Introduction to Series
The title of my Advent sermon series is “Waiting for Christ.” It’s simple, and yet it’s packed with meaning. “Christ” is a synonym for “Messiah,” which means “Anointed One.” In ancient Israel, there were three offices that required ceremonial anointing with oil: the office of prophet; the office of priest; and the office of king.
Each office was crucial. Prophets were men with a message from God for his people. Priests were men who stood between God and his people, offering atonement for their sins, and interceding on their behalf. Kings were men who ruled over God’s people and saved them from their enemies. But despite great prophets like Moses and Elijah, priests like Aaron and Samuel, and kings like David and Hezekiah, God promised something better—someone better. And as time wore on, Israel longed for their promised Messiah; their promised Christ; their promised Prophet, Priest, and King.
This morning, let’s open our Bibles and turn to Deuteronomy 18:9–22, as we begin our series by “Waiting for a Prophet”:
9 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 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. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 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.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 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.
This is the word of the Lord. Let us pray.
Almighty God, fill our hearts with hope, faith, joy, and love, as we wait for our promised Prophet, Priest, and King; that by him we may learn your will for our salvation; receive reconciliation through his perfect sacrifice; and enjoy deliverance from all our enemies under his righteous reign. In the name of Jesus Christ our Mediator, who always lives to make intercession for us, Amen.
Listening to the Wrong Voices
Israel had been homeless in the desert wilderness for forty years. At last, they stood on the border of their new home, the land that God had promised to their forefather Abraham. But Moses knew that this land of blessing would also bring new challenges and temptations. He knew that Israel would find themselves in need of guidance and help. They would find themselves in need of a word from the Lord.
In those days, they would be in danger of turning to the practices of the pagan nations around them, nations that sought help and guidance through fortune-tellers and mediums who claimed to be able to consult dead spirits. These nations even burnt their children as offerings to false gods in hope that these gods would pay attention to them and direct them. Verse 14 summarizes why these nations were an abomination to God: “[they] listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners.” The voices we listen to say a lot about who we are and what we believe. The voices that we allow into our lives are one of the clearest indications of our character and our values.
Israel would go on to settle the land and anoint their first king, King Saul. At first, Saul heeded Moses’s warning. First Samuel 28:3 says that he “expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.” But there came a time when an army gathered its forces to fight against Israel, and Saul was terrified. Desperate for a word of certainty about the future—desperate to know what would happen—Saul went a medium at En-dor and asked her to summon the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel. It’s a bizarre story, to say the least.
It’s especially bizarre for us in the modern West, far removed from the superstitious spirituality of Israel’s ancient neighbors. Yet we’re not all that different on the inside. We all long to understand the world around us, and to feel like things are under control. We all want knowledge and certainty. We all look for reliable guidance. And when we’re distressed or afraid, it’s easy to latch on to whatever voice is speaking the loudest, or with the most confidence. Whether it’s fooling around with horoscopes, indulging superstitions, listening to false teachers or prosperity preachers, or even getting swept up in conspiracy theories, we are prone to listen to the wrong voices. We need something better—someone who will teach us the way that we should go, and tell us what we really need to know. Someone we can trust. Someone who will reveal God’s will for us and for our salvation.
A Prophet is Coming
Moses’s message to Israel in verse 15 is the same message that we need to hear today. Moses assured God’s people that they did not need to seek a message from a fortune-teller, a dead spirit, a false god, or anyone else, because the only true and living God would not leave them without a prophet: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
First, the coming prophet is like Moses—a mediator, who stands between God and his people, giving them God’s word (18:15–16). Verse 16 says that when God spoke to his people at Mt. Sinai in the wilderness, his voice was so fearsome that the people were afraid to hear anything more from him. So they asked for a prophet—a person to hear from God on their behalf, and pass on the message. Israel looked to Moses as this great prophet. But God revealed through Moses that there was an even greater prophet coming.
Second, the coming prophet is one who will speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, in the name of the Lord (18:18, 20–22). In verse 18, God says of this Prophet, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Verses 20–22 go on to explain how prophets were tested to ensure that they were truly from God. Unlike the false prophets of other religions, this promised Prophet would speak from God, in his name, and speak only what he had received from the Father.
Finally, the coming prophet is one to whom we must listen (18:15, 18). Moses says in verse 15, “It is to him you shall listen,” and God says in verse 18, “whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” Those who listen to the Coming Prophet listen to the one who sent him; those who reject the Coming Prophet reject God himself. Nothing is more important than that we listen to God’s Messiah—that we hear and obey his teachings.
Centuries later, when John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing, “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, … ‘Are you the Prophet?’” John answered, “No,” for there was another One coming—a Prophet so great that John felt unworthy to tie his sandals. This Prophet would be greater than Moses or Elijah; greater than Isaiah or Jeremiah; greater than Ezekiel or Daniel. This is the Prophet for whom we are waiting this Advent.
Do you long for his word? Do you long for his word every day? Do you take time to listen to him? Do you search the Scriptures, and continually read his words in the Gospels? Or, if you’re honest with yourself, do you spend more time listening to other voices? Voices that perhaps aren’t even Christian voices? Voices that lack Christian maturity and wisdom? The voices we listen to say a lot about who we are and what we believe. The voices that we allow into our lives are one of the clearest indications of our values. This Advent, take time to listen to God’s Prophet as you wait for his coming at Christmas.
Let’s stand and bow our heads for a moment of silent prayer and confession of sin as we prepare our hearts to receive the Lord’s Supper.