Preaching Christ: the Living and the Speaking Word

The expectation that a unique prophet would one day be sent by God was deeply embedded in the mind of the people of Israel from their earliest days.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him…The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Ex 18.15-19)

 

As we further explore what it means to ‘preach Christ from all the Scriptures’, another key strand is to remind ourselves of the first of his threefold offices. He is not only our Priest and King; but he is primarily God’s great Prophet. It is his business to make God known.

The expectation that a unique prophet would one day be sent by God was deeply embedded in the mind of the people of Israel from their earliest days. Moses, speaking the Israelites prior to their entrance into the Promised Land, told them,

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him…The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Ex 18.15-19)

In part this was, of course, the formal institution of the office of prophet among the Israelites. Elsewhere Moses provides the detail as to how the people were to distinguish between true and false prophets. But in a deeper sense, he was telling the people to expect another prophet who would be God’s ultimate messenger. One who would be none other than the promised Messiah himself.

This detail explains people’s response to Jesus, not only in relation to the content and authority of his earthly ministry, but especially to the miracles he performed: ‘A great prophet has appeared among us’ (Lk 7.16). It also explains the Pharisees’ question to John the Baptist: ‘Are you the Prophet?’ and his negative response (Jn 1.21). Jesus was indeed God’s promised prophet through whom God would speak his final word.

Jesus himself picks up on this detail in a very pointed way in the fourth of the ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospel, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ and its wider context (Jn 10.11). He says, ‘the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and his sheep follow him because they know his voice’ (Jn 10.3). He says of his ‘other sheep who are not of this sheep pen’ – speaking of those he will gather from among the Gentiles – ‘They too will listen to my voice’ (Jn 10.16). But, most pointedly, he says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me’ (Jn 10.27).

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