The Second Sunday after Epiphany| Deuteronomy 18:15-19|Rev. Rolf Preus| January 18, 2015
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.'” Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Jesus is the Prophet like Moses that God promised to raise up for his people. Both Moses and Jesus were sent by God. They both spoke for God. Both were prophets of God. God commanded Israel to hear the voice of Moses. He commanded that they hear the voice of Jesus. There are eternal consequences to ignoring the words that God speaks through his prophets. To listen to God’s prophet is to listen to God. To ignore God’s prophet is to ignore God.
God speaks. We hear God speak. We take to heart what we hear. This is how we come to know God. If you want to know God you must hear him speak. If you don’t let God tell you about himself you will come up with your own notions about what God is like. This is the source of idolatry. God speaks. As we listen to him we learn who he is.
God spoke through Moses. He did not pick Moses at random to be his prophet. He prepared him throughout his life, though Moses had no idea of it. You can read about in in the Book of Exodus. Moses was born an Israelite and was nursed by his own mother, but he was raised in the courts of Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. He was nurtured in the true religion from infancy. But he was also thoroughly immersed in the religious culture of Egypt. He learned their ways, and understood how they saw the world. But he was an Israelite by birth and by faith. Throughout his life, God prepared Moses to become the prophet that would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt into freedom. And he did. God set his people free.
After setting them free, God spoke to them. He spoke from Sinai. He gave to Moses his law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. No one has ever written a better summary of God’s standards of right and wrong than what God himself wrote on the two tablets of stone that he gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The law came through Moses.
When God gave his law to Moses on Mt. Sinai it was accompanied by a tremendous display of power, notably fire and smoke that terrified the people. These are not Hollywood special effects. They are divine signs. They are signs signifying the anger of God against those who disobey his law. God’s law does not consist of suggestions or advice. He threatens to punish those who disobey.
God spoke through Moses. But the people could not bear to listen. They were commanded to listen. Their lives depended on doing what the Law of Moses told them to do. But they stood condemned by that law. Now this is a predicament. It is the predicament of sin. On the one hand, we live on the words spoken by God since God is the Source of life and his word gives life. On the other hand, the words God speaks to us in his law terrify us by revealing his anger against us for disobeying him. We need God to speak to us, but we cannot bear to hear what he has to say. As the people said:
Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.
God did not leave it at that. They didn’t want to be condemned. The voice of God condemned them. So what, then? Should God stop talking? Should he leave them alone to do what they wanted? They wouldn’t be any less sinful and any less deserving of God’s punishment if God chose to ignore them and let them go their own way. And they wouldn’t escape the judgment of the law, either. St. Paul writes in Romans 3:9, “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” And again in verse 19 he writes,
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
The judgment of the law stands even upon those who don’t listen to it. When someone denies the truth God reveals and makes up his own truth he deceives himself. Everyone has a natural knowledge of God’s law, written on his heart. Some submerge this knowledge deep down inside them where it disappears from their sight. We call such people sociopaths. They have no conscience. Most people know, more or less, what the Ten Commandments require. They spend their time accusing themselves or excusing themselves. Whatever they do to get their conscience to cooperate, they are constantly interacting with God’s law – even if they don’t hear it clearly proclaimed. They know something about God’s anger, even when they deny it. Their souls cannot find true rest and peace because of their sin. Their love is not pure. They don’t love God above all things. They love themselves most. As soon as God’s law reveals their sin they try to silence the voice that preaches it.
The law reveals God’s anger. Who wants the anger of the almighty God directed against him? So everyone joins in the cry, “Don’t make me listen to the voice of the law and see the fire and smell the smoke. I don’t want to die.” So they resolve their predicament by shutting out God’s voice and making up their own gods who won’t be angry with them for their sins.
But listen. Keep listening to God. The same God who threatens to punish those who disobey him and whose voice speaks with fire, thunder, and smoke loves this whole world of sinners. It is a paradox that nobody can understand, but it is clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which are the written Word of God. God’s law reveals his anger against everyone who disobeys him. But it is not his final word. He promised to raise up from among his people – his disobedient people – another prophet. His words would not condemn anyone. His words would speak forgiveness to sinners who languished under their guilt and God’s anger.
Listen to him. That’s what his mother said. She listened to him and she tells us to listen to him. Jesus tells her that his hour has not yet come. She accepts his word and tells the servants to do whatever he says. Jesus waits until his hour has come. Then he does his first sign.
Jesus’s first sign or miracle was changing water into wine. God confirmed the word of all of his prophets by means of miraculous signs. God’s signs for Moses displayed his almighty power to punish sinners. From the angel of death killing the firstborn of the Egyptians, to the drowning of Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea, to the fire on Sinai accompanying his giving of his holy law, God’s consuming anger against sinners was revealed by Moses.
But this Prophet is different. He did not come to give new laws. He did not come to strike fear or terror in anyone’s heart. He came to speak words of life and hope. As we read in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus is like Moses in that God sent them both, they both spoke for God, and God commanded his people to hear their voices. But the word of Jesus is quite different than the word of Moses.
Moses was but a prophet. He did not talk about himself because he wasn’t the point of God speaking. He was but a voice. Jesus was more than a prophet. He was the eternal Son of God. He talked about himself because he was the point of God speaking. He is the Word made flesh. The words of God from Sinai revealed a holiness that God demands from those he created in his own image. These words reveal their sin and God’s anger against them. The words of our Lord Jesus come from him who assumed our human nature in order to fulfill the demands of Sinai. The holiness God’s law demands is the holiness Jesus provides. He sanctifies our lives, making us and what we do holy.
Forgiveness of sins can be viewed from three different perspectives. First, we see how it is won for us in the obedience and suffering of Jesus. He humbles himself under the divine law, obeys it as our substitute, and suffers, again as our substitute, God’s punishment of sinners. That’s how forgiveness is won for us.
Second, we see how this forgiveness is given to us in the gospel Jesus speaks to us. The gospel doesn’t tell us what to do. It doesn’t strike fear in us because it makes no threats. It is the good news that Jesus has borne our sins and taken away our guilt and that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives us all our sins. We don’t earn this forgiveness. We simply believe God when he gives it to us in his gospel and sacraments.
Third, we see how, when we trust in this forgiveness our lives are transformed by it. The law that demands perfection was accompanied by thunder and lightning, fire and smoke. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins was accompanied by the changing of water into wine. Jesus fixes our failures. That’s his word and his work.
I can’t think of anywhere where the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake is more needed than in marriage. Husbands and wives sin against each other daily. The reason so many people have given up on marriage and have chosen instead to live in openly unrepentant sin – pretending God doesn’t see or know or care – is because they don’t know the gospel. They don’t know how the word of God that comes to us through his Son has the power to sanctify every part of our lives. When the One who bore our sins absolves us of our sins we stand forgiven. Forgiven by God, we can forgive each other. The changing of water into wine is a sign – not just for the guests of that wedding in Cana two thousand years ago – but for us. God has raised up for us a prophet. He is our gracious God and our dear brother. His words do not condemn us, frighten us, or drive us away. They penetrate our hearts and win them back to God. Instead of asking God to stop talking to us we ask him to speak and we live on every word that proceeds from his mouth. Amen.