God of the Prophets, Bless the Prophets' Sons
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In the year 593 B.C., near the Chebar Canal in the land of the Chaldeans, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel: “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as He spoke to Ezekiel, the Spirit entered into Ezekiel and set him on his feet, and He said, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2:1-5).
“Whether they hear or refuse to hear they will know that a prophet has been among them.” This begs the question: How will they know that a prophet has been among them? I mean, it’s one thing for those who listen to the prophet’s message to believe that they’ve heard a prophet, but it’s an entirely different matter for those who will not listen to admit they’ve heard a prophet and still refuse to listen to that prophet. That’s not just unbelief; that’s stubborn rejection and rebellion.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For most of us are familiar with the term, but many of us don’t really understand who a prophet is or what he does. Say the word “prophet,” and most people think of someone who foretells the future. But while this is true of many of the prophets, it misses the main point. Our text uses the Hebrew word navi, a term that means “one who speaks forth for God.” So a prophet is really a forth-teller. He utters the actual words, which God gives to him to speak, whatever those words may be. The Lord said: “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” (Deut. 18:18).
Spoken first to Moses and later quoted by Peter to show their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, this passage from Deuteronomy also helps to define the work of a prophet. Prophets are common, ordinary men, used by God for an extraordinary purpose—the proclamation of His holy Word. As the words are revealed to the prophet, he is to speak precisely what God has commanded. As the prophet does this faithfully, it is just as if God Himself has spoken these words.
We see how seriously the Lord takes His name and Word: “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.” And then He goes on to say how you may recognize a false prophet: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:19-22).
So, that’s what a prophet is and isn’t. How do you know when one has been among you? Some would say you can tell by looking. There’s just something that sets them apart from other men—they’re charismatic, eloquent, and confident. But seldom will you find a Biblical prophet portrayed that way. Ezekiel was a common, ordinary man. The Lord makes that known when He calls him “son of man,” a form of address meant to teach Ezekiel humility. Although the Lord had called him to be His prophet-in-exile, Ezekiel was still just a human being, a frail mortal who brought nothing but weakness to the task to which He was called.
God’s command emphasized just who was really in charge and who would really be carrying out this important work: “Stand on your feet and I will speak to you.” Since Ezekiel was a sinful son of man, he couldn’t on his own stand in the presence of God, nor could he properly receive orders from the Lord. But the Lord would make up for Ezekiel’s insufficiencies.
The Spirit of God stood Ezekiel up on his feet and made him ready to listen to the Lord. God is always the one who is responsible for making sinful humans into people who can stand in His presence. God makes them into people who have the courage to receive orders from Him and equips them to carry out those orders. God makes them into people who will proclaim His Word. No, there was nothing special about Ezekiel that would qualify him as a prophet, as one who speaks on God’s behalf—not until God qualified him. That made him special.
Well, how about Paul—the missionary par excellence? Certainly he met all the worldly requirements of a prophet—charismatic, eloquent, confident.
No, When others talked about Paul’s person and ministry they said: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
Paul himself wrote: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:1-3). Even when he experienced great visions and accomplishments, Paul declared, “I will not boast, except of my weakness… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” As we just heard in our Epistle, Paul was more than glad to give up trust in his own strength and to trust fully in the Lord who had promised, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:5 ff).
This reliance upon God rather than self was the very reason Jesus sent out the Twelve in our Gospel, two by two, with no provisions for their journey except a staff. They were to rely on the heavenly Father to provide for their needs through the people who would listen to the Word they proclaimed in Jesus’ name, and who would subsequently receive them into their homes. And as they did, the people would know that a prophet had been among them.
Certainly the Twelve were common, ordinary men, but they were able to do extraordinary things. In fact, that’s what we heard in our reading from the fourth chapter of Acts a couple of weeks ago: “When [their opponents] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” They were so impressed by their miracles, they admitted they could not deny them.
But the only impressive thing about the Twelve is what they had been given. They had been given Jesus’ authority over the unclean spirits and to heal the sick. They had been given a mission to go out and preach repentance in Jesus’ name. They had been given Jesus’ Word. And they had been given Jesus’ voice.
But when it comes right down to it, Jesus wasn’t that impressive either. Isaiah wrote: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (53:2-3). In many respects, Jesus of Nazareth was a common, ordinary man. Certainly too common and ordinary for the tastes of most people.
Look how surprised His townspeople were when He began to teach. “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
No wonder Jesus said to them: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” No wonder He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. No wonder He marveled because of their unbelief.
Mark is rather understated in his account of this incident. Luke fills us in on more of the details. “All the people were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw Him down the cliff” (4:28-29). It happens far too often: That which we do not understand, we seek to ignore, belittle, or destroy.
No wonder Jesus could not do no mighty work there. No wonder Jesus marveled at their unbelief. No wonder Jesus went on to the other villages teaching. His own people—the ones who should have know Him best—couldn’t see past His ordinariness. They would not receive Him as Prophet and Savior, but, in fact, had rejected Him, threatened His life, and chased Him out of town.
Like you can’t judge a book by its cover, neither can you recognize a prophet only by looking. Each of these men: Ezekiel, Paul, Jesus, and the Twelve seemed to be common ordinary men, but they were given an extraordinary task. Did everyone listen to them? No. They were despised, rejected, harassed, threatened, beaten, and even put to death. But when they spoke, no one (not even their enemies!) could deny they were prophets, for they spoke God’s Word boldly.
And that’s how you know if a prophet is among you—you compare what he says to the Word of God. Is the Word he speaks consistent with the message of the rest of the prophets? Does he proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Does He preach the full counsel of God in His Word? Does he proclaim the Law in all of its fierceness and the Gospel in all of its sweetness? Does he point you to Christ crucified for sinners like you and me? Is he faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, never adjusting the message depending upon “whether they listen or not”?
This is the true measure of a prophet. If his message is not all of these things, the man should be marked and avoided as a false prophet. He is a hireling only looking out for his own interests. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is a scratcher of itching ears. And he will lead you all the way to the fiery lake of hell.
Hearing that impossible list, I tremble in weakness and fear to stand before you today. For if all those prophets I’ve spoken of were common, ordinary men, this man standing in front of you is most certainly common and ordinary. Of myself, I couldn’t claim to speak on the Lord’s behalf. Without the grace of God the Father and the righteousness of Christ covering me, I wouldn’t dare stand before you, let alone utter a single word, and tell you that it comes from the Lord.
But given the definition of “prophet” and what I have been called by God to do here at St. John’s, I guess it falls along those prophetic lines. Call me one of the “prophets’ sons” we just sang about. One in a long line of undershepherds that Christ has called to proclaim His Word and administer His Sacraments in His Church through the Office of the Holy Ministry. A called and ordained servant of the Lord who announces the grace of God unto all of you, and who speaks the absolution in the stead and by the command of my Savior Jesus Christ.
Like Ezekiel, I have been sent to a rebellious people, an impudent and stubborn people who have transgressed against God to this very day. Like Israel, you are a people who cannot not sin, people who have rebelled against the Lord, who has created and redeemed you. You are truly, poor, miserable sinners who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.
And for this—you must repent! Repent of your stubbornness. Repent of your unbelief. Repent of your self-centeredness. Repent of your neglect of God’s Word. Repent of your unwillingness to listen to the full counsel of God. Repent and believe this Good News: “In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. Now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.”
God so loved the world that had fallen into sin and rebellion that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, lived a perfect obedient life in your place. Rather than live for Himself, Jesus, the Son of Man, willingly sacrificed His life on the cross in payment for your sins, so that you might live forever. Jesus rose from the dead for you, so that you, too, might rise one day as an heir of His beautiful, eternal kingdom. Jesus ascended to God’s right hand so that He might intercede on your behalf, and rule all things for the benefit of His bride, the Church.
But Jesus has not left you alone. He has promised, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” To the water of Holy Baptism, Jesus adds His living Word, which works faith and the forgiveness of your sins, rescues you from death and the devil, and gives you eternal salvation. In the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through the voice of His called and ordained servant, Jesus continues to speak His Word of forgiveness and life.
Will you listen? That’s up to you, at least to the extent that you would resist the Holy Spirit. Like the prophets who went before me, I am not called to be successful, but to be faithful. I am not called to convince you, or to change your mind, or to change your life; I am called to speak the full counsel of God’s Word and let the Holy Spirit work through that Word in your hearts.
And so I will: Repent and believe the Good News: Jesus Christ was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.