December 20, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Never has there been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all the signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his whole country, and all the mighty things, great and terrible, that Moses did and were seen by all Israel (Dt 34:10-12 AAT). So ends the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Moses, the great prophet who spoke to God on the mountain and recorded the history of creation, the lives of the patriarchs, and the account of God’s great deliverance in the Exodus, who received the Law written in stone and spoke to God directly had come to the end of his ministry. Joshua was chosen by God and ordained by Moses to follow in office. But the great prophet would not accompany God’s people into the Promised Land. That would be the work of another.
Deuteronomy literally means “Second Law.” The book of Deuteronomy is the renewal of the covenant God had made at Sinai at the beginning of Israel’s wandering the wilderness. Now, just before they were to enter into the land God had promised, God renewed this covenant and Law through Moses. In the midst of all the Law, however, is a promise. “The LORD your God will raise a Prophet for you, one of you, an Israelite, like me; listen to Him. This is what you asked the LORD your God to give you when you were assembled at Horeb, saying: ‘I must not hear the LORD my God speak again or see this great fire again, or I’ll die.’ The LORD told me: ‘They’re right in what they ask. I will raise a Prophet for them, One of their fellow Israelites, like you; I will have Him speak My Word, and He will tell them everything I order Him. If anyone will not listen to My Words, which He says in My name, I will punish him (vv 15-19 AAT).
Joshua, who penned the final verses of the Books of Moses, said that no prophet like Moses had arisen in Israel since Moses, though there had indeed been prophets. But none like Moses. None who led through the wilderness, who spoke to God face to face—though the prophets did receive their words directly from God. No prophet did the signs that Moses did—though each prophet did indeed present signs. But none like Moses.
For a thousand years God sent prophets to preach to Israel, but Israel ignored them. Worse, they persecuted the prophets and put them to death. Then the prophets were silent. Four hundred years without a peep from God.
Then, when the time had become full, the central promise of Deuteronomy was fulfilled. Another wilderness prophet. This one clothed in camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey. There came a man sent by God, whose name was John. He came to bear witness, to bear witness concerning the Light, so that all would believe in Him (Jn 1:6-7). This, finally, was a prophet like Moses. He preached the Law: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Bear fruit worthy of repentance, then. And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these rocks. Already the axe is laid to the root of the tree. And all the trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and cast into the fire (Mt 3:7-10). This preaching was more fiery than that of the serpents that bit the Israelites, that they begged Moses to take away because they could not bear it. John is a prophet like Moses, who preached the Law in the wilderness.
Here is a prophet who spoke to God face to face. He was the cousin of God, in fact. They didn’t meet on the mountain but at the river. John stood at the Jordan and spoke to Jesus, and in so doing He spoke with God. Together, they fulfilled all righteousness by getting down into the river together so that Jesus could be baptized. And it was then that God identified Jesus as His beloved Son. John is a prophet like Moses, who spoke to God face to face.
Here is a prophet who performed a marvelous sign. Moses could not enter the Promised Land as a punishment. In anger and against God’s wish, Moses struck a rock in the wilderness to make water come forth. Water in the wilderness, well, that’s a sign reserved for John. John’s baptism was a symbolic baptism, a baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. But John’s water is a sign that points ahead to a greater baptism—the Baptism that Jesus gives, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a washing of water with the Word of God. John is a prophet like Moses, a prophet who performed a great sign.
Both Moses and John preached God’s Law, but not as a thing unto itself. There is something more to come. When the Pharisees sent their interrogators to John, they asked Him if He was the Prophet promised by Moses. He denied it. Not that He is unlike Moses, but that there is yet a greater Prophet to come. John is the voice in the wilderness that makes straight the way of the Lord.
There in the wilderness with John arises another Prophet like Moses. Instead of ending with repentance, that’s the beginning of His message. Moses only gave a foretaste of the forgiveness to come. This Prophet is the One was in the beginning face to face with God, who was God Himself from the beginning. The sign He has is the Holy Spirit and the cross.
Before Moses died, he gave the second Law—Deuteronomy. When Jesus came, it wasn’t to give a third Law, or a fourth Law, or a new Law at all. Just as Moses renewed the Law at the end of Israel’s wandering, so also Jesus preached the same Law given at Sinai. But He did one greater. He also fulfilled the very Law He preached.
This includes not only performing the works God commanded, but also bearing the curses of those who break God’s Law. Moses writes in Deuteronomy, If anyone has done a wrong for which he deserves to die and is put to death and you hang him on a tree, don’t let his body stay on the tree all night, but be sure to bury him the same day, because a hanged man is cursed by God (Dt 21:22-23). Moses was certainly punished for his own sin, but he never bore the curse for other people’s sins. Jesus did. He was hanged on a tree and bore in His body Deuteronomy’s curses. He bore the curse for idolaters, those who dishonor parents, thieves, liars, unjust, adulterers, those who commit incest, murders, and all who do not do commands of God (Dt 27:15-26). Jesus is the Prophet who hangs on a tree for them all.
This Prophet, Jesus Christ, is the Prophet who is like Moses, but greater than Moses. John bore witness concerning Him and cried out, saying, “This is the One of whom I said, ‘The One who is coming after me has become ahead of me, because He was first before me.’ From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came to pass through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:15-17).
Jesus doesn’t come to give a new Law, but to give something completely new. Grace upon grace. Grace and truth come through the Word who becomes flesh. He is not just a vessel for God’s words, but is Himself God’s Word—the One who does what God promises.
Moses could not deliver God’s people to the Promised Land. That’s something the Law can never do. Its ministry is condemnation, punishment, death. To cross the Jordan and take hold of God’s promise, we need Joshua. Joshua succeeds Moses at the end of the Law. His name means, “The Lord is Savior.” 1,400 years later another boy would be born, whose name was Joshua, though His parents pronounced it Yeshua. When they later wrote it in Greek it was Iesous. We call Him Jesus. The angel gave Him that name because He is the Lord, who saves His people from their sins.
The sign of this Prophet is the cross and the Spirit. He will forever bear in His body the marks of His crucifixion to show that the curse has been put to death. He leads us through the Jordan in Baptism to join Him at His cross in order to take hold of the promised forgiveness. This is the gift of His Word and Spirit. The Absolution sustains us on our way and presses us on toward our goal. Jesus is the Prophet who picks up where Moses left off, who takes us where the Law could never get us.
Jesus Is the Prophet Who Speaks God’s Word of Forgiveness
And because of His forgiveness, we look ahead and see the Promised Land that awaits us, the heavenly country just beyond the Jordan.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard