18/02/2014

The Prophetic Office of Christ

‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen’ 
(Deuteronomy 18:15).

Introduction   
    B. B. Warfield famously compared the Old Testament to a fully furnished but dimly lit room. The New Testament, he said, is the floodlight for illuminating the Old. New Testament light doesn’t add to the room, but it reveals clearly what was already there. All the chairs, tables, sofas, fireplaces and armchairs of Christian truth are present in the darkness of the Old Testament room, you can just about make them out, you can see the dark outlines, the shadows and the shapes, but it is all rather dark, gloomy and mysterious. But you need the light of the Gospel in order to see. For many the Old Testament is a baffling collection of outlandish names and obscure events. This has tragically led many to reject the Old Testament, to cast it aside in favour of the New. The problem, however, does not reside in the clarity or sufficiency of the Old Testament, but with the blindness of man by nature. You remember the message that Isaiah was given by God to preach: ‘Go and say this to the people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ This is a description of fallen man by nature. Man’s deepest problem is his refusal to know and love God. Since the fall our understanding has been darkened by sin. Men hear and see but they don’t understand and perceive. Our insight has been corrupted by selfishness. We are spiritually blind. We lack the eyes to faith to perceive the invisible things of the kingdom of God. We are deaf to the great truths of God’s Word. Since the fall this has been the sorry state of man. There is a deep darkness in heart of man, a darkness that consumes him, veils his sight, and blinds him to the things of God.

    What do we need? We need light! We need the divine and supernatural light of the Gospel. This light is not merely the conviction of sin, it is not merely the comprehension of Christian truths; it is not the twinge of a guilty conscience, nor an impression upon the imagination, nor a spine tingling sensation. This divine light something else altogether, it comes to us only through Jesus Christ. It is that new, supernatural principle created in heart of man by the Spirit of Christ. It is that that newness of life found only in the Lord Jesus. I am not talking about the inner light of the Quakers or the extra-biblical revelations of the charismatic movement, those teachings have led not to light, but to greater darkness. On the contrary, I am speaking of the regenerating, sanctifying light of Christ. Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). The preacher can illuminate the dark room of the Old Testament with the light of the New, with the light of the Gospel, but only Christ can impart that divine and supernatural light into your soul, and give a true and inward sense of the excellency and sweetness of the divine things revealed in the Word of God. So as we come to this text from the Old Testament, I want you to be praying, ‘Lord Jesus, open my eyes that might see the wonderful things contained in your law’.

    1] Firstly, I would like you to see that Jesus Christ is the Prophet spoken of in our text. This text is speaking of Him. We should not be surprised by this, for it is the Lord Christ’s delight to reveal the things of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the teacher whom God has given us, He is the light of the world, the prophet by whom God speaks to us. Moses, speaking to the Old Covenant people of God, says that the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet. This is spoken of Christ. Some suppose that it refers to the many prophets of the Old Testament, yet they are mere shadows and types compared with the Lord Jesus. He is the real deal. He is the Prophet par excellence.

    The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet ... not Joshua, not Isaiah, not Jeremiah, nor Ezekiel, nor Daniel, nor Hosea, but Jesus Christ. This text does not speak of a succession of prophets but a prophet, a single person. Notice that this person will be like unto Moses. This is what Moses himself says, ‘He will be like unto me’. In other words, he will be different from all the other prophets of the Old Testament who followed after Moses. You must understand that Moses stands as the pinnacle and chief of prophets. He is a cut above the rest. If you were to ask an orthodox Jew even today, ‘Who is the greatest Prophet?’ Why he would says, ‘Moses, of course’. The prophet spoken of in our text is one like unto Moses. And we must understand that Moses is quite unique among the prophets. Upon his death, we read these words toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, ‘Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face’ (Deut 34:10).

    Moses had seen God. He had spoken with Him in the burning bush. He had seen the glory and majesty of God upon Mount Sinai. He had this personal, vital, living, love relationship with God. The Lord knew Moses face to face. You remember when Moses comes down from the mountain and his face is glowing, it is radiating with glory of God, shining like the sun. He knew God face to face. I can think of One who has known God face to face, not for time, but for eternity. I can think of One who has been face to face with God from the depths of eternity. I can think of One who has loved His Father and shared in His glory from before the creation of the world. Do you know this One? His existence did not begin with His birth from the Virgin in Bethlehem: He was from the beginning and in the beginning He was with God, indeed He was God, and is God, and forever will be God. He is the One who prayed, ‘Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world was made’ (John17:5). He is the One who said, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58).

    We are of course speaking of the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has been face to face with the Father and Spirit from eternity. What better prophet to communicate the love and mercy of the Father to us than His own Son! The writer to the Hebrews speaks of One who is like Moses, but greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-5). Moses had seen God on occasions, but Christ is God’s beloved Son. He had seen and known and loved His Father from the incomprehensible depths of eternity past. The writer to the Hebrews begins his sermonic letter with those incredible words, ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist prepared the way for THE PROPHET, even God’s own Son. God is best known in Christ. We see the sun by its radiance, by its beams of light. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). In the natural revelation of creation, we see God’s glory as if it were the sun depicted in painting. In the Law and the Prophets, we see God as if He were the sun hiding behind a cloud. But in Christ, we see God in His full glory like the sun’s beams upon a summer’s day (ad. Stephen Charnock). For in Christ we see God Himself.
God has spoken by Christ Jesus,
Christ, the everlasting Son,
Brightness of the Father’s glory,
With the Father ever one;
Spoken by the Word incarnate,
God of God ere time was born;
Light of light, to earth descending,
Christ as God in human form.
George W. Briggs (1875-1959)

    The Lord Christ was like Moses but greater than Moses. Moses knew God face to face, but only on occasions. Christ had known His Father from eternity. Moses wrought great miracles by God’s power, but the Lord wrought greater miracles among men. Moses was mediator for Israel alone, but the Lord Christ is the Mediator for all God’s people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Moses delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, but Christ delivers His Father’s people from their bondage to sin, and death and hell. He was like Moses so that we would know what to expect when He came, but He is greater than Moses so we know He is the Son of God.

    Notice that Moses says, ‘He shall be from among you, from your brothers’. This means that He shall be a prophet raised among the Jews. The Lord Jesus Christ was of the people of Israel, according to the flesh, of the tribe of Judah and the house of David. He was born of the virgin in Bethel and ministered to the lost sheep of Israel. He was crucified and raised from the dead in their midst. He was their brother, bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh. Yes He was God and so mighty to save, but also He was man and so gentle to sympathise. He took human nature upon Himself in order to bring fallen sinners back to God. He took a human body, a human mind, a human soul, human emotions, a human psychology, human affections and feelings upon Himself. He came to a human abode; He came to first century Nazareth. He came into space-time, into geography and history. He lived, He worked, He preached, He dwelt and He died among the people of Israel. He was like us in every respect, yet without sin. He came as a mortal man, to die in the place of sinful men. He came as our representative, the second Adam, the covenantal head of humanity. He came to live, to bleed and to die the place of sinners. He came as Saviour. He came as God’s prophet to herald the Good News of salvation in Him, the Good News of sins forgiven and peace with God for all who would follow Him.

    He was a prophet mighty in word and in deed. To mark His authenticity as a prophet after the Old Testament order, He accurately foretold future events. He prophesied His own sufferings and death; He foretold His resurrection from the dead and the destruction of Jerusalem, and many other things. But, not only was He a foreteller of the future, He was also forth-teller of divine truth. He taught and instructed men in the great truths of the Gospel. He spake as never any man did. Above all, He was a faithful preacher of the Gospel. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Moses was given the law to preach in order to establish the ethical norms for society, to teach men and women how to live under the Lordship of Jehovah God, and to show us our sins and our need for a gracious Saviour. Jesus Christ came to fulfil that law, to keep the law we broke, to live that perfect life, that life which was well-pleasing to His Father, and to suffer and die, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. He came as our Saviour with a message of grace and truth for poor and helpless sinners. ‘He was raised up of God, called, sent, commissioned and qualified by Him for the office of a prophet, as well as being raised from the dead as the confirmation of His being that extraordinary person’ (John Gill).

Great prophet of my God,
My tongue would bless Thy name,
By Thee the joyful news
Of our salvation came,
The joyful news of sin forgiv’n
Of hell subdued, and peace with Heav’n.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

    Am I stretching the text? Am I imposing something upon the Bible which it does not recognise? No. Peter, preaching at Solomon’s Portico in the book of Acts, used this very text to speak about Jesus Christ. He urged his hearers to repent of their sins and trust in Christ who was God’s prophet, sent to the lost sheep of Israel to bless them by turning them back from their wicked ways (Acts 3:11-26). Again, Stephen in his speech to the Sanhedrin shortly before He was brutally stoned to death, quotes this text as coming from Moses’ lips as an announcement of the coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 7:37, c.f. v.52). He doesn’t hold back his criticism of those who refuse to believe: 'You stiff-necked people’, he says, ‘uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who had received the law as delivered by angels and yet did not keep it’ (Acts 7:51-53). When Jesus feeds the five thousand, the people are amazed and say, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ (John 6:14). Even the woman of Samaria who had many husbands perceived that Jesus Christ was a great prophet (John 4:19). Is He your prophet? Is He your teacher? Has He made you wise unto salvation?

    2] Secondly, I would like you to see the necessity of listening to Jesus Christ. How are we to respond to this great prophet, Jesus Christ? Well what does Moses say? ‘It is to him you shall listen’. In other words, listen to Him, learn of Him. Come and listen to His Word expounded on Sundays and in the midweek, read and study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ for yourself. But don’t leave it there, receive His teachings into your heart, embrace them and profess them. Do and live by what He says. In a day and age of many confused voice, hear Him and not another. You remember at the transfiguration, where the beauty and glory of Christ are manifest to Peter, James and John upon the high mountain. His face shines like the sun, His clothes become as white as light and there appear Elijah and Moses, speaking with Him. What does the Father say from heaven? ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him’ (Matthew 17:5). Are you listening to Jesus Christ? Have you heard the voice of Jesus softly pleading with your heart?

Have you heard the Saviour calling
All to leave and follow Him?
Have you felt His person drawing
With compulsion lives to win?
Hearken to His invitation,
To the music of God's grace;
Let the peace of God's salvation
Fill your soul, and love embrace.
William Vernon Higham, (1926- )

    In saying that Christ is our prophet, we are basically saying that He is our teacher. If you’ve ever spent any time in a classroom, then you will know that a teacher’s favourite phrase is ‘listen up class!’ Jesus had a much better phrase. He would often say, ‘He who has ears to hear let Him hear’. Jesus is concerned that we listen to Him.

    Now, every good teacher will have a method for teaching and good content in their teaching. 1] What is Christ’s method for teaching? How did the Lord Christ teach? Well, He was a preacher. He didn’t have a PowerPoint projector, fancy slides, flashing lights and a rock band. He simply preached, for it pleased Him, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21). What does the Church need? What do the people of Wales need today? Do they need the latest gadget in the Church? Do they need the coolest, most youthful personality? Do they need hip musicians? No, they need preachers; preachers who will preach the whole counsel of God. Doctor Martin Lloyd-Jones said this:

The greatest need of Wales is great theological and doctrinal preaching which will emphasise the sovereignty of God, the ugliness of sin, the uncertainty of life, the judgement and eternity, the glory of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the all-sufficiency of His saving work for us on the cross, the resurrection and the blessed hope we have. These are the only truths which will produce great preaching and which will prove a foundation to sweeping eloquence ... To reach the Welshman’s will, nothing will suffice but the strength and might of God, as it is in Christ’s Gospel. But this Gospel at the same time is large enough to answer all the questions of the mind and reason, to quench thirst for wholeness in the realm of the mind and also to move us to the depths of our being (Iain Murray, The Life of Martin Lloyd-Jones, pp. 169-70).

I think that this is just as true now for Wales as it was in the 20th Century. The Lord Christ is not here on earth personally because He has ascended into heaven and has sat down at the right hand of God, but He has appointed preachers and teachers to instruct God’s people in the great truths of His Word and to herald the Gospel to an unbelieving generation. So the Lord Christ teaches us externally by His Word, through the Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel.

    The Lord Christ also teaches the truths of the Gospel inwardly by the Spirit. It is quite possible for a man to have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel to some degree, and yet remain dead in his trespasses and sins. He knows these things in his head, but not in his heart. This is what Paul means when he says, ‘The natural man receives not the things of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them for they are Spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). Consider Nicodemus (John 3). He comes to the Lord Christ during the hours of darkness. Here is an eminent man in society, a religious leader (the teacher of Israel), a man of education, a man of great morality, a man familiar with the Old Testament, and knowledgeable in divine law, educated in doctrine, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, a circumcised, God fearing Jew. But Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush when speaking to him. He is blunt and direct, ‘Nicodemus’, He says, ‘you must be born again’ (John 3:3).

    The reason why men and women don’t believe, the reason why they do not truly accept the claims of Christian truth, is because, as Paul says, they are dead in sin. This is why Jesus says, ‘You must be born again’. In order to accept the divine mysteries of the Gospel, in order to truly love and serve Jesus Christ, in order for you to truly believe in Him, then you must be born again. Moral reformation, religious education, will never save. So, those of you outside of Christ are stuck between a rock and a hard place. You cannot save yourself by your works, but neither can you cause yourself to be born again because the new birth is a secret and supernatural work of the Spirit. And so, you are utterly dependent upon the sovereign grace of God for salvation. Other religions and philosophies offer you a morality and works righteousness, but Jesus Christ says ‘NO! Nicodemus, man of religion, man of morality, you, yes even you, must be born again’. You must cast yourself utterly and wholly upon Jesus Christ. For He alone has the power to save you and impart that divine and supernatural light which enables poor and helpless sinners to comprehend the mysteries of the Gospel. He alone has the power to create true faith and repentance in our hearts by the Spirit. And this New Birth is necessary in every part of the soul, because there was that universal corruption by the fall of man, regeneration must answer it in its extensiveness and in every faculty’ (ad. Steven Charnock). You must be born again, wholly and totally renewed. A man may be great in learning, and yet a complete buffoon when comes to the things of God. But he who is taught inwardly of Christ by the Spirit sees and knows the secrets of the kingdom of heaven in His heart.

    2] We have considered how He teaches us and so we must turn to the content of His teaching, we must ask what lessons does He teach us? He teaches us to see into the depths of our own hearts. When He teaches us inwardly by the Spirit, we find, in our hearts, desperate wickedness, deep corruption, and foul putrefaction. We see our many sins; we see the very principle of sin as it is embodied into the fabric of our being. When Christ shows us these things, we being to mourn our pitiful state and pray with St. Augustine, ‘God, save me from myself’. The Lord Christ teaches us the vanity of a life without Him. Solomon, having been taught the wisdom of Christ, saw that all is vanity, that all is lost, and helpless, and hopeless, and meaningless without Christ. He teaches Gospel truth into our souls. He shows us that man, since the fall, is totally depraved by nature and in desperate need of salvation. He shows us that His Father, from the depths of eternity, graciously chose to save a people for Himself from the mass of fallen men. He teaches us that He alone is the way of salvation; that He is the Saviour who comes into space-time history to redeem His Father’s elect people by dying in their place, bearing the condemnation for their sin in His own body on the Cross, and defeating their death and hell by rising from the dead. He shows us that the Spirit, in due course, irresistibly draws God’s people with chords of everlasting love, regenerates them, creates faith and repentance in their hearts, applies salvation to them, and sanctifies them by God’s Word. He teaches us that by sovereign grace alone are they kept safe in Him, and thereby they persevere in faith and holiness through all the struggles of life into their everlasting rest and communion with God. He gives His people a sight of unseen reality, a sight of God, a prospect of eternity. He teaches them and shows them something of invisible kingdom of heaven, giving those who believe in Him foretastes of glory divine.

    If you have been savingly taught by Christ in this way, then be thankful. It is a great honour to have Christ as your teacher. Professors at Oxford and Cambridge are great teachers in the many complex subjects of academia, but Christ is greater than them all. If you have Christ as your teacher, then you are wiser than the greatest philosophers mankind has ever known. And, if Christ is your teacher then you have no room for pride. All the glory, honour and praise must go to Him who taught you. What a tremendous privilege it is to say, ‘One thing I know, whereas once I was blind, now I see’ (John 9:25). Aristotle thought it a great privilege to be taught of Plato, and Plato considered it a great honour to be taught of Socrates, how much more then should we who have been taught of Christ be grateful and thankful to our Master, this great Prophet, who has revealed to us the wonders of the kingdom of God.  
       
    3] Thirdly, what shall we do to have Christ as our teacher?[1] Oh strive to have Christ as your teacher, as your prophet. He alone teaches savingly. He is the master interpreter, the best teacher. He can untie those knots and solve those puzzles that vex even the angles. We will never learn any lesson, unless Christ teaches us. Until Christ is made wisdom unto us, we shall never be wise unto salvation. What then are the means for obtaining Christ as our teacher?

    1] See your need of Christ’s teaching. When the power goes out at home, what do you do? You get a box of matches and a candle; you strike the match and light the candle in order to see. How much more, given the darkness of our hearts, should we see the need for the Light of the world.

    2] Go to Christ to teach you. Where should I go to get such teaching? To whom shall I go? Go to Jesus Christ. He is more than willing to savingly teach those who come to Him believing. Why else would He come down from heaven to this earth if not to teach men and women, boys and girls, the way of salvation? You don’t need GCSE’s, A levels, degrees, or a great intellect, you simply need to come to Jesus Christ. He will give all the instruction you need, a heart and a will to learn, and a renewed mind to understand. He teaches so simply that the littlest of Children can believe and come to sit upon His knee. He teaches so plainly that even the simplest of men may rise up greater than the mighty intellects of this world and take heaven by storm. He takes the meanest and lowest of all peoples, to shame those who claim to be wise in their own eyes. He teaches so profoundly that there is room for great intellectual elephants to swim in His wisdom. He teaches so gently that those who grieve and mourn can find peace and comfort in His words.  
   
    3] Use the means of grace which Christ has provided. Put yourself under the sound of good preaching every week, twice on a Sunday and in the mid-week. For though Christ teaches us inwardly by His Spirit, yet He always teaches us through the means which He has appointed, namely the preaching of the Word. He has appointed elders, preachers, pastors, teachers and evangelists to expound and explain the Word of God to us. They are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, heralds of Good News. Thomas Watson, one of the Puritans, puts it most seriously: ‘The word preached is Christ’s voice in the mouth of the minister [who faithfully expounds the Word of God]. Those that refuse to hear Christ speaking in the ministry, Christ will refuse to hear speaking on their death-beds’. There were two criminals crucified either side of Christ as He died: one who believed and was saved so that we always have hope, and another who stubbornly refused and died in his sins son that we might never presume. 
  
    4] Read your Bibles and good Christian books. St. Augustine was converted through hearing little children chant the words ‘Take up and read’, and so he took up Paul’s letter to the Romans and was saved. Take up and read. Read your Bibles every day. It is a great privilege to have the Word of God in your hands. Generations of history went by when no one had access to a Bible save the preacher. You have the Book of all books in your hands. Don’t neglect it, read it. Read the Gospels first. Read about Jesus and that He has done. If only you manage a few lines a day, well that’s a few lines more than before. Also, read good Christian books with one another and discuss them. Read J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. Read Thomas Watson’s A Body of Divinity. Make frequent use of Matthew Henry’s Commentaries. Read J. C. Ryle’s Holiness and his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Read the Banner of Truth abridgements of John Owen on the Mortification of Sin and Communion with God. Read good Christian biographies. Read about St. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, Whitefield, Wesley, Daniel Rowlands, Howel Harris, Williams Pantycelyn, read about Jonathan Edwards, J. C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, and Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones. If you struggle with reading, then get someone to read for you. Or try audio books; listen to the sermons of Doctor Martin Lloyd-Jones on the internet. Take up and read. Learn of Christ and prayerfully study God’s Word for yourself.  
   
    5] Walk according to the knowledge you have already. Thomas Watson says, ‘Use your little bit of knowledge well, and Christ will teach you more ... An employer seeing that his worker improves a little stock well, will give him a little more to trade with’ (ad. Thomas Watson). You know that you must repent of your sins, so do it! You know that you must believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, so do it! These are things you understand already and so you are under divine obligation to act upon what you know. To whom much is given, much will be required. God has given you a talent to use in the interest of His kingdom, don’t bury it in the sand. Use it for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom, lest his wrath be kindled against you and perish in your sins.

Conclusion   
    The Lord Christ is the great prophet raised up by God. He reveals to us, by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation. He calls you to surrender all and to learn of Him, for He is a gentle and compassionate teacher. If you learn of Him, He will make you wise unto salvation. ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen’ (Deuteronomy 18:15).

References & Further Reading
Beeke, Joel & Mark Jones, ‘The Puritans on Christ’s Offices and States’, in A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (RHB). 
Henry, Matthew, Bible Commentary: Genesis to Deuteronomy, vol. 1 (Hendrickson)
Smith, Stout, Minkema (eds.), ‘A Divine and Supernatural Light’, in A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale, 2003)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A’s 23-24.
Warfield, B. B., ‘The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity’, in Biblical and Theological Studies (P&R, 1952), p. 30.
Watson, Thomas, ‘Christ’s Prophetic Office’, in A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth)


[1] Much of what follows under the third section has been adapted from ‘Christ’s Prophetic Office’, in Thomas Watson’s A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth). This chapter proved to be most helpful in preparing this sermon.