The Promise of God’s Prophet
Is there any word from the Lord? We want to know God’s expectations of us and his will for us. When we are in crisis or face a decision we long for divine guidance and grace—a word from beyond.
This is why we worship, to thank and glorify God and to enjoy his divine presence. Worship is from an Anglo–Saxon word, worthship. It means to ascribe supreme worth to God. When we worship we come to
• hear a transcendent word from beyond.
• catch a glimpse of the divine Presence.
• discover heaven’s will and grace for our lives.
Just as Israel sought to know God’s will, so do we. Even as we come to worship, we hope to gain insight into God’s work and will in our lives. God responded to Israel’s need with a unique gift: the prophets, who were messengers of God to his people.
Although today we have the advantage of having God’s Word, the Scriptures, God still provides a prophetic ministry to his church today.
I. The Promise of a Prophet (v. 15)
The Israelites were forbidden to consult fortune-tellers and spiritualists (a la the New Age Movement). They were to avoid pagan religious practices, which included child sacrifice (v. 10). How would they know the will of God or hear his word? The Lord promised to provide a prophetic spokesman like Moses—the prototype of the prophets.
God has his spokespersons in each generation. He is not playing hide-and-seek. God wants us to know and do his will, made known to us by his prophets. Although they often did point to future events, biblical prophets were not so much fore-tellers as “forth-tellers”—inspired preachers of the divine word.
II. The Power of a Prophet (v. 18)
God promised to raise up his prophets and to put his word in their mouths, enabling them to speak all he commands. Any power the prophets possessed derived from their divine calling and the continuing presence of God in their lives.
Even today, God’s messengers are called to declare the gospel with both its offer and its demand. We are not called to preach our opinions but the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic prophets proclaim the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
III. The Test of a Prophet (v. 20)
It is dangerous to presume on God and think too highly of oneself. That is the mark of a false prophet (see Jer. 28:8f.). The test of a true prophet is the fulfillment of God’s purpose. The proof of the prophet is the authenticity of his or her preaching.
God speaks in many ways. He reveals himself in the beauty and dependability of the natural world, his creation. God also speaks in the human conscience giving us a sense of right and wrong. He communicates in history as well. God’s will and purpose are discovered in the Holy Scriptures. The clearest word from God is heard in the person of his Son, Jesus (Heb. 1:1-2).
Someone has observed, “Jesus is the best picture God ever had taken.” Yes, there is a word from the Lord. Are you listening for it? (Alton H. McEachern)
When Freedom is Dangerous
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Someone called me recently to tell me something they thought I, as pastor, should know. They had been at a local theater to watch a G-rated movie, and had seen one of our church leaders going into an R-rated movie. The caller asked: “What would the youth of your church think if they saw this person’s example?”
The shopping mall in Corinth did not have an eight-screen theater; but Corinth did have situations where a Christian’s freedom could lead to a dangerous influence on someone else.
I. The PRACTICE of the People in Corinth
Corinth had pagan temples where animal sacrifices were offered to idols. People would bring an animal, the priests would kill it, and some of the meat would be burnt in offering. But the rest of the meat became the property of the temple or the priests and was often sold at public market.
Many of these temples rented their facilities for private functions, just like churches today rent fellowship halls for wedding receptions. Thus the temples were centers of pagan worship and community social life.
II. The PROBLEMS Generated for the Christians
The questions arose: Could a Christian eat meat that had once been offered to the idols? Could a Christian attend a feast in a pagan temple? Even to purchase the meat could be seen as supporting the temple financially. And what would a Christian do at a wedding party if thanks were offered to a pagan deity?
These same questions can come up today when Christians are invited to a wedding in a non-Christian place of worship, pressured at their jobs to give to a charity they find unbiblical, or support a community festival that promotes unchristian values.
The more mature Christians knew the idols did not represent true gods; eating meat that had been offered to a stone idol was no more bowing to that idol than eating devil’s food cake is Satan worship today. But weaker Christians were confused. They feared any acknowledgment of the pagan deity would be a slippery slope to idolatry.
III. The PRINCIPLES Paul Applied
Paul applied two principles. First, “knowledge puffs up.” Sometimes spiritually knowledgeable Christians become impressed with their own level of learning. I once knew a man who memorized scriptures by the book, not by the verse. He could quote more passages than anyone I knew. But he did not go to church anywhere because he could not find a pastor who had “a heart for the Word.” He was a “super-Christian,” and he knew it!
Second, Paul said, “Love edifies.” The old preachers saying is: “Nobody cares how much you know’til they know how much you care.” This advice is good for all leaders. Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 13:2, where he says even if he had all knowledge but did not have love, he would be nothing.
The word translated “love” or “charity” simply means to prefer another; to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own. Though the mature Christian had a right to eat the meat, the needs of the weaker Christian to not be tempted take priority. “Sometimes we have to give up our right to be right in order to get right with God.”
IV. The PARALLELS We Face Today
We don’t have to worry about the origin of the meat we purchase at the market. Still there are many activities in which mature Christians can participate without harming their faith, but which hurt their witness. How many can you name? (Bill Groover)
Authority is somewhat suspect in American culture today. Dr. Diane Komp, author of the book A Window to Heaven, identifies her own such suspicion in particular to God’s authority and reliability. In the foreword to her book, Dr. Paul Brand cites her suspicion concerning God when he writes, “Schooled by medical mentors who told her to set aside her personal feelings as she treated young cancer patients, Dr. Komp’s almost non-existent faith slipped away until she could no longer believe.” In her own words, Dr. Komp shares, “If I were to believe, it would require the testimony of reliable witnesses.”
The issue of a reliable and authoritative witness of faith provides the context of the story from Mark. It seems not all that much has changed in terms of God’s witness to a suspicious world.
For Dr. Komp, that reliable witness of God’s love came through the very children for whom she provided treatment. Their dreams, their stories, their undoubting trust of this God who loved them provided the needed reliable witness, the authoritative witness, to create an abiding trust in God.
Mark’s Gospel seeks to provide a reliable and authoritative witness to the reality of God’s present, in-breaking kingdom through Jesus Christ.
I. The Life of Jesus Is a Reliable Witness
As the children’s faith was an effective witness for Dr. Komp, the words and deeds of Jesus most powerfully testify to the authority of the source empowering such words and works. God empowers the authority of Jesus, and that empowerment becomes evident in the words and works of Jesus.
This is the difference between Jesus and the scribes. The words and deeds of the scribes lack something. The something they lack is the empowerment of God. Mark intends to show the difference between the empowered authority of Jesus and the kingdom he seeks to bring and the unempowered authority of the scribes.
II. Transformed Believers Are a Reliable Witness
In the business world today there seems to be a plethora of literature concerning empowerment in the workplace. The idea is that a good leader empowers others to productivity. According to Mark’s Gospel, God is empowering a new kingdom of love and grace through Jesus Christ and those who would seek to follow him. Word and deed receive their authority from God.
Jesus has come to proclaim such a kingdom empowered with the authority of God. People who witness this authoritative witness can tell the difference. In such a kingdom, such authority is even granted to dying children whose testimony can be so effective. So empowered are they by God that one doctor will never be the same because of their words and deeds. Such is the authority of God’s witness in a kingdom that will have no end.
The church needs to be reminded of the source of her authority and witness. It becomes easy to know the words and to mimic the work of Christianity. However, people know the difference between what is authoritative and what is not. In the long haul the false or unempowered witness will be found out.
The question this text poses for the church today is who is the source of its ministry and witness? Mark wants to make it clear to those who will listen that the words and deeds of Jesus are connected to God, who empowers them with authority in a kingdom that is here, now, and forever. If the church today is to preach, witness, or minister to the needs of a hurting world, it must do so with an empowered authority, thus ensuring the consistency between what it says and what it does. According to Mark, people will know the difference! (Travis Franklin)