A Prophet Like Moses

Text: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/29/12

Near the end of his service as prophet and leader of God’s people Moses announced, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” And the Lord reiterated Moses’ words. The question is, who would that prophet like Moses be?

Cecil B. DeMille raised up the actor Charlton Heston to star in the memorable and award-winning 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments.” But here Moses himself and not a successor was portrayed. So that can’t be it. So also with the recent report that Warner Brothers is closing on a contract with Steven Spielberg to direct a new Moses epic titled “Gods and Kings” to start production early next year. In the absence of Charlton Heston, who of today’s actors would you cast to play Moses?

That promised successor, however, would not be just one man but many. The fifth and last book of Moses commonly called Deuteronomy records the essentials of God’s covenant relationship with His people in preparation for their residence in Canaan and continuance without their leader Moses who was barred from entering the promised land. In this promise the office of the ministry was extended, the promise that God would continue to provide guidance for and protection of His people through His Word mediated through certain servants of His calling and sending. According to this promise God did raise up priests and prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New and those in their train as priests and ministers to this present day. Certain of those Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles and evangelists would write down God’s Word to be transmitted through the centuries as the sacred, inspired, authoritative scriptures, the Bible.

Whether prophet, apostle, evangelist, pastor or teacher they are all limited and commanded to speak, prophecy, preach and teach only the words commanded by God. “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” So is the warning regarding false prophets, apostles and teachers, preaching and teaching, a warning echoed also in the New Testament (Mt 7:15, Mk 13:22, Acts 20:28, Eph 4:14-15, 1 Tm 1:3, Heb 13:9, 2 Pt 2:1, 1 Jn 4:1). To this day the question is solemnly asked of those being ordained, “Do you promise… [that] all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?” (LSB Agenda, 166).

Besides the line of prophets and priests supplied by God to His people since Moses, this promise, of course, finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world. We heard the apostle Philip saying to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Yet Jesus is greater and more than merely a second Moses as the Letter of the Hebrews describes, saying, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself…. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Heb 3:1-6). Jesus is greater and worthy of more glory than Moses because Jesus is the one and only promised sacrifice for the sins of the world. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). That “lifting up” was the sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross for your forgiveness and salvation.

The office of the ministry is important for every Christian, for it is to be God’s voice in every generation. It is not, however, ever the revelation of anything new that hasn’t already been revealed in the scriptures, though, from time to time, different things will strike the individual Christian as new to his or her knowledge, experience or understanding. In this life none of us ever plumb “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33). So Jesus is more than “the prophet like Moses” because, as St. John says, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

This promise of God’s continued guidance, protection and deliverance through His living Word is why it is so important for us to guard against false prophets or those who would change or suppress, reinterpret or just plain disregard preaching and God’s Word. It seems especially we “Missouri Synod” Lutherans have gained the reputation as being particularly sensitive to guarding the purity of the teaching of God’s Word. Some interpret that sensitivity as “legalism.” But insistence on pure doctrine is not legalistic but rather faithfulness to the gospel that alone gives life.

In an article by pastor Martin Noland he speaks of what we call “confessional Lutheranism” and asks “who was its father, where did it begin?”[1] The term “confessional” means to speak of the purity of the teaching of God’s Word not only through our Lutheran Confessions and Luther’s catechisms but also the liturgical customs and piety that have come down to us since the Reformation and even before. In our lifetime we point especially to the early 70s when the “Historical Critical Method” of Bible interpretation was threatening the pure doctrine, and it was amazingly stopped and reversed at least in our seminaries, colleges and church body. Noland reaches back to our founder, C.F.W. Walther and those who fled the rationalism and forced limitation of complete faith in Germany in the early 1800s. But then he reaches even further back to “the real father of this type of confessional Lutheranism…someone chronologically much closer to Luther, namely, Martin Chemnitz.” Chemnitz insisted that, “there must be a correct form and systematic summary of the divine teaching…. If any statements fail to measure up to this norm, they should not require some clever interpretation or some whitewashed reconciliation, but they should be clearly disapproved and rejected.” Further than that we do well to extend Dr. Noland’s reach to St. Paul who wrote to young Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:13-14), and of our Lord Himself who said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

The multi-personalitied unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue that day knew and spoke the truth about Jesus as “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). That truth, however, did not save but condemned that spirit. True, saving faith, founded in the sacred scriptures and “the way, the truth and the life” that is in Christ Jesus, is the creation of God Himself in the heart of the believer through the very Word we hear, and is also a confessed faith, as the apostle Paul said, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved,” (Rom 10:9-10). As our Lord Himself said, “everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).

For this faith and confession God continues to send prophets like Moses, ministers of God’s Word, the very voice of our Lord Jesus Himself who said to His disciples, “The one who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16). Someone greater than Moses has come. This is God’s beloved Son—listen to Him.

[1] CTQ July/October 2011, p 195ff.