Jesus Is Indispensable

We read in Deuteronomy 18:15-20 that the prophet Moses seemed indispensable to God's peopleóbut he wasn't. To Packer fans, Brett Favre seemed indispensableóbut he wasn't. Of anyone who has ever lived, only "Jesus Is Indispensable." January 29, 2012.

            So what are you going to do when Pastor Huebner retires? Don’t get excited; I’m not making some big announcement here. He hasn’t mentioned anything to me about retirement. He’s not even close to 60, he’s in good health; you could say he’s still in the prime of life. But he’s been around here for a long time—30 years this year. Nobody knows the future, but it could happen that by the time he actually does retire, he will have served at Grace Congregation longer than any pastor in its long history. So when you get close to 2022 or someplace around there, you’re going to have to ask the question: Will anyone be able to replace Pastor Huebner?

            You know what they say, right? Nobody is indispensable. Elizabeth II has been on the British throne for 60 years, and she’s probably at the pinnacle of her popularity, but she has a son and better yet a grandson all set to take the crown. A lot of Packer fans thought Brett Favre was indispensable—Brett Favre thought he was indispensable—but you all know how that turned out. This is one of the great realities of life: No matter how good you are, you can always be replaced. The little poem says it all: “Take a bucket and fill it with water/Put your hand in it up to the wrist/Pull your hand out and the hole that’s remaining/Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.” Nobody is indispensable.

            But if you had tried to convince the people of Israel that Moses was not indispensable, they might have not have bought in. Most of you know this story. When God decided to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt, he sent Moses to be their leader. The people of Israel always had a love/hate relationship with Moses. When there wasn’t any water, when they were tired of eating the same old manna and quail every day, Moses took the heat. When the Lord would blow up over their complaining and start shooting fire from mountains, they went running to Moses and begged him to make things right. Moses was Israel’s main man. Moses made the decisions and he set the course. He found the water and he won the battles. Most important, he told the people what the Lord wanted them to know. By the time the nation stood at the banks of the Jordan River, all set to enter the Promised Land, hardly anyone in Israel had known any other leader but Moses. I’m not so sure that the average Israeli or his average wife or his average child was all that convinced that Moses was not indispensable.

            We heard Moses speak this morning in the First Lesson from Deuteronomy 18. This was the end of the road for Moses; he wasn’t going to go into the Promised Land with the rest of the people. And so he ordered them to come together for a farewell speech—although what he said was really more than a speech. Moses stood before the people and repeated all of the decrees and laws God had set down for the nation: methodically, point by point, command by command. He was in the middle of warning them against looking for advice from sorcerers and mediums and witchcraft—which was a very real problem because they would be surrounded by these people in their new land. And then, all at once, Moses stopped. It was as though he could read the people’s minds: If we can’t go to sorcerers or mediums and if you’re not going to be here anymore, how will we know what the Lord wants us to do? Moses had the answer: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”And this wasn’t just Moses’ big idea. The Lord told Moses his plan: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.”From God’s perspective, Moses wasn’t indispensable at all. And God was dead serious that the people should listen to the new prophet just as they had listened to Moses: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” God was so serious about the prophet he would send that he commanded the people to “put to death” any prophet God didn’t send.

            So here is the whole nation of Israel, ready to enter the Promised Land without the man who led them for 40 years. This was a really good promise! And it was a promise God kept. If you follow the story of God’s people after Moses, you’ll find one prophet after another: Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and dozens more. The Lord sent them all to speak to his people. The people didn’t always listen to the Lord’s prophets, just like they didn’t always listen to Moses. But there never was a time in all the years after Moses that the Lord failed to raise up a prophet to replace Moses. Moses was not indispensable because God kept his promises.

            But there is an intriguing little passage at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, and it comes straight from the Holy Spirit: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”Over the centuries the people wondered: Is another prophet coming, a prophet who will be exactly like Moses and know God face to face? By the time John the Baptist came on the scene, the people were wondering. They asked John, “Are you the prophet?” Are you the next Moses who will lead us out of slavery just like the last Moses did? John pointed to Jesus, and the people believed him. Two weeks ago we heard Philip tell Nathanael,“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law”; Philip was talking about Jesus. Jesus was completely open about this. He told the Jewish leaders who opposed him: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”And soon enough all the believers understood that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to send a prophet. In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter called Jesus the prophet Moses had promised, and just before he died, Stephen the martyr said exactly the same thing.

            When the Lord promised the people of Israel that he would send a prophet to replace Moses, was God thinking ultimately about his Son? What do you think? The prophet would be “a prophet like you,” the Lord told Moses: a man, a human being, just like Moses, who would experience temptation and know about pain and walk in our shoes. He would be a Jewish man, just like Moses, a descendent of Abraham and a descendant of David, a descendant who God told Abraham and David would bring blessings to the world forever. “Listen to him,” God told the people, exactly the same thing God said when he spoke on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. He would be a mediator, someone who would approach God because the people could not, and Jesus offered his blood and death to God as the payment for our sin. He would be one who speaks the very words of God, and Jesus said: “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” 

            Is Jesus the prophet like Moses? Yes, but better than Moses. The man who wrote the Second Lesson for today, from the letter to the Hebrews, insists that “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses.”Moses could anticipate God’s great plan to save the world; Jesus carried out God’s plan to save the world. Moses was God’s servant; Jesus was God’s Son. Moses saw God face to face; Jesus is God from first to last. If we see Jesus, we see God.

            You know what they say: No one is indispensable. Brett Favre: dispensable; James Huebner: dispensable; Moses: dispensable. But Jesus Is Indispensable. Brothers and sisters, what is wrong with us? So many times in our lives we are about as fickle as the people of Israel. We complain about the water we drink and the food we eat; we’re afraid of the enemies we face and the journeys we travel; we bow down to idols we set up in our lives and we build our own personal golden calves; we look for this prophet and that preacher who promises something more exciting than God offers. But where will we go in the middle of the night when our conscience attacks us and we feel God’s anger igniting around us in thunder and fire? Where will we go when we’re famished with worry and thirsting for hope? Where will we look when life seems like a desert and we feel like we’re wandering in a wilderness? Where will we turn when we don’t know the way and can’t see the Promised Land?

            Jesus Is Indispensable. He is irreplaceable. Jesus took away our sins, and no one else ever did that. Jesus sees what’s in our hearts and minds, and no one else sees that. Jesus knows exactly what God thinks of us, and no one else does. Jesus leads us through this life to another life, and no one else can do that. Is there someone else, another preacher, another prophet, another leader you would rather follow? Peter answered that question one time and said what we all need to say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

            In the Gospel for today, Jesus went to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum. Mark observed: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”I’m not surprised and neither are you. When we think about his words and works, Jesus is amazing, and that’s why he is indispensable. In fact, there’s no one else but Jesus. Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on January 29, 2012

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