The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany January 29, 2012
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
126, 351, 767 [TLH alt. 466], 493
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Moses said], “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’”
In Christ Jesus, the Prophet who preaches peace to troubled, fearful hearts, dear fellow Christians:
Do you see your family as a blessing or burden, a trial or a treasure? Does it depend on the day? When it is working well, the family is a wonderful relationship providing love, support, and companionship for its members, but often it seems broken. Divorce has become the norm rather than the exception. Studies report that families rarely, if ever, sit down for a meal together. They may live together under the same roof, but each one goes his or her own way. In some cases the only time they speak with one another is to argue; and it is not just someone else’s family. Our own families do not always work the way we would like them to.
Is there a fix, or is the family broken beyond repair? There are all kinds of theories and programs, but the problem with many of them is that they ignore the inventor of the family. God designed the family and gave different roles to its members. He gave leadership authority to the husband and specifies that the wife is to respect and support him in that role. Children, according to the fourth commandment, are to honor and obey their parents as God’s representatives in their lives. When those unique roles are understood and filled as God intends, the family inter-relationships work much more smoothly for the wellbeing of everyone.
The same is true of our congregation—our spiritual family. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Is our family a blessing or burden? I pray that it will always be a great blessing. We want to cherish our spiritual family as a precious gift from God. The key is to understand and appreciate the different roles within our spiritual family and how they relate to each other. Our text speaks of three roles in particular, that of the Prophet, the preacher, and the people.
All three roles have a connection to authority in the family. That authority is essential. If no one is in charge and everyone does his own thing there is no order or coordination. The family then is not a unit, but just fragmented pieces.
In the family of Israel the Lord God was the ultimate authority. He decided when and how the people would leave Egypt and begin their journey to the promised land of Canaan. He used His power to force Pharaoh to his knees and release the people. He led the people with His presence in the pillar of cloud and fire.
But God’s authority also had a human face to it. He commissioned a man to represent Him before the people. He called Moses to be His prophet. A prophet is basically someone who speaks for someone else. Moses delivered the Lord’s ultimatum to Pharaoh and His words of encouragement to Israel. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments written on stone with the finger of God. He recorded the Lord’s words in what we know today as the first five books of the Bible.
Moses also served as a mediator between God and the people. At Mount Sinai God appeared in earth-shaking thunder, jagged lightning bolts, billowing clouds of smoke, and the ear-piercing blast of a trumpet. The people were terrified! They pleaded with Moses: “You speak to us, and we will listen. But please don’t let God talk to us directly, or we will die!”
Over the next 40 years Moses did exactly what the people has asked. He relayed messages from God to the people. He interceded on the people’s behalf. After their sin of worshiping the golden calf, Moses even offered that God could erase his own name from God’s book of life in order to spare Israel (cf. Exodus 32:31ff). Through Moses God communicated with His people so that there could be a family bond between God, Moses, and the people.
But there was someone else who would play a vital role in this spiritual family. Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.” [v.15] This Prophet, like Moses, would come from Abraham’s family, be called and sent by God, and would speak God’s Word. But He would also be different and greater than Moses. He would not just speak God’s Word, He would be the Word-made-flesh—God Himself incarnate!
Moses brought down God’s Law from Sinai and showed in a powerful way how the people had broken the Law by their idolatry. Moses smashed the two tablets of stone to bits when he saw the people worshiping the golden calf. At a later time by God’s direction, Moses made the bronze serpent and told those bitten by poisonous snakes to look at it and live. Moses was a preacher of both Law and Gospel.
But the promised Prophet would not just preach the Law and expose people’s sin, He would announce that He had come to keep the Law for people. He would not only preach of a Savior from the fatal sting of sin, He would announce that He was the one who would sacrifice Himself on the cross in place of mankind. Jesus is that one great Prophet who picked up where Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the other prophets left off. He would fulfill everything of which they spoke. He would take away the sin which stood between God and Israel.
The people were to respect Moses as a prophet of God who was preparing them for the coming of the Prophet, the Messiah. When they respected Moses, they respected God. If they questioned or rebelled against Moses, they were rebelling against God and straining the spiritual family ties.
What about today? The writer to the Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets….but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews. 1:1ff NIV). We have a special family relationship with God too. The Prophet has come. Jesus speaks to us in His Word whenever we read or hear it.
Just as God spoke to Israel through Moses, so Jesus sends prophets or preachers to personally speak for Him. They don’t come by their own choice. The Lord calls them. They don’t have the freedom to preach whatever they want. They are to speak nothing more and nothing less than the message Christ entrusts to them. Through Jeremiah the Lord says, “Let the prophet who has My Word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?…I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares’” (Jeremiah 23:28ff NIV). St. Paul wrote: “When I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16 NIV).
The well-being of our spiritual family depends on all of us recognizing our roles toward God and one another. I need to always remember my role as a prophet under Christ. There is no place for pride. I didn’t put myself here. I don’t have anything unique of my own to offer you. I am to faithfully proclaim the Word of Jesus. That is where the authority lies. It is that Word which creates and preserves our family. If I can’t or won’t preach, “Thus saith the LORD!” and instead base my message on popular opinion, on what I may think will bring in more members, on what common sense dictates, then our connection with God is in danger. Then we don’t have a solid foundation for faith and life.
God also has a role for you as hearers and that is to respect Jesus’ authority to speak in the words of the preachers He sends. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians: “When you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV).
The Lord wants to fill your life to overflowing with blessings, but if you ignore His Word because you don’t like the prophet He sent to deliver it, you miss the blessing. If you like to hear the messenger because it is interesting and makes you think, but you don’t believe that it really is from God, then you miss the blessing and invite judgment. Before Jesus sent out 70 disciples on a preaching tour, He told them: “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16 NIV).
The love, support, and fellowship of our spiritual family is a great blessing. Let’s cherish it by recognizing and respecting the authority of God Himself as He speaks to us through the Prophet of prophets promised by Moses, and through the earthly prophets Jesus sends.
God has all authority. He can unilaterally do whatever He wants without permission or cooperation from anyone else. Like a playground bully, He could have ordered the people of Israel to listen and follow Him just because He said so and would otherwise destroy them. But He wanted them to listen because He had wonderful, exciting plans in mind for them. He said, “Listen and follow me. I will be your God and you, of all the nations on earth, will be my special people! I will lead you into a land flowing with milk and honey and will drive out every enemy before you.” The people shouted, “All that the Lord has said, we will do!” (Exodus 24:3), but they didn’t. Instead, they worshiped idols, grumbled and complained, and when the Lord brought them to the border of Canaan and said, “Now go in.” they balked and refused. As a result, they spent the next 40 years wandering through the desert until all those who were 20 years old and above died.
Still, God did not totally abandon them nor did He write them out of His will for being ungrateful children. After the 40 years He brought them into Canaan and gave them the land. He also gave them something far better. He told them He would establish a new covenant with them. This would be different from the one made at Sinai which they had so quickly broken. This one would be completely one-sided. There would be no chance of it being broken because God would do everything. “I will be their God, and they will be my people…for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:33f NIV).
That tremendous covenant of forgiveness would be proclaimed, carried out, and sealed by the Prophet Jesus. Israel was the disobedient child who deserved punishment. Jesus was the perfect, obedient Son who took the punishment on Himself and so restored harmony within the family circle.
Through Jesus we have been adopted into the family as well. That is so remarkable because unlike Israel we had never been in the family. We are Gentiles who by nature were illegal aliens outside of God’s Kingdom: “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:12ff NIV).
Jesus is our mediator who gave Himself as the ransom for all people. He has made us acceptable to God by taking our guilt and giving us His righteousness. He wants us to listen to His preachers when they speak the Law of Moses so that we see our sinfulness and are led to repent. Most of all, He is eager for you to hear His voice of comfort when His prophet says, “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office as a called servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you. And in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Believe it! It is not my word or opinion. It comes with all the authority of God Himself. Rejoice in it! With those words the Father opens His arms wide to assure you of your place within the family circle. He loves you, has made You His own, and will never forsake you.
Let us then cherish our spiritual family bond with God and with one another! May we respect God’s authority to speak to us through His Son, the Prophet of prophets, and through the earthly prophets whom He sends. May we gladly hear with faithful hearts the message of forgiveness and life which the Lord speaks. Then that special family of the Prophet, the preacher, and the people will never be a burden, but an eternal blessing for us all! Amen.
Church of God, elect and glorious,
Holy nation, chosen race;
Called as God’s own special people,
Royal priests and heirs of grace:
Know the purpose of your calling,
Show to all His mighty deeds;
Tell of love that knows no limits,
Grace that meets all human needs. (WS 767:1)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.