We often like to read from and quote the prophets. But if you’ve ever met a real prophet you know that being in the presence of a real prophet can be very disturbing. Prophets were famous for goring every one’s ox. No one left the presence of a prophet untouched. So troubling were the prophets of old, including Jesus, that most of them were persecuted, jailed, stoned, exiled and killed. Most of the Biblical prophets were beyond controversial they were way over the top. Prophets denounced sin and injustice in the strongest language announcing doom to a nation that refused to repent. Many Israelites thus considered them unpatriotic and downright dangerous. They justified throwing them into prison for their lack of patriotism and for the way their words questioned and upset the status quo and the judgements of those who held power. To many, these were dangerous men who had to be stopped.
Jesus, though essentially our savior, also adopted the role of a prophet. Listen to these words as he denounces the people of his day for their rejection of his prophetic message. In this they are just like their fore-bearers who rejected the prophets:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you avoid being sentenced to Hell?! (Matt 23:29ff)
Many of us today like to think that, had we lived in Jesus’ time we would surely be on his side. But, truth be told, prophets can be hard to endure and Jesus had “difficult” things to say for everyone. Honestly, most of us struggle with the truth to some extent. And especially we moderns who prefer a more gentle discourse with large doses of honey and very little vinegar. We probably would wince as we walked along with Jesus. Jesus was more “plain spoken” than we are usually comfortable with. If we are honest, when we read the prophets and Jesus we will come away with much to repent of.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Consider this video clip. It is of a modern prophet named Vernon Johns. In the early 1950s he was Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. The Black Congregation that hired him was a rather sleepy congregation. In the face of rather awful racial discrimination, they preferred to remain silent and therefore safe. Vernon Johns tried to wake them from their sleep, but to no avail. They were too afraid (yet) to take a prophetic stand. Eventually Vernon Johns was arrested as a trouble maker and the Board of Deacons fired him. But Johns had laid a foundation for the next Pastor of Dexter Baptist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Within a few years Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and the Bus Boycott was on. The rest is history. This clip is of VernonJohns final sermon where in finest prophetic tradition he denounces racism. But NO ONE escapes his vivid denunciations. Watch this clip and behold what it must have been like with the prophets of old, even Jesus. Behold the prophet! No one escapes! In the end of the clip, his daughter who had stood against her Father’s zeal sings “Go Down Moses.” The choir director who had also opposed him likewise stands to sing. The seed is planted even as the prophet is led away by the police.