Written by: Nkanyiso Zulu
Article source: JOY! Magazine
Over the last two issues of our series, we concluded with a question based on Deuteronomy 18:9-22. Who is the Prophet that is to come to show us how to worship God?
What is an ancestor?
Before we look at the answer to our question, let’s look at what an ancestor is. According to Africa Mhlophe, ancestors are people who have lived and died and from whom we can trace our lineage (ancestry). The Bible embraces ancestors as people who have existed (Leviticus 26:42-45), but not as people who after having died play any fatherly or motherly role in the lives of those who are alive today.
‘The dead know nothing’
Look at Ecclesiastes 9:4-5, “The dead know nothing.” This implies that the dead no longer have any knowledge of the living and/or any relationship with those who are still alive. Solomon even makes his point by using an illustration in verse 4 that a living dog is better than a dead lion – implying that a dead lion cannot protect or care for his or her young ones, but a living dog can.
Ancestors can’t provide protection
Thus, our beloved and long dead grandparents and family members who have died do not protect us or care for us – simply because they can’t. Since they are dead, and according to the Bible, they are either in joyful peace in heaven if they believed in Jesus and repented from their sins while they were still living (John 3:16-21) or are sorrowful in hell (Luke 13:5).
Given this understanding, the following questions will linger in some of our minds:
• How are we – as Christians and non-Christians from South African and African black backgrounds/communities who grew up being taught to worship our ancestors – to worship the God of the Bible, who calls us to worship Him alone?
• And, who is the Prophet who defines how God wants everyone (from all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages) who trusts in Him to worship?
For the answers to these questions, we will look at the Gospel of John and other letters in the Bible.
Answers in the Gospel of John
It’s important to note that the Old Testament was preparing the coming of Jesus. In the Old Testament, God was preparing His people – Israel – and the whole world (nations) for the coming of His Son in the New Testament (NT). This also means that the NT is a continuation of God’s story, from Matthew to Revelation.
Preparing the way
So, we read in John’s Gospel of John the Baptist who comes to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. He describes Jesus as one “whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27) and one who existed before he existed (John 1:15-30).
Pointing to Jesus
John the Baptist was asked if he was the Prophet whom God promised in Deuteronomy, and he said no he was not (John 1:19-23), but pointed to Jesus as the one who was. John continues to point his listeners and followers to Jesus in John 3:25-36 as the one God promised, through whom all people should worship Him.
No one else spoke like this
Jesus Himself speaks and says that the Father seeks worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-26). Everyone who hears His words (listens to Him, believes Him, and does what He says) and believes God who sent Him, will have eternal life (John 4:24). He says that the words He spoke are not His own, but the Father’s who is in heaven (John 14:10). This is the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 18:18. God the Father put His words in Jesus.
This makes Jesus and God the Father ‘equal’
Read John 1:1-4 and John 1:14. Jesus also says that Moses wrote about Him (John 5:39-46). Jesus claimed that He is God (John 10:32) and lastly, Jesus was worshipped by the blind man He gave sight to (John 9:38). We see God, saying of Jesus, that He is His Son with whom He is pleased and that they (Israelites) should listen to Him (Luke 9:35).
Therefore, when we read Deuteronomy 18:15, we understand that Jesus is the Prophet. Jesus is the one who now defines how God is to be worshipped. And God approves of Jesus because God sent Jesus to not only please God by living a perfect life for us, but also removing our sins by His death on the Cross. We are able to worship God when we believe Jesus’ death was for me and for you (John 12:32).
How are we to worship?
So, how are we as Christians to worship the God of the Bible, coming from a South African and African black community? We have grown up being taught to worship or give honour to our ancestors by sacrificing to them. Our answer can be found right in the Bible.
Jesus is our only mediator
In Hebrews 10:4 the writer says that the blood of goats and bulls will never take away our sins. In our culture we’re taught to sacrifice the blood of cows and goats to our beloved ancestors (as our mediators) and that this will please them (or may not, as one can never be certain). Yet, this will make them communicate/mediate to God for us, for our protection from evil. The Bible however says that this is not true because only the blood of Jesus protects us. Not just from evil (satan and his influences) but from God’s wrath because of our sins (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Only Jesus is our mediator before us and God (1 Timothy 2:5).
Trust in Jesus
Therefore, we are simply to trust Jesus to assure us of God’s protection from evil. Jesus taught His disciples to simply trust Him to mediate for us when we’ve wronged God. There is nothing that Jesus can’t do for us when we trust in Him. When we trust Jesus, God is pleased and therefore we worship Him.
In conclusion, this is what we have learnt from our series:
• Consulting the dead is not a new thing. It’s been happening even from the times of Moses. We’ve seen that God did not, does not, and will not approve it. No matter what culture you’re from – we should not embrace everything in our culture, and even more so when it comes to ancestral worship.
• If you’re a Christian and you say you believe Jesus and still consult the dead through diviners (Sangomas – amaXhwele, witch doctors, spiritual healers) you are sinning against our Father, but remember 1 John 2:1-2, there’s hope for you.
• If you’re not a Christian, and are also practicing ancestor worship, I would encourage you to find a relationship with God by believing Jesus’ death was for your sins also – that He is your only mediator.
Nkanyiso Zulu is a Durban-based writer for Living Legacy Movement. Visit livinglegacymovement.com for more resources.
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