Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Prophet Like Moses

 Deuteronomy 18:15-19

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.  This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'  And the LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well.  I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.'"

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent                                             12/18/22

The Prophet Like Moses

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent.  The Gospel for the day is the Questioning of John the Baptist by the Pharisees.  Jesus tells the crowd that John was the promised forerunner of the Messiah.  The Old Testament lesson is the promise of God through Moses to send another prophet just like Moses – the promise of the Messiah. This morning our text is the Old Testament lesson – and our theme is that which God promised to send, the Prophet like Moses.

Our text is part of the farewell sermon of Moses.  He is reminding the children of Israel of the covenant which Israel made with God.  This farewell address includes the Law which came with the covenant, and the history of the people on the Exodus.  The context of the promise of that Prophet like Moses was the first time the children of Israel faced Mount Sinai.  They heard the rumblings on the mountain and the sound of a trumpet that no man was playing – a loud trumpet, playing the call and salute to the King of Kings!  They saw the fire burning at the peak – Exodus tells us that smoke went up from the entire top of the mountain like a furnace.  The people faced the clouds and the flashes of lightning and they felt the shaking of the mountain and they heard the violent thunder.  It must have been awesome because the people were terrified.  

They cried out in fear, pleading that they would not have to hear the voice of God; "‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'" When they had the opportunity to experience what most people think they would love to experience – to see God and hear God directly – they recoiled in terror and pleaded that God would speak through His chosen messenger instead.  And God agreed.  In fact, it appears that it was the plan of God to teach His people that they could not bear to face God directly, and teach them to listen to those He sent to proclaim His Word.  It is a lesson He is still trying to teach His people.

Then God made a promise to them.  The promise He made was one of the greatest promises of all times – He promised to send to them a prophet like Moses.  What is so special about that?

Moses is the prophet unlike any other.  He is the only prophet to whom God spoke, in the words of Scripture, as a man speaks to His friend, face to face.  When God spoke to Moses, Moses could see God – or what God wanted Him to see.  Moses spoke and God answered – and God spoke and Moses answered.  He had everything straight.  He could ask questions, and hear the answers.  The revelation of God through Moses was different by degree, quality, and clarity from all other prophets before or since.
So, the promise to send another prophet who would talk with God like Moses did, and reveal God and His will with that clarity and power was a promise of something totally unique – and it became clear just how unique it was as the centuries rolled and prophet after prophet failed to be "just like Moses."  If it wasn't clear at the outset, it became clear over time that the promised prophet was going to be the Messiah.

Jesus is the One who is the prophet like Moses.  Part of the message of Advent season is to celebrate that truth!  Jesus spoke the Word of God, unlike anyone else, even Moses.  Of His own teachings Jesus said, "the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me."  His teachings were not His own, but from God.  "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.  

Everything Jesus said, and everything He did, was from God and part of the plan and purpose of God.  Just as in the days of the Exodus, God has taken charge of His people and is leading them.  He doesn't leave us to twist in the wind, or simply follow the indistinct musings of a prophet.  He has taken charge, to lead us and guide us.  Every word of this Prophet is direct and clearly from God.  He can answer our questions.  He can meet our every need.

You might say to yourself, well, Jesus is gone and in heaven – He is not here, leading, today.  That is the answer of the flesh, but not the answer of faith.  Faith sees Christ leading His Church through the Word, and preaching today through the lips of His faithful preachers.  It is still happening even today.

But, you might say, preachers disagree with one another.  How can we tell which one is telling us the truth and which is deceiving us?  Again, faith answers, Jesus is leading His Church through His Word.  You are to listen to the teachers, and compare what they teach to the Word of God.  It isn't that difficult to tell, if you compare the words of the preachers – their teachings – to the Word of God.

In my experience, you have those who teach contrary to the Word of God doing a lot of interpreting – changing the sense of the text.  "Jesus didn't mean it when He said that! "  "Sure, that's what the words seem to say, but it doesn't make any sense!"  The appeals used to escape the Word of God range from "think about it" to "that was back then, and today is different."  It is possible to be confused by a text here or a phrase there – but the sense of the whole is clear and unambiguous.  You may not understand every single passage, but if a doctrine is taught in the Bible, it is taught with sufficient clarity that to deny it requires one to explain away the Scriptures.

I knew a man who did that once.  He was a pastor who taught that since man, in sin, could not change – God did.  I think he meant to speak movingly about what God did for our salvation, and how it was all God's work – but he made the mistake of teaching that God changes, and that man is immutable.  That is simply contrary to the Word of God.  I, and another pastor, tried to show him where Scripture clearly teaches that God does not change.  We wanted to help Him get it straight, but He wasn't interested.  It turned out that he wasn't merely wrong by accident.  He had an explanation – an excuse – for every single clear passage we could cite.  He had a different excuse for each passage, but he had a way to explain the clear words of Scripture away for each passage, even passages as clear as Malachi 3:6, "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." or James 1:17, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow." or even Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever."

Now, perhaps you think that this is a small matter, not all that significant as doctrines go.  But it is clearly taught in Scripture, and to teach contrary to Scriptures is to reject what God's Word says.  I have found that when someone does that, however small the error may seem, it is usually not alone.  Other errors come with it, because all Christian doctrine is like a piece of fabric – one thread is connected to the next.  It proved true with that erring pastor, too.  He also rejected other clear teachings of Scriptures.  Over time, he proved to not hold Biblical truth as precious at all, and taught whatever seemed right to him at the moment, rather than what the Bible says.  Sadly, he is still an active pastor in our Synod.

But the point is that the truth is plain in Scripture, even if not in every individual passage.  To deny the truth, you need to deny or explain away a great deal of Scripture.  Once you have denied or rejected one Scripture, there is no logically consistent reason to trust any other Scripture, so unbelief in one thing often leads to unbelief in many things.  If you reject the Word of Christ here, you will probably find yourself rejecting the Word of Christ is a number of matters.  If you reject Christ in His Word, you ultimately end up rejecting Christ in Himself.

God said to Moses, "I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him."  Jesus still leads His Church through His Word.  It is a mystery of faith – a thing that is revealed, but not necessarily compatible with our human reason.  The one who rejects the Word of Jesus rejects Jesus.  Jesus said the same thing Himself, "He that hears you, hears Me.  He that rejects you, Rejects me.  And He that rejects Me rejects Him who sent me."  The one who rejects Jesus rejects His gifts – forgiveness, life and salvation, earned on a cross and certified in the empty tomb of Easter.  God will require it of them in the sense that He will hold them in contempt of Him and will deliver those who hold Him in contempt to eternal judgment and misery.

Everyone else is saved!  Jesus died for all, so that all those who do not hold God in contempt will be saved.  Only those who will not listen to God's Word, which Jesus shall speak in Scripture and through the mouths of His faithful preachers, shall fail to see the glory of God in eternal life.  He that believes and is Baptized shall be saved.

That is the promise of the prophet like Moses.  That was the promise that Israel looked forward to.  It is the promise fulfilled in Christ!  It is the promise that God will be present among His people in a way not seen since the Exodus until Jesus.  Not since the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night has God been with His people so clearly, until Jesus came, showing His glory speaking to His church ever since through His Word.

He is with us through His Word, to guide us and teach us.  He is with us as we worship – Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.  He dwells in us through his Holy Spirit, who is given to each and every one of us that believes.  And He is present among us here in the Holy Supper.  His body, given for our sins on the cross, His blood, shed for our redemption, they are here in and with and under the form of the bread and wine for our blessing and forgiveness and strengthening.  Here we receive all that God promised, and all that He has delivered to us in keeping this precious promise.

It isn't just spiritual stuff, either.  We actually receive Christ within ourselves, as we partake of the Sacrament.  It is true that we cannot sense Him or His presence.  That is by His design and will.  He wants us to walk with Him in faith.  He desires that we know Him through His Word and by trust in Him in His Word rather than merely by what we can see and sense.  Seeing didn't help Adam and Eve.  They ignored the Word of God even when they could walk and talk with Him in the garden.  Seeing was of no particular blessing to those who saw Jesus and then crucified Him.  They even witnessed the resurrection – they knew the grave was empty and they knew why, but that did not stop them from inventing lies and trying to hide the glorious thing that God had done in their presence.

So, we receive Christ – true body and blood – and yet we do not see it or taste it.  We know it is there because He tells us that it is in His Word.  His body and blood do not go to our nourish our flesh – only the bread and wine do that.  The body and the blood of Jesus nourish instead our souls, and bring with them the forgiveness we need, and the life and health and strength which is so urgent and precious.  With Jesus we have all that He has accomplished and all that He has won for us.  But we perceive it only by faith – by hearing the words of the prophet like Moses, and taking God at His Word.   That Word is spoken today by the lips of one He has called to be His preacher, but it is His Word and His truth, not mine.  Today we have it fulfilled, the promise He made to Israel through Moses – the sending of the prophet like Moses.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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