Those who will unflinchingly and relentlessly proclaim truth are becoming an endangered species throughout the West today. Truth itself is under attack, and those who speak it are increasingly treated as haters and bigots. People would much rather be told what they want to hear than what they need to hear.
This is not just true of non-believers, but increasingly of Christians as well. They prefer to hear the pleasant, fluffy stuff that tickles their ears and makes them feel good. They do not want any of the hard words of Scripture. Even the hard words of Jesus would be enough to put them off.
But throughout Scripture truth is proclaimed even though the reaction is fierce. Wherever the prophets went, Jesus went, and the disciples went, they were all hated because they spoke truth without compromise. The Prophets were rejected, Jesus was crucified, and the disciples persecuted and killed, all because truth-telling was far more important to them than men-pleasing.
This is always how it is alas, and things are no different today. Biblical truth presented to God’s people is so often spurned, rejected, despised and cast off. They want to hear what the false prophet have to tell them: sweet nothings whispered in their ears.
We have megachurches filled with such people who are having their ears tickled and their vanities affirmed. They hear just what they want to hear. It is just as we read in Jeremiah 5:30-31:
A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy lies,
the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
But what will you do in the end?
This has always been the case, as Jesus himself pointed out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
Or as Stephen put it to the religious leaders of his day just before his death: “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
It is instructive to look at the prophets more closely in this regard. We not only read about how they were constantly and routinely rejected by the people, but we even read about this amazing fact: Yahweh actually warns many of them as he commissions them that the people will not listen to them!
Imagine that: God calls a prophet to speak to the people, to warn the people, to plead with the people, and he tells them ahead of time that they will not be received by the people. Yet these brave prophets go and do just what they have been called to do, even while knowing full well their words will fall on deaf ears. And often they do it for many decades on end.
That is certainly dedication and commitment. It is bad enough to warn people without knowing how they will respond. But with the prophets, they were told ahead of time that their message would be dismissed and they would be hated for delivering it.
Consider what we read about these prophets. Let me just deal with three of the heavyweight prophets. At the commissioning of Isaiah he was told in no uncertain terms how things would pan out. We all know of that initial dialogue:
Isaiah 6:8 puts it this way: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’
And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” Consider the verses immediately following this (verse 9-13):
He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Later on we read more of the same. As we find in Isaiah 30:9-11:
For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction.
They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”
Things are the same for the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 7:21-29 we read this:
“‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’
“When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.
“‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath’.”
Things are so bad that God actually says this in Jeremiah 7:16: “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.” That is not the only time in Scripture we read about God actually saying that prayers should not be offered, or will not be heard. That is scary stuff indeed.
And we find the same thing with the prophet Ezekiel. He too is warned about the hardness of heart that he will encounter. In Ezekiel 2:3-8 we read these words:
He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
And in Ezekiel 3:4-9 we get similar warnings from God:
He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”
These are just three of the various Old Testament prophets. It was pretty much the same for all of them. They were given a word to tell the people, but that word was not what they wanted to hear. Often it was a word of coming judgment. Often it was a call for repentance. Sometimes it also contains rays of hope if they responded correctly.
But more often than not the word was rejected, along with the carrier of the word. I share all this with you for a reason. It is not to discourage you, but to encourage you. With the prophets we have examples to follow. We have models we can emulate. The prophetic task is never a picnic. The ministry of the watchman on the wall is never a pleasant one. It will always be costly and unpleasant.
You plead and warn and beg and pray and call out and it seems your words are falling on concrete. No response. No appreciation. Just anger, rejection, hostility and opposition. It is easy to give up under those conditions. But we dare not. The prophets did not give up. The disciples did not give up.
And most importantly, Jesus did not give up. All of them proclaimed God’s truth even though the normal reaction was for the people to fully reject what was being said, and to reject the messengers as well. But every Christian has an obligation to share truth, regardless of the response.
Truth matters, and the eternal destiny of our listeners depends on what they hear and how they respond to it. So if it seems like you are just knocking your head against the wall, remember that this is just how the prophets would have felt.
But they kept at it regardless. They did not give up – even when told beforehand that their words would fall on fallow ground. If they can do it then so can we. Indeed, we must. Let me finish with the words of one anointed man of God of recent times who never shied away from proclaiming truth and giving the hard, prophet word: A. W. Tozer. Here are just a few key quotes from this champion:
“The voice of the prophet today is seldom heard, not because there are no prophets speaking for God, but because the noise and clatter of our culture have so invaded the church that they have drowned out that voice.”
“The true prophet is called to be a voice of God to his generation. His mission is to bring God’s message to God’s people, in such a way that they hear it and obey it.”
The “message never originates with the prophet. It is God’s job to connect the prophet with the message he wants to impart to His people. It is never left to the prophet. . . . This message that God entrusts to His prophet is under strict orders from God, without any deviation. The song of the prophet is, ‘Thus saith the Lord’.”
“The message God gives always confronts the present condition in order to contradict that situation and move people toward God. . . . God’s message cuts through the smoke and mirrors and brings truth to bear upon that particular situation.”
“The essence of the message of the prophet is truth. Truth is always a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. There is a cost factor for the prophet to deliver the message, and there is a cost factor for us to receive that message. This emphasizes the extreme importance God puts upon the truth He is trying to bring our way.”