Monday, February 02, 2015

Sermon on Deuteronomy 18:15-20, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Prophet and Mediator"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. In all of the Old Testament, there is no one of greater glory and importance than Moses, who lead God’s people out of Egypt, who received God’s Law from Mt. Sinai, and taught it to God’s people. While Moses was far from perfect, he is commended by the Bible as being faithful as God’s servant, and having done mighty miracles and signs, besides knowing God face to face. But as great as Moses was, in today’s Old Testament reading, Moses tells of an even greater prophet than himself, who will come later. This Prophet is Jesus—who would be faithful in every way that Moses was—and more. The book of Hebrews compares them, saying Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, but Jesus is faithful as God’s Son, and is worthy of much greater glory (Heb. 3). The Gospel of John opens with a comparison of Moses and Jesus, saying, “the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
A prophet’s role is simply this: to be God’s mouthpiece. They are to speak all of what God commands them, and to add nothing false to it nor speak anything that God has not commanded. So seriously was this office of prophet taken in ancient Israel, that the penalty for a person speaking in God’s Name when God had not spoken, or for speaking in the name of any other gods, was death to that false prophet. Old Testament Israel was formed as a theocracy, with God’s law directly equating with the law of Israel’s government, and false prophecy was a capital crime. Needless to say, one did not seek out the role of prophet for yourself—several prophets, Moses included, thought God should choose someone else besides them. The office of prophet was not to be taken lightly, or one in which a person would speak carelessly—except at the risk of their life.
With such a great burden of responsibility—one might assume that prophets were held in the greatest respect by the people. But Jesus reminded the people of His day that their ancestors had persecuted and even murdered the prophets! And those were the good ones! So a prophet faced a double threat of death—on the one hand for speaking falsely, or in the name of a false god, and on the other hand if they spoke God’s Truth and the people didn’t like it, they risked death at the hands of the ungodly. Yet for all this, the Bible commends the prophets as achieving great and miraculous things because they spoke the Word of God and they lived by faith. So Jesus would step into an honorable, but also very dangerous role.
Now Moses made clear in our reading that the prophet bore great responsibility, but he was not the only one. The people also had a great responsibility—and that was to hear and listen. Whenever a prophet of God spoke, the people were to give their full attention. The only time when they were permitted to ignore a prophet, is when they spoke falsely or presumptuously in God’s Name. The verses just after our reading explain this, that if the word that a prophet spoke did not come true, they would know it was false, and did not need to fear such a prophet. Well did the people listen? Did they hold up their end of the responsibility? While in scattered cases they did, overwhelmingly the answer is no. For the most part, as a generalization, the people did not listen to the prophets or their warnings, and so continued down the self-destructive paths of sin. Jesus would encounter the same resistance to His ministry.
But Jesus was far more than an ordinary prophet, as we’ve already said—He was given greater glory than Moses. And He had an even more personal relationship to God than Moses did—because Jesus is God’s own Son! When He spoke God’s Word, it met with the same stubborn resistance that Moses and the other prophets knew. On one occasion, in John 8, Jesus tells them their listening problems are from the devil, because they reject the truth. He says: “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:46-48). Jesus lays it down black and white for us, just as Moses had, some 14 centuries before—if we are God’s people, we will hear the Truth and listen to His Word. If we don’t, if we reject the voice of God’s prophets—and most of all, the Greatest Prophet Jesus—we are not of God.
Jesus’ words still confront us today, challenging our sin, our self-chosen rebellion against God, and calling us to turn back to Him. Do God’s words go in one ear and out the other? Do they bounce around an empty room and fade away like an echo? Or do we hear God’s Word? And hearing it, do we do it? Jesus’ words are life-giving and they are life-changing. They encounter our deaf resistance, and plow the field for a receptive heart. His words are well-aimed at our heart, to expose our sins and bring us to humility and repentance.
This is another way that Jesus is like, but greater than Moses. Both dealt with God’s people as mediators, because of the peoples’ sin. In our reading Moses recalls a pivotal day in their history—the day that they gathered before the Mountain—Mount Sinai or Horeb, as it’s sometimes called—to receive the 10 Commandments. The people of Israel had witnessed an awesome but terrifying sight just before God gave them the 10 Commandment. God had Moses prepare all the people, so that they would hear God’s own voice and see God’s majesty. This was so that they and all future generations would know that God truly spoke through Moses. And then God appeared with thunder and lightning, a thick cloud covering the mountain, the increasingly loud sounds of a trumpet blast, and a terrible earthquake. Then Moses spoke to the people all of the 10 Commandments. When all of this amazing and alarming sight was over, the people cried out: “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die” They asked that God no longer speak to them directly, or show this great fire, lest they die. They asked for Moses to be their mediator, so that God would speak to them through him.
Since we do not witness firsthand the same miracles and wonders of God that the Israelites once did, it probably strikes us as sad that they asked for an extra degree of separation to be placed between them and God. That they asked for God to speak only to Moses, and not to all of them. We might wish to be in their shoes—seeing God’s power and might on full display and unhidden. It would seem like an incredible boost to our faith. But surprisingly God affirms their request for a mediator as good. He says to Moses: ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” God sees their request for a mediator to be good, and further, He declares that the greater prophet to follow Moses will perform this same role. And God will hold the people accountable to listen to Him.
First, why was it good? Wouldn’t it be far better to have direct encounters with God? Before the Fall into sin it was. God walked and talked face to face with Adam and Eve, and they knew no shame nor fear. But after they sinned, this perfect relationship was broken. Sin is deadly to us in the presence of God. An unmediated encounter with God, while we are in our sins is like gasoline in the presence of fire. We could not survive the encounter. Sin is the reason a mediator is good. Moses as mediator, and much later Jesus, as mediator, pleads to God on behalf of the people. He pleads for God’s mercy, and for our sins to be covered. Jesus is the perfect mediator in this way—as a human being He is truly one of us—as God He is perfect, true, and good. He mediates for us, or goes between us and God by His own precious blood, and His innocent death on the cross. Jesus’ blood stands in our defense, and His forgiveness purges away our sins, so that we can be holy, pure, and presentable to God.
Having a mediator is still good for us today—as we often forget the deadly danger of our sins. Jesus is no friend to our sins—and will condemn them full force as a prophet—but He is a friend to us—and will forgive us when we turn away from sin and trust in Him. He speaks to us so that we embrace and believe the Truth, as children of God. And as our mediator, Jesus is able to take our prayers and our requests before God, cleansed and purified from our sins. As our mediator He appeals to God’s mercy on our behalf. He is our voice to God.
If having Moses as their mediator introduced a degree of separation from God—in Jesus, still greater than Moses—we encounter God Himself. In Jesus, the degree of separation, any middle-man, is removed. Jesus explained this to His disciple Philip, who asked: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14:8). “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-11). Whoever sees Jesus has seen the Father, because Jesus and the Father are One, and He speaks by the Father’s authority. So there is no more direct way of knowing or encountering God than through Jesus Christ. He is the only Way to the Father.
While we do not see Him and know Him by personal encounter, as Philip, we see Him and know Him by faith. And by the same way, we know the Father. We hear Jesus’ words as the Words of the Father, and by believing them, we show that we are of God. We believe in the mighty saving deeds of Jesus, His death and resurrection for us, and by believing, we are saved through Him. Jesus is the Greatest Prophet, and none greater shall ever arise before or after Him. He is our Perfect Mediator, who knows our every need, who experienced our trials and temptations and sufferings, and who has no sin to interfere with His relationship with God. His mediation is therefore completely effective, and incredibly generous. And as God Himself He reveals God’s perfect heart of mercy and grace for us, and His desire to reconcile sinners to Himself. To see and know such a great salvation, God has given us the voices of the prophets and the apostles, indeed the Greatest Prophet, so that we would hear and believe. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The Israelites had been terrified at their direct encounter with God at Mount Horeb (Sinai), and wanted no more. Read about their experience  and reaction: Exodus 19:1-20:21; Deuteronomy 5. What was their request instead? Ex. 20:19; Deut. 5:24-27; 18:16
  2. Does it surprise you that God commended their request? Why was there a need for a mediator between God and man? John 1:18; Exodus 33:17-23, esp. vs. 20. 1 Tim. 6:16; Heb. 12:14; 12:18-24. Why would it be dangerous for us to seek an “unmediated encounter” with God? Who is the One and Only Mediator that God has now appointed between Himself and mankind? 1 Timothy 2:4; Heb. 12:24; 8:6; 9:15
  3. What was the purpose of Moses’ ministry as mediator to the Israelites, and what did his prophetic message do/accomplish? How does the work of the Law continue in our lives (and consciences)? Heb. 3:1-6; 2 Cor. 3:7-18; Rom. 7:7-14; Gal. 3:19-29
  4. If Moses’ ministry (of the Law) brought knowledge of sin and death, what was Jesus’ prophetic ministry to bring? John 1:17; Heb. 12:22-24; Gal. 3:25-26; 2 Cor. 3:17-18
  5. How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ give answer to the deepest accusation of the Law against us? Why is the Spirit’s work of breaking our sinfulness (turning us to Him) the necessary precursor to faith in Christ and receiving that blessed forgiveness? What happens when we oppose or resist the power of God’s Word working in us?
  6. What is the OT warning against false prophets? Deut. 18:20-22; 13:1-5; Jer. 23:9-40. What is the NT warning? 1 John 4:1ff; Matt. 24:11, 23-27; 7:15-16; 2 Tim. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 6; Acts. 17:11.

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