Missions of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America

Covenant Reformed News - December 2014

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Covenant Reformed News

December 2014 • Volume XV, Issue 8


The Voice Crying in the Wilderness (3)

Why did such unprecedented and consistently large crowds come, in the providence of God, to hear John the Baptist? Right at the start, we should note that it had nothing to do with John’s miracles. People flocked to Christ and His apostles in part because of the signs they wrought, but it was not so with John the Baptist. He did not perform any mighty wonders or even a single sign for, as John 10:41 states, "John did no miracle." One wonders how the Pentecostals seek to explain this. Maybe John did not have enough faith! Perhaps he did not have enough of the Holy Spirit? Yet John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Even in biblical times, when many in the extraordinary offices of prophet and apostle did perform miracles, not all the prophets were given these powers. We do not read of Jeremiah or Hosea, for instance, performing a single miracle. John the Baptist was the forerunner and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets in that he heralded and met the Messiah (Matt. 11:11), yet he wrought no miracles.

1) One big factor in the massive crowds that John the Baptist drew was the 400 silent years. Since the death of Malachi, no prophet had risen in Israel for some four centuries. In the British Isles, this would take us back to the days of King James I (1603-1625) or before the Pilgrim Fathers landed in New England! In those 400 years, how earnestly the Jews must have sung Psalm 74:9: "We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long." You say, "What about the inspired utterances of Zacharias, Mary and Elisabeth in Luke 1, or of Simeon in Luke 2?" But these were one-offs and not indicative of their possessing an on-going preaching prophetic office. John the Baptist was the first prophet in the New Testament Scriptures (coming 400 years after the last Old Testament prophet) and John the Apostle was the last prophet in New Testament Scriptures (dying over 1,900 years ago).

2) Another element that helps to explain the large crowds who attended on John’s ministry was the heightening of Messianic expectation. In many passages, the Old Testament predicts not only the coming of God’s kingdom, but also the arrival of an individual Saviour or Redeemer. He is the seed of the woman, Shiloh, the prophet like Moses, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, the son of David, the Branch, the suffering servant, the messenger of the covenant, and so on. For centuries, God’s people had been praying and looking for the Coming One who would bring deliverance. This Messianic expectation was increased towards the end of the 400 silent years by stories about Jesus’ birth and early days. A son was born to a virgin! The Bethlehem shepherds who saw an angel of the Lord, a host of angels and the new born babe; Simeon and Anna with the eight-day-old infant in the temple; those who were astonished at the wisdom of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple—all had spoken about this amazing boy. Moving from Luke 2 to Matthew 2, we have the wise men who followed the star, Herod the Great and the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and the slaughter of the innocents in and around Bethlehem—again, word of these things had gotten out. Add to this the reports of Jesus’ holy life in Nazareth!

3) There was also great expectation about John from his childhood and even before his conception. The people at the temple who saw dumb Zacharias gesticulating that an angel had appeared to him; the birth of John to two very aged, barren saints; Zacharias’ prophecy on the recovery of his voice at the naming of his son—how could these things be kept quiet? Thus we read that "all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be!" (Luke 1:65-66).

4) Then there was John himself, living alone for many years in the deserts (80). He forewent the priesthood and temple service. His food and clothing were also unusual. He dressed in camel hair, a rough garment worn by prophets (Zech. 13:4; II Kings 1:8). His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey, and never any product of the vine. John stood out with his very long hair because of his life-long Nazarite vow.

5) Furthermore, there was the location of John’s ministry: the wilderness (Luke 3:2). Admittedly, it meant that people had to journey some distance to get to him. But John’s location was unique and solemn, and this too served to draw the crowds.

6) Vast numbers were drawn to John because of his special activities (Luke 3:3). First, there was John’s water baptism: a unique, once-for-all, initiatory rite. Second, there was his preaching, which was especially earnest, sincere, forthright and bold. There had been no such preaching in Israel for centuries so crowds flocked to hear him.

7) Many heard John’s testimony (John 1:23) that his coming was in fulfilment of prophecy: "As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Mark 1:2-3). The "prophets" here are Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3). This too increased interest in his ministry.

Together, the reasons given above help explain why multitudes came to John the Baptist. We ought also to remember that the Most High willed that Israel know about John and hear his message because he was the forerunner who heralded the coming of God’s incarnate Son. John’s ministry could not be a secret known only to a few.

Next time, Lord willing, we shall consider the wonderful message about the Messiah that was declared by that voice crying in the wilderness (Luke 3:3-6). Rev. A.Stewart

The Witch of Endor

A brother from Uganda asks, "When Saul visited the medium and Samuel spoke, was it really Samuel or was it the devil masquerading as him?"

I Samuel 28:3-25, the passage referred to by the questioner, is too long to repeat here, so our readers are asked to turn to their Bibles and read the passage before considering this answer.

Saul and the armies of Israel were drawn up to face the Philistines in battle. The Philistines, since the days of Samson, had been a thorn in the side of Israel and a tool in the hands of the Lord to chastise His people for their constant rebellion against Him in refusing to worship Him and giving their worship to Baal and Ashteroth.

At the request of the nation for a king, God had given them Saul, the son of Kish. At first he had appeared to be a good king but soon he began to show that he hated God because he refused to walk in His ways. Now the time of God’s full punishment upon Saul and Israel had come, for the Philistines were gathered against Israel in a mighty host. Saul was desperately afraid for God had forsaken him and spoke to him no more. Prior to Saul’s apostasy, the Lord had spoken to Saul through Samuel, the prophet and judge in the nation.

Saul sent his servants to find a witch in the forlorn hope that he could yet summon Samuel from beyond the grave to hear the prophet’s words from the Lord on the eve of the battle. The servants discovered a witch in Endor.

It seems like the sin of witchcraft was practiced very early in the history of the world. Pharaoh had his magicians (Ex. 7-9). In His law, God repeatedly warned Israel against all forms of witchcraft. Witchcraft is so appealing to fallen men and women because, through magic and sorcery, people claim to themselves extraordinary powers to enable them to talk to the dead, prophesy of events in the future and give superhuman powers that are not available to ordinary mortals. In our "scientific" age, superstition of every sort is still practiced: mediums, necromancers, crystal-ball prophetesses, palm readers, mind readers, all kinds of forms of ESP, etc. It is to be found among people in "uncivilized" countries, but, though perhaps more sophisticated, it is also found in every nook and cranny of our society. Saul had banned all witches from the nation (I Sam. 28:3), but now, in desperate fear, he wanted a witch to try to reach Samuel.

I believe that Samuel did speak to Saul, although only the witch seems to have seen him. I have no doubt that God was able to send Samuel back from the grave to bring His word to Saul. The text is too explicit in telling us that Samuel did indeed come to tell Saul of God’s judgments on him. The word which Samuel brought is also a word that could only come from God.

But the incident is very unusual and the Bible records no other similar event. What is strange is 1) only the witch could see Samuel; 2) Samuel appeared as he would have looked if he had still been on earth, old and wearing a mantel; 3) the impression is left that Samuel came, not from heaven, but from what in the Old Testament was called Sheol, the place of the dead. It seems to me that these three points implied in the text are conclusive. God performed a miracle at a crucial point in Israel’s history. An event took place that must have had a striking impact on the whole nation, for it was recorded for all Israel to read in the sacred Scriptures. By this wonder, God showed the nation why He was chastising them, what happens to wicked kings who lead Israel astray and what evil things happen when people resort to any form of witchcraft.

Note that the woman did not bring Samuel back from the dead by her witchcraft. She herself was frightened almost out of her wits when Samuel did appear to her. She claimed to be able to do it, but when Samuel did appear, she knew immediately that she had not brought him back.

Though many profess to have powers beyond human capabilities, the greater part of the exercise of these "powers" is pure delusion and deception of dreadfully superstitious people. I say, "the greater part" because I do personally believe that mediums of all sorts, including miracle workers, can and often do become agents of Satan, who does have powers beyond ours.

Many years ago, I was asked to make a speech on the occult. I refused even when I was pushed hard to make it. But when it was told me that some were using occult practices as a form of entertainment, I agreed to speak. Knowing almost nothing about the occult, I went downtown to the library and came home with an armful of books. It was not pleasant reading, but I did become convinced that there were indeed various unexplainable occurrences that were evidences of the occult. What was particularly convincing was the testimony of missionaries to pagan lands who had done battle with the occult among the heathen.

I came to the conclusion that, in certain instances, to engage in various practices related to witchcraft, the practitioners opened themselves up to demonic influences and powers. Revelation 13, in its description of the Antichrist as an agent of Satan himself, states that he will be able to perform miracles—probably by powers given him by the devil.

The conclusion of the whole matter is this: it is sinful and devilishly dangerous (I use the word "devilishly" in its literal meaning) to engage in any occult practices of the most simple kind. Even using such things as Ouija boards, table lifting, tapping, etc., for "entertainment" purposes is to open one up to possible demonic control. I have talked with a couple of people who have been delivered from such horrors. One was a Satan worshipper before she was brought to salvation; another was a leader in the Pentecostal movement. Their stories were not nice to hear and they do battle daily with the abiding temptations of their earlier sin.

The Bible’s warning against all forms of witchcraft and the occult are to be taken in utter seriousness (e.g., Deut. 18:9-14). We have God’s written revelation in the infallible Scriptures. All we need to know for our salvation is in them. Let us immerse ourselves in God’s all-sufficient Word and avoid all superstitions as we would avoid the powers of hell. Prof. H.Hanko

Last modified on 30 December 2014
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