Prophetic Forgery

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 13.4-6
4 “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive. 5 Each will say, ‘I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.’ 6 If someone asks, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ they will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’”

Reflection: Prophetic Forgery
By Erin Newton

Zechariah foresees a time when prophets who speak in the name of God—but not in the Spirit of God—would openly admit their fraudulent ways and renounce their forged positions as prophets.

So many times, we see messages about the end of false prophets: “A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans” (Hosea 11.6). “In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravenous lion” (Jeremiah 2.30).

Rarely do we see the regeneration of a false prophet. It is easier to wish for their demise than for their redemption.

The false prophets in Zechariah’s vision have changed careers—from a position of power wielded to hurt others to a life-giving position of a farmer who sows seeds that bear real fruit. The self-inflicted wounds from the ecstatic rituals (like what we saw on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.28) are admitted to be the wounds of “friends”—false prophets like themselves.

We have false prophets in our midst today. They speak of God, but the deity is not like the God of the Bible. Self-proclaimed pastors or theologians warp the message of the Bible for their gain—financial, political, or spiritual power, or even some form of self-preservation. True prophets speak the message of God and call out abuses, corruption, and unabashed sin. False prophets deny wrong-doing, cover up sins, and call evil “good.” They are idolaters without realizing it.

We like to think of idols as representing a completely different god than our God. Truth is these false prophets aren’t merely speaking about other gods—they are preaching false words in the forged name of our God. As M. Daniel Carroll R. points out in The Lion Roars, “Israel and Judah were supremely active religious nations, but the quantity of rituals did not qualify the worship as acceptable…. These activities were directed at another god constructed according to the worshipers’ tastes and needs.” Carroll defines false prophecy in the ancient world and points toward the false prophets of our own day.

Prophetic forgery is claiming to speak on God’s behalf when the words sound nothing like the God of the Bible.

The greatest hope we have for the false prophets is that people would see the deceit, name it for what it is, and denounce that behavior once and for all.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Zechariah 13.2-9 (Listen 1:40)
Luke 22 (Listen 7:58)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 14 (Listen 3:52), Luke 23 (Listen 6:39)
Malachi 1 (Listen 2:47), Luke 24 (Listen 6:16)

Read more about What is a False Prophet?
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Our Immovable Rock

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 12.3
3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.

Luke 21.5-11
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” 
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” 
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 

Reflection: Our Immovable Rock
By John Tillman

Zechariah spoke to those who had gone through exile and captivity. They knew what it meant for armies to gather, the city to fall, and the walls to be destroyed and burned. They heard their parents’ tales and tasted the fear and uncertainty. God’s words reassured these people that, in the future, no gathering of armies will be able to overcome Jerusalem, the shelter of his people.

Jesus spoke to his disciples, suffering under Roman occupation and puppet kings like Herod. Herod was “king”, but all were forced to say “Caesar is Lord.” They longed for liberation.

The Temple Zechariah knew was renovated and expanded by Herod. The disciples were impressed with the stonework in Herod’s expansion. If they had read Zechariah’s words at that moment, they would probably have thought that they were living in the time of their fulfillment. We know they expected Jesus to become king. We can easily imagine that they hoped to see Jerusalem become the immovable rock that Rome and every other enemy would break themselves against.

But instead of speaking of armies breaking against Jerusalem, Jesus spoke of Jerusalem being broken. Even the Temple’s impressive stones would be cast down, not one of them left on another.

Eschatological anxiety has waxed and waned in my lifetime. It’s easy for us to go to extremes on this issue. Some panic that the end is near and then, when it seems delayed, lose faith. Some throw their hands up in cynical doubt that the day will ever come. Some seek to bring the day to pass by taking the reins of power into their own hands. They long to build whatever kingdom they can using hastily baptized political power.

Christ told his followers to not be easily taken in by messianic movements. He warned them against fear and reactionary haste and encouraged patience.

It may seem impossible in our world to avoid anxiety, panic, cynicism, and power-mongering. But is our world more dangerous than Rome in 30 AD?

“Do” is easier than “Don’t.” Instead of thinking, “Don’t be anxious,” concentrate on resting in Jesus. Resist panic by resting in hope. Wrestle in prayer rather than for power. What Christ will establish will not depend on our power or wisdom but on his.

Remember that our immovable rock is not an institution, movement, country, or leader. Jesus is our immovable rock.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Zechariah 12-13.1 (Listen 2:30)
Luke 21 (Listen 4:18)

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God’s Performance Artists

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 11.4-5, 7-8
4 This is what the Lord my God says: “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. 5 Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them

7 So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock. 8 In one month I got rid of the three shepherds. The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them.

Reflection: God’s Performance Artists
By John Tillman

When Christians think of God as an artist, we often think of pretty sunsets. But God’s artistic portfolio reveals edgier, darker, and grittier work beyond sunsets or rainbows. God often directed his prophets in shocking forms of performance art.

Few people understand performance art, which, like any art form, can be shocking, disgusting, or absurd. In 2014, Shia LaBeouf participated in performance art called “I Am Sorry.” LaBeouf attended events wearing a paper bag over his head that read, “I am not famous anymore.” Then, he wore the bag in the gallery while visitors sat across from him. Most verbally abused him.

“I Am Sorry” was mild compared to God’s performance art exhibits.
Isaiah prophesied naked.
Jeremiah wore an oxen’s yoke.
Ezekiel ate food cooked over feces.
Hosea married a prostitute.

Zechariah’s performance art was taking over a herd of sheep marked for slaughter. These sheep were neglected and ill-treated by former shepherds. Zechariah paid special attention to the oppressed of the flock, yet even with his tender treatment, they detested him. Zechariah turned them over to a far worse shepherd than the ones before.

God explains this as a condemnation of the shepherds and the flock. God sent a good shepherd to replace the bad, but the flock rejected him. They paid Zechariah thirty pieces of silver as an insult. It was the same price paid for the death of a servant gored by a bull.

Zechariah’s performance art previewed Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was the good shepherd sent to the abused flock. He directed his attention to the outcasts, abused, and oppressed. Israel rejected him and sold his life for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 27.9-10) We can trust this good shepherd.

Not all art we encounter is holy in meaning or execution. But art expresses part of the image of God in us. Understanding anyone’s art helps us better understand God’s art, which reveals God’s heart.

God is an artistically expressive creator, a verbally gifted communicator, and a passionate storyteller. Like most great artists, God puts his blood, sweat, and tears into his work. We communicate with God through art inspired by and interpreted by his Holy Spirit.

God’s art, including the Bible, is complex and multifaceted but not inscrutable or absurd. Even at its darkest, there is hope. Even at its most confusing, we can trust the heart of Jesus, the ultimate artist and good shepherd.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
On the last day, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! As scripture says, ‘From his heart shall flow streams of living water.’” He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified. — John 7.37-39

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Zechariah 11 (Listen 2:40)
Luke 20 (Listen 5:07)

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Until I Come Back

Scripture Focus: Luke 19.11-13
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

Reflection: Until I Come Back
By John Tillman

It bothers me when interpreters contend that there is only one possible message or lesson from a given passage. It’s prideful and often plainly false. For example, Paul used a regulation about animal husbandry to teach that pastors deserve payment for their work. (1 Corinthians 9.9-11; 1 Timothy 5.17-18) If the passage only has one lesson to teach, which is it? Animal ethics? Or ministerial ethics? Of course, it’s both and even more than that. God’s word is living and active. (Hebrews 4.12) Guided by the Holy Spirit, ministers bring out of it things both old and new. (Matthew 13.51-52

However, context and the author’s intent are two of the main tools of good interpretation, and they often give us what I would call the primary or first-order interpretation.

Luke consistently included the context of Jesus’ parables. Knowing the situation, event, debate, or question Jesus was responding to helps us understand the intent of the story, which in turn helps us interpret the story’s primary meaning.

Minas and talents (Bags of gold from a similar parable in Matthew 25.14-30) are both financial terms for a certain amount of money, measured by weight. The minas parable in Luke is tightly focused on the immediate situation. Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem. Jesus’ followers thought the kingdom was about to start right then by taking control of the city. They pictured an insurrection and an overthrow led by a powerful king.

The talents parable is part of a trilogy of parables on spiritual neglect. The parables of the virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats illustrate what it will be like when the Kingdom of God comes.

The minas story mentions taking control of cities and making Jesus king, but not at the expected time. There was work to do first. The talents parable and its partner parables warn Christ’s followers that we have been given opportunities to know him, resources to cultivate for him, and needy people to serve for him. How we respond reveals whether we are part of his kingdom or not.

Jesus desires to call you “friend.” How have you responded? Are you keeping him at a distance by neglecting your “mina” or your “lamp?” What have you been given to steward and cultivate? Are you burying it or planting it so it can grow?

Use well what Christ gives you until he comes back, remembering that knowing him is the greatest gift.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading

Jesus taught us, saying: “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.” — Matthew 7.15-20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Zechariah 10 (Listen 2:11)
Luke 19 (Listen 5:29)

Read more about God Forbid
God forbid that we would make decisions based on politics rather than truth

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Types of Blindness

Scripture Focus: Luke 18.35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” 
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. 

Reflection: Types of Blindness
By John Tillman

Impairment of visual acuity means people need to be closer to something to see it clearly than those with normal vision. Impairment of one’s field of vision can mean blind spots or tunnel vision. These occur to different degrees, and some forms of blindness are temporary.

On Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem, he healed a blind man. Right before this, Luke described the disciples as having a type of temporary blindness. Jesus spoke very clearly about what would happen to him in Jerusalem, but his meaning was hidden from them. (Luke 18.31-34)

We sometimes over-analogize Jesus’ healings to the point where we almost forget about the people he healed. We can also draw wrong conclusions when we let the analogies escape the context of scripture. Jesus’ miracles are not all soteriological analogies, and we can make mistakes when we apply them that way. That being said, Jesus and the gospel writers who tell us about him applied meaning and symbolism to many of Jesus’ miracles.

Jesus’ healings and miracles indicate his identity, mark his mission, and prove his promises.

John the Baptizer questioned Jesus’ identity, asking, “Are you the one?” (Matthew 11.3). Jesus told John’s messengers to describe his actions, beginning with healing the blind. Jesus listed the healing of many other types of impairments, ending with the dead being raised and the gospel being proclaimed to the poor. Both Jesus’ identity and mission are revealed in these actions.

Mary and Martha questioned Jesus when he delayed coming, allowing their brother Lazarus to die. So did the crowd. They muttered, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11.37) Jesus promised Martha that he was the resurrection and the life. Lazarus’ resurrection was a preview of the ultimate proof of Jesus’ promise to her, which was his own resurrection just a few days later.

Even those who already believe can be blinded. The blind man already believed. Before his healing, he called Jesus “Son of David.” The disciples believed, but they had blind spots and a tunnel vision focused only on political salvation.

There are many types of blindness. Jesus heals them all.

Do you have tunnel vision, focused on one narrow definition of Jesus’ kingdom? Do you have blind spots of doubt? Are you blinded by loss or pain? Call out to the Son of David. Come closer to him and be healed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Zechariah 9 (Listen 3:01)
Luke 18 (Listen 5:27)

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