Deuteronomy 18: 15 - 19
Here’s an employment ad you may find interesting: “Spokesman needed for international firm. No experience necessary, no education required. Must between 20-85 years old. Full- or part-time. Exciting job with lots of travel. Must be willing to move often, sometimes in the middle of the night. Must be comfortable speaking to large crowds. Will meet often with the CEO who will brief you on what to say to the public. Important that you be able to move in all circles of society – from the highest to the lowest. Good vocabulary a must, ability to speak in colourful images a big plus. Job entails unusual diet, including locusts and wild honey. Must look good in sackcloth and ashes. Unlimited opportunitiy for advancement. Low pay but the benefits are out of this world. Must be willing to endure ridicule, persecution, slander, and occasional beatings. This job carries only one significant negative aspect: Make one mistake and you will be stoned to death.” Any takers?
This describes the biblical role of the prophet. The test for a biblical prophet was 100% accuracy. Make one mistake and you would be stoned to death.
1. Stoned to Death
That’s why prophecy was not a growth industry in ancient Israel. It was a risky way to make a living. Today prophecy is big business–and not nearly so risky.
Every day millions of people read their horoscopes, hoping to find guidance for the future. Hundreds of millions of rands are spent every year on astrologers, fortune-tellers and spirtists. Self-proclaimed New Age gurus travel from city to city peddling their brand of high-tech mysticism.
Which brings us to Deuteronomy 18. In this passage Moses speaks to the people of Israel warning them against false prophets and promising that God would raise up a prophet like him from the midst of the people. He also explained the tests they should apply to distinguish true and false prophets.
A. Word of warningv. 9 – 14.
Words could hardly be clearer. God detests witchcraft, sorcery, divination and every form of fortune-telling. God’s word here is precise, pointed, and penetrating. The people of God must utterly and completely separate themselves from every form of divination. This completely rules out everything from astrology to using a psychic to black magic, superstition, consulting a Oija Board, using Tarot cards, palm-reading, Satanism, crystal balls, and so on. All of it is completely forbidden to Christians. These things are marks of paganism.
B. 2 Tests of a True Prophet
But many people claim to bring messages from God? How can we tell when the person speaking is truly from God?
i. The test of truth v. 20. A true prophet speaks the true words of God. That means you must check out a prophet’s words against the true Word of God, the Bible. His words must match both the letter and the spirit of the Bible. If anything he says contradicts the Bible in any way, forget it. That man (or woman) is not from God.
ii. The test of accuracy v. 22. The test is simple. Check out his prediction against the actual results. If what he says comes true, then you can be confident he is a true prophet of God. If not, you can ignore him because he is not speaking for God.
2. A Spokesman for God
Word “prophet” - literally - “one who speaks on behalf of another.” Biblical prophets -“one authorised to speak on behalf of God.” So when Isaiah spoke, he could claim divine authority for his words. He was literally acting as God’s spokesman. That’s why his words had to be 100%. As long as he spoke only for himself, he could make any number of mistakes. But when he claimed to speak for God, he had no margin for error. A biblical prophet had 2 primary functions:
A. He delivered God’s message to his own generation.
The prophet upheld God’s righteousness and condemned injustice of every variety. The prophets often dealt with social issues. They dealt with problems of immorality and revealed the standards of God’s holiness. They dealt with the problems of drunkenness and condemned the overuse of wine. They condemned the oppression of the poor, the fatherless and the widow. They condemned unjust extortion and interest rates, and taxation where it was not due. They condemned greed. They condemned businessmen for using false weights and improper balances. Because of the bold denunciation of sin, the prophets were often very unpopular. Many were hated and persecuted and some were put to death.
B. He predicted the course of future events.
The prophets predicted the rise and fall of nations, the outcome of military battles, and the coming judgment of God on disobedient kings. Sometimes their predictions were immediately fulfilled, but often centuries would pass before the predicted events would occur. But in every case, the prophets were held to the strict standard of 100% accuracy. This meant that often the prophets themselves would not live to see their words fulfilled, leaving them mocked by their contemporaries but vindicated by time.
3. A Prophet Like Moses
In Deuteronomy 18, God promises through Moses to raise a line of godly prophets in Israel. That line would culminate in one person – v. 15. Moses was the first and greatest of all the OT prophets since he spoke with God face to face and because he was the man God used to work the great miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness. No other prophet after his time would approach his greatness. Other notable men would arise: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi, to name only a few. These men ably fulfilled the twin roles of denouncing sin and predicting future events.
You may ask what connection all this has with Christmas or with the larger sermon series on Christ in the OT. Actually there is a strong connection because the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 speaks of a prophet who will have characteristics: 1. He is raised up by God (he has a divine calling), 2. He will be like Moses (having intimate knowledge of God), 3. He will be from among the people (an Israelite), 4. He will speak with divine authority (as a result of these factors).
4. “Are You the Prophet?”
The Jews had always understood that this prophecy would one day be fulfilled by the coming of “the Prophet” who would either come just before Messiah or would in fact be the Messiah. That expectation helps explain the dialogue between the Jews and John the Baptist in John 1: 19 - 21.
The same thing happened to Jesus himself. When he performed the miracle of feeding the 5000, the crowd responded - John 6: 14. Later when he spoke to the multitudes at the Feast of Tabernacles - John 7: 40.
Jesus and his antagonists debated his credentials to be the Messiah. At the end Jesus summarises his position by referring them to Moses - John 5: 46. But where did Moses write about Christ? There are several possible answers, but none more obvious than Deuteronomy 18.
5. The Emmaus Road Bible Conference
Let’s run the tape forward to the evening of Easter Sunday. Jesus suddenly appeared to the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognise him – Luke 24: 17 - 19. When Jesus revealed his true identity, he called them foolish for failing to believe all that the prophets had spoken – v. 27.
6. Moses and Jesus
Let’s consider Moses and Jesus and see if Jesus is indeed a prophet “like Moses.”
Raised up by God Sent by God
Spoke to God face to face At the Father’s side
From the people Son of Mary, legal son of Joseph
Performed miracles Performed miracles
Gave the law Brought grace and truth
The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Jesus is the Prophet like Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18. He is the ultimate fulfillment of a promise made 1500 years before his birth. Only one question remains. What does this fulfillment signify for us today?
7. Why should it matter to us today?
A. He Declares the True Word of God
When Christ finished the Sermon on the Mount, his hearers commented that he spoke “as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7: 29). When I preach a sermon, I have to back up what I am saying. I have to because I have no authority in my own power to teach the things of God. But Jesus needs no footnotes! He has divine authority as the heaven-sent Prophet of God.
Consider 5 statements about his words. 1. He claimed divine authority for his words. 2. He said his words would bring eternal life. 3. He declared that his words would not pass away. 4. He ordered his words carried around the world. 5. He said that the ultimate destiny of men and women depended on their response to his words.
These are not the statements of religious leader. Only a Prophet of God can make such claims for himself. Therefore, when he speaks, we must listen because he speaks the true words of God.
B. He Diagnoses the True Human Condition
Mark 7: 20 - 23. Jesus explained why men turn away from the truth even when it stares them in the face: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3: 20). There is something evil inside every human heart that makes us instinctively hate the light and love the darkness. We turn away from the truth because it exposes the darkness inside.
Because Jesus is the True Prophet of God, he understands the secrets of the human heart. Nothing is hidden from him. Though men cover their sin with a thin veneer of religion, it doesn’t fool Christ for a second. He sees through the sham, exposes the sin, and calls it what it really is. He knows the truth and he declares the truth, even when his words are sure to offend his hearers.
C. He Predicts the True Course of Future Events
Most of us realise that Jesus made certain specific predictions regarding his 2nd Coming–he described in some detail the moral condition of the world in the Last Days, the attacks on Israel, and rise of false religion, and his own return to the earth. Since these events are yet future to us, we cannot check them for accuracy. However, Jesus made specific predictions that were fulfilled in his lifetime or shortly thereafter. These we can check for accuracy.
1. He predicted that one of his inner circle would betray him - Fulfilled by Judas. 2. He predicted his crucifixion - Fulfilled on Good Friday in Jerusalem. 3. He predicted his resurrection - Fulfilled on Easter Sunday in Jerusalem. 4. He predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit - Fulfilled at Pentecost. 5. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem - Fulfilled in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.
Once again, we see that our Lord passes the test with flying colours. Everything he predicted came true exactly as he predicted it. This is precisely what we would expect of the True Prophet of God.
When a Prophet Speaks
Let’s go back one final time to Deuteronomy 18. When Moses promised a “prophet like me,” he added this important phrase: “You must listen to him.” He also added a warning from God: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him into account.” When a prophet speaks, you only have 2 choices:
1. Listen to what he says or 2. Disregard his words
There are no other options. If you say, “I’m going to think about it,” that’s really the same as disregarding him. If Jesus is the Prophet of God, then each person must either listen or disregard his words. You have to make a choice. There can be no neutrality about Jesus. You are either with him or against him. You either follow him or you ignore him. What is your verdict about Jesus? Is he really the Son of God? Can you stake your life on his words?
I urge you to consider the claims of Christ upon your life. Is Jesus really the Son of God? If he is, then you can do nothing less than give him your heart. Crown him King of your life and join the millions who willingly worship him this Christmas as Saviour and Lord.