Sunday, February 22, 2004

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 - "No One Has Ever. . .Until Now"

Transfiguration Sunday (Year C -LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, February 21, and Sunday, February 22, 2004

My first thought is that we read Deuteronomy chapter 34, the death of Moses, we read that today on Transfiguration Sunday just to remind ourselves that yes, Moses was dead when he appeared with Jesus on that mountain. Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we remember how Peter, James, and John saw Jesus appear in all of His glory on that mountain, appear with Moses and Elijah. Just to make sure we realize the significance of what took place, the Church also has us read the account from Deuteronomy about the death of Moses, so that we know Moses wasn’t just hiking up there and ran into Jesus and the boys.

Of course, I actually think there’s more going on here than just proving that Moses was dead. And there’s an even bigger significance in the fact that Moses appeared with Jesus there in the Transfiguration. And it all comes down to the question on the minds of the disciples, the people who heard Jesus, the Jewish leaders. It all comes to down to a question that’s still on the minds of people today: what makes Jesus any different than any other prophet? Is Jesus just one of many prophets?

That’s a crucial question for the Jews in the days of Jesus; it’s a crucial question for anyone today that places any trust in the Old Testament—whether Jews or Muslims or Christians. Is Jesus just one of the prophets? Because if He’s just one of the prophets, we have to remember the words of Deuteronomy chapter 34, the last verses in the account of the death of Moses, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Just how does Jesus match up to Moses, the greatest prophet and leader of Israel?

For certainly, God sent many prophets to His people after Moses, Elijah among them, but none of them were like Moses. Many of the prophets were sent with power to do miraculous signs to show God’s authority, but none like the plagues on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. God appeared to many of the prophets, but when we think of a prophet knowing God face-to-face, that’s Moses, the prophet who spent day after day on Mount Sinai receiving God’s Law directly from the Lord Himself.

No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did. This was the glorious history of Israel. The Jews looked back on their history knowing that God had worked His grace, mercy, and power through the great prophet Moses. When the Jews were without hope, they remembered how God saved them from Egypt. This was their common history, the history that gave them reason to trust in the Lord, the history that shaped their entire view of the world and their relationship with their God. Therefore, when Deuteronomy says, “No one has ever been like Moses” and “No prophet has risen like Moses,” these are statements that will not be proved wrong very easily. It would take someone very incredible to be a prophet who surpassed Moses.

Think of it this way, I was just reading a book called The Founding Brothers as part of a book group series at the library. The book looks back on the leaders that won our freedom and formed our democracy. The author described how it was political suicide to say anything disparaging about George Washington during his two terms as President. Even when the criticisms began to surface at the end of his second term, most people were too afraid to criticize the myth, the legend of George Washington. He was the grand leader of America; he was a leader that would never be surpassed.

In that same way, it was no small claim to say that a prophet had arisen that was greater than Moses. But that’s exactly what was happening with Jesus. That’s what was making the Jewish leaders so uncomfortable with the way people were talking about Jesus. People were starting to think that no one has ever shown the mighty power that Moses did. . .until now, until Jesus. No one has ever been like Moses. . .until now. No one has ever been greater than Moses. . .until now.

The Transfiguration was a private event. Jesus only took 3 disciples up on that mountain, Peter, James, and John, the inner circle, but what He did on that mountain was to confirm what people had been suspecting—He was even greater than Moses. Jesus surpassed all that Moses did. If Peter, James, and John wanted confirmation of this, wanted to be confident that now there was a greater prophet, then Jesus would show them this truth on that mountain. Jesus would reveal His divine glory. Jesus would show how the great prophets Moses and Elijah looked to Him. God the Father would show the disciples who Jesus truly was saying, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”

From that time, Peter, James, and John could begin to see how Jesus surpassed Moses. Today we too can look and see how Jesus surpasses the ways that made Moses the great prophet of Israel. And just to remind ourselves of why this is important, remember the question that is still on the minds of many people today: what makes Jesus different than the other prophets? In searching to understand our faith, we ask this question, what makes Jesus greater than other prophets? When people ask us to explain our faith, they often ask, what makes Jesus any different than other religious leaders? So it is with a comparison to Moses that we begin to see that there has never been anyone greater. . .until now; no one has ever been greater. . .until now.

Look again at Deuteronomy chapter 34. What made Moses great? No prophet has known God face-to-face, has done those miraculous signs and wonders. No one has ever shown the mighty power, has performed the awesome deeds that Moses did. Look at that description and realize that Jesus outdoes each of those claims about Moses.

Jesus certainly knew God face-to-face. He continually talked about how He knew God the Father. He talked about having a relationship with God the Father that no one else could have. He said things like, “If you know Me, then you know the Father.” No one else could make such a claim. And indeed, we know now, Jesus could make that claim, because He is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. He is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Moses had to climb up onto Mount Sinai and veil His face in order to see God. Jesus has known the Father face-to-face from all eternity. No prophet has ever seen God face-to-face like Moses did. . .until now, until Jesus.

Jesus certainly did miraculous signs and wonders. He changed water into wine. He healed many diseases. He fed 5000 people with just a little bit of food. Moses did miraculous signs that God commanded, but never like those of Jesus and never at His own command like Jesus did. No prophet has ever done miraculous signs and wonders like Moses. . .until now, until Jesus.

Jesus certainly showed mighty power, especially in His power over Satan and demons. Jesus powerfully resisted the temptation of Satan for 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus had power over demons, commanding them to come out of the possessed. Moses showed the mighty power of God, but He Himself did not have the power to resist the temptations of his own sinfulness. No prophet has ever shown the mighty power like Moses. . .until now, until Jesus.

And Jesus certainly did awesome deeds, especially the most awesome deed of rising from the dead. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later. Moses died in Moab without crossing into the Promised Land. Moses died and only appeared at the Transfiguration at the command of God. Moses died and will only rise from the dead at the trumpet call of Jesus. No one has ever performed the awesome deeds of Moses. . .until now, until Jesus, who has the power over life and death, who is able to conquer Satan, who is able to do great miracles, who is the divine Son of God from eternity.

Is Jesus just one of the prophets? Today, Transfiguration Sunday is certainly a reminder that no, Jesus is not just one of the prophets. He is the great prophet, the One that surpasses all other prophets, even Moses. Should we be struggling in faith, struggling to know why it is that we are Christians, then today is a reminder that we have seen how the deeds and signs and power of Jesus are greater than any other prophet. Jesus has come to conquer sin and has come to save His people. Had you been feeling like maybe Jesus is just a prophet, just a religious teacher, then look again and see how He far outweighs all of the actions of Moses, the undisputed wonderful prophet of the Old Testament. The people did not expect that anyone would ever be greater than Moses, but we have certainly seen that there was never anyone greater. . .until now, until Jesus. And in having One who is greater, we have One who has come to bring us back into a relationship with God, a relationship for all eternity.

Today’s Jews are those who have rejected the claims of Jesus that He is greater than Moses, that He is the Great Prophet and Savior sent from the Father. Despite all of the history, despite the Holocaust and today’s struggles in Israel, the essential question remains: how does Jesus match up to Moses? Today’s Jews have concluded that Jesus does not match up, does not surpass Moses, but in order to say that about Jesus, they have to deny His miraculous signs and wonders, His mighty power, His awesome deeds, His claims to know God face-to-face from eternity. And so we must remember that in denying that Jesus is a greater prophet, that Jesus is Savior, that today’s Jews do not have the hope of salvation, the hope and peace that we have through the cross and resurrection. We pray and strive to share that message with all those still looking back to Moses without knowing that a greater prophet has arisen.

Today’s Muslims claim that Moses is a great prophet, Jesus is a great prophet, but Mohammed surpasses them all. They look to Mohammed as the one who saves the people. Beyond all of the world’s conflicts today involving Islam, separate from that struggle between fundamentalist Muslims and Western nations, aside from all of this, we must remember that Islam denies that Jesus is the Great Prophet and Savior. In order to say that about Jesus, they too like the Jews have to deny His miracles, His mighty power, His awesome deeds, His face-to-face relationship with God. They have to deny His cross and resurrection. And so today’s Muslims do not have the hope of salvation, the hope and peace that we have through the forgiveness of Jesus. And so while we may get the impression from our conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, that our only concern about Islam is putting a stop to terrorism and anti-Western actions, even more than that, we must pray and strive to share the message with all Muslims that Jesus is the Great Prophet and Savior, the only One who can give them life after death.

Wow, I guess Deuteronomy chapter 34 is one of today’s readings for more reasons than just proving that Moses was dead when he appeared at the Transfiguration. Deuteronomy chapter 34 reminds us that Jesus surpasses Moses, Jesus showed by His deeds that He was the greatest prophet, Jesus is our Savior. This stands in contrast to what today’s Jews and Muslims say about Jesus; this has to be part of our understanding of these other religions. We do not have to wonder if Jesus is just a great religious teacher; His actions and words claim much more than this. Looking again at the Transfiguration, we see that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, the divine Savior, the One on whom our entire hope of salvation rests.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Jeremiah 1:17-19 - “Good Walls Make Good Servants of God”

4th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C - LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, January 31, and Sunday, February 1, 2004

Sometimes I have to admit that I am afraid to preach. I get scared about being up here in the pulpit and saying what needs to be said, saying what is in God’s Word. When I get nervous, when I get scared, when I get terrified about speaking God’s Word to you, I spend the last few minutes before the service pacing back and forth. Pastor Miller can always tell when I’m nervous. I pace back and forth. I sit down for less than 10 seconds, and then I’m back up again. And in that moment, I feel like Jeremiah. Terrified about being God’s prophet. Terrified to speak God’s Word to the people.

What does God tell Jeremiah when he gets scared? God says, “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.” Jeremiah’s thinking—but yeah, God, that’s the problem. I don’t think they’ll like what you have to say, and I’m pretty sure they’ll attack the messenger. But God goes on, “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kinds of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Jeremiah can go out, speak God’s Word, speak an unpopular message of judgment on sin, of repentance, of the people needing to come back to their God, Jeremiah can go out to preach knowing that God’s wall of protection is around him. God is putting His full strength around Jeremiah, and while Jeremiah may suffer at the hands of people who don’t want to hear the message, God is saying, “No one will destroy your soul. I am with you. I will rescue you. I will be your wall of eternal protection. I am giving you strength and protection so that you can go and preach my Word.”

Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” We can change that a little bit to see that “Good walls make good servants of God.”

(leave pulpit) I’ll admit it; I need God’s wall of protection when I preach His Word. I need to know that He gives me strength. I need to know that He will guard me against people who will get upset, who don’t want to hear His message. I need God’s wall of protection. (roll out a wall made of blocks)

When I am nervous to speak God’s Word to you, usually it is because I have to point out some sin in our lives, some in our life as a congregation, some sin in your individual life. But when I am afraid, I need to remember that God stands guard.

God’s wall gives me courage today, Super Bowl Sunday, to say how much it disturbed me toward the end of the football season when it seemed like the Green Bay Packers became more important than anything, more important than church or even God. (duck behind wall) A few of you have heard me talk about this already, but it upset me because I saw how easily the Packers can become an idol. While we have freedom in Christ, I couldn’t believe that people actually told me it was wrong for the church to plan anything at the same time as a Packers game. Worship, youth events, meetings, whatever, the church should never dare to keep to our calendar if it means that the Packers are on at the same time. That’s an idol. I don’t know how else to tell you that, and I am certainly nervous about telling you this. But God’s wall of protection gives me courage.

God’s wall gives me courage when I have to speak tough messages that are God’s Word but make people mad. It is a sin to live together before marriage. (duck behind wall) Your faith in Jesus is in danger if you don’t come to church. (duck) Getting drunk goes against how Jesus teaches us to live our lives. (duck)

I speak those difficult words, words of God’s Law, I speak remembering God’s wall of protection which gives me strength. Good walls make good servants of God. But the thing about God’s protection, about God’s wall, the wall stands open to allow you to come into His protection. I speak His Law not to keep you out, but to bring you in. Jeremiah preached against the people not to judge them to death but to cause them to come back to their God. I speak the Law, but then the wall moves out, inviting you to come inside, to come into the protection of God’s fortified city, come into God’s love and forgiveness and mercy.

Jeremiah proclaimed God’s judgment on sin, but then God also gave Him this message in chapter 3: “Return, faithless Israel, I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful. I will not be angry forever.”

So I stand preaching God’s Law (behind the wall), “Don’t let the Packers be your idol!” But I also stand here to say that if they have been your idol, if you have let football become more important than God, then come back, come back into God’s protection. He will frown on you no longer, for He is merciful. He will not be angry forever. He will forgive your sin in the Name of Jesus.

Are you living with someone who isn’t your spouse? Confess your sin, make changes in your life, God will frown on you no longer. Have you been avoiding coming to church? Come back into God’s protection, for He is merciful. Do you get drunk? Tell God about your behavior. He will not be angry forever.

While God’s wall of protection gives me the strength to preach His Word, I am certainly not the only one who gets to have God’s protection and love and mercy and forgiveness. God calls on me to speak the Law, and then to invite you into His protection. When we realize we are sinful, it is then that we realize that we need God's invitation into His kingdom, that we need God’s mercy and forgiveness. I spoke the Law today by the strength of God, and now the wall stands open. Come into God’s protection. (push wall forward)

(back in pulpit) Now as a Christian, as a citizen of God’s kingdom, He calls on you to speak His Word too. And just as sometimes I am afraid to speak God’s Law to you, I’ve realized that sometimes you’re afraid to speak God’s Law to me. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed that people really want to avoid telling me when I’ve done something wrong. If you’ve ever felt that way about me or Pastor Miller, then I invite you to hear God’s Word to Jeremiah as His Word to you: “I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall.” God’s wall of protection is for you too.

What is it that you’re afraid to tell me? Frankly, I often don’t know. A lot of times I only know third hand or fourth hand about a mistake I made, a sin I committed that someone noticed. What is it that you need to say from God’s Word to me? Perhaps it is the way I might not have been sensitive to your child’s needs in our DJ Program, the Confirmation program. I need you to tell me how my words or actions were hurtful. Perhaps it is a sermon that ended up being way too much about Law and judgment on sin, and not enough about the Gospel, forgiveness in Jesus. I need you to stand behind God’s wall of protection and point out my error. Good walls make good servants of God.

It takes courage to tell someone how they have sinned, and for whatever reason, maybe it takes even more courage to tell your pastors how they have sinned. But God’s wall of protection isn’t just for me so that I can preach the Law to you. God’s wall of protection is for you, so that you can tell me my sins, tell me how I have failed to live up to God’s ways, tell me how I have not been a kind shepherd.

But I also hope that when you stand behind this wall of protection to speak the Law to me or to Pastor Miller or really to any brother or sister in Christ, I hope that you too will stand behind the wall remembering that the wall is open. God’s wall is open, welcoming in the sinner, bringing sinners back into His forgiveness and love and mercy. I need to hear the Law and how I have sinned against you, but I also need to hear God’s mercy. Pastor Miller also needs to hear God’s mercy. I have heard of way too many congregations torn apart when either the pastor or the congregation members were far too willing to speak Law, without ever speaking Gospel, without ever speaking forgiveness, without ever moving towards healing and resolution. May this not be among us.

God’s wall of protection gives you the strength to speak God’s Word, even God’s Law against sin, and when you speak His Law, He also gives you courage to invite the sinner back into God’s Kingdom. Good walls make good servants of God.

(leave pulpit) So that brings us all inside God’s wall of protection, and now we stand on the doorstep, looking out at our community, the world around us. (move wall by the windows). Have we been afraid to speak God’s Law to people out there? Have we been scared to tell our friends or neighbors that getting drunk is wrong? Have we been terrified of having to tell a loved one that living together before marriage is a sin and sets them up for a higher divorce rate? Have we been nervous about telling people when they have hurt us, when their faith is in danger because they don’t go to church, or when they have been unforgiving? If we have been afraid of speaking God’s Word to this community, either as a congregation or as individuals, then God’s Word to Jeremiah is here to remind us: good walls make good servants of God.

(back to pulpit) People may fight against us, fight against what God’s Word says, but they will not overcome us. That is God’s promise. He says that He is with us and will rescue us. He comes with salvation. He comes with protection and strength and courage.

And even while we move out into the world behind God’s wall of protection, even while we speak difficult words of judgment against sin, even then the wall stands open. We speak God’s Law to the world around us hoping that they will come inside, they will come into God’s protection, they will come to know the forgiveness and salvation found in Jesus.

So, got something to tell me? Got something that you’re upset about? Do you need to tell me how I have sinned? Then stand behind God’s wall of protection and tell me. Call me, email me, talk to me today, and let’s find a time to sit down and talk. I need to hear God’s Law; I need to admit my sins; I need your forgiveness. I’m going to put this wall out in the lobby as a reminder on your way out. It will remind us all that we have God’s protection when we speak His Word and that His wall of protection moves out into this world with love and mercy for everyone. If it is any easier, drop a note in the top of the wall, tell me that you need to stand with God’s protection and tell me my sins, and I’ll give you a call. I promise to hear what you have to say. I just hope you’ll also speak the Gospel, the Good News in Jesus.

Good walls make good servants of God—prepared to speak His Word—Law and Gospel, the Word of salvation in Jesus Christ. Go, you are a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall; go and speak His Word!