I enjoy a good showdown. Be it a theological debate about the existence of God, or a football game between two rivals, I love everything about the scenario: the anticipation, the conflict, the struggle, etc.
The Bible is full of such showdowns. Elijah and the prophets of Baal immediately come to mind, as well as the temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of His ministry. Yet there is one lesser-known showdown in Jeremiah 28 in which the prophet Jeremiah squares off against another so-called "prophet" named Hananiah.
Jeremiah brought a dire warning to the people: unless God's people repented, Jerusalem would be destroyed, most of the people would die, and everyone else would be taken into captivity by Babylon. Hananiah, also claiming to be a prophet of the Lord, had a more optimistic and appealing message. In two years, God would miraculously deliver the people from their plight, and the rightful king of Judah would be restored.
Place yourself in the front row seats of this prophetic showdown. Who would you believe and support? The message of hope only through repentance, or the message of hope without it? If we're honest, the answer is the latter, and we'd be wrong to do so. Only Jeremiah spoke for the Lord, and Hananiah died soon after his so-called prophecy.
The entire episode teaches us something not only about ourselves, but also the nature of a truly prophetic ministry.
First, there will always be an audience for "prophets" willing to say what people want to hear. Hananiah had no trouble drumming up support for his message, and that should come as no surprise. The same is true today for many who give their listeners what they are eager to hear about God, yet they do not actually speak for Him.
Second, if such a "prophet" has built an audience on easy-to-swallow news, the burden falls on him or her to be proven right as things come to pass. True prophets are backed by experience, so experience is required in order to validate one who claims to be a prophet.
But third, and arguably most important, the entire episode shows us that the core of a truly prophetic ministry is that the prophet properly deals with sin and its consequences. That is, he calls out sin for what it is, warns of its consequences, and urges people to repent.
Which begs the question: What kind of prophets are you listening to? Those that would tickle your ears, or pierce your hearts?