the NT Church

Note: I recently did a sermon on the manifestation of the Spirit called prophecy. It can be found at this site. I didn't cover the prophecy found in Acts 21:7-14 and thought it would be good to do so here. 

The New Testament gift of prophecy is the speaking forth of something that the Holy Spirit has spontaneously brought to mind. That the Holy Spirit would be active in this way in the life of those that follow Jesus should not be surprising because it was promised in the book of Joel (2:28-29).

A careful examination of this manifestation of the Spirit in the New Testament will shows us that this gift is not the same thing the prophecy that we see recorded in the Old Testament. Those words were written by people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These prophets wrote the words of Scripture wrote with inerrant authority. The Old Testament prophets were held to a high standard. If what they prophesied did not come to pass they would die (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

By the time of the New Testament, the words "prophet" and "prophecy" had taken on a different meaning. In common language, the term simply meant one who spoke on behalf of another. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol 6. p794), a specialist in botany was called a prophet, as was an advocate of Epicurean philosophy. Even doctors were sometimes called prophets!

In the New Testament, those who were given authority to speak infallibly for God were the apostles, not the prophets. The writers of the New Testament were called apostles, not prophets.

We don't see the same level of authority given to the gift of prophecy in the New Testament. Instead, we see that people expected prophecy to a mixture of Spirit inspired words and human words. "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good" was the counsel Paul gave to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:20-21).

Agabus the Prophet

When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed for many days in the home of Philip, the famous evangelist who lived in Caesarea. While he was there, a man named Agabus came from Judea. When he arrived, he took Paul's belt and tied up his hands and feet. He then said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" (Acts 21:7-14).

It didn't happen. At least not the way he described.

When Paul was in Jerusalem, the Jews cried out against him, seized him, and began to beat him. They were intent on killing him because they believed that he had defiled the Temple. The mob created such a ruckus that the Roman guards came and rescued Paul. The Jews didn't hand Paul over to the Romans, the Romans rescued Paul from the Jews!

What went wrong?

What are we to make of Agabus's prophecy? Was he a false prophet? Was he deserving of death? The New Testament gift of prophecy does not have at the same authority as the Old Testament prophet did. It is simply the reporting in human words of something the Holy Spirit has spontaneously brought to mind. It is to be discerned and considered.
Here's what I think happened to Agabus. He had a vision. And in that vision he saw Paul bound hand in foot guarded by Roman guards with accusations being hurled against him by the Jews in Jerusalem. That part is true. But when he reported the vision he added his own interpretation of what he saw. It wasn't the vision, rather his interpretation that was inaccurate.

Agabus wasn't a false prophet. Certainly he should have been more careful about how he reported what he saw, but he is to be commended for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

What can we learn?

The Holy Spirit can speak to us in the same way today if we are listening. And when he does it will be for the building up of the body and for the encouragement and consolation of the saints. I am sure that Paul was encouraged in Jerusalem because he knew, through the manifestation of the Spirit given to Agabus, that what was happening to him was known to the Lord. The Lord was with him.

Next steps

Let me encourage you to ask the Lord to give you a greater sensitivity to the Spirit. Ask him to open your eyes to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Part of this process is surrendering to his authority.

Recognise that the basic and most important way that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer is through the illumination of the Scriptures. Those who are serious about walking according to the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25) will immerse themselves in the study of the Bible. We kid ourselves if we say we are serious about follow Christ and yet neglect spending time in his Word. So we must pray for the Holy Spirit to be our teacher as we study and read the the Bible. Most of his work is done at that level of our lives.

It is the Scriptures that point to the fact that the Spirit can speak to us. Therefore we need to be open to listening for the still small voice of the Spirit as we go through your day. He may bring to mind Bible truths that we have learned or give us insights into situations. He may be silent. The important thing is to consciously "practice the presence of God" and walk with Him.

We should live life with our sails up ready to catch the wind of the Spirit should it blow!

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