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.