Summary: Walking Together In the Footsteps of the Prophets 1) Led by the Spirit to see like prophets 2) Led by the Spirit to speak like prophets
Who is your favorite Old Testament prophet? Is it Elijah for the way he took on the 400 prophets of Baal on top of Mt. Carmel? Is it Daniel for surviving a night in the lions’ den? Or is it Deborah, the prophetess God used to encourage the Israelites in their fight against the Canaanites? The prophets are the super-stars of the Old Testament. They were men and women through whom God spoke and did amazing things. Have you ever thought it would be cool to be one of the Old Testament prophets – to speak and experience the things that they did? If so, our sermon text claims that Christians today are walking in the footsteps of the prophets. We can say this because the Holy Spirit leads us to see and to speak like prophets.
When Joel prophesied in our text that someday the Holy Spirit would be poured out on people regardless of age, sex, or social standing he was making a bold prediction. During Old Testament times the Holy Spirit gave prophet-like gifts only to a handful of people. This was illustrated when the Holy Spirit descended on 70 elders of the Israelites during their walk to the Promised Land (Numbers 11). The event surprised Joshua for until that time the Holy Spirit had only given Moses, and to an extent Aaron, those prophet-like qualities. Joshua even begged Moses to tell these other men to stop prophesying since it didn’t seem right than anyone other than Moses should do that. Moses simply replied that he wished all of God’s people would be prophets.
The day that Moses wished for and the day that Joel prophesied about came on Pentecost. On this day, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples so that they could speak about God’s wonders in languages they had never studied before. They were also enabled to perform miracles, as did many of the Old Testament prophets. But Pentecost was not the only fulfillment of this prophecy. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us as well in Baptism and through God’s Word so that we too are like the prophets of old.
But in what way are we like the prophets? I’ve never parted a large body of water, as did Moses. I’ve never brought someone back from the dead, as did Elisha and I don’t think you’ve done these things either. Even though we may not perform miracles like these, we are nevertheless walking in the footsteps of the prophets because the Holy Spirit leads us to see like prophets. But how can we claim to see like prophets when the prophets of old saw things far into the future? While, for example, the prophet Isaiah saw that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, he did not know the details we know surrounding Jesus’ birth. Isaiah did not know the name of Jesus’ mother. He did not know that Jesus would be born in a barn. Nor did he know that angels would announce Jesus’ birth. Yet these are all details that even our youngest Sunday School student here knows.
It’s pretty neat to think, isn’t it, that we actually know more than the prophets of the Old Testament? How do we attain this knowledge? In our text Joel said that God’s people would see visions and have dreams. Is that the way we get knowledge from God? Not necessarily. Joel spoke this way because the prophets of old usually received their knowledge from God through visions and dreams. Today, our knowledge comes from God’s Word as it’s recorded in the Bible. Of course it’s not impossible for God to still communicate with us in dreams and visions. If he chooses to do so, however, he will never tell us something that is contrary to what he has said in Scripture. So if you feel that God has spoken to you about something in a dream or vision, compare what you’ve been told with what God’s Word says. If the two are not in agreement, then no matter how strongly you feel God has spoken to you, the feeling you have or the dream you received is not from God. God warned his Old Testament people about believing in dreams without comparing them to Scripture when he said: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:19, 20).
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just lead us to see like the prophets, he also leads us to speak like the prophets. Think of what that means. It means that we can boldly rebuke sin, as did Nathan when he pointed out David’s sin of adultery and murder. We know that we can do this boldly because the Apostle Peter did it on Pentecost. In his Pentecost sermon he pointed out how the people of Jerusalem were guilty of having Jesus crucified. He didn’t mince words. This was the same Peter who had denied Jesus before his crucifixion. How can we explain the difference? The Holy Spirit made all the difference. The Holy Spirit not only gave Peter the words to speak he also gave him the boldness.