Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sermon for fifth mid-week Lent service - Dt 18:15-22

                                                                                                Mid-Lent 5
                                                                                                Dt 18:15-22

            To whom do you listen?  It’s not so simple anymore.  The events of the last decade have left many wondering whether they can trust anything the mainstream media has to say. There was a time when you knew that a news source might have some political inclination, but you could also assume that there were journalistic standards that kept things basically accurate.  However, those days seem to be gone.  News outlets are certainly aligned with particular worldviews and agendas, and it has become clear this trumps standards and objectivity.
            On the other hand, while there is now a very large group of other news sources on the internet, how do you know which of them you can trust? We are constantly warned about “fake news,” and it is definitely out there.  We don’t want to fall victim to this. Who can you trust?  To whom do you listen?
            Our text for tonight addresses the question of the one to whom Israel was to listen.  As Yahweh prepares Israel to enter into the promised land, he warns them that there will be many voices among the pagans that claim to have a divine authority.  Just before our text Yahweh said, “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. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”
            Notice that almost all of these pagan practices involve receiving information from a source claiming to provide knowledge that goes beyond normal human understanding.  Israel would easily be drawn to these things. They were common in the Near Eastern world.  And people want knowledge that goes beyond their own experience.  We want to know what will happen in future or to have guidance in making decisions. There is a desire to communicate with loved ones who have died and are no longer with us.  However Yahweh was clear.  Moses told them, “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.”
            It was one thing to know those to whom Israel was not to listen.  On the other hand, they needed assurance that they would continue to hear from Yahweh.  Moses had been God’s spokesman.  He had delivered the word of the Lord.  But now, he was not going to be crossing over with them into the promised land.  How were they going to hear from Yahweh?
            Moses told them, “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.’”  God promised that he would raise up another prophet like Moses.
            It is important to recognize why Moses had taken on his unique role in the first place.  When Yahweh entered into the covenant with Israel, he descended on Mt. Sinai. There was thunder, and lightning, and thick clouds. Then the mountain was wrapped in smoke as Yahweh descended on it in fire. The whole mountain trembled, and the sound of a trumpet grew louder and louder.
            The people found themselves in the presence of the holy God, and the author of Hebrews was not kidding when he wrote, “Our God is a consuming fire.”  It was too much for the people and they told Moses, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.”
            The book of Hebrews reminds us that God has not changed.  He is the holy God.  He is a consuming fire.  His wrath destroys sinners who sin.  In ourselves, that is exactly what we are. We are sinners in thought, word and deed. Because of the Fall we are by nature sinful and unclean. Our sin is a product of our corrupted nature – the old Adam within us.
            Yahweh granted Israel’s request.  In fact he said it was right.  And so Moses became the one who delivered Yahweh’s word to Israel.  Now, Yahweh promised that he would raise up a prophet like Moses.  He declared, “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.”
            Initially, Yahweh kept his word by providing figures like Joshua and Samuel who spoke his word to the people.  But none of them were on the same level of Moses.  In fact the last words of Deuteronomy state: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel 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.”
            In the first century A.D. God finally did raise up the prophet like Moses, Jesus Christ.  He was raised up from Israel’s brothers as he was born to Mary. But he was more than just a man.  He was also the eternal Son of God.  As true God and true man he came to speak God’s word to his people. Though more than just a prophet, he did come as a prophet – the prophet like Moses.
            Moses was an impressive figure.  Yet in spite of this, the Israelites made his life hard.  They complained at Moses and blamed Moses for their difficulties.  On occasion they were so agitated that they were almost ready to stone Moses. As a prophet, Moses was rejected and suffered.  And he wasn’t alone.  This became the lot of prophet after prophet like Elijah and Jeremiah. Some prophets were even killed.
            Jesus Christ was the prophet like Moses promised by God.  And it was as a prophet that he was rejected, suffered and died.  During Lent we are preparing for Holy Week.  Matthew tells us in his Gospel that during Holy Week Jesus said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
            Jesus, the prophet like Moses, was killed.  He carried out God the Father’s saving purpose for you as he bore your sins.  He was wounded for your transgressions; he was crushed for your iniquities.  The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. And after he cried out, “It is finished” and died, they put his body in a tomb.
            Anyone could claim to be a prophet speaking for Yahweh.  So in our text, Moses provides two criteria by which the Israelite could discern between a true and a false prophet.  The first was if a prophet led the people toward false pagan gods.  The second was that if a prophet spoke in the name of the Lord and that thing did not happen, the Israelites would know for sure that he was no prophet.
            As Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he said to his disciples: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Jesus Christ said he would be crucified, and he was.  Jesus Christ also said that he would be raised up on the third day … and he was.
            By his resurrection Jesus has demonstrated that he is the true prophet like Moses.  He has received God’s judgment against your sins to win forgiveness for you.  And in his resurrection he has begun the life that will be yours on the Last Day.  He has been vindicated as the true prophet to whom we must listen.  We listen to him in faith, for his words bring us salvation and eternal life. 

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