First Mennonite Church
November 25, 2018
“Hearing God’s Word Afresh”
Text: Deuteronomy 18:15-22
In many Latin American, Asian and African evangelical churches there is a new office in the church leadership: prophets. I remember this issue being raised at a meeting of a national church convention in one Central American country. When the issue of identification cards for church leaders was being discussed, some leaders wanted ID cards not only for ordained pastors but also for “prophets.” Those advocating for ID cards for prophets said the card would serve as an official recognition by the national church that such person has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to be a prophet. Therefore, in many contexts, the rank of prophet is considered to be higher than that of other church leaders, including the pastor.
One Bible professor shared his story about his first encounter with this new trend when he volunteered to teach in one African country. He said that seminary students there were very interested in knowing how to distinguish between true prophets and charismatic charlatans. The professor said he sensed the students’ request to be a matter of urgency among them.
One student, a middle-aged, wise pastor, said that when he was young, a self-proclaimed prophet told him and a certain young woman that God wanted them to marry one another and that if they didn’t, they would die. “We looked at each other,” he went on, “and we said, ‘No, we’re not going to get married.’ We married other people and both of us are still alive.” The whole class laughed.
Many in our context today would easily brush away any thought about the importance of this topic. We would think of prophets as something of the past. We would think of prophets as those who predict the future. But we should be reminded that a prophet is Paul’s description in 1Corinthians that prophecy has to do with edification, exhortation and consolation (14:3). Therefore, when someone speaks and the church is edified, encouraged/exhorted, or comforted in the name of Christ, the one who speaks is doing the work of a prophet.
The passage for today in Deuteronomy 18 was a comforting message to ancient Israel. Moses was on his last phase of leadership or already dead and Israel needed assurance of continued access to the word of Yahweh. The question as to who would speak on behalf of God, was a life and death issue for Israel. Thus the assurance that “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people,” was a message of comfort. Along Israel’s history such people as: Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Huldah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc., gave evidence that God continued to make his voice heard in Israel. This promise, however, became a hopeful message especially when for a long period of time Israel did not have prophets. Then this passage came to be understood over the centuries as an eschatological promise. This new vision about the fulfillment of this promise during the messianic age gained clarity because Deuteronomy speaks about “a prophet” (prophet in the singular) and not a sequence of them.
Before we focus on how this passage can speak to us this Advent and Christmas season, let us be reminded of what are some evidences of a true prophet.
- The true prophet does not seek to be a prophet. Moses did not want to be a prophet. Jeremiah did not either. Jeremiah’s objection was that he was “only a boy” and could not speak. What is true however is that when God calls someone to speak on God’s behalf, the called one cannot avoid the call even if it is difficult to carry out. Moses, Jeremiah and not even Jonah could escape this call. Even when Elijah runs away, he cannot not escape God’s presence (1 Kings 19).
- The true prophet seeks neither self-promotion nor riches. Naaman, the Syrian, is healed of leprosy by Elisha’s word in 2 Kings 5, but Elisha will not accept any payment or gift. Many of the prophets put aside pride and dignity in order to communicate God’s message. Jeremiah enacted many of the messages God gave him. Isaiah walked naked in the streets of Jerusalem (Isaiah 20). Ezekiel had to lie on his side on the ground for weeks on end (Ezekiel 4).
- The true prophet speaks God’s word, not his or her own (Deuteronomy 18:18). Over and over again, the prophets declare, “Thus says the LORD.” And they most often speak words that are uncomfortable, both for the prophet to speak because he can get in trouble by doing so, and also uncomfortable for those to whom the message is directed. Even so, they also speak words of comfort and hope.
- Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Does the prophet (or preacher) lead others to be disciples of Jesus or of themselves? Does his or her preaching lead to repentance and transformation or to complacency and self-absorption?
As we begin to prepare ourselves for Advent, the season of expectation and raised hopes, let us open our heart to hear anew the word of God. Every year around this time, Christians make a deliberate effort to focus their heart on the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. I would like for us to hear afresh the words of John.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Let us open our heart to the true light. Let us recognize Christ as the only one through whom we can have eternal life. Let us receive him by believing in his name. Jesus is the Word God made human flesh in order to make us children of God. Let us open our eyes to see his face full of grace so that our lives might be filled with his light.
Jesus did not only speak the word of God, but he was the Word God made flesh. Jesus is greater than any of the prophets. He is the Living Word. This coming Advent season, let us clean our heart, let us make space in our cluttered lives and accept Christ and his word once again. Just as it happens in our homes, where we bring in things that are sometimes left untouched or used and only clutter our precious living space, so happens in our soul. There might be worries, fears, guilt, or anger. There might be lingering resentment, grief or anything that fills the soul to the point of having no space left for other things. This Advent Season, let us clean our heart and make space to receive Christ the Lord, once again. In your prayer, tell the Lord that he is not only welcomed in your life, but that he has the whole of it. Amen!
 See Ronald E. Clements, The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Deuteronomy, Abington Press Nashville (1998) 278-9. (The general conclusion of scholars is that the book of Deuteronomy was written in the sixth century BC, which would suggest that Moses was long ago dead)