The focal point of my HO gauge model railroad is the steel mill complex, and the railroad yard that serves it. It takes up a large area – it is about sixteen feet long and three feet wide. Compactly arranged, just like the real thing, it includes all of the large buildings that one would need to produce steel and roll it out into a finished product.
Undeniably, the focal point of the steel mill is the blast furnace. This is a large and impressive model – it is two feet high. It towers over everything else. The steel mill engine switches special railroad cars that carry the molten iron from the blast furnace to the open hearth furnaces of the steel mill. They also take away another kind of car that carries the slag – the molten waste metal – that is dumped out at the slag dump elsewhere.
Now as a plastic model in a setting that is a 1/87 scale version the real world, the blast furnace is fascinating industrial structure that provides all kinds of interesting model railroad operation. It needs to be constantly fed with hopper cars carrying iron ore, coke, and limestone. The molten iron and slag must be regularly switched. And of course all of this provides the reason for trains to arrive at the railroad yard and depart. It provides constant switching interchange between the railroad yard and the steel mill itself.
However, in the real world, a blast furnace is a massive, frightening, and deadly thing. It is a fiery cauldron that is constantly melting the iron ore, coke, and limestone into liquid iron that flows out the bottom at a temperature of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. It is place of superheated and pressured gases. It is a setting where accidents happen, and workers are killed. It is one of the last places in the world I would ever want to be.
Like the setting of a blast furnace, Israel had experienced something that was frightening and deadly. And they didn’t want any part of it either. This is the background for the verses of our text as Moses says, “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.’”
Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt in the exodus. And then just as God had promised Moses when he called him in the setting of the burning bush, he had brought Israel to Mt. Sinai. There God came down to Israel as he brought them into a covenant with him.
The holy God – the almighty Creator – descended upon Mt Sinai. And it was terrifying. On the morning when he arrived there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of camp to meet God, as they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.
And that’s when the real show started. We learn that
Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because Yahweh had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. There was the sound of the trumpet that grew louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai, at the top of the mountain. And as he was present in this way, Yahweh told the people through Moses that they were not to approach the mountain any closer or else they would die.
Exodus chapter twenty tells us that when the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” They had been in the presence of God and they couldn’t’ handle any more of it. They didn’t want to hear Yahweh directly. They wanted Moses to serve as the intermediary with God. Moses told them, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
This description of God reminds us about the deadly reality of our sin. As we do each year, in Advent at the beginning of the new church year we have shifted to using Divine Service Setting One. And so at the beginning of this service you just confessed to God: “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” Notice that the sin that piles up in your life is not merely the violation of some abstract rules. It is not something that merely shifts you from the “nice list” to the “naughty” list. Instead, it is sin committed against God – against this God - the holy Creator of the cosmos. And of itself, sin against this God can bring only one possible outcome – death and eternal punishment, because this God is a holy, consuming fire.
In our text Moses recounts what had happened. Then he adds, “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 this plea by the people was a good thing. Moses would play this role. And then he promised something more. He promised that he would raise up a prophet like Moses from among the people. God would put his words in his mouth and he would speak all that God commanded.
“A prophet like Moses” – now there was a tall order. The book of Deuteronomy ends with these words: “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.”
Certainly, there were great prophets. Elijah and Elisha immediately come to mind. But even Elijah did not interact with Yahweh the way Moses did, such that the face of Moses was shining after he spoke with Yahweh, and he had to put a veil over his face because of the glory, when he then went and spoke to the people.
But God had promised another prophet like Moses, who would speak his word. He promised that this prophet would come from the midst of the people – from their brothers. During Advent we are preparing to celebrate the fact that God did indeed send this One.
Now we are more used to thinking about Jesus as the Messiah, the One who descended from King David. And of course this is the obvious truth demonstrated on Christmas when Jesus was born in the Bethlehem – the city of David. Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills all of the wonderful promises God makes in the Old Testament about the one who descended from David.
But another way that Scripture describes Jesus is the promised prophet like Moses. Like Moses, and Elijah, and Elisha, our Lord preformed mighty miracles. In last week’s Gospel lesson we heard Jesus say, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
Like the mighty prophets before him, Jesus did these things. But here is the thing that was also true about the prophets: they suffered; they died. Moses was constantly being rejected and attacked by the people. Jeremiah was thrown into an empty well, because royal officials didn’t want to hear the truth that he spoke. Jezebel killed the prophets of Yahweh.
Jesus came forth as the promised prophet like Moses. Yet Jesus was also more than just a prophet. While Moses may have talked with Yahweh face to face, Jesus was Yahweh – he was the Second Person of the Trinity who had eternally been with the Father and the Spirit. During Advent we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth – the birth of the One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus entered into our world in order to suffer and to die. He came to be numbered with the transgressors. He came to die a death for us by which he has won forgiveness. Luke tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
You have been baptized into the death of Jesus the risen Lord, and therefore your sins have been washed away. By faith and baptism you have received forgiveness and eternal life. You know that death has been defeated because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and you too will share in this resurrection when Christ returns on the Last Day.
In our text Yahweh promises to raise up a prophet like Moses. He also says, “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.”
This is what Jesus did. He spoke what the Father gave him to say. Our Lord says in John’s Gospel, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment--what to say and what to speak.” And because he did this, to reject Jesus and the Gospel is to reject the Father. It is to reject the forgiveness that God has given through his Son who was the prophet like Moses. It is to meet the God Israel saw at Mt. Sinai as one who has sinned against him. And that can end in only one way.
Yet to listen to what Jesus says is to hear the good news that Jesus obeyed the Father by suffering and dying for us. It is to hear the good news of the forgiveness that we have because Jesus gave his life for us and rose from the dead. It is to listen to Jesus’ words as he tells us what this means for our lives: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”