The Word of God Spoken
This morning I am beginning a short series of sermons on the Word of God. In the Bible the Word of God appears in three forms: 1) The Word of God Spoken, 2) The Word of God Written, and 3) The Word of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ. Today, I am going to talk to you about the Word of God, spoken.
109 times in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament we read that “the word of the LORD came to” one of God’s prophets.
God uses a prophet to make God’s Self heard. Thus God spoke to the prophet Isaiah saying, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Isaiah 51) And God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah saying, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.” (Jeremiah 15)
The prophet of God speaks the Word of God to the people of God in times of trial or crisis. Thus, in the days of Ahab the king, the prophet Elijah spoke to the people of Israel when they were flirting with the worship of Baal saying:
How long will you go limping with two opinions? If the LORD be God, serve him; but if Baal be God, serve him.
Elijah knew that we cannot live with one foot in the Lord’s camp, and one foot in the camp of the world. We hop from one leg to the other, unsettled and unsettling. Etta James was right, “Everybody has got to serve somebody,” and at some point, we have to decide who it is that we will serve.
This is not always easy to choose who or what we serve. This world is filled with want-a-be prophets, and some of them are true prophets and some of them are false prophets. The prophet Micah warned against false prophets who “divine for money,” and cry, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace.” (Micah 3) And the prophet Zechariah warned against “…dreamers (who) tell false dreams, and give empty consolation.” (Zechariah 10) According to the Hebrew Bible, it is easy to tell a false prophet from a true prophet: The word of the true prophet comes to pass, whereas the word of the false prophet fails.
Of course, there are times when God’s people have had to wait many generations to see the fulfillment of a particular prophecy. Let me mention three examples of prophecy that were “open” for hundreds of years before they were fulfilled in Jesus.
Seven centuries before the Birth of Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the coming of the Messiah and announced:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
More than one hundred years later a disciple of Isaiah spoke of God’s Suffering Servant, saying:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; he bore the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5)
Finally, centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet we call Daniel had a vision of one like a Son of Man, who appeared before the ancient of Days to receive glory and an everlasting dominion over all peoples and nations and languages. (Daniel 7:13-14)
In Mark 8 Jesus claims to be the long awaited fulfillment of all three of these prophecies. Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Christ.”Jesus accepted Peter’s identification as him as the Messiah, then, switching gears completely, he began to teach his disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
The disciples were witness to the glory of the Resurrection. Jesus looked so good they hardly recognized him! But the resurrection is just the beginning of his glory. In Mark 14, when Jesus was put on trial for his life, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answered, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The disciples saw the glory of the Risen Christ; but the world still waits to see the revelation of the glory of the LORD of Lords and KING of kings. One scholar put it like this:
If Jesus is who we believe him to be, then the Christ who appeared for the first time on the plane of human history in humility and hidden-ness, his true identity known only to a select few witnesses and to the eyes of faith, he must, of necessity, appear a second time, in power and in glory, his true identity known to faith and unbelief alike.
We don’t know if this appearance will be at the end of history, or at the beginning of eternity, but if Jesus is who we believe him to be it has to happen. And that is all you have to know about Biblical prophecies of the End Times. They are all based on this.
Now, when we think of prophets, we think primarily of the Old Testament prophets; but there were many prophets in the New Testament, too. John the Baptist is one of the best known of the New Testament prophets. In reality, John was the last of the great Old Testament prophets who announced the coming of the Messiah. John was separated from Jesus not by six centuries but by six feet when he raised a bony finger and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
There are many other prophets in the New Testament, including Jesus, who was known at the Prophet of Nazareth. Just as important, first century Judaism thought the age of prophecy was over, but Jesus inaugurated a new age of prophecy. There are prophets in the world today—but we are still waiting for many of them to be revealed, true or false. .I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a true prophet. Not only did Dr. King speak the Word of God to the people of God in his time and place, but he predicted successfully predicted the future. In his final speech Dr. King made a clear reference to the prophet Moses when he said:
“I have been to the mountain top…(God) allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And so I’m happy tonight for ’Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’”
Just hours after that speech, Dr. King was standing on the balcony outside his room in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee when he was hit by an assassin’s bullet. He died in a pool of blood. You can tell a true prophet, because the word he speaks comes true.
According to the New Testament, there are many prophets, and you and I are are among them. We read in the 2nd chapter of Acts that visitors from many lands were in Jerusalem on the morning of that first Pentecost. Suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. And tongues of fire appeared among the disciples, and rested on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. The disciples caused such a commotion that people said, “These men are drunk!” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said:
These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 9 o’clock in the morning; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…’
Peter goes on to say that all who believe God’s Word about Jesus and submit to baptism, will be saved from sin and death, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit themselves. The meaning of Acts 2 is clear: The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy. All God’s people possess the Holy Spirit, and always will; so all of God’s people are prophets; and, together, we make up a prophetic community.
The primary duty of a prophetic community is to be God’s witnesses in the world. In Acts 4:31 we read that the disciples of Jesus spoke “the Word of God with boldness.” In the context of the book of Acts the Word of God the disciples spoke was “the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus.” This news is not just for us! It is for the world, and it is our responsibility to communicate it to the world in a way that the world can understand it. When I came to this church for the first time in 1979 I thought that sharing the gospel was my responsibility. As I come to this church in 2019 I know that the responsibility is ours!
The primary value in belonging to a prophetic community is that we can receive God’s direction. In John 16 Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit guide them into all the truth and declare to them things that are to come. Some people say, “That is true, but the Holy Spirit never goes beyond scripture.” Yet, that is cannot be true, for Jesus spoke these words when the only scripture we had was the Hebrew Bible; the New Testament came after. Likewise, it cannot be true for it would deny God’s ability to offer specific guidance to God’s people in the present age, individually or collectively. It would mean that Jesus Christ which is the head of his body, the church, had advocated many of the specifics of headship. I believe that God wants to give direction to the Church and to the churches.
I believe, too, that God wants his church to be free to be adaptable to the needs of the age in which we live. We read with the Bible in one hand and the daily paper in the other, and we try to bring the two together. That is why, in Matthew 16, Jesus gave his disciple Peter “the keys to the kingdom” saying, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Peter was Peter the Confessor, if we confess Christ as Peter did, then the same authority belongs to us as a community. (Catholics have always seen this better than Protestants, though they have not always acted on it as they should. And the Pope would be the first to say this.)
A good example of binding and loosing in found in Acts 15. Therein the disciples hold the first Church Council at Antioch to decide whether or not the gentiles who are coming to Jesus had to become Jews before they could become Christians. The disciples discussed this issue throughly. Then they either reached a consensus, or they took a vote–the text is unclear. Then they publish their decision to all the gentile Christians everywhere saying:
28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from unchastity.
Now some people say that, when it comes to the church, God is always on the side of the Status Quo. That is not so. Moses gave Israel over 600 “commandments in ordinances,” the primary purpose of which was to separate Israel from the nations, so that the nations might know Israel belonged to God. In one fell swoop, the first church council struck down all those commandments in ordinances, so that all nations would know that people of every nation can belong to the family of God.
The theology behind this radical notion if found in Ephesians 2. There we read:
“(Jesus) abolished in his flesh the Law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two (one Jew and one gentile) so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.
Jesus “abolished in his flesh the Law of commandments and ordinances,” all 613 of them. Today there are about 10 million Jews on the earth—many of them still struggling to keep up with the commandments in ordinances, and there are about 2.4 billion Christians who never give them a thought. If the first church council had not acted so decisively, we might still be equally burdened, and our numbers might still be equally small.
The Word of God is always a creative Word. God created the cosmos by God’s Word of Power. And God turns our world “right side up” by God’s word of power. This is happening all around us if only we have the eyes to see. In 1st Corinthians 1, St. Paul said that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching (or “by the foolishness of what is preached”) to save those that believe.” And Karl Barth wrote, “When the Word of God is faithfully proclaimed, God will make himself heard.” What is God saying to us now? It is every a word of Grace, Love and Forgiveness. It is a word that points us to the future that is coming to us in Jesus Christ.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.