Pastor Walther / Midweek Advent 1 / Jesus, the Ultimate Prophet / December 6, 2017 / Acts 3:17-24
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It was not too long after Pentecost that Peter and John were walking along when they were stopped by a man who was crippled from birth and was often carried to the temple gate in Jerusalem, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. Being crippled at that time was completely different from what it is today. You were practically left on your own to beg and ask for money. And so this man asked Peter and John for money. Not having much money, Peter instead helped this man up and in the name of Jesus commanded him to walk. Not only did he walk, but he jumped and skipped around, praising God for what had just happened. The people around were so amazed that Peter and John could do something like this. Peter gets straight to the point as he speaks to these Jews and said that it could never be from his own power, but only through Jesus, the prophet whom you killed. You can imagine the Jews responding to that, “Me? I didn’t know!”
That’s where Peter begins his sermon with our text for tonight. The Jewish people with their leaders acted in ignorance in the sense that they didn’t recognize who Jesus really was. Peter could totally relate because he too didn’t understand who Jesus really was. It wasn’t until he spent time with God’s word and with Jesus that he really began to get it. What the Jewish people were looking for was a messiah, someone to save them. They had heard about this messiah through God’s word.
In the meantime, God gave the nation of Israel prophets. A prophet was an ambassador that spoke for God. God spoke to prophets, and in turn, the prophets spoke God’s message to the people. The message, not the prophet, was the important thing. With prophets we begin to see the biblical conception of verbal inspiration. God was always the speaker, the prophets were always the instruments through whom God spoke.
Every Israelite was aware that there was a twofold test of a prophet’s authority, in other words, to see if he was legitimately from God or not. First, if a prophet predicted something that did not come true, the prophet was not from God. True prophets spoke words that came true. Second, if a message was in line with what God had previously revealed, the prophet was from God and his message was to be accepted. If the message was contrary to God’s Word, both the message and the prophet were to be rejected. This is really the same test that we should use when it comes to testing what a pastor or a church has to say about a biblical teaching.
But the job of a true prophet was not easy. Think about Isaiah. Isaiah did not have an easy job. He was to concentrate on the southern kingdom of Israel. The Southern Kingdom had become a calloused people. They had rejected the Lord, and his words announced by the prophet. The people consistently ran away from the Lord. Again and again the Holy Spirit warned the people that the cup of God’s wrath was full. Eventually, the nation of Israel as a whole would be swept away into captivity. When the nation would return, it would only be a remnant and would never again be a powerful nation. That was what Isaiah got to work with.
Think about Moses. Moses had to deal with a people that constantly were whining about what they had or didn’t have. Now Moses was considered by the Jews to be one of the greatest prophets and leaders that God had given to them. After all, Moses led the people through some of the most famous events in their history, plus he got to see God face to face! That’s why Peter quotes Moses in our text for today. This passage was well known by the Jews that Moses was talking about a very important prophet. They understood that he was talking about the messiah.
In fact, that’s what all the prophets did: they pointed to someone greater who was to come, a prophet who would save them. Moses promised that this prophet would be even greater than himself. Isaiah pictured the messiah as a prophet who would preach the good news to the poor. Ezekiel described the messiah as tending the flock, carrying out the prophetic function of preaching and teaching. But this one prophet would be different as Moses describes. Moses conveys the thought that no matter what this prophet may say, unquestioning obedience is demanded. Rejection of this great prophet meant that you would be cut off from God’s people, by the death penalty without forgiveness, to be cast out and rejected forever in final judgment. The threat could not be made stronger. Certainly all of God’s prophets had to be obeyed, even though they often weren’t; yet none of the other prophets were ever spoken of with such emphasis to obey him as much as this ultimate prophet.
Peter quotes Moses here to show people that Jesus was that prophet-Messiah that all of the other prophets pointed to. Now a lot of people didn’t understand this, especially when Jesus was alive. Popular Jewish belief did not think of the messiah as someone who would suffer. It still doesn’t. In fact, a supporter of present day Israel once said, “A messiah who suffers and dies cannot be Israel’s messiah.” How sad, especially because God foretold it and God fulfilled it and Jesus did suffer. Sadly, the rejection and unbelief continues still today for he the world. After all, who wants to be told that what they are doing is wrong? Does that sound familiar even in our own lives? Who want’s to be told that what they do in secrecy very openly led to Christ’s crucifixion? Instead the world turns to human reason and human virtue. The bible gets chalked up as old fashioned or bigoted or unscientific. But we see how absolutely fatal rejection of Christ’s message and unbelief really is.
Peter calls out their ignorance. But Peter shows that ignorance is innocence. The people could not be excused for disowning God’s prophet and killing Jesus. But Peter was leading into the thought that God in his grace had used their evil act for his good purpose. Through their ignorant actions, he accomplished what had to occur because his Word had prophesied it. They had refused the “pre-Cross” Jesus; now they were being offered a post-Resurrection Messiah. Our Gracious Lord was always ready to forgive their sins, if they repented.
Jesus is unlike any other prophet. Earthly prophets were anointed or called when God needed them. Jesus was a prophet at birth. Moses proclaimed and taught what he had received through direct communication with God, as did every other prophet. But, Jesus spoke his own words as THE Word of God. Moses announced, “This is what the Lord says.” Jesus could declare, “I say this!”
The proof was in the pudding! Five thousand people that Jesus fed with only a little bit of food acknowledged him as the one to come. Hearing Jesus quote the old testament with authority, people declared him that surely he must be a prophet. The palm Sunday crowds referred to Jesus as the prophet from Nazareth. Even a samaritan woman at the well acknowledged Jesus as a prophet. Nicodemus recognized Jesus as a teacher from God. After the crucifixion, the Emmaus’ disciples called him a prophet powerful in word and deed.
With an authority possessed by no previous prophet, Jesus could proclaim not only the good news that salvation had come but that is comes through him. In all his preaching and teaching, in his parables and private conversations, as he quoted OT scriptures with “it is written,” he was making it clear that it was all written to testify about him. He used the law in the service of the gospel, to expose the sin of the people who he wanted share the good news of God’s forgiving love through him. That for people who could commit such terrible sins, that no sin is too great to forgive. That even killing the ultimate prophet, Jesus, God’s forgiveness was for them too! Jesus primary message was the good news of the gospel.
As the ultimate prophet, Jesus continues to carry out his role through believers like you and me when we preach and teach God’s word to people. We get to point people to Christ and his work. We get to share the wonderful word of the ultimate prophet. We get to share the wonderful message at Christmas time, that God sent his son, the prophet-Messiah who came as a baby, to save us. Brothers and sisters in Christ, a child was given for us! God’s very own Son was given for us! Peace is now ours! In this season of advent, remember that your long awaited and ultimate prophet is here. Amen.