BY W.F. Bell
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:6-8).
Our Lord said that John the Baptist was a prophet, and “more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9). Note clearly that this rough-clad John was “a man sent from God.” Nothing greater could be said about any man. He was said to be “a witness” of “the Light of the world” Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ (who was the Prophet of all prophets, sent from heaven to be our Savior-Redeemer). No mere man could ever be who Christ was, but mere men can be true witnesses of Christ the Lord, heralding His name and fame to the ends of the earth.
Do we have any prophets today in the modern church? Some say we don’t even need them. Those who are self-proclaimed “prophets” do not qualify. True prophets have credentials and marks, and different views, with a different message from the “typical preacher.” True prophets are sent from God, as was John, then point men to God, as John did!
Prophets are not popular, and don’t necessarily pastor big churches. God-sent men are not popular television and radio speakers. They are not likened among those authors on the New York Times Best Seller List. They are often lonely, thought of as odd and eccentric, usually criticized for bearing a heavy demeanor, and giving out a weighty message of “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exodus 28:36). Prophets don’t get publicized on popular news networks.
John was a baptizer, a preacher, a herald, a wilderness wonder. He didn’t wear “soft clothing” and eat “steak dinners” (like us). His wardrobe was “camel’s hair” and “a leather belt,” and his food was a special diet of “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Not exactly what you would call “clean cut” and “in style,” was he? But remember, he was different, being “sent from God.”
What does this tell us about prophets? Not that we should look for odd-looking men, whose appearance is rough, and who preach loud and long. That is not the point at all. Rather, we should be listening to his message: WHAT IS HIS BURDEN, HIS CRY? John was merely “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” What was his cry? Listen: “Prepare the way of THE LORD; make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3). What a message! What a burden! What a cry! Many who heard this started “confessing their sins,” seeking John’s baptism in the river Jordan (v. 6). But immediately old John scorned some “coming for baptism,” those who were “Pharisees and Sadducees” (religious leaders of the day), calling them a “brood of vipers,” stating they should “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (vv. 7-8).
What is this? A preacher turning sinners away? Who ever heard of such? That would not be kind and loving, would it? No matter: prophets have different views! Why such preaching? Because the axe was about to be laid to the low state of Jewish religion in John’s day. Christ Jesus Himself (the promised Messiah) was on the scene, and things were about to change. The message of judgment and “fire” was about to be heralded to the crowds of Judea, for the Messiah was not going to set up an earthly kingdom, but came with “His winnowing fork in His hand,” and “His wheat” was to be separated from “the chaff” (vv. 10-12). And so it still is today, whether we understand it or not. “But the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What a “burning” message John delivered! This message is never popular.
Think of Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament. What of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel? Look at another by the name of Zechariah: he had eight “visions” in one night! He gives us the exact time he saw these visions. It was the twenty-fourth day of the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, king of Persia (1:7). He saw a rider on a red horse, four horns and four craftsmen, a man with a measuring line in his hand, Joshua the high priest, the golden lamp stand and the two olive trees, a flying scroll, the woman in a basket, and the four chariots. How about that for one night’s work! The interpretation of all these things is not our concern here; but it must be mentioned that Zechariah’s name means “whom the LORD remembers,” so the prophet’s visions were given to him that he might bring a message of hope and comfort to the Jews who returned from exile. “Therefore, thus says the LORD, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies; my house shall be built in it” (Zechariah 1:16). So here the prophet is used to bring “good words and comfortable words” to God’s people (1:13).
But then, in Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1, we read, “The BURDEN of the word of the LORD.” This was a message of judgment on the nations, a message or oracle that was heavy and burdensome. Yet, in the message there is a promise to the Jewish nation of repentance and conversion, deliverance and salvation, restoration and blessing. This is the prophet’s “burden,” for idols will be cut off, and “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (13:1). The prophecy closes with a glorious message of a future day when all nations will worship the true and living God (14:16), and “In that day ‘HOLINESS TO THE LORD’ shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. The pots in the LORD’S house shall be like the bowls before the altar” (14:20). What a day of revival and restoration to look forward to!
How we need men sent from God to thunder to this generation (whether they hear or not) the absolute holiness and sovereignty of the true and living God. Men who are not afraid to stand and boldly declare, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:3), and “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21). Smiling, clowning preachers are not going to get the job done. We need courageous, bold, fiery prophets! Men who are willing, with Paul, to say, “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31). And Paul says, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” (v. 34).
As a former prophet once said, we sadly say also: “God pity us that we have swung from the Upper Room with its fire to the church with the supper room and its smoke” (Leonard Ravenhill). Another former prophet said similarly: “Where does our duty lie? The New Testament word is ‘Awake!’ (Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14). We need to snap out of our stupor and come out of our coma and awake from our apathy. The devil has chloroformed the atmosphere of this age. We need ‘stirring up’ to take hold of God (Isaiah 64:7)” (Vance Havner). These are “hard words” for our day, and rare, but Christ does still “gift” men to be His “prophets” (Ephesians 4:11). There just aren’t many.