Who Is a Prophet?

Deuteronomy 18:15–20
15The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 17The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20But a prophet who presumes to speak in My Name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

Moses has come to the place where he knows his time is short and so do the people and the concern now is who will take his place? He was 120 years old and the Lord had given him the strength of a young man, but he also knew that his time on earth was short. Who will follow him?

The context deals with the false prophets and teachers that were in these other lands and the people of Israel were not to follow them, rather they were to follow the leaders God Himself would select.

Here Moses is prophesying that a leader would follow him. Now some Old Testament prophecies often had more than one time frame. The one who would follow Moses was Joshua. However, the New Testament said this was also a prophecy of Jesus, for in John we read: “When the people heard Jesus speak, they said, “This is truly the prophet who comes into the world.”

As an example of another two-fold prophecy—at the beginning of the exodus God said, “Israel is My son, let My son go.” And then later in Matthew Chapter 2 the angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and go to Egypt. We read: “So he got up, took the Child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”  A two-fold prophecy.

Concerning our text: one commentary points out: “…the promise neither relates to one particular prophet, nor directly to the Messiah, but treats the sending of prophets generally.” Now whomever the prophets are, they are charged to speak only what they receive from God Himself.
Back then God indeed spoke directly to His chosen prophets, whether it was Moses, or Elijah or Micah, etc. Today He speaks to us through His Word as St Paul told St Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So whether it was the Old Testament or the New, whether St Paul wrote it or St Peter, it is God speaking to us through these writers. That is to be the basis of our teachings and our sermons.

It this sense, pastors, parochial school teachers and seminary professors stand in the line of the prophets.  They are charged to preach the Word in season and out of season to teach, to correct and to train God’s people.

“But a prophet who presumes to speak in My Name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”  It is a concern all pastors and theologians ought to have! Is what we are teaching and preaching really coming from a proper understanding of the Bible?

Take total abstinence as an example. I have known pastors who believe a person ought not to use alcohol because they were convinced it was a better life style—but—not because the Bible teaches that. I have known others that seem to believe that this is what the Bible teaches. I say “seem” because when you pin them down, they become flustered and upset because they know they cannot really back that up. There are other teachings too, which fly in the face of what the Bible actually and clearly teaches.

Jesus warned of the Pharisees, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  Both here and in my last parish I have seen people feeling crushed by the WELS teachings of not being able to say a table prayer with their own family, if these were not also WELS members. They had a hard time coming to the point where St Paul said to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Likewise, some of the other teachings from various denominations which people felt obliged to accept, though they did not understand or really believe what their church was demanding of them.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put My words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.”

Pastors come from among us.  We do not have a “priestly cast” yet some have come from pastors’ families, some even come from generations of pastors. Yet by far, most had fathers that were everyday laymen. Some even come from non-Christian homes. I am reminded of an ordination I participated in back in Texas. The young man’s parents would not even attend. One of my friends had a Mormon father. My own father was a CPA.

Faithful pastors preach the Word as they are led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim to their people what they need to hear in today’s circumstances. Say, for example, nationally right after 9/11 our people needed to hear something relevant to that catastrophe. Or if the pandemic would claim many of our members, we all would need to hear a comforting sermon about that—the pericopes, in my estimation—and experience—would be set aside for that Sunday.  (Ex. We lost 12 people last week due to covid-19 but you really need to hear about the Ethiopian Eunuch. Really???)

On a more personal note—Moses was going to be replaced and in my experience upon leaving various congregations, I too had to be replaced. It is a concern. A pastor lives with his people. He marries, confirms, baptizes, and yes, buries. He grows close to them. Many members assure him that he is loved and appreciated. He has brought in new people—some from unbelief to where they now for the first time have peace of mind. And he wants what is best for them.

I am not going to get into specifics, but I will say that some who replaced me did not at all help the congregation. It is a sad thing to see those whom you loved now drifting away because of their new pastor.
And of course, there is the members’ concern also. They have come to know their pastor, appreciate him and are used to his ways.  Now he has to leave—what will the next pastor be like? Will he continue the ministry in such a way as to benefit the congregation, even with changes?  Will we like him as much as we liked the other?

Now while I did not get specific about some of the other pastors who replaced me, I will get specific about one church, St Paul Sevierville, TN! The man who replaced me has done a wonderful job in every way!  I thank God for him! And so do you!

Now a word from Luther: THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but regard it as holy, and gladly hear and learn it.

To which we say, Amen!

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