Listening to Prophets

This essay is prepared in the form of an adjustable length talk.

I. INTRODUCTION

When we listen to a prophet's voice there are several things we can expect to hear. The same things we should expect to hear are the things we should take special care to remember. They are the things we should study when we read what prophets have said in the past. The five things we should focus on and expect are:

1. The Prophetic Witness or Testimony of Christ.

2. The Call to share and act in the love of Christ.

3. Call to repent of our sins.

4. Prophetic warnings of (a) particular sins and (b) specific dangers.

5. Changes in procedure or course appropriate to our time.

II. THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST

The scriptures reflect, contain and record that all of the prophets have testified of Christ and have rejoiced in him. Paul goes so far as to say that the testimony of Christ is the Spirit of Prophecy. Central to being a prophet is what is known as "the prophetic witness" -- a testimony and knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is the core of the plane of salvation, the only name by which man can be saved and the good news of the gospel -- which is the gospel or church of Jesus Christ, and no other.

This prophetic testimony or witness of Christ has three parts. First, that Christ is real, he exists, he lives. "And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony last of all which he give of him: that he lives!" [Add examples as time permits. Isaiah, Stephen, Nephi I and Nephi III, etc.]

In every age the prophets have testified that the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ, is real, that he lives, and that he is living water with a tangible presence and true certainty.

The second part of the testimony of the promised Messiah is that he is the path of salvation. If there was no salvation, an anointed Savior would be meaningless. Christ's reality has meaning to us because he is not only the author and finisher of our faith, but because our faith in him leads to salvation. "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but to redeem the world." "That whosoever believeth on him, though he were dead, yet shall he live."

The good news or gospel is that there is a Christ and that he can save us.

The third part of a prophet's testimony of Christ is the command to be like him. As Howard W. Hunter said on October 1, 1994 "I invite all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ ..." "Let us study the Master's every teaching and devote ourselves more fully to his example."

III. THE LOVE OF CHRIST

The second message a Prophet brings, after the prophetic witness of the reality of Christ, is the message that we should and must receive and act in the love of Christ. In the New Testament we have Paul's sermon on Charity in 1 Cor. 13 "the greatest of all" [expand as time permits].

In the Book of Mormon we have the sermon captured in the 7th chapter of Moroni [expand as time permits]. Modern prophets have told us to be like Christ

"especially the love and hope and compassion he displayed. I pray that we will treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more forgiveness." (Hunter, Oct. 1, 1994)

The love that leads to forgiveness is essential to salvation. God has warned us that if we fail or refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us, he will not forgive us of our sins. He has also said "I will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men."

Further, the Christ said "by this may men know that ye are my disciples, that ye love one another." To be saved, to follow, to become disciples, we must have the love of Christ within our hearts. [expand as time permits]. Prophets teach us of Christ and then they teach us of love that we may come unto Christ and be his true disciples.

IV. THE CALL TO REPENTANCE

After teaching us of the reality of Christ and of his love, prophets next call us to repentance for our sins -- and call us to repent of our sins.

"To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. The path of repentance, though hard at times, lifts one ever upward and leads to a perfect forgiveness." (Howard W. Hunter, October 1, 1994. [note, that while President Hunter gave variations of that talk several times, the third and last delivery is by far the most complete]).

Not only do prophets call us to repent of sins generally, at times they call on us as a people to repent of specific sins. For example ... Isaiah and Ezra Taft Benson both warned in detail against pride. Nephi and Jeremiah preached against rebellion. Malachi was sent to preach about the failure to tithe. Abinadi was sent to call people -- especially the governing establishment -- to repentance from gross debauchery.

Elijah warned the people against the worship of false idols. Jacob denounced the love of riches and immorality. [expand on list as time permits.]

As King Benjamin noted, the ways of sin are endless. But each age seems to have its favorite sins. Each age seems to grow comfortable with some sins, and as that happens, God sends us warnings when the familiar is still sin even though we have now embraced it as comfortable and normal.

V. THE VOICE OF WARNING

Prophets also cry out warnings to the people. That is the fourth thing they teach. Some times they warn us of sins. There are times when their warning passes "just" the call to repentance, times when we come close to crossing the edge where our sins prevent agency and cry out for destruction from God.

At that time, God sends prophets first, to warn us. We are all familiar with the story of Jonah who warned Ninevah. We all know of the attempted warning of Sodom and Gomorrah. [expand as time permits] We all know of Noah who preached warning continually -- all the while building the ark against the failure of his warnings.

Finally, we have the story of Lehi who warned Jerusalem and then fled with his family. Thus prophets not only call on us to repent of sin in general, but they also warn us when our sins are about to bring about our destruction.

Prophets also warn us of other dangers. The Word of Wisdom warns against tobacco. Jeremiah warned against military alliance with Egypt. Joseph gave warning of seven years of famine in Egypt. [expand as time permits]. Prophets have warned against many other dangers, from encouraging food storage prior to the great depression, to the prophecies about the end of time. Prophets are indeed watchmen to warn the people as the scripture states.

VI. PROPHETIC CHANGES

Last of the five things prophets teach us, prophets tell us of changes in the way things are or the way things are to be done. This message is the thing most people notice about prophets and the thing most people look to be told. I have left it last in my talk because it is the least important of the five messages prophets bring.

Christ is the core of the gospel.

Following the message of Christ is the message of his love, without which we are as hollow brass or vain noise, without hope.

Third is repentance and laying hold of the love of Christ and remission of sins.

Fourth is heeding the voice of warning lest we be destroyed.

Finally, we have procedural revelation about how things are to be done. In Moses' time that included the ten commandments and not eating pork, rabbits, lobster, shrimp or catfish. It included limiting the Priesthood only to the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi.

In Paul's time that included not eating meat butchered at pagan temples (in order to avoid offending members of the Church who were unable to accept the practice) and allowing gentiles to be baptized into the Church. [expand as time permits]

In our recent time changes have included the consolidated meeting schedule, extending the priesthood to all worthy men, and the reorganizations in church administration. It will undoubtedly include many more things we do not yet even expect and which take us aback at first. After all, when Peter was told to "arise and eat" and partake of food such as pork, rabbit, lobster and shrimp, he drew back and remonstrated with the Lord.

When gentiles were baptized, it caused a scandal. No doubt as time and needs change, God will surprise us again. And he gives us prophets so that we may know that these surprises are the mind and will of God.

VII. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we know that when prophets speak, we can expect to hear them tell five messages.

Those five are:

1. The testimony of Christ, that he is, that he is the path to salvation, and that we should be like him.

2. The love of Christ, both that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, and that we should love one another.

3. That we must repent and return to Christ and his love.

4. Specific warnings for our time, and

5. Revelations regarding changes for our times.

These are the things we should remember from past prophets as we read their messages in the scriptures. These are the things we should look to hear and learn from when we listen to modern prophets. And these are the things we should retain when we come away from hearing the voice of God, for these are the message of the gospel that God gives us through his prophets.

I leave you with this, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.



cf 1 Corinthians 12:3

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