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Who Is Jesus?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 1, 2015
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 John 1:19-34 Psalm 111
In our reading from Deuteronomy, we heard a prophesy about a prophet who is to be raised up. This prophet was to be like Moses–the greatest prophet. The prophesy about the prophet became attached to the idea of the end times. There were other prophets who predicted a great and terrible Day of Yahweh. This Day of Yahweh was a time when God Himself would come down to earth and set things straight. The sun would be darkened; the moon turned to blood; there would be fire and earthquakes. With all these terrible events taking places, there is no wonder that it was called a great and terrible day. And “the prophet” was to come before this terrible Day of Yahweh.
At the time of Jesus, everyone was getting ready for this to happen. The people in Israel thought it could come any day. This may explain why John the Baptist had such a huge following. Mark tells us that, “There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem.” John taught repentance for forgiveness of sins before baptism. And it seems that the people of Judea were deeply concerned about this. In Matthew’s gospel, John gives the people of Judea a reason to be baptized. He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And in Luke, we have an even more graphic preaching from John, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So in Luke, John says that right now, unworthy trees are being cut down and thrown into the fire. This is some kind of metaphor, but the people of Judea must have sensed that it had something to do with the coming Day of Yahweh, and the refining fire of God.
So with all this fear and excitement in the air, it is no wonder that the temple priests and the tribe who served in the temple called Levites, it is no wonder that they came running up to John to ask him who he was. In rapid succession, they fire questions at John the Baptist: “Who are you?”–”I am not the Christ.” “Are you Elijah?”–”No.” “Are you the prophet?”–”No.” Then you can feel a sense of frustration because the next question comes, “Who are you?” All the fear and anticipation about the Day of Yahweh is behind these frantic questions.
So John says that he is not the prophet. Who was the prophet? Did the prophet come? Was Jesus the prophet?
Let’s look at just a little of the background behind the prophet. The prophet was a kind of intermediary between God and the people of Israel. When God appeared to the Israelites, it was a dazzling light-show, noisy, magnificent, and scary. There was lightning, thunder, earthquakes, a loud trumpet-blast, and fire on the mountain top where God appeared. This frightened the Israelites so much that they asked not to see God again. They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). God consents to their request and gives them prophets. In the case of our story, we are talking about that one special prophet who will be raised up after Moses. God will put His own words into the mouth of the prophet. In Deuteronomy 18:18 God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
Is this a description of what Jesus did? Jesus says in John 15:15, “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” So this passage, and many others like it, say that Jesus is speaking the words of His Father. God is speaking through Jesus. In this sense, Jesus is a prophet, perhaps the prophet.
But there is a great difference between Jesus and prophets–even the greatest prophet, Moses. Jesus claims that God is in Him.
“He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10).
Jesus claims that God is His Father. This meant that Jesus was equal to God. This so outraged the Jews that they sought to kill Jesus on the spot. Jesus said,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. . . . The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blaspheme; because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:27-30, 31, 33).
Now no ordinary prophet would claim that God is his father. And certainly, no prophet would say that God and he were one. They may say that they have some special access to God’s Word. But they would never say that they were equal to God in any way.
There is another way in which Jesus is like the prophet. As we saw, the Israelites were afraid to speak to God Himself. The prophet was supposed to speak to God for the people and bring God’s Word to the people.
In a very real sense, Jesus brought God’s Word to us. In a very real way, Jesus brought God to us. And He brought God to us in a way that didn’t frighten us. He brought God to us in a way that a prophet might: in a human voice.
But once again, Jesus did these things in a way no ordinary prophet could. John’s Gospel says that God’s Word existed in the beginning and was God. Then John makes the staggering claim that God’s Word became flesh. John tells us that all things were made by God’s Word and that the Word that made all things was coming into the world. Jesus Christ was that Word of God. Jesus Christ was the Word that made all things, now walking on the earth. So Jesus did not receive some words from God to tell people. Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. So Jesus did bring God’s Word to us. But not as a prophet would, who hears a message from God and tells it to the people. But rather, Jesus was God’s Word Itself, walking on the earth.
So Jesus brings God’s Word to us. And Jesus brings God to us. John says that Jesus “has made him known.” And with Jesus there is no lightning, no thunder, no earthquake, no volcanic fire. Only a peaceful, gentle, human being. That is how God is manifested in Jesus.
So Jesus fills many of the roles of a prophet–but not really. Jesus tells us what He hears from the Father, as a prophet would. But with Jesus, the Father is His father. As a prophet, Jesus brings God to humanity in a non-threatening manner. But unlike any prophet, Jesus is equal to God (John 10:33). Jesus is one with the Father; the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. And finally, as a prophet, Jesus brings God’s Word to humanity. But unlike any ordinary prophet, Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. Jesus doesn’t just bring words from God to humanity. Jesus is The Word in human form. Jesus was like a prophet, but wasn’t a mere prophet. Jesus was and is Emmanuel–God with us.
Lord, we thank you for your prophets, who have taught us your Word. When we wander from your precepts, your prophets have shown us the way back to you. And, Lord, we especially thank you for your dearest gift to us–your presence on earth. You came to us as the Word made flesh. You are the incarnate Word of God. You are the greatest Prophet in that you are God’s Word Itself. You have shown us God’s ways for all time. You not only taught. You demonstrated God’s ways. We learn from your teachings, and we learn from your life. You healed; you taught; and you gave of yourself. So may we heal, teach, and give to those around us–an image of yourself, the Word made flesh.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.