Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;
“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— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 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.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15–20, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
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.
Now there’s a sticky wicket. I’m not sure I like the sound of that at all. Sure it’s true that when I prepare a sermon I first have to figure out how the text applies to me, but this… well, it’s pretty obvious. And it is most serious. And it is speaking most directly to pastors… that’s me. But not just me.
We live in a country that has loads of denominations, and more every year. New little clusters of churches pop up with all kinds of different beliefs. Most of them say that doctrine, that is, what a church teaches, isn’t really all that important. In fact, you probably have friends and neighbors and relatives that say that. Or maybe you even think that it’s true. Most of these other churches / denominations / people say it’s how you feel about Jesus that’s really the key thing. What Jesus and his apostles taught is important, but not as important as what you feel about God, what you feel in your heart to be true. That is in spite of what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20 (which happens to be our Mission statement).
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)
Now, I want you to understand, it is good for you to have feelings about God and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ. It’s important to live out your faith with feeling, confidence, passion, and compassion. But faith comes through the hearing of God’s Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, not feelings that come up. Faith is created and grows as a result of the teaching of everything that Jesus taught.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that we Christians in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod over-emphasize correct doctrine. I think it is true that we focus on doctrine / teaching more than any other denomination in the U. S. We have a written confession that emphasizes it. It’s called the Book of Concord. It spells out what we believe, teach and confess in great detail. Whenever you have a new pastor installed here, he promises to teach according to it. And you promise to support him in that effort. We get the rep of being legalistic. Most other Christians and maybe even some of you think that Closed Communion is over the top legalism. But practicing correct doctrine / teaching isn’t legalistic, really. It is being faithful to the Gospel that Jesus taught. We teach what he taught very carefully, because he died for us on the cross, and he rose again from death. He saved us from sin, death and Satan. So we want to do what he has told us to do. We want to teach what he told us to teach. We pray for this very thing every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Luther explains the First Petition: Hallowed be Thy Name.
How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! (LSB 323)
And notice how Luther sticks that prayer in the explanation that asks doubly for this to be done among us.
And, in 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament, there are specific instructions to beware of fals teachers and prophets. (Matthew 7:15, Mark 13:22, Acts 20:28ff, Ephesians 4:14–15, 1 Timothy 1:3, Hebrews 13:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1) Not to mention that the first sin was doubting what God said. Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say?” Not taking what God teaches to be true is literally the oldest sin in the book.
Now there’s lots of pressure on pastors these days. Well, the truth is, it has always been so. God’s Word calls upon pastors to be faithful to teach what God says. Just look at the text for today for an example. Pastors are to teach carefully with humility, love and gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Peter 3:15) And it is, in fact, the duty of the whole church to teach while at the same time doing it with gentleness and love. There is no excuse for being harsh.
So, who are you supposed to know if your pastor, or some television preacher for that matter is teaching according to God’s Word? How do you know if anyone who claims to be God’s teacher is not a false prophet? It is very important for you all to know what God’s Word actually teaches. You hear it read hear every Sunday. You have a bible at home. Bibles are to be read and studied. You actually pay me to read to you and teach you. I spend a great deal of time preparing Sunday morning bible study that most of you have never attended. You officers and board members really have no excuse. You are leaders of the congregation and you should be in bible classes. But there is more than that. Every Sunday we confess our faith together in one of the Creeds. They are a ruler you can lay beside anything a teacher says and decide whether he is teaching God’s Word. I quote Luther’s Small Catechism all the time in my teaching and preaching. You memorized it in confirmation. It also is a ruler for teaching. Do you regularly review it with your family? You should do that, too.
Now this text from Deuteronomy isn’t just about your pastor and other people who claim to teach God’s Word. In fact, it is about much more than that. Who is this new prophet that Moses is saying will come? After Moses, God sent many prophets. Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer. It is in John’s Gospel that we see clearly Jesus is the New Prophet.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14–17, ESV)
And at Jesus Baptism and his Transfiguration, God the Father says to listen to Jesus. Back to what Moses says is God’s promise.
And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
And so, pastors strive to teach what God teaches through Jesus, with your help. And what is that? Jesus is God and man who came to the world to forgive human sin through his life, death and resurrection. That he ascended into heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. You have forgiveness in him. You are declared to be righteous, that is, without sin, because he has washed you clean in Holy Baptism. Through the promised Holy Spirit, also given in Holy Baptism, you are empowered to live your faith in a world that needs to hear what Jesus taught. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.