Monday, November 11, 2019

The Message of the Prophets

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Very often the New Testament speaks of “the Law and the Prophets,” which leads some people to think that these were opposed to one another. Indeed, much of liberal theology is based on the notion that the prophets were at war with the Law and with the priests who maintained the Law. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The biblical perspective states that God is sovereign, and every word He speaks has the force of law. Thus, whether God speaks through Moses or Isaiah, His Word is law. Preeminently, the Law, the five books of Moses, is the foundation of God’s revelation. The prophets God raised up throughout the Old Testament had as their fundamental mission the task of calling the people back to the revealed Law of God. We see this most fully in Jesus Christ, the greatest Prophet, when He says that He has no intention of abolishing either Moses or the prophets, but rather that He is going to fulfill them. Immediately after saying this, Jesus began calling the wayward people back to the true meaning of the Mosaic law in His Sermon on the Mount.

The prophets denounced Israel’s social sins when the nation departed from the social aspects of God’s law. Most notably, however, the prophets denounced Israel’s religious sins, for worship is the heart of society. They decried such ecclesiastical abuses as ritualism, externalism, and formalism. They told the people that God hated their merely going through the motions of worshiping Him. They told the people that true worship expressed fearful love for God and love-filled fear of Him.

But the prophets never attacked the Law, either in its social or in its ecclesiastical dimensions. After all it was God who set up the rituals, externals, and formalities in the first place. Too often today we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t want any forms or any liturgy. However, we cannot worship without some kind of forms. The prophets knew that it is possible to have externals without the internal, but it is never possible to have the internal without the external. If our heart-attitude does not issue in external obedience to God’s laws, including His rules for worship, we have nothing.

The Protestant Reformers sought to reform the church, not to reject everything from the past. This was true of their approach to worship as well. How well do you know the great forms and structures of worship that God has given the church through the ages? How does your worship properly honor the biblical forms for the church?