In Old Testament times, God sent one prophet after another to make known His will to sinners. Each of them had divine authority in what they said as prophets, for they repeated the very words God had given them. But death swept each one of them out of this world. None of them had direct access to the hearts of their hearers – not even Moses, who saw God face to face, could make what he said effective in the lives of those who listened to him
But it was he who pointed to an altogether greater prophet who could make what He said effective. He told Israel: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken” (Deut 18:15), a verse which Peter – speaking after the lame man had been healed at the Beautiful gate of the temple – quoted to the people in Jerusalem as applying to Jesus, “the Prince of life.”
As a Prophet, Christ went about the land of Israel proclaiming the will of His Father. But, though now ascended to heaven, He continues this work as He reveals “to us, by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation” (Shorter Catechism, answer 24). It is a work that will never come to an end while this world remains in existence.
1. Christ preached with divine authority. [Note: The headings in this article have taken from The Christian’s Reasonable Service (vol 1, p 522) by Wilhelmus à Brakel, a seventeenth-century Dutch writer. The four-volume set is available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.] The people who listened to the Sermon on the Mount recognised this; they noticed the great difference between His teaching and that of the scribes. His authority was altogether greater than even that of the Old Testament prophets, for He is Himself God. Yet did His hearers submit from the heart to His teachings? Or were they in effect saying, “There is no beauty [in His Person or His teachings] that we should desire Him”? Sadly, it would seem that this is what very many of them were saying. And so today; whenever sinners come in contact with Christ as Prophet, they all too often reject Him. They find no beauty, no attractiveness, in His Person or His teaching. They may meet Him in His Word, but they do not accept His authority. Yet they do not realise that they have no right to reject His teaching. They are His creatures, whose attitude should be: I am under authority; I am duty-bound to accept His teaching. What is more, His words are truth; they can never deceive. They are, as Peter so clearly recognised, “the words of eternal life”. Those who come under His authority, who receive His teaching to the extent of believing in Him as He reveals Himself, have eternal life; they will never perish. To all eternity, in the presence of their Prophet, they will be learning more and more “with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge”.
2. Christ preached with a holy zeal. When in this world, He was consumed with ardent devotion to His Father and the cause for which He had come into the world. So when He “found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money . . . He drove them all out”. Then His disciples remembered that it was written (in Psalm 69), “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up”. It was the same zeal that caused Him to speak with the utmost plainness to the Jews in such terms as these: “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins”. As the exalted Prophet, He shows the same zeal when He sends His ambassadors to issue such warnings – more especially when He applies these warnings to the awakening of the careless. And how zealous He is for the salvation of sinners when He causes it to be proclaimed effectively: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”!
3. Christ’s preaching was accompanied by divine power. It was no mere power to persuade, no mere influence on the human soul. It was more, for sinners such as the woman of Samaria were made willing to turn from sin and to go in the ways of righteousness. It was irresistible power that accompanied the inward revelation He made of Himself to her: “I that speak unto thee am He” – the Christ, the Messiah. Under the influence of that divine power, as the Holy Spirit wrought in her heart, she received the testimony He brought to her concerning Himself; she trusted in Him. And she was saved. So when sinners today receive the testimony brought to them concerning Christ by His ambassadors, it is because He is exerting His divine authority in drawing them to Himself by the Holy Spirit. To the end of the world, Christ will be glorified in the exercise of that divine power.
4. Christ preached with a wonderful wisdom, so that no one could resist Him. Often those who opposed Him had no answer. We read that He “put the Sadducees to silence” and that, after He had asked the Pharisees about the baptism of John, no one dared to “ask Him any more questions”. And He can still bring the Word of truth to bear on the consciences of sinners with similar effect. But it is in wisdom that He deals with His own children also when they are cast down. These words were given to Him, not only for the time which He spent going about in this world doing good, but for all time: “The Lord God hath given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary”. Christ knows how to deal with needy sinners; He knows what is the suitable portion of truth to apply to their souls; He knows the circumstances which are most profitable for them to pass through so that they might most profitably receive instruction. His wisdom is continually displayed in His dealings with those whom the Father gave to Him. He, and He alone, can take away the ignorance which keeps so many so firmly in Satan’s kingdom. Until Christ enlightens them, “they know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness”.
5. Christ preached with delightful eloquence. The people in the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of the Saviour’s public ministry recognised this; they “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth”. Yet their attitude soon changed when they were confronted with truths which their rebellious hearts found unpalatable. It is similar with people today who extol the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount yet reject what Christ reveals about sin and salvation. But those who trust in Him embrace the whole of His teachings. They say, “His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend”.
6. Christ preached internally to the heart – illuminating, warning, converting and sanctifying it. We can see this also in the account of His dealings with the woman of Samaria. Not only could He read her heart, He could send His words into its inmost recesses. Other preachers can only reach the ear of the body; He reaches the ear of the soul. Yet now it is not the physical voice of the Saviour that reaches the bodily ear of those whom He would draw to Himself; He uses His ambassadors to reach their bodily ears. He sent Paul to turn sinners “from darkness to light” – what he had absolutely no power to do by his own resources. So when any heaven-sent preacher today proclaims the gospel, he may be an instrument in the hand of the Great Prophet of the Church to bring out, into the glorious light of truth, sinners who have spent all their years in the darkness of sin. Apart from this Prophet, they will go on in ignorance. Apart from Him, they will never receive into their hearts any spiritual teaching, however true and well-presented it may be. How thankful we should be that He has power to reach our hearts with the truth!
Christ was given to be the Prophet of the Church for all time. His teachings still have absolute authority. The words heard on the Mount of transfiguration – words from the excellent glory – are still totally relevant today: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him”.