December 20, 2005

Advent 2005: Jesus Our Prophet

Category: Bible :: Permalink

Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Jeremiah 1:4-10
(December 18, 2005, Advent Sermon)

[For much of this sermon, I’m indebted to James Jordan’s From Bread to Wine and to Peter Leithart‘s sermons in April and May 2004.]

During much of Israel’s history, there were priests and kings and prophets at the same time. But different offices come to prominence in different stages in Israel’s history: first priests, then kings, then prophets. Prophets are prominent in the divided kingdom, at the time of the exiles of Israel and Judah, and after the return from exile.

Priests are God’s housekeepers, obligated to be obedient servants who hear and obey. Kings are greater than priests. They aren’t just under authority; they exercise authority. They are to be wise and glorious rulers who give themselves for God’s people. But prophets are greater than kings.

Understanding this development in Israel’s history helps us understand what it means that Jesus is priest, king, and prophet. It also helps us understand God’s goals for our lives as He brings us through the stages of life toward maturity in Christ’s image.

We often think of prophets as people who predict the distant future, and some do. Daniel talks about events that would take place long after he died. But more often, prophets talk about the near future (cf. Deut. 18:21-22). Jeremiah talks about the exile, which took place in his lifetime.

But the future is not the prophet’s primary focus. He may talk about the future or the past, but his focus is on the present. Prophets speak God’s Word to people in the present about their present responsibilities. Abraham is a prophet, but he doesn’t speak very much about the future. Moses speaks about the future briefly at the end of Deuteronomy, but that isn’t the limit of his prophetic work. His main work as a prophet was giving God’s Law to Israel.

In fact, sometimes when prophets talk about the future, what they say doesn’t happen. Jonah announces Nineveh’s destruction in forty days, but Nineveh repents and that destruction doesn’t happen. The future Jonah announced wasn’t fixed; it was contingent upon how Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message. When Nineveh repented, the Lord relented and didn’t do what He had said He would.

Prophets, therefore, do not simply predict what’s going to happen in the future. They speak about the past, too, and they focus on the present. But prophets also do not simply speak to people. They aren’t simply God’s messengers to men. Prophets also speak to God. Prophets intercede (cf. Gen. 20:7).

In the Bible, a prophet is a member of God’s court, God’s Council. In eternity, that Council consisted of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Adam was created to be a junior member of that Council, but his sin cut him off from it. But God was determined to have men in His Council.

Prophets are not mere message boys. They are men who stand in His council (cf. Jer. 23:18-22). God doesn’t act without telling His secret plans to them (Amos 3:7). But He doesn’t always allow them to reveal His plans to men. Why does He tell His plans to the prophets if they aren’t allowed to report them? So that they can talk to Him about them.

Abraham hears God’s plans for Sodom and Gomorrah and challenges God to do what is right (Gen. 18:16-33). Moses hears that God intends to destroy Israel and he argues with God until He relents (Ex. 32:11-14). Amos hears God’s plans to bring judgment and pleads for Jacob until Yahweh relents (Amos 7:1-6).

Prophets may be young, but they are mature men, men whom God wants as His counsellors, to hear His plans, sometimes to challenge them, and then sometimes to announce the decision of the Council. As Council members, prophets function sometimes as God’s prosecutors, announcing God’s lawsuit against His people, and sometimes as defence attorneys, appointed by God to plead His people’s case.

Unlike priests and kings, the prophets do almost everything by the authority of their words. Their words are God’s words, placed in their mouths (Jer. 1:9) and they have His power. They don’t simply announce the future; they bring it about by their words. They destroy and build by their words (Jer. 1:10). Their words bring God’s judgment to tear down an old world and then plant a new world.

Jesus’ baptism was His anointing as a prophet. He announced the coming of God’s kingdom and called people to repent. By His Words and actions, He inaugurated that kingdom. People recognized Him as a prophet (or sometimes dishonoured Him as a prophet). People saw Him as a new Moses bringing about a new exodus. Stephen identified Jesus as the prophet like Moses, promised in Deuteronomy 18 (Acts 7:37; cf. John 6:14; 7:20).

Jesus is a Council member as the Word who is God, the Son who is in the Father’s bosom (John 1:1-18). He is the Father’s closest counsellor and therefore He is the one who reveals the Father in everything He does and says. And the Father always listens to Him (John 11:42). He is the defence attorney and He is also the Father’s prosecutor, bringing wrath on the Father’s enemies.

As a prophet, Jesus went to die in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). He was rejected as a prophet, but God raised Him again and confirmed His words. By His death and resurrection, Jesus brought about a new creation in the midst of the old creation, a new covenant and then the end of the old.

Jesus is still our prophet. He is the fully mature man (with white hair: Rev. 1) who stands in God’s Council, who upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), who intercedes for us, who makes petitions before God’s throne, and who speaks God’s words to us through His messengers, words with the power to kill and make alive.

Jesus has given to us His life so that we share in His anointing as a prophet. In one sense, there are no more prophets. No one today is inspired as Moses or Jeremiah were. In another sense, however, all of us are prophets, as Moses desired (Num.11:29) and Joel promised (2:28-29) because Jesus has poured out His Spirit on His church (Acts 2), on all who are baptized into it (2:38-39).

All of us are Council members in Christ. Jesus calls us His “friends” (John 15:14). In the Bible, a king’s “friend” is not his buddy; he’s his counsellor (cf. Abraham: 2 Chr. 20:7; James 2:23; cf. 1 Kings 4:5; 2 Sam. 15:32-17:15; 1 Chr. 27:33). All of us who have been baptized into Christ are now Jesus’ “friends” and God’s, members of God’s Council.

We get to hear God’s plans, though not in detail. We learn from His Word what His plans are in the world so that we can interpret things that happen and reveal who God is to each other and to people around us. More than that, God also listens to us. He invites us to intercede, to present petitions. And He acts in response to us and He acts through us, through our deeds but also through our words. When we speak His Word, that Word is powerful to comfort, rebuke, judge, condemn, tear down and plant.

But the Bible also shows us prophets as mature men. Children are like priests. Middle-aged people are like kings. But older people are like prophets. When you’ve worked at a job long enough to become the boss, you rule often by your words. Generals speak a word and send armies to war.

Men of experience and wisdom are prophets in this sense. They’ve been through trials and temptations and can help younger Christians with them. They have a sense of plot and can help people see where they fit in the story. They’ve had to die as priests and kings and God has raised them in greater glory, and so they can assure others that, if they’re faithful, their crises and “deaths” — in their work, their marriages, their relationships — will lead to more glorious resurrections. Because of their wisdom and experience, their words have weight and open up new possibilities for the future.

But there are temptations that older people face. It’s possible to become set in one’s ways and to resist all change instead of using mature wisdom to see where change is necessary. People sometimes figure that because they are old they can retire from serving in Christ’s church and so they don’t help the younger Christians around them. It’s possible to grow old without having learned to die and rise again and so to become bitter and cranky. It’s possible to grow old without any wisdom to pass on.

But Christ came to be our prophet, to reveal God, to intercede for us, to establish the New Creation and new covenant. He came to imprint the pattern of His life on us, to make us priests who are obedient servants, kings who are wise rulers, and prophets who are mature members of God’s council, who say things God listens to, whose words change the world for God’s glory.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:55 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply