Epiphany 4 • Deuteronomy 18:15–20 • January 29, 2012
by Rick Marrs
When considering each text for preaching, pastors are called upon to ponder how the law of that text is speaking to the pastor as well as to the parishioners who will hear his sermon. In this case, the law of verse 20 (“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die”) is speaking most seriously, most directly to the pastor. This text may allow the preacher to note the connections between the Office of the Pastoral Ministry and the prophets and apostles. The complication of this text may be how to help the listener hear and appreciate the law that is speaking less directly to them so that they can hear the gospel for them.
We live in a country with hundreds of different denominations and their teachings. Many of them say doctrine is not all that important; what is most important to them is how you feel about your Savior, not the specifics of what Jesus and the Apostles taught (despite what Jesus says about the importance of teaching in the Great Commission, Mt 28:20). Pastors may want to make it clear to their listeners that it is good for them to feel their faith, to live out their faith with passion and compassion, but that faith is a result of the teachings of Jesus and his prophets and apostles.
Some Christians believe that we in the LCMS over-emphasize correct doctrine. We probably do focus on doctrine more than any other major denomination in the US. We have the Book of Concord in which the most important of our doctrines are spelled out in great detail. Many other American Christians think we are “legalistic” because we practice things like “close communion” or “church discipline” or (you pick a topic that may be most relevant to your congregational setting). But practicing correct doctrine is really not legalistic, it’s not LAW; correct doctrine is being faithful to the gospel. Because Christ has given his life for us, we want to keep his name holy by teaching the Word of God in all its truth and purity—and living holy lives according to it (Luther in the Small Catechism: “How is God’s name kept holy?)
In 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament, we are given specific admonitions to beware false teaching and false teachers/prophets. (For example see Mt 7:15, Mk 13:22, Acts 20:28ff, Eph 4:14–15, 1 Tm 1:3, Heb 13:9, 2 Pt 2:1, 1 Jn 4:1). The first temptation to sin was when the serpent said to Eve: “Did God really say?”
Pastors feel the pressure even more because God’s word calls upon us to not just proclaim his Word rightly and be faithful teachers of the truth, but to do so with a spirit of humility, love, and gentleness (see 2 Tm 2: 24-25, Gal 6:1, Eph 4:15, 1 Pt 3;15). The whole church, laity included, is called to be loving and gentle.
How do we know if something is really a false prophecy, or someone is a false prophet or false teacher? That is why it is so important for the laity to know God’s word as well, especially as summarized in Luther’s Small and Large Catechism. If you or some future pastor, or some TV preacher or teacher speaks on behalf of God, pastors (you may want to speak in the first person if you use this) hope that normally laity will be able to hear the incorrect teaching (heterodoxy or heresy) and, gently/humbly, correct the pastor or teacher. In the case of a heterodox TV or radio or internet preacher or teacher, we hope you would just turn them off. For hundreds of years various preachers have been predicting specific dates for the end of the world (see p. 307 of The Lutheran Study Bible for a list of the most prominent). Jesus wants us to be watchful for his second coming (Lk 21:36, 1 Pt 4:7), but he explicitly states that no one knows the day or the hour (Mt 24:36 and 25:13).
So who was the new prophet that Moses was prophesying would come? The LORD sent many faithful prophets to his Old Testament people, men like Samuel and Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Malachi. But Peter makes explicit who the ultimate prophet was in his sermon at the temple in Acts 3. (He makes this most explicit in verse 22, but the preacher will need to select a few other verses from that sermon to make a direct connection to Jesus for the listeners.) On the holy mountain of the Transfiguration, his Father’s voice repeated Moses by saying “Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Other verses that make a direct Moses-Jesus connection that the preacher may wish to include are John 1:17, 1:45, and 5:46. This new prophet leads us, by grace and truth, to the greater Promised Land by his cross and resurrection.