On Prophecy and Healings Today (1 Corinthians Sermon 43)
December 15, 2019 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 12:7-13
The Holy Spirit, The Doctrine of Scripture, Prophecy, Spiritual Gifts
This morning as we continue in our study on spiritual gifts, I'm going to zero in on the gifts of prophecy and healing to try to understand those spiritual gifts. As I do, I think about this season of the year, and I think about the Christmas hymns that we sing and how many of them mention fulfilled prophecy in reference to the birth of Christ. One of the clearest is a hymn written by Charles Wesley in 1744, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," one of my favorites. And he wrote it with these words, "Come Thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free, from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art. Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart." Well, why was Jesus long expected by the Jewish nation? Well, it's because God told the Jews through the prophets that He would come and He gave many details of the birth, and the life, and the death and the resurrection of Christ through the prophetic gift. How prophets with the eagle eye of prophecy were able to look down through the long corridors of centuries before they even happened, were able to give us details. A supernatural vision ahead of time, even centuries ahead of time of what the Messiah would be like.
The Gift of Prophecy Distributed To Many
This gift of prophecy was given to many different individuals, at many times in various ways. One example is Balaam, who's a fascinating study in prophecy, and he spoke of the coming of Christ in this powerful visionary kind of language. In Numbers 24:17 he said, "I see Him, but not now. I behold Him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel." So there's that visionary work of the prophet, how he can see the Messiah who was to come, a star rising up out of Jacob, but He was not near, He was far away. Seven centuries before Christ was born, the same kind of visionary gift was given to the prophet Isaiah and he spoke with these powerful familiar words, Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." These words are sung in Handel's Messiah and in other hymns, and sermons that are preached. Seven centuries before Jesus was born, that level of clarity on the incarnation was given to Isaiah the prophet. At the same time as Isaiah was prophesying, another prophet, Micah, predicted the exact location where Jesus would be born. In Micah 5:2 it says, "But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, although you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel," listen to this, "Whose origins were from of old, from ancient times." And so the origination of Jesus was before the foundation of the world, in the councils of the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
But little by little, God, through the Holy Spirit, paid out some information through the prophets, so that Jesus was long expected. This stunning ability to see the future, this prophetic gift sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. God alone has the power to see the future. He's the only one that can do it, He's the only one who knows the future, only God and those to whom God reveals the future and those who believe those revelations.
God makes His boast in Isaiah the prophet over against the false gods, and goddesses, that Israel was wandering after in Isaiah's day. And God challenged those gods to a duel. And the contest would be a prediction of the future. Listen to what He says in Isaiah 41, "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what the future holds, so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing, and your works are utterly worthless. He who chooses you is detestable." In other words, God challenges the gods, the idols, to a duel and He knows they can't succeed.
God’s Sovereignty to Determine the Future
Now the reason that no one but God can foretell the future is that God is sovereign over the future, He's sovereign over everything that happens on planet Earth. And as the Book of Proverbs says, "Many are the purposes of a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." And so, if individuals predict the future and God says, "Yeah, no, it's not going to happen," then it's not going to happen. There's a clear example of this in Isaiah 7, where the kings in the area are conspiring to topple the Davidic seed, the son of David that's on the throne in Jerusalem, and they're making all these plans and schemes, and God says, "It shall not take place, it shall not happen."
Conversely, He says of Himself in Isaiah 10, "The hand of the Lord is stretched out and who can turn it back?" When God decrees to do something, no one can stop Him. That's why God alone knows the future, He also knows the end from the beginning, and the beginning from the end because He is eternal. So what that means is that prophecy and fulfilled prophecies in particular, have always been the centerpiece of our presentation of the Gospel to unbelievers. It's the center of our apologetic, our defense of Christianity. Fulfilled prophecies set Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. There are no Muslim predictions of the future. There are no Buddhist predictions of the future, no Hindu predictions of the future. The cults that tried to predict the future, failed and should have ended that day. I speak of the Jehovah's Witnesses that predicted at different times the end of the world. Didn't happen. I would think that would end it, but it didn't. So the ability to predict the future rests alone with Christianity.
Christianity’s Fulfilled Prophecies
Josh McDowell in his apologetic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, speaks of the fulfilled prophecies around the life of Jesus from His birth through His life to His death. There are 61 prophecies that Josh McDowell lists. Sixty-one! The theme of promise fulfillment was central to the way that the apostles presented the Gospel in the synagogues, trying to persuade unbelieving Jews to cross over into faith. Again and again, they would point to the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. They learned this promise fulfillment approach from Jesus Himself. As Jesus began His public ministry in Nazareth, you remember the scene, how the scroll of Isaiah the Prophet was found. He opened up the place in Isaiah 61 where it says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor," and after reading that prophecy rolled it up and set it aside and sat down. And He said, "Today, in your hearing, this Scripture is fulfilled." Now you can imagine how electrifying that must have been there in Nazareth that Jesus was claiming to be the long-expected Messiah. Promise and fulfillment.
So that's how God has used prophecy in the past to identify Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the world. Born the son of Abraham, in fulfillment of prophecy. Born the son of David, in fulfillment of prophecy. Crucified with His hands and feet pierced, in fulfillment of prophecy. Raised from the dead on the third day, in fulfillment of prophecy. And since that time, the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem through Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth, in fulfillment of prophecy. And we still have more prophecies to come, especially the second coming of Christ, so Jesus is still the long-expected Jesus, He's the long-expected Savior. One of the last things Jesus said to us through Scripture is, "Behold, I am coming soon." And so, we've been waiting for 20 centuries, and we still wait for the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Dealing With the Charismatic Gifts
Now, what does all this have to do with spiritual gifts? Well, we've been trying to answer one of the more perplexing questions that faces Evangelicals, and it's been divisive in Evangelicals and it has to do with the sign gifts or the miraculous gifts, some call them the charismatic gifts. And the question is: Are all of the gifts listed, that you heard Topher read about a few minutes ago, that you read about in 1 Corinthians 12, are they all still active today, or have some of them ceased? We zeroed in specifically on five in particular, the gift of prophecy, the gift of healing, the gift of miracles, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues, these are sometimes called the sign gifts.
Last week I traced out the history of the Pentecostal movement and the charismatic movement, beginning in Topeka, in 1900, Topeka, Kansas, and then in 1906, at the Azusa Street Revival, and we traced out how Pentecostalism, the movement of Pentecostalism grew. And then a subset of that, the Charismatic movement, similar but different in some ways, grew and spread, and we talked about how widespread in the world it has been and it is. Probably at this point, over 600 million Pentecostal plus charismatics in the world. It's hard to be an evangelical at any length of time without bumping into this issue and questions that arise. And so the goal for me here is to do the best I can, as I did last week, in seeking to address that question. The divide in Evangelicalism between cessationists, which are people who believe that the Scripture teaches, and it's clear that these sign gifts have ceased. So they're cessationists. Versus, broadly speaking, continuationists would be the opposite, that those gifts continue. And there are different flavors really of both.
Now last week, we walked carefully through 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which is the clearest text on the end of the gifts. And it does say that the gifts will end. It says, "Where there are prophecies, they will cease. Where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfection comes, the imperfect is done away with or passes away." “Imperfect” is not a great translation. The “partial,” the “in part” would be a better translation there. And so, we walked through that. And what I sought to do last week is show that this is clearly talking about the Second Coming of Christ, an eternity in which we will see God face-to-face. And that level of knowledge of knowing God face-to-face, that's decisively what Paul's saying, when the gifts will cease. So rather than teaching I think a clear cessationism, it actually points more clearly to continuationism, but that leaves some questions in front of us, and those are some of the questions I want to seek to answer today, some practical questions.
As we address this gift of prophecy, let me just lay out my cards on the table as I've thought about it. This sermon like last week's was a work in progress right until the time I walked up here, so I have no desire like last week to be a fog machine here, pumping out uncertainties and “inclarities”. That's not even a word, "inclarities." Anyway, you know what I mean. What I'm trying to do is help you think through how you would address this scripturally.
Four Convictions Concerning Prophecy
So these are four convictions I have right now about prophecy. Number one, the New Testament points to a kind of prophetic gift that is less authoritative than scripture. That's a key divide between, let's say, me and a cessationist. Number two, I believe there is not sufficient scriptural clarity or evidence to support a hard cessationism, to make the absolute statement, “Prophecy cannot happen today.” I looked at the clearest Scripture that they have 1 Corinthians 13, and I don't think it's clear enough. To be that ardent and clear, I think, is not helpful. Third, this kind of prophetic gift, if it still functioned today, would be very helpful in our lives, both for personal holiness and for the spread of the Gospel. But now hear me clearly, on this fourth point, unless and until, an individual predicts the future and that prediction comes true, I will not know, and I don't think the church can know that that person's a prophet. And that would make me very different than most continuationists. I think it's reasonable to expect a prediction of the future in order to mark someone as a prophet.
The Gift of Prophecy
The Beginning of the Office of Prophet
So let's walk through this, let's talk first about the beginning of the gift of prophecy and where it started in the Old Testament. The first time the word is used, it's used of Abraham, in that rather scandalous encounter he has in Girar, remember when he lied about his wife, said “She's my sister,” not a great moment for Abraham. And the king of Girar wanted to take her as his wife, and God came to him and warned him in a dream, and then said this to him in the dream, "Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, he will pray for you, and you will live, but if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die." So that's the first time and the actually the only time the word prophet appears in the book of Genesis. However, it definitely appears in the Exodus and beyond. And the key moment there, let's skip ahead to the key moment, and that's Mount Sinai.
At Mount Sinai, God descends in fire on the top of Mount Sinai. There's a terrifying earthquake, there is this unearthly supernatural darkness, and God descends in fire on the mountain and begins to speak to the people, and the people are utterly terrified of God's voice. God speaks the Ten Commandments to the people in the hearing of the people. Deuteronomy 5 talked about that moment, Deuteronomy 5:23-31 says this, "When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me and you said, 'The Lord our God has shown us His glory and His majesty, and we have heard His voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. But now why should we die? This great fire will consume us and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire as we have and survived? Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says, then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.' The Lord heard you when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, 'I have heard what this people has said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever. Go tell them to return to their tents. But you, stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.'" Well, that is the formal beginning of the office of prophet in the nation of Israel. This is the beginning of the office.
Later in Deuteronomy 18, He makes it clear that that office would continue after Moses was gone. In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, it says, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers, you must listen to him, for this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, 'Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore or we will die.' The Lord said to me, 'What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account, but a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death."
So that clearly establishes the opening of the office of prophet, and also what the nature of the work was. The prophet would effectively stand spiritually in the presence of God, God would teach the prophet the words to say and the prophet would then deliver them to the people. That was the essence of prophecy. That pattern continued. Throughout the history of Israel, God raised up what He called "My servants, the prophets," and they would come and they basically would press, effectively press the Mosaic covenant onto the consciences and the hearts of the Jewish people and show where they were failing to keep it. That was the centerpiece of their work, although they did other things. And so God would speak, and this prophet would listen.
You see this pattern with the little boy Samuel, remember that when God was raising him up to be a prophet, and he was sleeping in Eli's house and he heard God speaking to him, and he had to be instructed to say these words, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." And so that was the essence of the prophecy, and the prophet, the office of prophet. And so, he would hear the word of God and he was like a table waiter, bringing the words that God spoke directly to the people. It says in 1 Samuel 3:19, "The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” So he successfully delivered to the people everything that God told him to say. So, again and again, we have these individuals who hear God speak words and then speak those exact words to the people.
Jeremiah 1:4-7, "The word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet, to the nations.' 'Ah, Sovereign Lord,' I said, 'I do not know how to speak, I'm only a child.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you to say.'" And then a verse later it says, "Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, 'Now, I have put my words in your mouth.'" So that's the essence of that prophetic gift, was delivering clearly and directly the words of God to the people. And there were a variety of prophetic communications. Hebrews 1:1, which I already quoted, "In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways."
Now, many of the prophets were commanded to write down the things that God had committed to them, though not all. Elijah and Elisha, there's no record of them writing down any of their prophecies. But Jeremiah and Isaiah were commanded to write them down. And so we have the written word coming from this prophetic gift.
How to Identify Prophets: The Fulfillment of Their Words
Now, the key issue for our purpose today is the question of how can we know that this person is a prophet? It was an issue then and it's an issue now. And so, it was raised in Deuteronomy 18:21-22, "You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." So in other words, if they make a prediction that does not come true, that is a false prophet. That is a person who has not spoken in the name of the Lord. And so fulfillment of predictions was the marker of the prophet. We see this in Jeremiah's time.
You remember how all of the false prophets were saying to the kings of Judah, that Nebuchadnezzar wouldn't even come? But then he comes, and he takes over most of Judah, and Jeremiah is saying, God is bringing the Babylonians as a judgment. Your only hope is to go out and surrender, which was not very popular with the fighting men on the walls. He looked like a traitor, but he was given the word of the Lord to say. And when it started coming true exactly as Jeremiah had said, he pointed to that and separated himself from the false prophets. He said to the king of Judah, "Where are your prophets who said he wouldn't even come?" The Babylonian king wouldn't even come. There was a false prophet named Hananiah, who predicted that there would be an exile once Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had come and started to win battles. It's like, "Okay yes, there's going to be an exile but it's going to be really short.” Jeremiah predicted 70 years. And this is what Jeremiah said to Hananiah, the false prophet, "The prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true." There it is again, it's the same pattern every time. This is is how we know. Ezekiel 33:33 says the same thing, "When all this comes true, and it surely will," I love how the prophet says that, "When all of this comes true, and it surely will, then they will know that a prophet has been among them."
A Description of Prophets
Alright, so my own description then is an Old Testament prophet is an individual called by the Lord, who is appointed by God to speak His words directly to the people. He would say, "Thus says the Lord," and everything that followed was the word of God directly to the people. The prophets didn't only predict the future, they didn't even mostly predict the future. There was forth-telling, "Thus says the Lord," and He would uncover the sins and the wickedness of the nation. But it inevitably involved some prediction of the future so that the people could know that the individual was a prophet. And so, he would say directly the words of God. To disobey those words was equivalent to disobeying God Himself.
The Yearning of Moses and the Prediction of Joel
Now, Moses in his day, yearned that all of God's people would be prophets. He says that in Numbers 11:29, "I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them." Now, Joel predicted, maybe not a universal gift of prophecy, but a widespread expansion of the gift of prophecy in the new covenant. In Joel 2:28-29, it says, "And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days."
Well, the day of Pentecost came. Jesus had told them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and as they were assembled there in the Upper Room, 120 of them waiting for the Lord to give His gift, suddenly there was a sound of a terrifying powerful wind, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them, and all of them began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." And a crowd gathered because of the sound of the wind, and because there were many there for the feast of Pentecost, they were all gathered, and so the apostles streamed out into the streets, they had no fear of the Jews at that point, no fear of being arrested, they had a mission to proclaim the Gospel, and so they did. Peter, speaking on behalf of the apostles, preached a message. Now, the people were deriding them, they were mocking them and saying, “They're drunk.” Peter said, "These men are not drunk as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning." I think that's humorous, anyway. "This is that which has been spoken by the prophet Joel."
By the way, someone wrote a book on interpretation of prophecy, This is That, that's the title of the book. What it is saying is this thing that you're seeing is that which was predicted, it's that promise fulfillment motif. That's exactly what he says, this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy."
The Cessationists Understanding of the New Testament Prophets
Now, the cessationists as they look at New Testament prophecy, they effectively say that's what prophecy is and only that, it's scripture-level prophecy. And they rightly say, I agree with them, that the Canon is closed and there is no more scriptural-level prophecy coming. That once the book of Revelation came, that all of that type of perfect revelation which is written down, the perfection of scripture has ended. You remember the end of the Book of Revelation, where these words are written, this is the very end of the Bible pretty much, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his portion in the Tree of Life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." So he says, this book is a book of prophecy, and you can't add anything to it and you can't take anything away from it. But it's interesting that it's positioned at the end of the last book of the Bible, and so many Christians think that it also is speaking a word in general about adding to or taking away from the Bible, the 66 books of the Bible, saying those days are over. We have the Canon. And I think that's actually not a bad way to look at it.
Now the gift of prophecy was functioning in those days in ways, however, that we don't fully understand. It wasn't just scriptural-level prophecy. The apostles are listed first, then prophets in verse 28, "He gave first of all, apostles, then prophets.” I've tended to see the prophets as the Old Testament prophets, and I don't have any problem with that, but there are clearly New Testament prophets at work in the church at Corinth and in other places. It says in Ephesians 2:20 that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.
Now cessationist John Stott says this about that, "The simplest knowledge of architectural construction is enough to tell us that once the foundation of a building is laid and the superstructure begins to be built, the foundation cannot be laid again. So in the primary sense of prophets as vehicles of direct and fresh revelation, we must say that this charisma, spiritual gift, is no longer given. There is no longer anyone in the Church who may dare to say, 'the word of the Lord came to me' or 'thus says the Lord.'" I think aspects of what Stott says there are true.
Are There Different Types of New Testament Prophets?
We don't look for scripture-level prophecy anymore, but are there different types of prophecies? Are there different aspects of the gift? This is the point of division between cessationists and continuationists on the gift of prophecy. Wayne Grudem, he's a continuationist, cites a number of examples of the gift of prophecy that's lower than Scripture.
For example, Acts 21:4, some disciples urged Paul through the Spirit, that is by the gift of prophecy, not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul disobeyed and went to Jerusalem anyway. If New Testament prophets spoke with an authority equal to that of Scripture, Paul would not have disobeyed it. So, that's one example. Other examples come in with what we call the weighing of prophecies. Alright, 1 Thessalonians 5, 1 Corinthians 14. 1 Thessalonians 5, it says, verse 19-22, "Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophecies, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” And then 1 Corinthians 14:29, "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said." Wayne Grudem says this, "We cannot imagine that an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah would say, 'Listen to what I say and weigh what is said, sort out the good from the bad, what you should accept from what you should not accept.' It's just a different kind of prophetic gift," says Grudem.
There's also other examples of prophecy which I don't really even understand what they're about. For example, 1 Timothy 1:18, it says, "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you so that by following them, you may fight the good fight of faith." I don't know what prophecies were made about Timothy. I don't know if we would call them scriptural-level prophecies, or what, just something it seems about his teaching ministry or his gift, but just we don't know what it is. Also this one is very interesting to me. Acts 21:9, "Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." I know nothing about those ladies. I don't know what they said. I don't think that their prophecies made it into Scripture, they just had a gift and they used it. So I don't really know. There's just things that we don't know.
Now sometimes the prophets gave direct guidance concerning the Great Commission. Clear example of this is in Acts 13, "In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul," so that is Paul. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus." So I don't think it's too much to say that it was the prophets who spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit that said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for this missionary work." And so that would be an example of how the prophetic gift would give a clear guidance of ministry and missions that people could do. And that's why I say if it were still to function like that, it'd be very useful or helpful. So, prophesy didn't always function as predictions about the future but a form of communication of the mind of God.
Prophets also have the ability back then, in the church at Corinth, there were various people with the gifts. We would not say they were all speaking at Scriptural-level prophecy, but they just had a gift. And it's interesting, it says, "If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all. And the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you.'" So there's some aspect of the prophetic gift that was at work in the Church at Corinth, which would uncover and lay bare secrets of hearts so that people are convicted and come to Christ.
An Analysis of the Facts
Now Wayne Grudem has an interesting idea of prophecy which I don't share, but I'll just share it with you. How could someone be a prophet and still speak imperfect words? So he says that God gives a revelation to the prophet, and the prophet then puts them into imperfect human words. So the idea is true, but the articulation is different. I have a hard time accepting that because it seems that the verbal communication has always been of the essence of the gift of prophecy, but that would be a discussion we would have. So, if prophecy does not actually literally contain the word of God for us, word-for-word, then what is it? And how is prophecy different today from let's say preaching or teaching? One of the Puritans, William Perkins, wrote a book called "The Art of prophesying." But you shouldn't go get it, it's probably free online. You can read the PDF and it's like I want to be a prophet. Read it, it's just about preaching, friends. It's how people like me should preach, and so they make it equivalent, prophesying and preaching. I don't think that's helpful. I actually just think prophesying and preaching and teaching are different. Grudem thinks so too, I think they're different.
With preaching and teaching, you're taking the written Word of God that we all have, and you're walking through it, and explaining it through rules of exegesis and theology and applying it to people, that's the gift of preaching and teaching. Prophecy is just "Thus says the Lord," and you say it. Or, according to Grudem, a revelation, and you try to articulate that revelation. Grudem says preaching and teaching is more authoritative than that type of prophesying. Well, let me give you my analysis. I think Grudem brings up some interesting points. I'm not ready to say that prophecy doesn't exist anymore, but I have serious questions. I want to know why it is that many of these continuationists set aside my requirement that the prophet, or prophetess, because God uses women too, needs to predict the future before the Church knows that they are prophets.
It's always been there. There are examples of New Testament predictions. Agabus predicted a famine that would come over the entire Roman world. And like in the days of Joseph, they got ready ahead of time for the famine and set aside stores for it because they believed that Agabus was predicting the future. Why couldn't we require that of prophets today? What ends up happening, I've heard, in some of these churches like Sovereign Grace churches, or some of these other charismatic churches, is that they'll have open mics. And if you want to know what's the application, we're not going to see open mics anytime soon. Just, that's a prediction, but it's not a prophecy, it's just kind of a judgment that I'm making. But what happens in these Sovereign Grace churches, and I had this confirmed even a week ago, I talked to somebody who used to attend there. So you would go up and you would talk to the elder and they would filter it, because they were really trying to follow the New Testament prescriptions. want to weed out anything wacky or strange that would be said. And what ends up happening is the prophet or prophetess just ends up doing scriptural exhortation.
“The Lord is saying to us that He is our Shepherd and that we shall not want, and that he makes us lie down in green…” I'm like, friends if you just want to read Psalm 23, read it. That's not a prophecy. Or to say the Lord wants us to be active in evangelism. Again, I do that as a preacher, but I'm not claiming prophecy. “The Lord is saying to all the members, all the men, the married men in this church, that you are to love your wives as Christ loved the Church and you're to lay yourself down…” It's like, look I actually think that's even harmful to call that prophecy because I don't know that the Spirit is saying, that there's a specific deficiency in the husbands of the church that this is an area of emergency that needs a prophetic word. So it's better to just say the Scripture says this, it's binding on all of our consciences, but don't call it a prophecy.
However, if someone is willing to come along and make a prediction and we mark that person as a prophet, then I think we could listen, if they were to say something like a 21st century version of, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." What is that work? X, Y, and Z. I think that would be powerful if God wants to do that, but He first has to mark the person with a clear prediction. What I call, this is very geeky, but here it is: Independently verifiable prediction of the future that then gets verified. Don't predict something that's going to happen in seven centuries. Because how can we know? It has to be verified by fulfillment. And that's always been the rule.
Prophecy in Church History
Now, has anything like that happened since then? Well, Church history gives us some interesting insights. I want to tell you a story of a Viking raider, that was converted by a prophecy. This is fascinating, this man, his name was Olaf Tryggvason, he lived a thousand years ago, over a thousand years ago, born in the year 963, died in the year 1000. He eventually became king of Norway. He was a viking. Viking was more of a verb, it was like a raider, and he went up and down the coasts of England plundering and killing and doing all the stuff vikings would do. But he was anchored at one point in a place called the Isles of Scilly, that is how you pronounce it, off the West Coast of England. And there was there a Christian hermit who was known to be a prophet. In other words, his reputation as speaking predictions that came true was established. Well Olaf was interested in that. He knew a lot about Christianity, but he was not a Christian. So he decided to test this guy, and he sent one of his tall men to pose as himself to the hermit. The Hermit saw right through that. He said, "You are not the king. And the advice I give you is to be faithful to your king."
Well, the man went back, and then Olaf went in person and sought him out and asked if he, Olaf, would attain a kingdom, a kingdom. The hermit replied with a holy prophecy, "You will become a famous king and work famous deeds, you will bring many men to the true faith and to baptism, and in so doing you'll benefit both yourself and many others. And lest you doubt my answer, let this be taken as a token. When you return to your ships you shall encounter a band of traders, and you will yourself receive a mortal wound, and be borne on your shield to your ship, but you'll recover from this wound within seven days, and you'll be baptized soon thereafter." Now, that's a very clear prediction. Well, when Olaf returned to his ships, the events occurred just as the hermit had foretold, Olaf then believed he was a prophet, Olaf then visited the hermit and asked where did he get the wisdom that he could foretell the future? The hermit said that it was the God of the Christians who alone knew the future and who told him all that he was anxious to know. He told Olaf of the many miracles of God, he shared the Gospel with him clearly, and he persuaded Olaf to be baptized. And Olaf and all his men were baptized there. He went on to be the king of Norway. You can look it up.
The Gifts of Healings
Alright, on the gifts of healings briefly, we don't have much more time. Paul speaks interestingly in verse 8-9, he speaks of the gift of healing, in Verse 9, he says, "to another faith, by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healings," gifts of healings. All of the English translations make gifts plural, but they all make healing singular. It's odd, it's actually double plural, gifts of healings. Therefore, it could be that they're just different kinds of healings and healing ministries that go on. They're not all of the same sort. Now, for us, you could say, I heard John MacArthur in a sermon on spiritual gifts say, "If I could have one gift I don't have, it would be this gift, the gift of healing." And I think anybody who's been to an ICU, anybody that's been to minister to sick people, hurting people, injured people, you know why he says that. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to lay your hands on somebody and pray for them and have them healed? And that would be a remarkable thing.
Jesus Healing Ministry Unmatched
No one in all of human history, no one, has had the gift of healing like Jesus. The apostles did not have Jesus' level of healing. Huge crowds went to Jesus and He healed everyone of every disease, there was nothing He could not do. And as a matter of fact there were huge crowds because of this healing gift. You understand why. When you're sick and dying, or someone you love is sick, and dying, it's top priority for you to get that addressed. And we see a number of individuals that are urgent to get the healing, like the royal official in John 4, and the Syrophoenician woman, all they want is to be well or have their loved one well. We understand that. Now, here's the thing: Disease and suffering and accidents and pain, all of that leading to death, is part of the fall in Adam, it's part of the final enemy, what Jesus, what Paul calls the final enemy: Death.
Jesus in one sense, banished illness from Palestine for a brief three-year period, but everyone He healed eventually died of something. The gifts of healings, were in some smaller measure committed to the apostles, but they didn't have the same level. Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus. He gave Timothy counsel about his hurt stomach about not drinking water from a well anymore, but taking wine, so that he wouldn't have these microbes I guess. He didn't heal him, he just said, manage it in this way. Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh, which the Lord chose not to remove. There is in some sense a diminishing of the miraculous gift of healing. However, I don't believe that I can say like an ardent cessationist that there are no miraculous healings anymore. And, frankly, in my 21 years here, I have seen again and again and again, remarkable answers to group prayers.
God Answers Prayers for Healing
It says in James 5:14-15, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him, and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. The Lord will raise him up." So many of us have had people that we know that have had very serious diagnoses, and are prayed for, and they go back and there's just remarkable evidence of healing and there's no medical explanation, and so we've seen that again and again. Now is that the gift of healing? I'm not up here to say it is or it isn't. Imagine if there were a brother or a sister that just had a heart for sick people and loved to pray for them, and followed James 5 and went and prayed all their life, again and again, sick people and saw many people healed. Certainly it's different than Jesus who never failed to heal somebody, but it's more similar to how the apostles sometimes left people sick. And so, I cannot say, like I'm a kind of a black and white cessationist, that that kind of gift doesn't happen. I am skeptical of public healers like TV-type people, as we all should be, because we've not seen organic diseases healed by those individuals. But I think we have seen, there's many testimonies of organic illnesses healed in answer to group prayer.
And to have a brother or sister that might want to be in those groups again and again, and has seen multiple healings to look over 20 centuries of Church history and say that couldn't happen, I'm not ready to do it. So where does that leave us? I don't know, it leaves me out of time. What I would say is that I cannot go with the cessationist scripturally and say that these gifts have certainly ceased, but I have pretty serious questions about some continuationists and the way specifically the gift of prophecy functions. And so, at least for me, and I'm going to commend it to you, dear church, to require prediction of the future for somebody to be identified as a prophet. And if they won't do that, I'll just welcome them as giving me good, sound, scriptural, Christian exhortation. Does that makes sense?
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank You for the time we've had to study Your word. We thank You for its complexity, its depth, its power. I thank You for the gifts of the Spirit. Lord, as I'm going to say in two weeks, God willing, the ordinary ministry of the Spirit is sufficient to do so many things, and I pray that as in the end we understand spiritual gifts we'd realize that the non-controversial gifts that are going on all the time, that everyone agrees are so powerful and so sufficient to finish the work, but that there may be advancements of the power of the Spirit that we should seek that is often called revival, that we should seek Your face, and ask You would pour out afresh and anew Your Holy Spirit, that we might be empowered to share the Gospel with people who need to hear it so much, and that we be empowered to do all the good works You have for us to do. In Jesus' name. Amen.