Vernon JohnsWe 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 love God’s people, but they love them too much to gainsay the truth.

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 very disconcerting. 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 (see photo – upper right). 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 Vernon Johns’ final sermon where, in finest prophetic tradition he denounces racism. But NO ONE escapes his vivid denunciations, even his own congregation. 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.

8 Responses

  1. BHG says:

    Powerful. Now think of : abortion, pornography; the disintegration of family, premarital sex; hunger, homelessness, suppression of religious freedom. All of which exist in part because we permit them to exist because we are afraid to speak up and suffer to rid ourselves of them. What might happen if we did? The prophet makes us all uncomfortable indeed. Thank you for posting this clip. (by the way I am SURE God sounds like James Earl Jones….)

  2. Tom says:

    How about modern times prophets? They’re out there! St. Malachi, Pope Leo XIII, Fatima, Lourdes, Guadaloupe, St. Pio, Medjugorje, Garabandal, Maria Divine Mercy, John Leary, Locutions? Do you not think that Jesus, God the Father, and Mary would warn as many ahead of time about the evils taking place and to prepare ourselves in repenting, increasing prayer, attending more Masses (daily) for the sake of souls that are darkened in order to shed light on them and maybe help with their conversion? Afterall, isn’t that what priest’s are for… for the sake of converting souls and as many as they can… just like Satan converting souls as many as he can… it truly is spiritual warfare! Imagine what is going on all around us?!? A friend of mine (priest) once stated… ‘Be in a State of Grace at all times and be not afraid’… so true and simple, but Mass and prayer is the answer! God Bless

  3. RichardC says:

    More black people are aborted each year than were lynched from the Civil War unto today. If all of the babies that had been aborted, a lot of them black babies, had been brought to birth, imo, that would have exerted pressure on the governments, both local and federal, to have kept them from acting as foolishly as they have acted.

  4. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Prophets seem to be the kind of people who tell us what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear. Ah, but at what price to the prophets. Jeremiah thrown into an empty cistern with no source of food and where his feet sank into the mud and where there was no place to sit. Jeremiah 38:1-13.
    How the prophets suffered, and how much they lost in this world, but was there a forwarding of what was los to another place as in Matthew 13:44? If someone knew that they were going to leave the place where they lived and move to another place for the rest of their existence, wouldn’t it make sense to have all their wealth forwarded from a bank at the original place to the new place? An easy thing if moving from North America to Europe but, what if one is moving from one type of existence to another? What form of wealth would be acceptable in the new place? What means of transfer would work? It would seem that some answers to these type of questions are clearly illustrated in Holy Scripture and some must be sought. Ah but what a challenge. A challenge that prayerful meditation could help resolve.
    But why all this anger at the prophets? It may seem paradoxical that, although I sought serenity for most of my life from when I was eleven until my early fifties; and that I never achieved this serenity (or peace of mind) until becoming receptive to these things that I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear. Prior to that I felt, and expressed, great anger about the messages and greater anger at the people who gave the messages.
    So, why are so many Biblical people shown as being angry at these uncomfortable, but beneficial, truths? This question could well be answered by what I found upon looking back on my journey to acceptance. There was a message that, when I went against my Father’s instructions I ended up hurting myself (and other people collaterally, as in collateral damage) in order to distract myself from a greater pain from an older and more serious emotional or spiritual malaise. Tending to call this distraction a solution, or a cure, along came denial about the need to open and cleanse out the sealed in infection from an old injury.
    Likely the type of thing which inspired most of persecution that the prophets suffered from. But then there was Jeremiah’s early reluctance and Jonah, who feared the reaction of the people of Nineveh to the message which he was to deliver, but found out that he had much more to fear from God. Seems, to me, like an excellent lesson in the value of a Holy Fear of God. And, when he finally arrived in Nineveh he found them very receptive – for didn’t they live in a time when the lessons about the retribution of God of Abraham were recent and still taken seriously?
    But then other alleged prophets from other philosophies, religions and foreign sources have started to become pretty recently. In the 1940′s troops were returning to North America and Europe at the end of World War ii, or The Great Patriotic War as our Soviet allies of the time called it. Many came from service in Asia and brought stories of historical spiritual messengers whose messages did seem to have great value. These messages, and quotes became very popular and even started to draw converts from Christianity. What was their value? Was it because they challenged us to better face, and work to overcome the negativity brought on by our fallen state, or was it because it was a lot more comfortable as it offered ways for us to convince ourselves to take on a sort of superficial amendment of our behaviour by a sort of reinforcing by joining a group who agrees with the slogans and thereby adopting a belief in the “group conscious of the human race” as I’ve heard this, whatever it is, called?
    If there was such a being as this group conscious and if it was made up of all the positive, but solely human, aspects of the human race it could well seem all powerful and invincible from our worldly perspective. But, if this being had to confront satan would the evil one even need to call on any of his minions; or would he just brush it aside like a grand master martial artist would do to a small child who aimlessly flailed its fists.
    Seem like we’re being set up to be deprived from facing our fallen state as the Almighty God informed us through His prophets, like Jeremiah, Jonah and (in our age) Bill Wilson of AA and Vernon Johns as we’re encouraged to avoid the beneficial discomforts that we so badly need.

  5. Stephen from New Orleans says:

    It’s no coincidence that the civil rights movement was borne out of Christianity.

  6. bt says:

    I had never seen this video, and I was shocked to see him escorted out of his church.

    As I was driving home from work today, I was wondering what our country would be like if slavery had not been permitted. How would it have affected the beginnings of our country, and what would our country be like today?

  7. [...] Just 10 minutes to sit down in a quiet place, apart from others,  to breathe deeply, to be still… to know that God is near,  at hand, by my side, in my heart.….more Behold the Prophet! No One Escapes! – A reflection on what prophets are really like. 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 love God’s people, but they love them too much to gainsay the truth. 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.  ..more [...]

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