Everywhere you turn there are countless voices in the world claiming authority, both in the religious and secular world. Whether its political pundits spouting out their opinions, or psychics making predictions about the future, or TV prophets preaching their visions and dreams—all of them claim to be an authority to whom we should listen. Some of these voices even claim to be God’s Christ, or Messiah. The Korean cult leader Sun Young Moon has made this claim for years. Not long ago a Jewish sect hailed a Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as their messiah. Some have even given this title to our new president.
However, when it comes to the One whose word is truly divine and authoritative, the voice of Jesus must be heard above all others. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God placed divine authority upon Jesus of Nazareth when He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
We Christians are not surprised by all the noisome rabble who claim to speak for God. On the other hand, neither do we deny that God speaks through men. Why two of God’s greatest spokemen that ever lived were mentioned in our Gospel lesson—Moses and Elijah. They were true prophets, both chosen and appointed by God to be His voice amongst men.
But in our Gospel lesson, we hear how even Moses and Elijah must take a back seat to One who is greater than both of them, Jesus Christ! The opening words from the book of Hebrews describes Jesus’ supremacy over the prophets of old:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Heb. 1:1-5
Yes, in the past God spoke through the prophets; they were His spokesmen, and their word is God’s word. But now the Son of God, who is the Eternal Word of God, has come into the flesh, and through this Son, this Jesus of Nazareth, God now speaks; and all mankind is to hear Him, and Him alone!
Why is this singular and specific authority bestowed upon Jesus? Well, again, the words from the book of Hebrews say it all very clearly: It is because this Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, is also the Son of God, the “appointed heir of all things.” He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” who “sustains all things by his powerful word.” And who “after he had provided purification for sins” by His death on the cross, “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” where He lives and rules heaven and earth forever! That is why we listen to Jesus. Of course our heavenly Father put it all very succinctly when He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
It is no coincidence that false Christs and phony prophets should rise up today. Since Christ has ascended to heaven, many think they can play any religious game and make any spiritual claim to win followers. In fact, Christ predicted that this would happen when He warned His disciples in Luke 21:8, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.”
And yet, the very fact that Christ has ascended means that we must “listen to Him” through representatives. Indeed, that is how Christ wants to be heard. However, it is not through just anyone who claims to be speaking for Him. Rather Christ wants to be heard through His own appointed representatives, namely His chosen Apostles. Just before Jesus ascended on high, He said to the eleven Disciples:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20
Jesus gave the Authority to teach God’s word to His Apostles. This is very clear from Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:40, where He says the Apostles’ authority is also from the Father: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.”
St. Peter also established the authority of the Apostolic word when he said, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.... Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:16, 20-21). And that same Holy Spirit who moved the prophets and apostles to speak also moves the whole Church to follow their teaching and to pass it on, as Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” And as Luke writes in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching....”
Now, where do we find this Apostolic Word today? We find it embodied in the sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This is the sole rule and guide by which all teachers and all doctrines are to be judged!
Furthermore, the Church has many faithful witnesses to the apostolic word in the creeds of the Church, as well as the writings of the early Church Fathers, and many other Christian theologians and defenders of the Faith. And as our own Lutheran Confessions say concerning the word of the Church when it proclaims the Apostolic Faith: “This Church is properly called [by Paul in I Tim 3:15] ‘the pillar of truth’ for it retains the pure Gospel and what Paul calls the ‘foundation’ (I Cor. 3:12) that is, the true knowledge of Christ and faith” (Apo, Art. III & VII.20).
Now many of you may be asking, What does all this mean to us? Well, much really, for the authority of God’s Word is a great consolation and strength for Christians. You see, the strength of our faith is not in ourselves, nor in our opinions about where God’s authority rests. The strength of our faith is found where God’s power and authority is truly found: namely, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the Word of God made flesh. And when we listen to Christ’s word recorded for us in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and as it is preserved, preached, and taught in a true and faithful witness to that Apostolic word in the Church, then we can be sure, as was Peter, that “we have the words of the prophets made more certain.” And when we believe that word, we can say in truth and with confidence that we listen to Christ! Amen.