May 10, 2020
As the ordained mediator between God and man, Jesus fulfills the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. Focusing on Christ’s prophetic role, Alistair Begg explains its significance for personal faith, biblical preaching, and everyday evangelism. By nature, we reject God and His salvation. Jesus alone can open our hearts and minds so that we truly understand God’s Word. Only then can we confidently, courageously, and compassionately convey the Gospel to a lost, darkened world.
We’re going to read from the New Testament, from the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and from the eleventh verse through to the end of the chapter. This is the record that Luke gives us on the occasion when the lame beggar was healed at the Gate Beautiful, that memorable occasion when, looking for resources that were physical, he was responded to in a wonderful way by the power of God through the servant of God. And we pick it up in verse 11:
“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
“‘And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.” And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.’”
Father, as we turn now to the Bible, what we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.
Well, as we turn to the Bible this morning, we want to continue from where we left off last time. We have begun to turn our attention expressly to the Lord Jesus. It has been pointed out to me that a number of people now, because we have departed from our studies in 1 Samuel, are essentially taking odds week by week to see which chapter or book of the Bible I will be turning to. It’s affectionately being known now as “Begg’s Bible Bingo.” And I doubt that anybody will have got it correct this morning. We have turned to Acts chapter 3, but we will of course, because of the topical nature of what we’ll be doing, we will be turning to different places.
We fastened on the verse from Newton’s hymn last time, giving to us at least our closing thought, concerning Jesus as an incomparable Christ, seeing him as Savior and Shepherd and Friend. And in that verse of the hymn, in keeping with what the Scriptures provide for us, Newton goes on to describe Jesus as “Prophet, Priest, and King.”
Now, although we said last time that the ways of God are inscrutable, that there are things from God and about God that remain hidden, that God has chosen certain things not to be revealed, this much at least is perfectly clear: that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”—reinforcing, if you like, our little mantra that the main things are actually the plain things. The Westminster Confession, in the eighth chapter and the first section, puts it as following: “God was pleased, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, … to be the mediator between God and man. As the mediator, he is the prophet, priest and king.”
Now, the privilege that is entrusted to those of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus is to be heralds of this good news. Writing in 1974, which is a wane of years away, John Stott remarked, “The contemporary world is in great confusion and darkness. Human hearts are failing for fear.” Well, I wonder what he would have written forty-six years later, posing the question, Has the Christian church any word of assurance for our bewilderment, any light for our darkness, any hope for our fear?
Well, the opportunity, of course, in this respect is very great. And I’m sure that you will have discovered, as I have, that unlikely people have been prepared to ask unlikely questions at this time. In a context this week, someone surprised me in the middle of just everything else that was going on by turning to me and saying, “And so, Alistair, what does the Bible have to say about these things?” And I had the opportunity—I’m not sure I took it very well—but I had the opportunity to try my best.
No, the opportunity for us now is very great. It’s very great if we’re prepared to be unashamed in declaring the news about Jesus—in other words, declaring that he is the crucified and he is the risen Savior, being prepared to declare what the Bible says, that in him alone there is salvation, that there is a fresh start, that there is forgiveness, that there is new life for all who will repent and believe—if we’re prepared to acknowledge that there is only one gospel, that we did not invent it, we daren’t modify it, but we must proclaim it.
And as grateful as we are for the events of this past week in prayers at the White House—it is very obvious and understandable that things would be as they are, but the message that was missing at the White House Day of Prayer last week was simply this: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and [man], the man Christ Jesus.”
And so, that’s why last time we said that although God’s ways are inscrutable and our minds are indispensable, it is important that we turn our gaze to he who is the incomparable Christ. And as mediator, he fulfills the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. When you read the Old Testament, you discover that there were three offices that were set apart by God and identified in individuals by the anointing, and one was that of the king and of the priest and of the prophet. And when we think of Jesus in this way—and we will only get as far as the Prophet this morning—we should understand that we are looking here at three indistinguishable facets of what we might also refer to as an indissoluble reality, so that the work of Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man is viewed not in a compartmentalized way, although we identify it in this way; it is one indissoluble reality that he fulfills as the Prophet and the Priest and the King.
So, to this matter of the Prophet we turn, first of all just with a thumbnail sketch. We should think along the lines of “What is the significance of this?” as we consider it—significance in terms of faith and what faith in Christ means; significance in terms of what it means to exercise a preaching ministry in the line of the prophet of God; and then, finally, to think about its significance in relationship to the task that falls to us in our everyday evangelism.
As we noted in Acts chapter 3—and we read from there purposefully—Moses was the first major prophet. And he predicted, as Peter reminded the people on that day, that sometime, another prophet like himself would come. And along the line from Moses all the way through the Old Testament, we’re familiar with all of the other prophets who came. They came in order to speak into the ignorance and blindness of the people. And so, when we read the Gospels, we discover that it was as a prophet and as a teacher that Jesus was almost immediately viewed by the people. So, for example, in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 7, on that incident with the raising of the widow of Nain’s son, the response on that occasion is for someone to say, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” Similarly, in John chapter 6, when the five thousand were fed, the response was “This is indeed the Prophet who [has] come into the world!” Jesus himself acknowledged this when, in Luke chapter 4, he points out that “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”
And so, what is predicted in the Old Testament and what is then exemplified in the Gospels is then seen by the early church as just that: that in Jesus the prophetic word has found its fulfillment, that in him you have the ultimate expression of a truth—a truth that is contained not only in Jesus’ teaching but in Jesus’ person. The prophets all spoke the word of God; Jesus comes, and he is the Word of God. Each of the prophets spoke in order to inform and to teach; Jesus speaks in order to transform.
And so, by the time you get to the Epistles, as the doctrine of the church is being framed, “… the knowledge of God’s mystery,” writes Paul to the Colossians, “which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So, Jesus comes to fulfill the office of the Prophet in the fulfillment of the expectation that the Old Testament provides, in the acknowledgment of people in and through his earthly ministry, in the explication of that by the apostles following Pentecost, and at the same time, as it is written in the Letters, so that Jesus himself is wisdom, Jesus is righteousness. There is a sense in which the prophetic ministry almost collapses under the weight of its fulfillment in Jesus.
Now, that, as I say, is just something of a thumbnail sketch. I leave it to you to do more work on it than that. The real question is, so what? So what? You say, “Well, here we are, and we’re deep into this crisis, and life is going on, and so here we are. What is the significance of this?”
Well, let me say a word or two, first of all, concerning faith and what it means to have faith in Jesus.
In each of the offices, there is, if you like, an implicit judgment. So, for example, the office of the Priest is required because we are alienated from God and we are in need of forgiveness. To that we will come. In the office of King, the implication is that we are rebellious and that we are in need of someone to rule over us. In the office of the Prophet, the implicit judgment is simply this: that we are by nature ignorant of God and that we need Jesus to come and speak into our ignorance, to come to our deafness and open our ears, to come to our blindness and open our eyes —so that, again, the hymn writers have captured this magnificently when they write, “He speaks, and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”
And what we realize is very straightforward and very, very important: that until Christ teaches us, we never learn. Until—in the words of 1 Corinthians 1:30—until Jesus is made to us wisdom, then we will never be made wise to salvation. I hope you’re following this. Until Christ teaches us, we never learn. Until he is made to us wisdom, we remain in our foolishness and in our ignorance. And the Scriptures have been given, as we saw last time, to make us “wise for salvation through faith in [Jesus Christ].”
Thomas Watson, in his Body of Divinity, has a wonderful passage in which he waxes somewhat eloquent on this matter of our darkness—now, what Paul refers to in Romans chapter 1, that we find ourselves in darkness, having rejected what God has made obvious to us. And Watson points out very helpfully: in the dark, he says, great beauty is hidden. So, for example, on a very, very dark night without a moon, no matter how lovely your roses are in your garden, I will not be able to enjoy their beauty because of the darkness. Perhaps you have some beautiful paintings in your home, and as somebody walks around during the day, they remark upon them. But in the dead and darkness of the night, they will not be able to see the beauty of what is there, because of the darkness. And the darkness that we experience by nature is not a darkness that is external; it is a darkness that is internal.
And that is why by nature we do not see any beauty in Jesus. We do not say, “Jesus is wonderful, Jesus is beautiful, Jesus is adorable, Jesus is incomparable.” In fact, the only things we may say are things better left unsaid. Watson continues, “Spiritual darkness is worse than natural darkness, because natural darkness scares us.” It scares children: “Please leave the light on.” “Natural darkness renders us trembling. But men and women do not tremble at the darkness of their natural condition.” Think about it. They like it well enough. Men and women loved darkness rather than light, because the inclinations of their heart, because their deeds, were actually evil.
That is why we have that amazing statement in Matthew chapter 10. And I’m just going to turn and make sure that I read it accurately. Matthew chapter 10, and from verse 26: “So have no fear of them”—those who are opposing you and so on—says Jesus, “for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” To bring it up to date: “Do not fear COVID-19. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
You see, the great challenge for the believer in the statistics that continue to meet us from around the world is not actually about the physical number of those who have died physically but is the question related to the eternal destiny of those who have died. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only [begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have [everlasting] life.”
So God comes to us in the person of Jesus as a Prophet, to teach us. He comes to teach our hearts. He comes to teach us in a way that no one else can teach us. He comes to reach us in a way that no one else can reach us. Our hearts—in the New Testament, we’re not talking simply about emotion, but we’re referring to our minds and our emotions and our wills, the very epicenter of who we are. And that is why when, again, you read the Gospels and you realize that as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount and as he moves among people, he reaches to their hearts. Zacchaeus, what a change! The woman at the well, what a change! The man on the bed, what a change!
May I speak to some of you whom I know and who know me? Let me, rather than ramble, just give to you another quote from Thomas Watson. Here it is: “The light of reason will no more help [you] to believe, than the light of a candle will help [you] to understand.” That’s why, even for the disciples at the end of Luke’s Gospel, their great need was for Jesus the Prophet to speak to them. And what does Luke tell us? He tells us that he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Perhaps this morning you will do that, you will go to Christ, and you will ask him to open your mind to understand the Scriptures—that perhaps you will take Psalm 25:5 as your plea and your approach: “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all … day long.” Jesus is a wonderful teacher. He doesn’t make a lot of fuss. The duller I am, the greater his teaching ability comes through. The mischievous nature of my life, he still comes and pursues. Go to him. “He has his pulpit in heaven who converts souls,” says Augustine.
Well, that’s enough concerning the significance of his prophetic office in terms of what it means for personal faith. But I want to say a word about what this means for the ongoing teaching and preaching of the Bible.
Although God, as Augustine says, “has his pulpit in heaven,” he has his servants on earth. And it is clear from the reading of the Bible that one of the gifts that the risen, the ascended Christ has given to his church is the gift of pastors and teachers—folks like myself and my colleagues and many around the world today, who are just earthen vessels, who are old clay pots, who have feet of clay. And yet, in the mystery of his purposes, God has determined that the prophetic ministry that has been granted to Christ somehow or another has been granted to us by his calling so that we might participate in the ongoing office of Christ—in other words, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of Jesus, the word of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, the prophetic impact of Jesus, may actually become apparent in the ongoing preaching of the gospel.
Now, as you allow that notion to settle in your mind and as I hear my own voice reinforcing it, we must conclude that the task of preaching, then, in relationship to saving faith is not merely difficult; it is impossible! In fact, if our attempts do not fail, then it can only be understood as sheer grace. Endless grace! If the voice of a mere man seeking to lift up the Scriptures and present Christ does not fail in its objective, it can only be attributed to the power and the grace of God. [McCullough], whom I don’t quote very often, from his book The Trivialization of God, makes this point very powerfully. He writes,
The preacher may be delivering a half-baked sermon, thrown together with as much doubt as faith. And the hearers may be distracted by strained efforts to quieten gassy stomachs, or irritated from fighting with a spouse, or worried about a visit to the doctor. But when the word of the gospel is preached, Christ walks among his people spurning the language of angels to speak with the tongues of mortals.
Luther: “It is a right excellent thing that every honest pastor and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth.” And Watson again: “Those that refuse to hear Christ speaking in the ministry [of the Word], Christ will refuse to hear speaking on their death-bed.”
The solemnity of the privilege should not be minimized. Certainly, it should never be abused by the part of the preacher in flowery shows, or self-aggrandizement, or the preoccupation with influence, or whatever it might be. Do you realize, loved ones, how vital it is that you pray for those who preach, that they would preach Christ and not themselves, that they would be more concerned that somehow, in the mystery of God’s purposes and providences, he may use our strange, feeble voices in order to enable someone to hear Christ’s voice?
Thirdly and finally, if the prophetic office of Christ has significance for coming to faith and for the preaching of the gospel, it also has significance for our ongoing everyday evangelism. You remember Jesus’ words to his disciples on that occasion when he had met with the woman at the well, and they had returned, having brought the lunch, and they were bemused by the whole affair. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not say, ‘Four months and then the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
Now, let me give us three Cs just to help us with this. If we’re going to take this seriously, first of all, we need to be confident in the message of the gospel. We need to be confident. We need to be convinced in the message of the gospel. John Stott, again, says, “Just [as] the world is becoming more aware of its need, the church is becoming less [assured] of its mission. And the major reason for the diminishing Christian mission is the diminishing confidence in the Christian message.” So that if we as followers of Jesus are going to look up and see the opportunities that are before us, it is incumbent upon us, then, that we proclaim the Word of Christ—that we declare, “This is love; here’s the nature of love in our world: not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and that he gave his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That kind of pushes us forward into next week, where Christ as Priest offers himself as a sacrifice in order to satisfy divine justice and in order to reconcile us to God.
So what is it that we are to say to our friends when they ask us? When they say, “Well, what should I do?” Well, then, we should just say what Paul said to the Philippian jailer when he asked the question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved, to be reconciled, to be put right with God, to be relieved from my past, to be set free from my chains, to be made a new person, to get a new chance?” “Believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Now, you’re never going to say that to one of your work colleagues unless you actually believe it’s true. The reason for much of our ineffective evangelism is because we are unbelievers. We have succumbed to the spirit of the age: “There are many roads, lots of ways, different ideas, different concepts, different philosophies,” and so on. And we certainly don’t want to be the one person in the office that is prepared to stand out and stick out like a sore thumb. We don’t want our Aunt Mabel, who’s been so kind to us and never forgets our Christmas, ever to have to sit there and hear us say, “Aunt Mabel, you are lost, you’re guilty, and you’re responsible.” Confidence in the message.
Second c is courage. Confidence in the message and courage to proclaim the message, so that what we’re proclaiming is clearly what we’ve received—that we’re actually saying to people, “We didn’t invent this. It was given to us. It’s in the Bible.” That’s why we can’t manipulate it. We can’t modify it. We’re not able to change it. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” It’s gonna take courage to say that, because it runs completely counter to the prevailing worldview.
I think there is little doubt that biblical Christianity is the prime enemy of much contemporary philosophy. It has always been the prime enemy of Marxism. It is a prime enemy of radical feminism. It is a prime enemy of deconstructionist ideology, which is present throughout the academic world and has bled into politics and beyond. Claims for final truth in Jesus are not simply ignored; they are opposed.
Therefore, we need confidence in the message, and courage to convey it, and thirdly, compassion in our tone. Compassion in our tone. We began with Isaiah 42, didn’t we: that Jesus is this amazing and wonderful servant? He didn’t cry aloud in the streets. He doesn’t have a big brass band going before him. He comes into town lowly and riding on a donkey. He speaks of his gentleness, of his humility. He conveys that. When he saw the crowd, he was moved with compassion because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He said, “I am the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.” In fact, you see, if we will just present Jesus to people, Jesus is his own best evidence. He’s his own best evidence. Say to people, “Look at him. Read what he said. Believe in him.”
If I’m going to approach my friends and neighbors and associates with compassion, then here are three Rs.
First of all, I need to remember what I am without Jesus. Paul writes to Titus, and he says, “Remind your people so that they might be good people and not obnoxious people, that they might be doing good things. Remind them that at one time they were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures. They were passing their days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when God our Savior in his kindness appeared…” Remember what we are without Christ.
And then, respect those to whom we speak about Christ—respecting them enough to listen to them, to provide for them, and to speak honestly and kindly.
And then, be relentless in your pursuit of them—relentless like the friends who went to all lengths to take their friend to Jesus, had to open up the roof. You can read of it in the Gospels. And they let the man down. They clearly took him there because they believed they knew exactly what his problem was and how it needed to be fixed, and they were convinced that there was someone who could fix it. And some of you have problems like that as well, and you’ve been deciding that there probably is someone who can fix your main problem: “My main problem is this, my big problem is her, my big problem is that,” and so on. And God understands those problems. And Jesus understood the problem that these fellows thought was the problem.
But that’s not what he said to the man. He said to him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” And if we could get that man back now, he would tell you, “You know, the thing that appeared to be the biggest problem in my life proved to be a blessing, because it was through my incapacity, it was through my suffering, it was through all of the things that pressed me down, that I discovered what my real need was, and that is that I would find in Jesus a Shepherd, a Savior, a Friend, because Jesus came and spoke his word to me.”
Well, perhaps you have been finding that these days have shown you your incapacities and your frailties and your failures, and perhaps you’ve gone down all kinds of lines, thinking of ways that can put the jigsaw back together. The place the jigsaw is broken is inside for all of us, and Jesus is the picture on the front of the box. And only in Jesus is there the answer to the riddle of our lives and to forgiveness for our sins. And only in Jesus is there a fresh start and a whole new future.
We’ll come back to the incomparable Christ, God willing, on another Sunday.
Just a moment of silence.
Gracious God, grant that the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts may be found acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
 John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779).
 John 3:16 (ESV).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 8.1.
 John R. W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974), 31.
 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV).
 Luke 7:16 (ESV).
 John 6:14 (ESV).
 Luke 4:24 (ESV).
 Colossians 2:2–3 (ESV).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).
 2 Timothy 3:15 (ESV).
 Thomas Watson, “Christ’s Prophetic Office,” in A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2015), 169.
 Watson, 169. Paraphrased.
 See John 3:19–20.
 See Luke 19:1–10.
 See John 4:1–42.
 See Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26.
 Watson, “Christ’s Prophetic Office,” 170.
 See Luke 24:45.
 Augustine, quoted in Watson, “Christ’s Prophetic Office,” 170.
 See Ephesians 4:8–11.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:7.
 Donald W. McCullough, The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity (Colorado Springs: NavPres, 1995).
 Watson, “Christ’s Prophetic Office,” 171.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:5.
 John 4:35 (paraphrased).
 Stott, The Authority of the Bible, 31.
 1 John 4:10 (paraphrased).
 Acts 16:30–31 (paraphrased).
 Acts 4:12 (ESV).
 See Isaiah 42:2.
 See Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34.
 John 10:11 (paraphrased).
 Titus 3:1–4 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26.
 See Psalm 19:14.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.