Advent in the Old Testament; Deuteronomy: Mountain to Manger

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The Christmas season is upon us. We have already received our first Christmas card. Perhaps you have too.

For many, this tradition of card exchange is a highlight of the season. Letters and pictures pour in. You catch up on the lives of people who live those lives far from us.

Going to the mailbox at this time of year can be a chore delivered from drudgery by a keen sense of expectation. Who will we hear from today? And when we fondly recognize a name in the return address corner we eagerly anticipate hearing their news.

Imagine receiving a card you did not want to open. Perhaps you've held other envelopes whose contents you dreaded. You hesitated. You may have even handed the envelope to someone else. Here, you open it. Tell me what it says. I just can't bear to read it for myself.

Deuteronomy anticipates just that kind of Christmas card. Hopefully you'll understand what I mean as this message goes along.

But we cannot reach out to open the envelope labeled Deuteronomy without looking in the return address corner of the envelope and reading the name Moses.

Moses is the central human being in the book. He is the human author as he is for the first four books of the OT. But this book is more intensely personal.

The book begins and ends with Moses. The book is a collection of four sermons he delivered to the entire nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.

Yet since he was not to go with them into the Promised Land, these sermons function as his collected farewell address to the nation. He had led the people out of slavery; taken them to God's mountain where they entered into a holy covenant; guided them through the wilderness, and now brought them to the edge of the land that had been promised to this people for more than four hundred years.

When Moses delivered these sermons he was 120 years old-- still vigorous but not long for this world. God has made it clear to him that he is going to die. Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses and the assumption of Joshua to the position of highest leadership in Israel.

In contrast, the message of Christmas is a birth announcemnent. The focus is a baby in a manger not an old man on the mountain. So it may seem odd to preach a Christmas or Advent message from Deuteronomy. Where is Christmas in Deuteronomy.

The Magnificence of Moses

Moses is the connection. Let me explain how by reviewing just how magnificent Moses was. HIs words form the foundation for the rest of what God would reveal in his word. No one else was like him. Well, almost no one. His leadership set the standard for all those who came after him. Well almost all.

The postscript to the book, added after Moses' death, summarizes Moses' magnificence.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Allow me to give you four words that connect the dots between Deuteronomy and Christmas.

1. Moses Reveals God

He functions as a Prophet. He is really the first prophet. Dueteronomy opens:

Deuteronomy 1:1-3 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness ... Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them,

In the Hebrew Bible the name for Deuteronomy is "These are the words." The title of the book is not only the opening line but the very essence of the book. Moses is revealing God's very words.

Even late in the book Moses reinforces his purpose:

Deuteronomy 29:1 These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.

Deuteronomy 31:1 So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel.

God was not like any other being in the Universe. People could not just look around at the creation and have a sufficient understanding of God. It was necessary for Moses to reveal to the people what God was like.

Deuteronomy 4:35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

The people could not reflect back on what they had learned about deity from the Egyptians and know what their God was like. They were not to try imagine what God was like. God would and did reveal Himself to them.

We have the same need. If we are to know God, He must make himself known. Many in our world treat "God" as a symbol to which a human being can attach his or her own meaning. "I think of God as being like . . . " then each person gets to finish the sentence.

But Moses' magnificence reminds us that God is a real Person who alone can define Himself. He is who He is and not what we invent Him to be. This is why we need a prophet. Someone must show us what God is like.

Moses reveals words from God, even God's laws, because each of these laws tells us something about what God is truly like.

Be careful when someone begins a sentence with the words, "I can't believe in a God who would . . . ." That person has decided that they can define God instead of letting God reveal himself.

Moses' magnificence included the singular privilege to reveal God to people just like us who could not know Him any other way.

2. He Represents the people before God

He functions as a priest. He pleads for God for the forgiveness of his people.

Deuteronomy 9:24-26 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you. 25“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people how he stood between God and them, especially at Mt. Sinai also called Horeb:

Deuteronomy 5:4-5 The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, 5while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain.

Deuteronomy 5:22-31 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. [we don't want to open the envelope; we don't want this card; we don't want to hear from God] 26For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ 28“And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! 30Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’

We live in a world that treats God casually. If there is a God, surely he must think as highly of me as I think of myself. I'm a pleasant person. If he's a pleasant God, he'll surely enjoy my company. It doesn't occur to us that we might need someone to stand between us lest the burning holiness of God swallow us up in our sin.

Moses' magnificence included the strange privilege of standing between God and the people to pray for and represent them.

3. He Rules for God

He acts as a kind of king, a vice-king with God as the Supreme King of the nation.

We see this in three dramatic ways. Moses rules as a Lawgiver. He delivers the laws of God to the people and commands obedience to them. The name "Deuteronomy" means second law-giving because it represents Moses, under God's direction, refreshing the law from Mt. Sinai in preparation for entrance into the promised land.

Moses also Rules as an Administrator. In the first chapter of Deuteronomy we see Moses delegating the leadership of the people throughout the tribes. Yet he remained in a position of final leadership. He charged the judges to handle small cases and to bring the most difficult to Him. Moses also oversees the process of parceling out the promised land to the various tribes.

Moses also Rules as a Military Leader. In his Deuteronomy sermons he recalls, for example:

Deuteronomy 3:1-2 1“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 2But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your [singular] hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’

The people fought together but under Moses leadership. On one occasion God used Moses to stop them from fighting becuase they were doomed to lose because of their sin. Apart from Moses' leadership, these people would have been disordered and defeated.

We live in a day of self-ruling self-reliance. I know what's right for me. I'll direct my own destiny and fight my own battles. God's free to help me but I'll not be caught helplessly depending on him. In fact we are just like the people in Moses' day, needed godly direction and protection if we are to survive.

Moses' magnificence as a leader is unparalleled in history. Well almost unparalleled. The fourth description is actually a limit to his magnificence.

Scratch out what is in the bulletin and write instead,

4. "He had to be replaced."

Moses' ministry came to an end. He died. He was not going to enter the promised land. This reminder runs throughout the book of Deuteronomy. Moses realized that he had to write down God's word so that its truth did not die with him.

But he also knew that God would have to raise up someone to extend and complete his ministry.

Turn with me to Deuteronomy 18:15.

Deuteronomy 18:13-22

13You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this [they will need another leader to rule and lead them for me]. 15“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— [the leader will be a prophet but more than a prophet . . .] 16just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [This prophet leader will also need to be like Moses as a priest to stand between God and the people] 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20But 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.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

The question is, who is this Prophet? To whom does Moses refer? Who is being predicted here. We could run through the rest of the OT and realize that no leader fulfills all the aspects of this Predicted Prophet.

We come to the days of John the Baptist in the New Testament and we find the Jews asking a curious question of this unique man.

John 1:19-21

19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

At the time John came preparing for Jesus' ministry the nation was still looking for that unique Person who would fulfill Moses' prophecy. They continued to anticipate the greater than Moses who was to come.

It would be Peter, preaching after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, who announces the identity of this Prophet.

Acts 3:22-26 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

The Prophet is none other than Jesus himself. The Magnificence of Moses gives way to

The Superiority of the Savior

Moses prophecy about a coming prophet sets the back drop for John's prologue of Jesus' life on earth which we heard read earlier. John does not relate any part of the birth story of Jesus. What he does is to establish Jesus' identity as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of God acting to bring salvation to his people.

Moses spoke words from God. Deuteronomy begins "These are the words . . . " John declares, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God." Jesus is:

Fully God

He is himself the revelation of God. He is not merely declaring what is true about God. He is God. He is greater than Moses because He is the Ultimate Prophet. No one can take Jesus seriously and still expect someone else to come as a better fulfillment of the One to whom Moses pointed.

John concludes his prologue in John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Jesus is not simply face to face with God as Moses was to some degree (remember Deuteronomy 34). Jesus was in the bosom, in the lap with the Father. John chooses a strange expression to show the eternal union between the Father and son and so the uniqueness of the Son coming to reveal God.

The writer of Hebrews recognized the Ultimate uniqueness of Jesus:

Hebrews 1:1-3 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

No wonder in chapter 3 he announces the verdict,

Hebrews 3:3 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.

Jesus is fully God.

But if we are thinking along the lines of Deuteronomy when we read John we should cry out, "No. We don't want God to come and reveal himself to us. If He does, we will die. We don't want to open this Christmas card. Give us someone to stand between us and God."

And if Moses were here he would say, "You're right in what you have spoken. You can't take it."

Moses would tell us that we need a prophet like him. He must be from among your brothers. He must be truly man.

Truly Man

Wonder of wonders. Jesus is the fulfillment of this as well. John says, Jesus came to his own. He was born an Israelite. He was a brother in every sense of the world. He was a true human being.

He was God come into the world, not from the top of the mountain in fire and thunder and terror, but lying in a manger. God poured out his glory and goodness into one who could stand before us. Here was a Christmas card we could look at. It was opened before us. Jesus was all the magnificence of a human being without any blemish. He was the greater than Moses. He was God in human flesh.

In this Advent season we will sing Wesley's words, "Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail th’ incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King.”

And it was in this flesh that Jesus did his greatest work. It was this flesh that was nailed to a cross. It was this flesh that deposited its blood on that cross. It was this flesh that was hoisted into the air to hang between the wrath of God and the rebellion of human beings. Jesus bore the punishment for so that God might give eternal life to those who had rejected Him.

Like Moses, Jesus prays for sinners. He says, "Father forgive them." And he dies to pay the price for that forgiveness. He represents sinners before God.

And, just as Moses Promised, Jesus came as Ruler with God's authority.

Final Word

Deuteronomy 18:18-19 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

Jesus brought the very words from the Father.

John 8:28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

He could also say:

John 12:48-50 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Jesus is the final word from God. In the gospel he gives us his promise to drive away all our enemies (our sin, the corruption of this world, and the devil) and to lead us into eternal life.

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Moses could announce a covenant relationship between God and his people but Christ can enact it. He has all authority over God's house. He is the true light who leads from darkness into the light of his eternal life. Do not reject him. Do not rebel against him. Receive Him for All that He is: Your God, Your Priest, Your King.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud—the Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear—for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud—the Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh—come, rich and poor, to own Him; the King of kings salvation brings—let loving hearts enthrone Him.

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud—the Babe, the Son of Mary.

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