Epiphany 4 – January 29, 2012
What Would Moses Do?
Moses says, in his farewell address: “The Lord will raise up a prophet like me from among you”. Well first there's the history.
The 40 years of wandering in the desert was coming to an end. God would lead his people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Moses had been their leader, well, their human leader, all this time. From the Exodus and the Passover, through the parting of the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the 10 commandments, the establishment of the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system. Moses was the guy. And now as he approached 120 years old, it was time for the people to enter Canaan. And Moses wouldn't be going with them. It was time for a new leader.
Moses died just across the border. Mount Nebo. He never set foot on the earthly promised land (at least until he met Jesus at the mount of Transfiguration). Instead, it was Joshua, son of Nun, who would take over the mantle. Joshua was a mighty leader, too. He lead the conquest at Jericho and many other Canaanite cities, as the people came into possession of the land. Through Moses, God had done great things. Through Joshua God was about to do great things. So Joshua must have been who Moses meant when he said, “The Lord will raise up a prophet like me from among you”. Right? Not entirely.
Old Testament prophecy can often be seen as having multiple layers of fulfillment. The near fulfillment, the historical thing that happened back then for people to see, and the ultimate fulfillment, which sometimes points even to the last day itself. The promised land, for instance, was promised to Abraham, and delivered to God's people in Joshua. But the true promised land of Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment.
So too with this prophet of whom Moses speaks. Joshua was great and all, but he was still not the imposing figure that Moses was. Moses, after all, met God and lived. Moses saw the plagues and the passover and the parting of the sea. Moses received the Ten Commandments and wrote the Torah! Moses! Who can be as great a prophet as he!? No, Joshua, whose Hebrew name was “Yeshua” stood in the shadow of this giant of faith, Moses. But there would be another Joshua, or Yeshua, or as you know him, “Jesus”.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Moses' words of prophecy here. But to appreciate it, let's compare the two.
Moses was the great law-giver. He brought the Ten Commandments, the moral code by which God's people were to order their lives.
Jesus was also a law-giver. Not only a law-giver, but certainly he did that. He taught us to love God, and love our neighbor. He showed by example of washing feet how we out to serve one another. How being great in his kingdom meant being the least. In fact, he even expounded and expanded the Law of Moses - “You've heard it said, do not commit adultery, but I say... lust is adultery in your heart! Moses taught you, 'do not murder', but I say that hatred of another is like murder in your heart! Moses let you get a divorce, but that was only because of your hardened hearts. From the beginning, God has joined men and women together in marriage. And what God has joined together, let man not separate!”
The problem for us, is that we break the law of Moses, and we break the law of Jesus. Neither the 10 commandments of Moses, nor any of the commandments of Jesus are attainable for us sinners. So Jesus is a prophet like Moses. But Jesus is even greater.
Moses was a deliverer. Through him, God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He plagued their enemies and rescued them from the angel of Death. He regarded the blood of the lamb, the lamb without blemish, as a sacrifice sufficient to save each household. And then he brought the people through the sea, and drowned Pharaoh's host which pursued them in those same waters. The memory of this salvation established the Israelites as a nation. It gave them their very identity. It made them who they were. Moses led them through all this.
But Jesus is a deliverer to exceed even Moses. Moses was a faint shadow of this true deliverer. Jesus brought us out of the bondage of sin, and into the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus rescues us from death by dying and rising, himself. Jesus is the lamb of God who is slain from the foundation of the world, and who takes away the sin of the world, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the one who delivers us by his gift of Holy Baptism, bringing us safely through the water to new life in him, and drowning our old Adam, our sinful nature, daily, through repentance and faith. Jesus makes us who we are, his people, his church. Built by him and on him and in him, sustained by His Spirit, and promised a future paradise that will never end.
And Jesus is the only law-fulfiller. He does all things well. He perfectly, obediently obeys the will of the Father, and fulfills all righteousness by living entirely without sin. And he does this, not for himself, but for you. To give you the credit for his perfect life. To give you a righteousness only he could earn. His holy life overshadows your mess of sin, just as his perfect death takes you from under the shadow of sin and death.
What would Moses Do? Well, whatever Moses did, Jesus did it better. He is truly the prophet God raised up like Moses, but even better. He is the perfect law giver, and law-fulfiller. He is the one true deliverer of the world, and of you and me individually. He is the one who brought us through the waters, and establishes us in his kingdom forever.
Hail to Jesus Christ, the one with authority, the Holy One of God, the new and greater Moses, the Prophet who speaks God's word, who is the living word, our leader, our champion, our savior. In His Name, Amen.