This homily was preached on Wednesday during Evening Prayer.
The story of Jehoshaphat – he was one of Judah’s better kings early on who loved and feared the Lord and put down idol worship in his kingdom. As a result, God blessed him and the kingdom of Judah. But then, as so often happens, he started trusting in his position rather than trusting in God, so he had his son marry the daughter of the King of Israel in order to forge an alliance. Although this was a normal and often successful political move in regular politics, this was a dangerous entanglement for God’s faithful remnant; one that God’s Law did not permit. The consequences are recounted in 2 Chronicles 18.
Jehoshaphat gets dragged into a war alongside King Ahab of Israel. He’s not completely worldly in his thinking, though; he does seek out the advice of the prophets. And this is what I particularly want to focus on this evening: King Ahab has a whole company of 400 professional prophets who just so happen to tell him just what he wants to hear. King Jehoshaphat sees through this ruse, though, and insists that they consult a prophet of the Lord, rather than the Israelite King’s fanclub. Ahab begrudgingly summons Micaiah who always says bad things about him. It takes a couple tries, but King Jehoshaphat finally gets the truth out of Micaiah: pursuing this war will result in the death of King Ahab.
The irony here is heavy. Ahab does, on one level, know that Micaiah speaks the truth of God. Yet, even when Micaiah explains that Ahab is being tricked by his ‘professional prophets’ Ahab still chooses to believe them instead! He hears the truth, he even knows the truth, yet he rejects the truth. And as a result, he dies, just as predicted, even though he took measures to disguise himself to draw attention away from himself in battle.
The immediate lessons are very clear: the word of the Lord is trustworthy whether you like it or not. And yet, simply hearing his word is not always enough to change people. What else must be done in order to get through to such people?
At this point I’d like to turn to our reading from 2 Corinthians. In this part of the letter, St. Paul is defending his ministry as an Apostle to a gifted yet immature and rebellious church. Much like the Kingdom of Israel in the first reading, the Corinthians have access to valuable spiritual goods but have rejected them in favor of their own teachings and practices.
Just as the words of the prophet Micaiah demonstrated the irony of King Ahab’s inconsistencies, St. Paul also writes with a touch of ironic sarcasm. He write of the “foolishness” with which he is forced to boast of himself in order to remind them of his credentials. He reminds them that his mission was to proclaim the Gospel to them such that they would be a spotless bride for Christ. He reminds them that he did so at the expense of other churches just so he could get the point across that he was not one of those false prophets running around teaching crazy things. He reminds them that he has been laboring hard for them out of love, not out of hope of gain or glory.
The warning that St. Paul has is that there are fakers out there. There are “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” This should not be a surprise to anyone, he writes, because Satan himself uses the disguise of an angel of light. The very name Lucifer means “light-bringer.” It’s an ironic name because he brings a light that is not of God, but of evil.
I am not here to call out any false apostles in particular, this evening, only to deliver these warnings from Scripture that such people are out there as wolves among sheep. They’re not always obvious because they blend in on purpose. But they can be identified. Don’t look at their appearance or their style or their giftedness; all of that can be masked, practiced, and faked. Instead look for two witnesses: the word of God and their life. If someone’s words do not match the teaching of the Church, particularly as enshrined in Holy Scriptures, they are not to be entrusted with apostleship or prophecy. Likewise, if someone does not live as a Christian, they are not to be entrusted with any authority in the Church either. So I leave you with the words of St. Peter:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.