Tag Archives: deuteronomy 18

Jesus wants to destroy your echo chamber [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 5]

30 Nov
Image result for jesus cleansing the temple

In this series of posts on Deuteronomy 18, we’ve been talking about how we need to get out of the echo chambers of life and find the truth in Jesus.

There is an interesting story in John18:33 and following.  Jesus has been arrested, and he was taken to the Roman governor Pilate.  The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire, saying Jesus called himself a king and thus a challenger to the throne. That would definitely pique Pilate’s interest, and he questions Jesus.  Read John 18:33-38 to see how their discussion goes.

I want to focus on the line where Jesus’ said that he came to testify to the truth, and everyone on the side of truth listens to him. Pilate responds with the question that so many of us are asking: “What is truth?”  It is a question philosophers through the ages have asked, and the answer is not always easy to come by, especially in a world of so much false news. 

But Jesus said that everyone on the side of truth listens to him.  Are you listening to Jesus?  That reminds me of another event in Jesus’ life.

Do you remember the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration?  Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up to a mountain to pray.  There Jesus’ was miraculously changed in appearance, shining bright white.  And guess who shows up?  Elijah and Moses, perhaps the two greatest prophets of Israel. Peter is blown away, of course, and he does what he so often does. He lets his emotion carry him, and he tells Jesus, “Let’s build shelters for you all…” and just then, we read that God the Father, interrupts Peter and says, “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

In other words, God is saying, “Peter, be quiet.  Though you have before you Moses and Elijah, listen to Jesus.” We must listen to Jesus. 

We find truth in Jesus.  Christians must make a practice of seeking truth in Jesus.  So let us not engage in detestable practices, trying to gain knowledge and power from them.  Steer clear of them. Instead, listen to Jesus. 

To listen to him we need to spend time with him! Read the four stories of Jesus’ life, The Gospels. Learn from people who are experts on Jesus.

Read books like Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Jesus is surprising.  Yancey, in that book, talks about how when he started a careful, close study of Jesus, he was shocked at what he learned.  He thought he knew Jesus.  Of course, he knew a lot, but through his study, he learned so much more. He found out that he had viewpoints on Jesus that needed correction. 

Sometimes we need to be put in our place, like God did with Peter, and not assume that we have listened to Jesus.  I can almost guarantee that when you listen to Jesus he will destroy your echo chamber.  Jesus is not conservative, or progressive or liberal.  Jesus, as he said, has a kingdom is not of this world. 

When I was in the Clergy Leadership Program a few years ago, my cohort had pastors from a variety of Christian perspectives.  Lutherans, Catholic,Orthodox, and many others.  We’d get into theological or biblical discussions regularly, and when some of them started talking, I sometimes didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  I realized that I could live in my own echo chamber.  They knew Jesus in ways I had never heard about, and I was tempted to think that they were wrong!  It was kinda scary.  Being in an echo chamber is so comfortable because you are affirmed all the time, and you don’t have to learn or grow or hear that you might be wrong.  Those other pastors showed me a Jesus I never knew. 

The same thing happens in our local Conestoga Valley Ministerium, when we have Bible study, and I hear what Mennonite or Pentecostal or Brethren pastors have to say.  What I have come to find is that those other perspectives are so good for me.  I don’t always agree, but many times I do, and in fact have learned that my view of Jesus and his Kingdom was shallow, an echo chamber view, and my view needed to be expanded. 

So get out of your echo chamber.  Seek to learn new and different views.  Especially about Jesus.  And find the truth in him alone.  Jesus isn’t going to tell you which political party to follow.  But you can learn about his Kingdom, and you can learn to apply his kingdom principles to all of life. 

Who is THE prophet? [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 4]

29 Nov
Image result for john the baptist pointing to jesus

In part 3 of this series, we met a prophet named John the Baptist in the book of the Bible titled John (though the “John” in that title was a different John!)  In John 1:25, the people question John the Baptist about his ministry.  They wanted to out him as the Messiah (the savior king that God promised to send to Israel), or the reincarnation of one of Israel’s most famous prophets, Elijah, or the fulfillment of the promise in Deuteronomy 18, THE prophet who was to come.  John responds with a resounding “No!” to all these questions.  The people are mystified.  If he is not any of those, why is John the Baptist having a ministry of calling people to repentance through baptism?  His ministry model seems like something that one of those promised leaders would do!  John tells the people that he has a specific role, that he is preparing the way for THE prophet.

As the passage continues, we read that John saw Jesus the next day and proclaimed that Jesus was the one he was preparing the nation for.  Some of John’s disciples, then, start following Jesus. Soon more disciples start following Jesus, and one of them, Philip, says in verse 45, to another guy, Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law.”  By saying this, Philip is making a reference to the Prophet Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18. 

But the references don’t stop there.  In John 5:46 we read Jesus saying the same thing, that the person Moses wrote about in the law was Jesus himself!

In John 6:14, after Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000 people with only five small barley loaves and two small fish, the people say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

In John 7:40 after a powerful teaching by Jesus, some people in the crowd said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”  Others said “he is the Christ.”

A few years later, after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to his father, after the church had first started, we read in Acts 3 that Peter and John healed a man, and Peter started preaching to the crowd.  In verses 22-26 he quotes Deuteronomy 18, where Moses talks about the prophet to come, and Peter says that Jesus was that prophet!

A few more years went by, and the church had grown like crazy in Jerusalem, and the Jewish religious leaders were not happy, feeling threatened by popularity of the Christians.  So they started persecuting the church, and one of the first men they attacked was a guy named Stephen.  In Acts 7, Stephen is standing trial before the high priest, and Stephen tells the story of the nation of Israel, eventually concluding that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one.  In verse 37 he refers the Old Testament teaching of that promised one, and guess who he quotes?  Moses, in Deuteronomy 18, where Moses says,“God will send you a prophet like me.”

What all this means is that the earliest Christians, and Jesus himself, said that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18, the promise of a prophet who would come. 

So if Jesus was THE Prophet, what does that matter to us?  As Moses said in Deuteronomy 18, we need to listen to the prophet. Check back in to part 5 of this series, as we will specifically apply this teaching to our lives!

Of Prophets [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 3]

28 Nov
Image result for john the baptist

When you think of prophets, what comes to mind?  A scraggly guy like the one in the picture above?  Or maybe a preacher in a church?  Someone who has a vision of the future?  The Bible is loaded with prophets, and they come in many shapes and sizes.  One thing is similar about them all, and that is what this post is about.  In this series, we’ve been looking at Deuteronomy 18:9-22, seeking God’s heart for how to discover the truth. As we saw in part 2, Israel should not listen to the sorcerer or diviner.  Now in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 we read that they should listen to God’s prophet. 

In verse 16 Moses reminds them of the time 40 years earlier when they were at the mountain and God made his covenant with the people.  See Deuteronomy 5:23-27.  There we read that God’s voice was so powerful, the people wanted God to stop talking because they feared for their lives!  We so often wish God would speak to us.  Maybe if we actually heard God’s voice, we might feel differently.  I know we like to joke about loud mouths, but imagine a voice that could get you killed!  So God said that he would raise up a prophet from among them, and God would speak through the prophet, whose voice wouldn’t kill them, and they were to listen to the prophet.  Moses was that prophet. 

Turn back to Deuteronomy 18, and Moses is prepping the people for the time when he would die and there would be a new leader.  Moses spoke God’s truth to the people, and eventually there would be a new prophet to lead them.

The big question was how were they to know if the prophet was speaking for God or just for himself or for other gods?  That prophet would have been in a prime position, right?  He could really manipulate the people for personal gain. He was the one who was supposed to be speaking the words of God, and if he wanted, he could make the words of God say a lot of stuff that would benefit him, keep him in power, enrich him. 

Like the tele-evangelists who say, “God wants me to have this multi-million dollar Lear Jet.”  Or maybe for 2019 when we start up our capital campaign again, I should say, like some preachers, that God wants me to lock myself in the church steeple until we raise all the money.   

How do we know what to believe?  With so many people saying “God told them this or that,” how are we to evaluate it? 

Well, God gives them a test.  In verse 22, he says that if the prophet speaks things that don’t take place or come true, then they can disregard that guy.

This is similar to New Testament teaching about false prophets. 

1 John 4 says that there are two tests we can use to determine if a teacher is true: must agree that Jesus has come in the flesh and is from God, and second, that teacher must listen to the apostles.  In other words, teachers must follow New Testament teaching. If they don’t they are false.

So just as Moses in Deuteronomy 18 says that there will be more prophets after him, the people of Israel began keeping an eye out for these prophets. There were many.  Through the Old Testament, there is a lineage of prophets, and they were both men and women.  Some of the most famous, you may have heard of.  Deborah in Judges 4-5.  Samuel, Nathan, Elijah & Elisha, and of course the many prophets who have biblical books to their names: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all those short books at the end of the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets.  Even in the New Testament we read about prophets.  At Jesus’ birth there is a lady named Anna, and a man named Simeon, who functioned in a prophetic role.  Jesus called his cousin John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, but was John THE prophet that Moses refers to Deuteronomy 18?

What I mean is that as the centuries went by, the situation of the Jews changed. After the Israelite period of Kings, the people turned their backs on God and he allowed them to be defeated by the many world powers fighting for control of the region.  The Babylonians gave way to the Persians who were conquered by the Greeks and eventually the Romans took control.  So by the time we get to the New Testament, the Jews longed for another kind of Moses, a leader who would once again lead them to freedom.  And they looked to Deuteronomy 18, the Prophet who was to come. Was John the Baptist that new prophet?

In the New Testament, in John 1:21, we read that John the Baptist was gaining popularity in the nation of Israel.  This was a thousand years after the time of Deuteronomy.  John the Baptist was in ministry right around the year 30 AD in Palestine.  The Roman Empire had military control of the land, and the people of Israel were hoping and praying for change.  Maybe John was the guy they were hoping for!  So the people ask John a very unique question: “Are you the Prophet?”  They were referring to Deut. 18, and the prophet mentioned there. But John says, No.  So the people ask him, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior?”  Again he says, No. In verse 25, they question John further.  If he is not the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, and if he is not the Prophet, or the reincarnation of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, then why was John baptizing people?  They were really curious about John.  But clearly John was not the Prophet, though he said he did have a unique role, in that he was preparing the way for someone, someone who was far more important.

Tomorrow we meet THE Prophet!

The danger of echo-chambers [God’s heart for people to find the truth, part 1]

26 Nov

Photo by Joe Taylor on Unsplash

Have you heard of “echo chambers”? I was listening to a podcast this week where a guy said that in our day and age, especially because of the many, many choices we have for news, and because of social media, that Christians too often live in an echo chamber. 

 Echo chambers are rooms where you can talk and hear the sound waves of your voice bounce off the walls and repeat over and over so you hear an echo, echo, echo, echo.  We do this in life too, especially with the news, when we listen to one viewpoint over and over.  For example, if you believe that one particular news outlet is biased, you might decide to never listen to or read any report from that news outlet.  What happens is that we tend to load our social media feeds with news outlets that tend to agree with us.  Or we watch TV news that affirms our beliefs. Usually this falls along political lines.  It doesn’t matter if you are conservative, progressive, or liberal, it is human nature to want to be affirmed. But that can create an echo chamber in our lives, where we almost always, or maybe only, listen to what we already believe.  We don’t listen to other points of view.  We become insulated from hearing other points of view. 

Here’s the thing: Christians should not be in an echo chamber.  Instead Christians should be people who are able to evaluate multiple points of view with a Kingdom perspective!  The question, then, for Christians is, where do we find this truth? 

As we will see in Deuteronomy 18, God was also very concerned that Israel would be able to find the truth too. 

In the last few months studying Deuteronomy, we’ve seen laws about worship, about food, about holidays, about governance, about generosity, and time and time again, God tells Israel that they are not to be like the nations around them.  Israel is to be different because they follow God.  God wants Israel to be different, because he loves them and has a heart for justice, for human flourishing. In the nations surrounding Israel, there is much injustice.  So Israel must look different.

Once again in Deuteronomy 18, we see God warning Israel about the temptation to be like the selfish, destructive nations around them, because those nations had many detestable practices. 

Look at what he says in Deuteronomy 18:9-14.  Verse 9 tells us that in the Promised Land of Canaan, the land Israel was about to enter and take over, there were nations who did all kinds of detestable practices. 

I tried to imagine what that would be like for the people of Israel to enter into this foreign land and see all these different kinds of practices. 

Have you ever been to a foreign country where Christianity is not the dominant religion?  It is an eye-opening experience.  When I was in Guyana, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Malaysia, I experienced a bit of this. All over the place were temples and flags and statues devoted to the gods of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.  I didn’t feel tempted to give my life to those religions.  It was certainly very interesting, for example, visiting a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, talking to a Muslim Imam in Guyana, watching Hindus enter their temples in India.  I felt uncomfortable, and yet curious.  My first visit to a Catholic cathedral in Vienna, Austria, felt similarly uncomfortable, and that nation is historically Christian! 

So from my vantage point, it seems like Israel would not be tempted to get into all those detestable practices,especially because they have God on their side. Why would they ever think of anything else?  Well, God knows his people.  I think again that the slave mentality is a factor here. I’ve mentioned it in the past, and I think it pertains here.  They were slaves 400+ years in Egypt, and it is very hard to remove that mentality from their way of thinking.  Slaves did as their rulers told them.  God knows his people could be tempted by the powerful nations around them to fall back into that slave mentality. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at the detestable practices people in other nations used to gain knowledge and power, practices that God wants Israel to have nothing to do with.

So once again he strongly tells them to be different, to not practice the detestable religious practices of the nations in the Promised Land of Canaan.  And so he lists a bunch of these practices, to make it abundantly clear what he is talking about.