Epiphany Two| Rev. Rolf Preus| Sunday, February 11, 2001| Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Last Sunday we saw how Jesus stood on the Mountain of Transfiguration to be identified as the Prophet spoken of by Moses in the words of our text for today. Christians often speak of the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King. This morning our topic is the prophetic office of Christ. Jesus is the Prophet. God established the offices of prophet, priest and king in the ancient nation of Israel. When we think of an Old Testament prophet we think first of all of Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, or Law. Moses set the standard for all future prophets. The greatest Old Testament king was David. The first of the Old Testament priests was Aaron, followed by the men of the tribe of Levi. No man filled all three offices. Christ, the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, joined the three offices into one.
The Old Testament prophets were sent by God to speak his word, and frequently to write it down for future generations. This is where the Old Testament came from. The prophets had to speak according to what had already been spoken. Specifically, their word had to agree with the word written down by Moses. Anyone who didn’t agree with Moses was, by definition, a false prophet. The written word, what we today call the Bible, always had authority over the spoken word. Even as the Old Testament was being written – and it took about 1,000 years – what had already been written was the standard for the Old Testament church. God had spoken through Moses, and no prophet had better set himself up as Moses’ equal. It was through Moses that God gave the Law. It was through Moses that God gave the priesthood to the tribe of Levi. It was through Moses that God ruled his people. It was through Moses that he saved them from slavery in Egypt and led them finally to the Promised Land. And, although Moses died before entering the Promised Land, it was Joshua, Moses’ successor, who led the children of Israel after Moses’ death. The prophetic office of the Old Testament, from which God spoke to his people his holy word, was grounded in the office that Moses held. Whether it was Joshua, King David, Isaiah, Daniel, or any other Old Testament writer, their writings were accepted as God’s word precisely because they spoke as Moses spoke. You will search in vain for any contradiction between the teaching of Moses and the teaching of any other Old Testament writer. That is not to say that there weren’t false prophets who dared to contradict Moses. But their writings don’t survive.
For 1400 years, the word of Moses was the standard by which all prophets were to be judged. As Isaiah said to the church of his day when they had fallen into the occultic practices of the heathen, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Is 8:20) But for 1400 years the people of God waited for the Prophet who would replace Moses. It was Moses’ express command that God’s people listen to this Prophet. They remembered that when God spoke directly from Sinai, the voice and the fire were unbearable. God would send another Prophet whose words they could bear, whose voice they could hear, who would not speak death, but would speak life to them. Moses promised such a prophet. He said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” The prophet’s name is Jesus.
Jesus says, in John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” The apostle Peter applies the words of our text directly to Jesus in Acts 3. Jesus is the Prophet to replace Moses, and Moses himself foretold that it would happen. This is one reason why Moses was on the Mt. of Transfiguration with Jesus: to show the world that Moses identifies Jesus as his replacement.
Jesus is the Prophet. Everything that Moses wrote finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Much of the confusion today over prophets and prophecy could be avoided if we would keep this in mind. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes it quite plain: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.” Jesus is the final prophet, the fulfillment of all prophecy. Listen to him, Moses said. Listen to him, God the Father said from heaven. Listen to Jesus. No one else. Jesus said to his apostles, whom he chose as the first pastors of his church, “he who hears you hears me, and he who hears me hears him who sent me.” So if we are to listen to Jesus, only to Jesus, we will listen to the men who have given us the New Testament. Listen to them and you will be listening to Jesus.
In Moses, we have the first of a long list of prophets including Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, and so forth. All these prophets spoke the Law of Moses. But they also spoke of the Prophet to come. When we listen to Moses, we hear of our sin and guilt and God’s verdict of damnation. It is as John says, The law came through Moses. When we listen to Jesus, we hear of our life, our righteousness, and God’s verdict of justification. It is not as if Moses did not speak of the good news, or the gospel, he did! He spoke of Jesus. And it is not as if Jesus did not speak the law, he did, in fact more powerfully than Moses did. But it is as John says, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Through Moses God gave to us the greatest law given by God to men. Who has ever improved on the Ten Commandments? Jesus adds no law to the Law of Moses. He preached the Law of Moses, he insisted that not one word of Moses would be discarded until all things were fulfilled. And then he fulfilled the Law of Moses.
The very idea that there could be another prophet after Jesus is a flat rejection of the whole Bible. Everything written by the prophets was to prepare for that final word from God, the word that came from the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. Some years ago I was reading a very good book on the cults by a Baptist minister named Walter Martin. In opposing the Book of Mormon, Martin quite correctly compared its teachings with the teaching of the Bible and showed how the book of Mormon was false. But he did leave open the possibility that God would send another prophet. Nonsense! I don’t even have to read the Book of Mormon to know that it isn’t the word of God. God has spoken to us by his Son. Case closed. He has spoken. Listen to him! There is no more to be said. The so-called “prophet” Muhammad is a fraud and so is the religion of Islam. I say so without having read the Koran, because God has spoken to us by his Son. He is the Prophet. We are to listen to him. That’s how I know that Joseph Smith was also a fraud, along with Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen White, and every other person who claims to speak directly from God.
One thing you can be sure of. Whenever people make claims that they have a direct hot line to God, that they can speak words supplied directly by God, they will lead you away from God’s grace in Christ. It is always the way it happens. The most obvious case today is the so called Charismatic Movement whose advocates – often calling themselves Pentecostals – claim to be able to speak in tongues and receive direct messages from God. They invariably direct people away from Christ, his suffering and crucifixion, and the full forgiveness that he freely gives, and point people instead to so called gifts within themselves. In this way the Charismatics can promote a spiritual self-indulgence and claim that it comes from the Holy Spirit; they can advocate a spiritual self-centeredness and call it finding their spiritual gifts. Every cult and sect which has risen in this country – and there have been hundreds of them – has risen because people don’t know or believe that Jesus is the final prophet and that therefore the NT is God’s final word. If we are to protect ourselves and our children from the spiritual tyranny and manipulation which comes from the voices of today’s false prophets we must impress on our hearts and minds the words of Moses about Jesus, You must listen to him.
Jesus is different from every prophet who came before him. Consider Jeremiah. God put his words into Jeremiah’s mouth, as we see in today’s Old Testament Lesson. But Jesus is the Word made flesh. He spoke God’s word as God’s Word. Jesus’ words are higher and holier than any words ever spoken. There is nothing more exalted than the words of Jesus, yet these words come to us in our humble despair. They are words that bring us glory, even in our deepest shame. They are, quite literally, words of life. As Jesus speaks to us, he gives his life to us and his life is then our life. It was God’s word that caused Mt. Sinai to shake. It was God’s word that frightened those people away, so that they didn’t want to hear it any more. No more threats, they cried, no more death, no more punishment. Speak to us God, but speak kindly, and bind up our wounds, and cover our sins, and gently draw us to you so that we can hear your voice and not have to hide.
God answered their prayer, and ours. He sent the Prophet. From among his brothers, he was made to be like us in every respect, except that he was without sin, and yet, in being like us, he remained the almighty and everlasting God. He is the one who speaks to us. It is no burden to listen to his word. Those who toil in the vineyard all day long think that going to church is a real chore. Those who come to church to find Jesus see that the time passes too quickly for them. His word removes our burdens from us. There is no threat in his voice. His voice rather tells us that he has taken on himself the threats of the law, paid for our sins in full, and speaks the absolution to us. We listen to him and to him alone, and in our listening, we receive our lives, for he speaks to us with true authority, the authority he alone has to give us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Forgiveness, because he paid for our sins; life, because he rose from the dead; salvation, because he has rescued us from our enemies. He is our Prophet, and we seek no other. We look to his word as we run the race of our Christian life, and we gain the prize, the incorruptible and imperishable crown of everlasting life that Jesus won for us freely gives to us. Amen.