Article linked to TLW Bible study post for Sunday, January 31, and drawing on these set readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 — A prophet is foretold who will speak God’s words to the people
Mark 1:21-28 — Unlike the official scribes Jesus taught with divine authority
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 — Slogans bandied about in Corinth were arrogant opinions, not inspired teaching.
PETER WAS not a trained Bible scholar, or scribe, nor was he an orator — he was a former fisherman. But He had learned something much more valuable — to rely on the Holy Spirit giving Him what he needed to say, and recall Scriptures to bring God’s word for the moment out of God’s words for all time.
His ‘practice run’, explaining to 3,000 confused Jews from all over the Mediterranean world what God was doing when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost, went quite well. They were busy baptising all these people in the temple baptistries for the rest of the day!
Now, some time later, God has given Peter a word of faith for the crippled man who begged at the main entrance to the Temple and he has commanded strength to come into his limbs and healing to enable him to walk — no physio needed. And he finds himself explaining to a crowd all over again. He tells them to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and refreshing in the name of the Messiah sent for them. To tell them in a different way, he gives them a familiar verse from Deuteronomy.
For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything He tells you…”Deuteronomy 18:15
This, of course, is about Jesus, prophet, priest and king, the Son of God and the Messiah (anointed one) of God, foretold by one of the fathers of the nation, the great Moses.
God’s words become God’s word
And the point we take away from this is that Peter did not offer his opinion about what was happening. He gave them God’s words — which they knew — which then became God’s word and God’s impartation for all the hearers at that time. No wonder the church was growing by the thousand.
Back to the time of Moses and Deuteronomy 18:15-20, and the promise he spoke out was also fulfilled in a line of prophets. In most generations there was someone God had raised up, to speak His truth and His purpose and bring the people back to it. Sometimes they listened… often not, or not at first.
And there were gaps, like before Samuel came, where we are told that the word of God was rare, and between Malachi, a post-exile prophet of Nehemiah’s time and the ministry of John the Baptist “preparing the way“ for the ”greater one“, Jesus. But Peter identified his Lord as the ultimate fulfilment of this ancient prophecy.
The prophets brought God’s word
The prophets who spoke to the kings and their courts brought God’s word for the situations at that time — the threats of invasion by other nations such as Assyria, Babylon and Egypt, and the rather important matter of God’s covenant of protection for His people. The prophets called people back to God and back to honouring that covenant — and spelt out the fatal consequences of dismissing it. And even during the exile, prophets spoke of God’s grace and a new start.
And that became a reality in Jesus, who came first and foremost as the Saviour for His own people. Not that they didn’t have teachers — there were rabbis and scribes who followed their various schools of thought and endless debate about what was important, what was less so and rules for living that made the requirements of the law ever more complicated. Jesus cut through all that — it was a first-century bonfire of red tape — calling people to turn back to God and to believe in Him. It was a kind of non-religious Judaism. So the religious establishment, the priest and professional scholar hated Him. And to make things worse, when He spoke, miracles were inclined to happen. In the Mark 1:21-28reading, a man whose life had become dominated by a powerful demonic spirit was delivered before their very eyes, the demon departing with a shriek (not an unfamiliar experience today in Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations). They were amazed by this:
“A new teaching — and with authority”Mark 1:27
This was the real deal, quite distinct from the scribes who visited the synagogue who were cerebral and full of quotations from other scribes and rabbis. But no one’s life was changed, no one found freedom like that, no one was saved. As they evidently were when they met with Jesus.
In the 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 reading the story unfolds for us some more. Here we meet another version of the same problem. The presenting problem was whether or not it was acceptable to eat food (meat in particular) which was left over from sacrifice offerings to idols, or made-up gods. Some of the Christians in Corinth believed they had a superior spirituality — ‘the knowledge’ — so they could take part in the social occasions without compromise. These were usually held in pagan temples because that’s where people met publicly.
The problem was not so much the meat, as the mind-set. By judging themselves superior, these believers defined their more conscientious brothers and sisters as weak or second-class.
We know that “We all possess knowledge” but knowledge puffs up1 Corinthians 8:1
The slogans which Paul quotes — taken from their letter to him — are not God’s truth but man’s opinions. And there’s a big difference.
The stand-off between strong opinions and what God is saying
That stand-off, between people’s strongly-held opinions, and what God is saying, based on what He has said already in His word, is played out destructively all the time. It’s one of the devil’s go-to distractions.
And it’s a warning flag to us, to seek God afresh and to be rooted in what He is saying — which will always be in agreement and harmony with what He has said in His word before. He doesn’t change. And His word endures, and comes back to us as His word now.
Peter had made many mistakes, but he didn’t make this one. He used what God had said, to explain what God was doing now. Jesus didn’t trade opinions, like the other rabbis, but taught and ministered with divine authority. And Paul, who was himself a trained rabbi, taught that “knowledge puffs up”. It exalts the speaker and we don’t need to do that, but rather build up the hearers. By relying on God, and God’s word — not our own ideas.