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January 31 lesson: Called to Prophesy

January 17, 2021
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Called to Prophesy

Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 3: The Call of Women


Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 31, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard


Background Scripture: Luke 2:36-38; Acts 1:12-14; Acts 2:16-21; Acts 21:8-9
Key Verse:
“In the last days, God said, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Lesson Aims:
  • To understand the meaning of prophecy and the prophets.
  • To realize the importance of women in the birth and proclamation of Jesus and his Church.
  • To understand Joel’s prophesy.
Importance of women in the early church

As cited in earlier Sunday school lessons, women like Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, Rahab, and of course, Mary, acted in faith, love, and hope. Their faithfulness occurred in a culture of patriarchy. Women possessed little power. However, women in the Old Testament, under the Spirit’s power, stepped up, crossed over, and spoke with love and truth. Our lesson today begins by noting Anna’s prophesy. Anna was an elderly woman approximately 85-90 years old. After the loss of her husband, she devoted her life to worshipping and praying in the temple. If we were searching for someone to proclaim a prophetic word, it would not be Anna! First, she was a woman! I believe we already know that women had little power and held little authority. Secondly, our culture would judge her too old for such an important task. However, God sees what we never see. Thirdly, Anna would not be educated. Women had to sit apart in the synagogue and were not allowed to teach or ask questions until they were home. The Lord almost always chooses those the world never considers.

Joseph and Mary were taking Jesus to Jerusalem for his circumcision. Anna approached them with words of recognition. She proclaimed Jesus was the redeemer of Jerusalem. Remember, the Jewish people rarely spoke of the Messiah and his relationship with the Gentile world. The emphasis of the text is her prophetic word. Yet, it is always good to look at the instruments that proclaim that word and why God chooses and appreciates them. Today we stand on the foundation that Jesus laid, and men and women through the years have built upon that foundation. Anna is a great witness to the sovereignty of God and his omniscience.

We live in another time and place from the first and early second century Christians.

Our study book has a great section on women who served God. I did not feel it beneficial that I repeat the content in our lesson book.

Can you name women who have greatly contributed to you walk of faith? Do you think the church today grants women an important role?

Who is a prophet and what is prophecy?

Prophecy isn’t always future-telling. There is far more prophecy that addresses the present. Of course, there are parts of the prophecies that consist of prediction. The best description I can offer is that prophesy was offered by those who perceived the current culture through the eyes of covenant. They held God’s plumb line as a measure of Israel’s character. The plumb line was the Covenant. Prophesy examined the culture by asking, “Where do we stand in relationship to God and the Law?” The prophet speaks truth to falsehood. He or she will proclaim the certain judgement or blessing to come for Israel’s behavior. They were not
conduits for fear and condescension; they also spoke hope to the hopeless, light to darkness, and salvation to the oppressed.

The prophet is always called of God. They often introduce their prophesy with, “The word of the Lord came. . .” The introduction employed by the prophets infers the prophet wanted people to know their words did not originate from them, but from God. It is for this reason that I feel a sense of great caution when a person says, “God told me to. . .” People who say this are usually devoted Christians with a loving heart. However, when we make the statement, we are equating our words with those of biblical prophecy!

God knows us, and our culture! Past cultures reap upon themselves the consequences of refusing to acknowledge the Lord’s will. Cultures that believe in the worth, the dignity, and importance of every soul will reap the reward of a meaningful life. There is a standard by which everyone and every society is judged. Amos 7:8 reads: And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel.” The plumb line involves a line with a weight tied to the end. One stands and holds the plumb line against a wall to see if it is straight. If it is not straight it will have to be torn down; if it is straight it becomes a foundational wall upon which other stones may be mounted. The plumb line is the Law of God. Each of us, and each culture, must stand against it and be measured. If we are righteous through Christ, we will grow taller as we receive more light. If we are crooked there will come a time when gravity will exert its force and the wall will crumble. It is not surprising that the prophets often received anger and hatred. Remember, the presence of light challenges all. We can respond positively, or shun it. Again, light has no romance with darkness.

Do you believe God still raises up prophets, male and female? Why do you answer as you do? How do we discern a prophetic word from human opinion?

Joel and his prophecy

The book of Joel is placed in a section of the Old Testament we call The Minor Prophets. However, using the term “minor” does not imply that the authors were in some manner less than the “major prophets” like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The term has more to do with the length of the prophesy and how important they were to the Jewish people. Yet, the content of the minor prophets is powerful.

Joel’s name means one to whom Yahweh is God. Yahweh is a Hebrew word for God, however, the vowels are removed. They could not see God, touch God, or write God’s name. God’s name was believed to be unpronounceable. Consequently, we cannot pronounce Yhwh. We added the vowels as a way to write or speak the name Judaism would not allow. Again, we see the divide between the divine and human. This makes God’s uniting with humanity in Jesus as remarkable event. Our God, who was believed to be afar and distant, has come in a manner we can see, touch, and personally experience!

We don’t know that much about Joel, other than his family of origin. He most likely prophesied in the eighth century BCE. Again, we see God choosing people who could have lived in obscurity without their calling.

The word of the Lord came to Joel, and Joel was called of God to proclaim that word. Joel is called to prophesy mostly to the southern kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Israel had split after the death of King Solomon into the Northern Kingdom of Samaria and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah observed worship in the temple of Jerusalem. The Northern Kingdom worshipped in Shiloh.

One of the memorable prophesies offered through Joel reads: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. This prophesy seems to be eschatological (end times). Old Testament prophets often spoke of the last days. Simon Peter recites this prophesy in his sermon on Pentecost. It most likely is eschatological. Peter believed Joel was prophesying about the end times in which the Kingdom of God would redeem the world. Christ would usher in this Kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost certainly fit Peter’s thinking. However, remember the earliest Christians believed Jesus was coming any hour, any day, and soon. We live on this side of Pentecost. If we use our human understanding of time, it was not the end of the world, and Jesus did not return immediately. This does not mean Peter’s sermon was incorrect. It means that the time of the climatic coming of the Kingdom is unknown to all but God. However, Peter’s expectation of Jesus’ immediate return played a major role in Peter’s sermon during Pentecost.

The Kingdom did come as Jesus ushered it in with his life, death, and resurrection. As we studied previously, the Kingdom is here, but not yet. We have been living in God’s Kingdom for generations. Still, there is coming a day when Jesus will usher in the Kingdom in all of its glory as the new heaven and new earth are established. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit rested upon a select few. However, Pentecost was the pouring out of the Spirit on all Christians. As new Christians, filled with the Spirit, we walk forward in God’s unfolding Kingdom. We bear the attributes of the Kingdom, like love, mercy, grace, light, and peace. Our life is to serve as a window through which others may see God and his Kingdom.

Joel was allowed to proclaim what is to come. The Spirit and the signs of the Kingdom would fall upon God’s people. It would touch and use young and old, male, and female. We would understand our past, to find meaning in the present, and have the vision to see where we are going.

Do you believe your church is an instrument of the Kingdom? Do you see yourself as an instrument of the Kingdom? Why or why not? Are we patient with the church, remembering she is on a journey of faith as we are?

Dreams and visions

I found a well-written paragraph in Wikipedia that concerns dreams:

A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, although they have been a topic of scientific, philosophical and religious interest throughout recorded history.

The writer is correct in stating the purpose of dreams is not fully understood. However, they miss the boat concerning biblical dreams. When God inspired a dream, it had purpose. Some of the dreams in the Bible are symbolic and some reveal the purposes of God. Joel and Anna’s dreams definitely had purpose. Both proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God.

A dream most often emerges from our past and present pain and joy, our confidence and fears.

We often must engage in some interpretation to understand the dream. Visions take on a greater clarity. The vessel for the vision knows the vision is from the Lord. A vision often is about where we are going according to the will of God.

The foundational truth of Joel’s prophecy

I find it necessary when I encounter a difficult text to journey beneath the words by asking “What is the major purpose of the text? What is the underlying truth that holds all the words together to convey God’s message?”

In Joel’s prophesy he is given a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and its powerful presence in the world. Joel sees lives being used to proclaim the Kingdom. He begins by stating when the Kingdom more fully appears, women and men shall prophesy. Notice again, it is women and men! Women spoke the Word of God to his people. Next, he sees young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams. As we age, we grow more sentimental. We begin embracing the good in our past. The older men were the perfect instrument for God’s dreams. They had a rich history. Young men have visions in the prophecy. We are never more visionary than when we are young. Young men do dream as well. The two terms dreams and vision are rather intertwined. Dreams and visions can on occasion be interchanged. At times prophecy takes on the form of poetry. Hebrew poems stated one line, then repeated the meaning in the second line in a different way. Therefore, we read:
           
Your young men shall see visions,
           
And you old men shall dream dreams.

In this case, the second line repeats the meaning of the first. It would prove a mistake to become confused trying to differentiate between dreams and visions. Joel doesn’t try to define the terms.

So, what is the reality that gives meaning to Joel’s words? Joel witnessed the coming of the Kingdom of God. He saw changed lives as they were filled with the Spirit. People of every age and gender, whether parent or child, were becoming God’s instruments in the world to proclaim the presence of God’s glorious Kingdom. The divine realm is touching and moving through humanity!

When you are confused when reading a biblical text, do you recognize that your mind cannot yet comprehend it? What do you do then? Do you seek the underlying truth? Does the modern church reflect Joel’s prophecy? Do we listen to our older members and learn from their wisdom? Do we listen to those young, who do not yet have experience, but have God-given energy to move into God’s future?

The Last Days

The last days is an apocalyptic and eschatological name. The Last Days occurs in Old Testament prophecy. The Jewish people believed in a day of judgement and renewal. Read Isaiah 9 and Isaiah 25:7 and forward. These texts will grant the reader a sense of what the Jewish people expected regarding the Last Days. Again, on Pentecost, Simon Peter believed the Last Days had arrived. He was witnessing the divine indwelling of men and women. He sensed power, and he sensed renewal. Peter was acquainted with Joel’s prophecy and believed he saw its arrival on Pentecost. Actually, Peter was not wrong. Peter and the other followers expected a more immediate series of events. Messiah would come, and the signs and wonders would occur as they drew all people to Jerusalem for redemption. These events are still occurring in the present. Peter was not thinking the completion of the Last Days might be thousands of years into the future.

Our culture is culture of immediacy. Do we, and our church, look for God in our present day and patiently allow God’s future to occur? How do you see us searching in the present for God while patiently letting God’s future come? Are we a church of trying to make things happen rather than letting God use our gifts and graces in the present as a step in a journey that leads to the Kingdom’s culmination?

Anna’s prophecy

Anna’s prophecy reveals the importance of women in proclaiming, teaching and living the Gospel. If we removed the contribution of women in the Bible, we find narratives breaking down. Women often held things together. We do not have a narrative on Jesus’ childhood, and thus, we don’t have one on Mary the mother. Mary cared for Jesus and her children until Jesus was 30. Joseph is believed to have died earlier. If this is the case, Mary reared the children alone. Of course, older children helped care for the younger. Imagine all the meals, all the skinned elbows and knees, and every act of protection that Mary provided. Most of all, we know Mary was a praying mother.

Anna was a praying woman. She entered the Temple regularly to worship and pray. Anna was near the end of her life, yet she was called to proclaim a new beginning. Her heart reached toward God in prayer while God was reaching for Anna to speak an answer to all seeking the Messiah.

Anna converses with Mary and Joseph

Joseph and Mary were bringing Jesus to the temple. On the eighth day a baby was brought to the temple. If the baby is a male, he will be circumcised. Circumcision was a mark. It marked the child as Jewish. It brings the child into the Jewish community where they will be taught and instructed in Mosaic Law. Still, the child must accept the tenets of Judaism on their own. It must be their personal decision. The child is given a name during the ritual.

Baptism is the ritual of being marked. The baptized child becomes a preparatory member. The child is also given a name. The name is Christian. During the years of preparation, the child is taught the faith. Then, another ritual occurs in which the child publicly declares they are choosing to follow Christ. It is their decision. This ritual is called Confirmation. I pray this section of the lesson on baptism is helpful for all of us who take the holy vows to help raise the child in the faith.

How seriously do we make take the vow to raise a child in the faith? What do you think the name Christian means in our culture? Do you believe most people in the church understand what is occurring in the ritual?

Anna is empowered to recognize the baby Jesus as the Messiah. Her prophecy is not wordy and is rather short. However, it gives the reason behind all other reasons. What is more important than to recognize that Jesus is Messiah? Jesus has joined our life, indwelled our heart, and even now is redeeming all things in heaven and earth.

Addition of Philip and his daughters to the lesson

Actually, Philip’s daughters are the focus of this text. Once again, we find an instance, early in the life of the church, in which women were used to prophesy. We are not given the names of the daughters. Thus, they represent all women who exercise their gifts and graces. If anyone thought women should not speak for God in any circumstance, it wasn’t Philip. He was a disciple. He was present during Jesus’ teachings, his signs and wonders, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Yet, he allows his daughters to prophesy.

Prayer

O Lord, we praise you and your omniscience. Thank you for judging us as fearfully and wonderfully made. As followers of Jesus, you have revealed to us our worth. Empower us to share Jesus, that every soul may “feel its worth.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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