Friday before last I got a last minute call to substitute preach at 2 small (very) churches that Sunday. The first sub had an unexpected death in the family, the second sub got exposed to COVID-19, so I was the third! At first I was going to pull out an old sermon, but I just could not do it, and spent 9 hours Saturday writing a new one. I saw that a passage in Deuteronomy was in the lectionary, and it would be read as one of the Bible readings, so I decided on that passage. I would have preferred more time to prepare, but here is my message. I depended more heavily on certain sources than typical, particularly my Bible for preachers/teachers that has a great overview of each book of the Bible. (Mentioned in this post – the proclamation Bible.)
Manuscript below, and audio link is HERE if you’d like to listen.
My message this morning will be on the Deuteronomy passage read earlier, and on the book of Hebrews in the New Testament but in particular Hebrews 1:1-3.
Deuteronomy is perhaps not a common book to teach or preach from. But when Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days, he quoted from Deuteronomy three times to defeat Satan’s temptations. And Deuteronomy is quoted or alluded to at least 95 times in the New Testament. That is a lot.
At the time of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are camped on the east side of the Jordan. It is a whole generation after the exodus from Egypt, the 40 years of wilderness wandering are behind them, and they prepare to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is presented as the speeches of Moses at the close of his life to review and remind the people of what God had already taught them. “Beware, lest you forget” is a theme. Deuteronomy wraps up the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy is not only a review, but Moses is preparing them for life in the land ahead of them: urging them to move forward with God, to stay faithful to the Lord their God, and be obedient – subjecting their lives to the law God had given them through Moses.
This was for a greater purpose. Deuteronomy’s ethics are missional in intent. The Israelites were to be God’s distinct people bearing witness to the world to the utter uniqueness of YWHW or Jehovah. Deuteronomy is strongly monotheistic – there is only one God – and this was in contrast to the polytheistic cultures that surrounded them.
Ultimately, God’s mission through Israel is to bring salvation to the entire world though our Lord Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament is preparing and pointing towards the coming of Jesus.
I’m going to re-read two verses from Deuteronomy 18.
This is Moses speaking…“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
And then the Lord said to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth.”
In one sense, this passage is speaking of the school or office of prophets that would develop in the Old Testament. Israel, unfortunately, would begin to fail in their mission – getting mixed up with idolatry. And the role of the prophets was to speak hard truths and call the people back to YHWH. But this Deuteronomy 18 passage speaks of a prophet in the singular, not plural. — “a prophet”
We see in the New Testament that the first century Jews were looking for this unique prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18. For example, in John 6 after the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 – the people exclaimed “surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
In John chapter 1, the Jewish leaders went to John the Baptist to question him about his identity, and one question was: “are you the Prophet?” – Of course, John said no, and quoted Isaiah 40 that he was preparing the way for the Lord. Later in the same chapter of John, Philip found Nathanial and told him “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.” (vs 45)
The apostle Peter was clear on this by the time he was used by God in the book of Acts. In Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 he actually quotes Deuteronomy 18 and points to Jesus as the Prophet that was to come and who had come – the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 4:12, Peter says, referring to Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
With that I am going to read Hebrews 1:1-3. (Read from my Bible)
The main theme of Hebrews is the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Donald Barnhouse said this: “The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrews to tell them to stop acting like Hebrews.” There is more to be gained in Christ, than lost in Judaism.
A key word in Hebrews is “better” or “superior.” Jesus is superior to the prophets, to the angels, to Moses, and the whole Old Testament system of sacrifice and mediation.
Moses mediated the Mosaic Covenant, the law, but Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. Jesus said in Luke at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”
The New Covenant superseded the Mosaic Covenant. The Old Testament system was fulfilled or completed in Christ. No longer would priests offer animal sacrifices. Jesus became our mediator, our priest, and our final sacrifice for sin.
But what about Christ becoming the final prophet? An Old Testament priest mediated between man and God, while a prophet mediated between God and man. The Old Testament prophets would begin their message with “thus says the Lord” – they were speaking for God, and this was a very serious thing. So much so, that the Deuteronomy passage says that a prophet who speaks his or her own words as God’s words would be put to death. I’ll read verses 20:
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” – Oh my. This would be another avenue of teaching that we don’t have time to go down this morning, but the point is that it is a serious matter to claim to speak for God.
Unfortunately, sometimes the Israelites preferred the words of the false prophets because they spoke nicer and encouraging things, and God’s true prophets often brought hard and challenging words about sin and repentance. Sometimes what we WANT to hear is not what we NEED to hear.
The Hebrews 1 passage begins “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
This points us to the uniqueness of Jesus. The Son superseded the prophets. Jesus was not simply a great prophet proclaiming “thus says the Lord” to us. Jesus is the Lord. There is a significant difference there!
In the New Testament, YHWH walked among us as God the Son – the Lord Jesus Christ. This was not what the Jews were expecting! While they were looking for their Messiah, they were not expecting the Messiah to be God in the flesh. It is understandable that some did not believe the claims Jesus made about himself, and instead considered Jesus to be a false prophet. But some did believe, and that is why you and I sit here today.
Hebrews 1 continues: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” – Jesus is the unique God-man, fully God and fully human.
If I asked you to think of the great miracles of the Bible, likely what would come to your mind would be events like: Moses parting the Red Sea, or certain miracles Jesus performed like turning water into wine, healing the sick, or raising Lazarus from the dead. For some reason we overlook or forget about certain other miracles, which are actually much greater.
The greatest phenomenon, the greatest marvel, the greatest wonder in this world is Jesus Christ. God became human. This is astonishing. Think about it. The God of the universe became an unborn child in the womb of a young woman named Mary in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.
E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist missionary to India in the early 20th century said: Jesus “didn’t just perform miracles; He was a miracle, a miracle of being. Then being a miracle would he perform miracles? Being a miracle it would be a miracle if he didn’t perform them.”
We can be wrong about some things, and there are issues where it is okay for Christians to have different views, but this is not one of them. We can NOT get it wrong about Jesus – that he is the unique God-man, fully God and fully human. If we get it wrong about Jesus, we lose Christianity. There is no neutral ground here.
Faith can be a struggle for some, and there are aspects of Christianity that are hard to believe. But some people make faith harder than it needs to be by finding difficulty in the wrong places! (This is something J.I. Packer pointed out in his classic book Knowing God.)
For example, some have doubts about the virgin birth, the miracles performed by Christ, and his resurrection. However, the real difficulty or supreme mystery of Christianity is the Christmas message of Incarnation – that God became one of us.
It is from disbelief, or inadequate belief, in the Incarnation that the other problems arise. If we believe in the Incarnation, the other difficulties disappear!
Since Jesus was God, it only follows that his birth would be unique, that he would be a miracle worker, and that he would conquer death through resurrection! The Incarnation makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.
As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses implored them to keep moving forward with God and to stay faithful to the Lord their God. In the passage today, they were warned about false prophets leading them astray.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament has a similar message. We also need to keep moving forward in our faith and anchor ourselves in essential truths about Jesus Christ. Perhaps you thought that last sentence was a bit of a contradiction. If we are anchored, how can we move forward? We will be stuck, as an anchor holds us in a certain area.
But we need to be anchored in essential truths about the Lord Jesus Christ. If we un-anchor ourselves from those things, we will begin to drift and be blown about by false teachings. All too soon we can downgrade Christ in our life – and Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is to be supreme in our life.
The purpose of Hebrews is to lead believers into a more mature knowledge of Christ and a more mature Christian life. The recipients had begun well and the focus is on running the race set before them. They were in danger of receding from Christianity back into Judaism and not maturing in the Christian faith. The recipients are warned, exhorted, and encouraged to keep moving forward in their faith.
We are not converts from Judaism, but we too can get focused on the wrong things and begin to drift. We need to look to Jesus and run. And I will start to bring this to a close by reading Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
And I assume that everyone here this morning has begun the race of faith at some point in their life. No one is automatically a Christian.
Attending church does not make us a Christian. Being confirmed when we are 12 years old does not make us a Christian. Now, we could become a genuine Christian in confirmation class, but we may have only been rote learning because our parents made us attend.
(I rarely ad lib in a sermon but here I briefly shared that my dad was raised high-church Episcopalian and was confirmed when he was 12, but it was meaningless to him. He repeated words he did not mean or truly believe. But several years later my dad did have a genuine encounter with the Savior.)
At some point, we must come to a personal realization that we are sinful and in need of a Savior, and make a decision to believe – to place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – trusting not in our good works but in the work of Jesus for us on the cross. We can’t be good enough, and that is why Jesus came for us.
If you have any doubts about where you stand in your relationship with God, please speak to me after the service or contact Pastor Brian when he is back in town.
(Ended with a brief prayer.)
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