And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. [St. Luke 2:26]
Have you ever thought about prophecy? Have you ever considered “signs from God?” Have you ever wondered why some people are given a true understanding of signs?
False prophets we understand; they are basically con artists. They seek either wealth, or power over others, or both. That is easy for us humans to understand, being fallen creatures. But what about true prophets? Are they really possible?
And what about signs? Do they really exist? I think most modern people write signs off as the overactive imagination of superstitious people. And this may be true of some signs. But are all signs just what people want to make of them?
The Bible is full of prophets announcing the truth, reading signs, and following messages of God. But in many cases, in their own age, no one believed them. This happened to Jeremiah. Jonah, however, was a prophet that WAS believed in his own time. There were many intelligent people who did NOT believe the true prophets. And the question remains, “Why?” And yet, the more I think about it, the more I think I am not asking the right question. Maybe the more important question is whether WE believe these prophets or not. Do we believe in prophecy? Do we believe in signs from God?
Modern theology has worked very hard to dismiss prophecy. They assume – which quickly becomes fact – that all the prophecies in the Bible, which come true, are really written after the fact. For instance, for years Biblical scholars pointed to Jeremiah’s prediction that the Babylonian exile would last 70 years [Jeremiah 25:11] and said it was inserted later. They based their belief on the fact that no parchment was found with this prediction that predated the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. Then one piece was found that was dated earlier than Israel’s return from Babylon, effectively ending this discussion – or did it?
Modern scholars still insist that all prophecies are really later insertions. They do NOT believe in the possibility of “prophecy.” They just never refer now to this one prediction by Jeremiah!
The question we must honestly ask ourselves is: do we believe in signs? Do we believe that prophecy is possible? Can someone prophesy something that has not happened yet? If the answer is “no,” then how can we believe the Bible? How can we believe in Christ?
If, however, the answer is “yes,” then the situation changes.
In our Gospel lesson, we have such a situation. Simeon is a man who is filled with the Holy Ghost. It has been revealed to him that he will not die until he has looked upon the Messiah. Some may think this delusional, but Simeon does not. And he is proven to be correct:
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple.
We also have a very religious woman, Anna. There is no indication that a prophecy was placed in her heart, but she too is filled with the Holy Spirit. Because of this, these very perceptive people in the great temple in Jerusalem see what no one else sees. They both see what others, including the priests, could NOT see. They saw, not a baby, but the Messiah:
And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took [Simeon] him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word.
For my eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
a light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel.”
These people were open to the Holy Spirit. They were prepared to be lead where no one else would go. And they were prepared to believe, even though others would tell them it was impossible.
Signs are also very important. Simeon and Anna were such a sign. They were a sign that this babe IS the Messiah. Additionally, in our Old Testament lesson, we have another sign. We have Malachi giving us this:
“BEHOLD, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come,” saith the LORD of hosts.
The Lord DID come suddenly to his temple. He came in the form of a babe. But this was not the only sign that God gave us that Jesus is the Messiah:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
What is interesting is that our faith is replete with signs and prophecy. It is replete with the miraculous. Jesus Himself, being God incarnate is a fantastic belief that is a stumbling block to many. Yet, it is an intimate part of our faith. If we do not believe this, we are not truly Christian. St. Paul, writing to the Hebrews, summed it up this way:
For verily He took not on Himself the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
But this brings me back to my original question, why do we not believe in prophecy anymore? Why do we no longer believe in signs? Is it because these are all made-up stories? Or is it because we do not have the required faith?
Jesus once told His disciples:
“IF ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, ‘Remove hence to yonder place,’ and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
I would venture to guess that we have all heard this quotation so often that it has lost its effectiveness to inspire. But let us consider an experiment that was highly publicized involving a primary-grade schoolteacher.
This teacher made an announcement in class. She said, “Recent scientific reports have verified that children with blue eyes have greater natural learning abilities than children with brown eyes.” She then had her students make up little signs designating themselves as “blue eyes” or “brown eyes,” which they hung around their necks. After about a week or so, the achievement level of the brown-eyed section fell dramatically while the performance of the blue-eyed section improved significantly.
The teacher then made a startling announcement. She had made a mistake! It was really the blue-eyed people who were the weaker students and the brown-eyed ones who were the better students. Almost immediately, the brown-eyed students’ achievements increased while the blue-eyed students’ performance dropped.
Similar experiments were done with teachers where the teacher was told that one group was weaker and one stronger. Even though both groups were, in fact, equal in ability, the way the teachers treated the two groups were dramatically different, and consequently the performances were different.
In our society, we are constantly told that certain things are impossible, and we believe it. Add to this the false prophets and the false prophecies that are publicized so readily, and we can see why we are so cynical when it comes to prophecies and signs. But because we have come to believe that prophecy is false, we start dismissing the true prophecies and the true signs.
Last Sunday I saw on my webpage a news article. It was about Pope Francis. It seems he had two children release doves in Saint Peter’s Square, a symbol of a request for peace in the Ukraine. As we know from our lesson for today, two doves was an acceptable offering to God. The news reported that one dove was instantly attacked by a crow, and the other by a sea gull, both of which were considered unclean animals under the Mosaic law. If this doesn’t smack of a sign, I do not know what does.
Interestingly, I asked a friend of mine if he had heard this. He had, but actually he had heard it for the first time on The Daily Show with Jon Steward. In other words, the first time he heard about this incident was through the eyes of a comedian. He could NOT take it or me seriously. Consequently, he instantly dismissed any reference to this being a sign because he cannot see the possibility. I, on the other hand, am convinced that this is a portent of something with which we need to take note.
Modern man suffers from this limitations. But, let us not assume that those ancient church fathers were different. Remember in the Gospel when Saint Peter walked on the water to meet Jesus. Halfway out to the boat, the wind picked up and he became frightened. In other words, he suddenly realized that what he was doing was impossible and immediately started to sink. Peter lost faith, and Christ had to save him.
We are told God cannot become man. We are told a virgin cannot have a baby. We are told no one can heal the sick except through modern medicine. We are told that no one can walk on water or change water into wine. We are told that no one can rise from the dead. We are told there are NO signs and NO wonders. And we are told all prophecy is garbage. In essence, we are told that our faith is a fiction and a lie.
And if we listen to these nay Sayers, we will believe. Prophecy becomes impossible because we cannot see how it is possible. Signs are lost because we are convinced there are no signs. God’s plans are obscured because we are told it’s all coincidence. And no miracles happen because we have no faith in them.
But if we have faith in God, if we believe, everything becomes possible. Miracles can and DO happen. Prophecies are true. Signs are given. God is real. Christ is real. And then we, like Simeon and Anna begin to see. We see God, and we see His hand in everything that happens. And suddenly, the heavens are revealed to us.
This is our goal as Christians. We are to forget what the world tells us is possible and impossible. We are to see, not with our eyes, but with our faith. And we are to grow our faith like a mustard seed, from something incredibly small into something massive. And we are to start TODAY.