Posted on December 23rd, 2012
Well, the Mayan apocalypse was a bit of a disappointment.
Don’t you find it strange that people of our age would pay any attention to the calendar of a long-ago-ruined civilization? It demonstrates how hungry people are for clues to our destiny, knowledge about the future, some truth about the world.
The continuing debates regarding the age and origin of the world are part of the same question: Is there any reason for our existence as the race of men? Does my life have any meaning?
So we are willing to pay attention when someone claims to have a window into these mysteries—and then revel in ridicule when their claims are proven false. John the Baptist garnered plenty of attention when he arose as an apocalyptic prophet, warning of wrath to come. And the messengers dispatched from the Jewish leaders had a question for him: “Are you the Christ?”
They wanted to know if John was one of the various end-times figures the Jews were expecting. You can see these figures in the interrogation of John: “Are you the Christ?” “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?”
That last one, The Prophet, comes from the Old Testament reading we heard today. There we hear Moses speak. Moses is the great prophet of the Jewish people who led them through the Red Sea on dry ground and gave them the Law on Mount Sinai. Today, Moses tells the people what the Lord told him: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you … to him you shall listen.”
Here we learn what a prophet is, what he does. We’ve been accustomed to think of a prophet chiefly as someone who reveals the future. That’s sometimes true, but a prophet in the Bible is first and foremost a spokesman. Think of a prophet not so much as a spiritual guru or mystic but more like the White House press secretary, or an ambassador. Such a spokesman receives messages from the president and communicates it, authoritatively. He speaks for the administration, for the president. As such, he has access to the president; what he hears, he speaks.
This is what a prophet does in the Bible. He has access to God, and speaks His Word, proclaims His message. Most prophets didn’t want the job. Moses tried to talk God out of being the Lord’s prophet with the excuse that he wasn’t a good speaker. Intrinsic, then, to the prophetic office is speaking. A prophet is a spokesman.
Imagine if you had that kind of access. Think about President Obama. What would you say to him, if you could speak to him directly, one on one? If you had one minute, five minutes, an hour with him, what would you want him to know, what would you ask him to do?
Now imagine it’s not the President, but God Himself. Would you like to speak to God directly, face to face? Would you like immediate access to God?
The Israelites didn’t. Back in Deut. 5, Moses reminded the people what happened when God appeared to them:
“The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb…. The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 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 the mountain.”
Following this, Moses repeats to them the Ten Commandments, then summarizes,
“So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. And you said: ‘Surely the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near and hear all that the LORD our God may say, and tell us all that the LORD our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.”
The people wanted a spokesman. Why? The presence of God was terrifying. They wanted a spokesman, they needed a mediator, because direct access to God brings death.
Now, as Moses anticipates his own death, God gives a promise that other prophets would speak to the people, finally culminating in the one great prophet, the one like Moses.
Moses, you see, was more to them than a lawgiver. He was a mediator—he prayed for them; he was a savior—he led the rescue from Egypt, delivering them from bondage; he was a provider, giving them food and water in the desert; and finally, he was a substitute: when God had had enough of Israel’s idolatry, grumbling, and rebellion, He declared that He would destroy all the people and make Moses the father of a great people. But Moses rejects this honor and instead tries to exchange his own life in place of the people’s, even asking God to forgive them in exchange for blotting out his own name from the Book of Life.
So Moses is a lawgiver, but much more: he prays for the people, he is a savior for the people, he is a sacrifice and redeemer of the people.
But Moses was nevertheless a sinner. And his one great sin was a seemingly explicable loss of temper. As the people were grumbling in the wilderness because they lacked water, Moses was told to speak to a rock, and it would bring forth water. But Moses had had enough of the people’s grumbling and complaints. Losing his patience, instead of speaking to the rock, he thrusts his staff down upon the rock. It indeed gushed forth water, but it cost Moses entry into the Promised Land. Moses the spokesman had not listened to God’s Word but acted on his own authority.
Now fast forward to the New Testament. St Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 10,
“Our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”
The Rock was Christ. So in the fullness of time, Jesus appears, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan. Like Moses, Jesus teaches from the mountain. He feeds the people with bread in the wilderness. He doesn’t simply part the waters but walks upon them. And He says at the great water ceremony in Jerusalem, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink, he who believes in Me. As the Scripture has said, Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37f).
But those who sat on Moses’ seat, the rulers of the Jews, did not speak to Jesus, the Rock. Instead, like Moses, they struck the Rock. And there, at the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, a Roman spear was thrust into the side of Jesus, and behold, out of His heart flowed water and blood.
These, my friends, are the rivers of living water from which come everlasting life. We live in a world gone wrong. The earth is broken, coming apart. The rulers are corrupt. Violence is tearing our race apart, with wars and rumors of wars, madmen turning weapons on children, mothers destroying their own offspring. We listen even to tales of Mayan apocalyptic prophecies because we sense a great apocalypse coming, or before it our own looming demise.
In the midst of holiday rushing and global brokenness, stop and listen to Moses: The Lord will raise up a prophet like me. Him shall you hear.
That prophet, and more than a prophet, is Jesus, God come to you in such a way that you do not die. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, the voice came from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Him shall you hear.” God the Father indicated that Jesus is the last and greatest prophet. And what is more, like Moses, He is your intercessor—He prays for you. He is your deliverer—rescuing you from death and hell. He is your substitute—offering His life for yours.
He is your rock. From His crucified body comes the flowing rivers that give you life: the water of your baptism, the blood of this communion.
So you need never fear any apocalypse, nor the sorrows of this world, nor your own mortality. All these Jesus, the new and greater Moses, has overcome for you. Of this be certain: your Jesus will guide you through this wilderness to the New Jerusalem. This is why St Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”