Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent - Rorate Coeli - Deut 18:15-19

                                                                                    Advent 4
                                                                                    Deut 18:15-19

            To whom are you supposed to listen these days?  Whom can you trust to tell you what is really going on?  It’s a question that you can’t avoid. We are warned all of the time about “fake news.”  There are indeed websites that look like legitimate news services, but in reality they are sharing news that is made up.  They are seeking to misinform.
            Yet the problem is not limited to this.  Instead many people have decided that the major networks, newspapers and news services report in a way that is slanted to support one ideological and political outlook.  In response other networks, news services and commentators have arisen to report news in a way that claims to avoid this slant.  Yet this also raises the question about whether this news is simply being slanted in a different way.  How do you know whom to trust?  How can you know what is really going on?  To whom should we listen?
            The question about to whom one should listen stands at the heart of our text this morning.  However, here the concern is not about learning what has happened.  Instead, it is about guidance and direction for the life of God’s people.
            Our text is from the book of Deuteronomy.  In this book Moses is preparing the people of Israel to enter the promised land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  Most of the people had not been alive when God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt.  They had not been present at the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  So in preparation for the people to enter the promised land, Moses speaks to them and reviews the Torah.  He instructs them and emphasizes how important it will be to trust in Yahweh and obey his word.
            Our text this morning is a response to what Moses has just been saying.  He has warned them, “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.”  The practices Moses has in view deal with religion and magic – burning a son or daughter as an offering; practicing divination, fortune telling or sorcery; using mediums to contact the dead.  Moses says that “because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”
            Instead Moses tells Israel, “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.”  Israel was not to listen to these pagan sources.  Yahweh had forbidden it.  Instead they were to be blameless before him.
            Moses knew that he would not be entering into the promised land with Israel. And so in our text he goes on to say, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen -- just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’” 
            At Horeb, or Mt Sinai as it is also called, Israel had come into the presence of Yahweh. There was thunder, lightning and   
a thick cloud over the mountain.  Then the mountain was covered with smoke because the Yahweh descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The people were terrified.  It was all too much and they told Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
            Moses became the mediator between Yahweh and the people of Israel.  Chiefly, this meant that he received the Torah that directed how they were to live in the covenant God had made with them. In our text Moses then adds, “And the LORD said to me, ‘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 said that he would raise up another prophet like Moses. We don’t often think of Moses as a prophet.  Instead he is usually described as a “law giver.”  Yet Scripture calls Moses a prophet and he set the pattern for what all future prophets would do.  Through him Yahweh gave the Torah to the people.  All the prophets that followed Moses were always calling Israel back to faithfulness to the Torah. They spoke God’s word to them as they called the people to repentance and urged them to walk in the way of Yahweh’s word.
            The prophets followed in the footsteps of Moses.  But they certainly weren’t going to be confused with Moses.  The end of Deuteronomy tells us, “And there has not arisen a prophet since like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
            Israel looked for this great prophet like Moses whom God had promised.  During Advent we are preparing to celebrate the fact that God did send him.  But here’s the thing you need to recognize about prophets – it was not an easy job.  The prophet spoke God’s word to the people.  He confronted sin.  He called to repentance.  He called people on the foolishness of their life and choices.  He said that only God’s way is true.
            Sinners don’t like to hear this.  Time after time they reacted in anger against God’s prophets.  They rejected and abused the prophets.  They killed God’s prophets.  That’s what happened to John the Baptist.  We saw in last week’s Gospel lesson that John was imprisoned by King Herod Antipas for this very reason.  John was never released from prison.  Instead, his head ended up on a platter.
            Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of the prophet like Moses promised by God.  He was a prophet, but he wasn’t just a prophet.  At Christmas we will celebrate that he is God in the flesh – the incarnate Son of God.  He is true God and true man. Moses and that other great prophet, Elijah appeared with Jesus as our Lord was transfigured before the disciples. In the Old Testament Moses went into God’s presence when Yahweh spoke to him, and as a result his skin shone brightly.  In fact he had to put a veil over his face until the brightness disappeared.  But at his transfiguration Jesus’ face shone like the sun because of who he is.  The glory of his own divine nature could be seen.
            Jesus experienced the rejection of a prophet.  It was a rejection that led to the cross.  There he died in order to fulfill the Father’s saving will.  Jesus died to redeem us from sin and give us forgiveness. And then on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  He exalted Christ to his right hand and showed that Jesus is the One to whom we must listen.  He is the One who has the Father’s words in his mouth, as he now gives them to us through his Spirit.
            The question then is to whom we will listen.  That’s the issue in our text.  It confronted the people of Israel as they prepared to enter Canaan.  It still confronts us today.  In the promised land Israel would encounter religious and magical practices that would tempt them. They would be tempted to look to them rather than to God in order to receive guidance.
            Our world today offers materialism and consumerism.  It says that all of the gleaming stuff of this world can give you value, purpose and meaning.  It offers education and intellectual cachet.  It says that you can learn your way and think your way to freedom from the traditional and conventional – that you can determine your own truth as you cast off that which those before you considered to be true.  It offers sex.  It says that your true identity and meaning is to be found in the use of sex that knows no limits except that those you choose for yourself.
            You do listen to voices like these from the world more than you should. They shape and form decisions that you make.  They determine your behavior in various settings.  They hinder your desire to listen to God’s word and to receive his Means of Grace.
            Jesus Christ is the prophet like Moses promised by God.  Yet he is also more than Moses because he is God in the flesh.  He experienced the suffering and death of a prophet. But this came from God himself as judgment against your sin.  He did this for you, so that your sin does not exclude you from life with God.  He did this so that can be a part of God’s people forever.
            And now, he continues to speak to you.  He speaks to you in the Gospels.  He speaks to you through the words of his apostles.  No longer does he tell you to keep the Torah itself that was delivered through Moses.  After all, we are here on Sunday – not the Sabbath.  If you want to eat bacon or bratwurst … go for it.
            But what he says to us is the same thing as what the Torah was really all about.  When asked about what the greatest commandment in the Old Testament law was, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
            God’s will has not changed.  To love God with all that you are; to love your neighbor as yourself is God’s will for your life. Jesus is the reason that we now seek to do these things.  God the Father loved us in the ultimate way by giving his own Son.  Jesus loved us more than himself by going to the cross in our place. The Spirit uses this Gospel to give us forgiveness and life.  He uses it to strengthen and enable us for the life that puts God and our neighbor first jut as Christ did for us.

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