You have heard me say it before: You and I live in a postmodern society. That means, many believe truth is relative. There is no absolute standard of “right” and no absolute standard of “wrong.” So, many make choices based on what feels right to them. If it feels right, then it must be right (so the thinking goes).
So then, what’s the difference between an abortion and the murder of the unborn? [To a postmodern thinker] Whatever the mother thinks is going on inside the womb! If the mother does not wish to keep the child, then she does not think it is “life.” And if it is not a “life,” then she will not call it murder and there is nothing morally wrong. Yet, if a mother wishes to have a child and the child is taken away through an act of violence, then, since the mother felt this was human life, the offender can be charged with murder! Even ‘life’ becomes defined by whatever a person wants it to be—based on what they think or feel it is (and that definition changes from person to person).
Or, if you feel that the speed limit down Old-27 (in Harrison) and McEwan St. (in Clare) should be 50 miles per hour, then the officer who pulls you over for speeding has no reason to write you a ticket because you feel the speed limit should be higher (and the city has posted the wrong speed limit). Postmodern thinking teaches that you determine what is right and what is wrong based on your feelings.
The reason I keep bringing up this postmodern mindset is because you and I live in this postmodern society; this is the current thinking which dominates what you see and hear in life.
That same thinking filters into the world’s beliefs about God. A September 2016 poll surveyed American religious beliefs (and most surveyed identified themselves as Christian). This poll discovered that 58% of Americans believe God is the author of the Bible and 42% percent believe the Bible does not have the authority to tell them what to do. Seventy-four percent feel that small sins do not deserve hell and 52% believe they will go to heaven because of the good deeds they do. Not to mention, 70% of Americans (who, again, identify as Christian) do not believe hell exists and 64% believe all people— regardless of belief— will go to heaven. (http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/)
So, what does a poll like this reveal? In words of the pollster: “Most Americans identify as Christians, but seem confused about some details of their faith… Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are OK for most people.”A survey like this reveals a heart which picks and chooses what it wants to believe. The real trouble is not just that you live in this kind of religious atmosphere, but that you too can adopt this same thinking, that you also begin picking and choosing what you want to believe.
Setting your beliefs on your own authority can put your soul in eternal danger. That’s why God warns and urges: Listen to the Prophet! God gives him the Word and He speaks God’s Word.
So, how does anyone know anything about God? How you do know if you stand right in his sight? If your words are pleasing to him? If your actions meet his expectations? If he would approve of your behavior? Because, according to our reading, even the Israelites (at one time) are not too sure.
They were camped around this place called Mount Horeb (or, as you know it, Mount Sinai). Smoke billows from its top. The ground rumbles. The shrill trumpet blast echoes across the desert floor. God came down from heaven and now rests on Mount Sinai— and they are terrified.
God is there! The perfect God with the highest of highest standards for moral perfection. The mighty God who demands absolute obedience! The God who ultimately has the final say on their life. One day their earthly life will end and they will meet him, but they have no idea how they can and live. So, they ask for a prophet— someone who receives God’s Word and brings it to the people.
Enter Moses. He walks up Mount Sinai. God hands him the Word and Moses brings down God’s Ten Commandments. If the nation ever wondered how God saw them, all they had to do was Listen to the Prophet, listen to Moses.
Yet, for you, God has raised up a Prophet even greater than Moses. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers… The New Testament so clearly identifies that Prophet as Jesus (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). [I] will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
If you want to know what God expects of you in this life, then listen to Jesus. Understand, Jesus’ words carry authority. Jesus does not base his teaching on his own opinion. He does not share what feels is right in this life. Instead, he tells you what (1) God says and (2) what God will do.
There’s a part of our hearts that doesn’t want to hear this, a part of our lives fighting for a reason as to why God’s truth does not apply to us. Do you hear it?
Jesus says: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10). Yet, our hearts try undercut Jesus’ authority. “Jesus, I don’t need to worship every Sunday. I determined, by the power of my own feelings that it does not matter if I am here or not. You must accept my belief.”
Or, Jesus explains eternal life: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet, that doesn’t sound too fair. “God, I think everyone will go to heaven, I know Jesus says that we need faith in him. But I have determined, through my own investigation that this is not the case. My belief feels right to me, so I am right and you are wrong.”
Or, Jesus cares about the way you live. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Yet, maybe that does not sound too realistic. “God, I know what pleases you—what kind of words please you, how I can use my body and mind to glorify you, but I have determined that this brings nothing bad into my life. Therefore there is nothing morally wrong with the way I act.”
Your heart (and mine) will try to create its own beliefs, its own rules, and follow them— even going so far as to demand that God cater to you. That sounds good; that sounds acceptable. Except… except of one truth no one can deny: You (and I) will die one day. When that happens, God clearly reveals what will happen next. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
Yes, God’s Word can offend us. The sinful nature inside each of us does not want its deeds evil, wicked deeds exposed. It does not want God to tell us how to live. Yet, God tells us how to live so that you (and I) do not fall under his eternal judgment!
So, God raises up his Prophet for you! Look at Jesus and recognize that his Word is not mean to enslave you, but to free you! To free you from the consequences of sin! To free you for eternal life!
That is what the Prophet preaches! Freedom for the captive! Good news for the spiritually poor and empty (Luke 4:18). The message of his mouth has authority; it accomplishes what he says it will do.
On the cross Jesus speaks: It is finished (John 19:30)--and that word does something. He pushed Satan back into hell. He grabbed you (and me) by hand, led us to himself, and leads us out of the bondage of our sins. He rises from the dead and proclaims real truth: Peace be with you. As I forgive you, you are forgiven. I can tell you that you are at peace with God (John 20:21).
Listen to the Prophet. God gives him the Word to proclaim, a word which reveals your truthful reality. There remains no more guesswork as to how you stand before God. Listen to the Prophet because He speaks the Word.
Still. Today. Right now. Jesus the Prophet still speaks. The writer of [the book of] Hebrews says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways… that is, God sent out people with his Word. Yet, God does not send out new messages to prophets anymore. In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (1:1-2). The Bible is similar to a diary. If you write down your day’s events, and I read that book out loud, I am not reading my words, I am not reading my thoughts. I am reading your words and your thoughts. God gave certain men his Word to write down (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When I read it out loud, you hear what God desires. When you read it, you read God’s teachings. Listen to Jesus, the Prophet, because he speaks God’s Word.
Yes, Listen to Jesus, the Prophet as you step out into a postmodern society. Most recently, the president of the largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] (a liberal branch of Lutherans) went on record to say: If hell exists, I think it’s empty. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/elizabeth-eaton-presiding-bishop-evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-chicago-if-hell-exists-i-think-its-empty-face-to-faith-podcast/) This religious leader speaks in the name of God, that is, she passes along a teaching that appears to be approved by God. But, does God approve it?
First, If hell exists? Jesus, in the Bible makes it clear hell exists. He tells how a man named Lazarus went heaven and a nonbelieving rich man when to hell (Luke 16:22-23; see also Matthew 10:28). Then, If hell exists, I think it’s empty. Yet, Jesus makes it clear: All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another… He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…[the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:32-33,46). Again, this Lutheran preacher speaks a teaching different from the One Jesus himself gives.
You must be on your guard against prophets who speak in God’s name, but are not sharing what he commands. No one advertises himself as a false prophet. No one says: “Come to my church. I’m going to tell you a bunch of lies.” No one says, “Listen to me; I’ll share my firm opinions with you.” No one will stand up and say, “We take little snippets of the Bible out of context and pass along teachings that make sense to our minds.” No one will say that.
That is why you need to Listen to God’s Prophet. When someone tells you something about angels or heaven & hell or how people enter heaven and you’re not so sure they’re right, go back to the Bible and see if this matches what Jesus says. And yes, our world passes along sentimental thoughts and some of them appear quite harmless. Maybe you even wonder: Why not let people believe what they want? What’s the harm in that? Because God warns: [A] prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
God is that serious when it comes to the matter of your soul! He knows that allowing just a little false teaching into your heart can lead you down the wide road into hell. So, he goes to the extreme: Remove those words from your presence! Get rid of them!
This can sound strict, like God is a narrow-minded elitist. Yet, is he? Many of you already act in the same way as parents and grandparents. If you have a little one in your house, you recognize there are some dangers in that house. If a child grabs a bottle of bleach and you take it away. He will cry. He will think you’re the worst parent on earth. He might yell and stomp his feet. He will try to make you feel bad. Does that mean you are a bad person? No! The child is still wrong and you are still right. You took the bleach away because it harms. God, in the same way, protects his Word so that you get to hear his truth and remain close to him.
It’s a tough teaching. It’s tough because our world really does not enjoy hearing truth. They will agree on opinions, but when you call an opinion a fact, it will be resisted. It’s tough because even you (and I) will want to follow our feelings.
Yet, Listen to the Prophet because God gives him the Word—the authoritative truth on life. God removes all guesswork as to how you stand with him. Listen to the Prophet who still speaks the Word so that you may live guided to your heavenly home.