The Heroes of Faith: Moses

Moses 1 Audio of the Sermon, 1st Half.

Moses 2Audio of the Sermon, 2nd Half.

I hope you have taken the time to read the short “biography” of Moses that we put into the bulletin.  If so you know that his appeal is two-fold.

On the one hand, Moses is “The Deliverer.” If Marvel Comics does not have “The Deliverer” in their stable of super-heroes they should have. Moses is much more interesting than Spiderman, or any of the Avengers. It was Moses to whom God spoke from the burning bush saying, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Ex. 3:14) It was Moses whom God sent to Israel, saying, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” And it was Moses whom God sent to Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go.” It was Moses who brought down the 10 plagues upon Egypt, and it was Moses who led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, and to the borders of the Promised Land, helping God to destroy the Army of Egypt in the process. (i)

On the other hand, Moses is “The Lawgiver.” It was Moses who gave Israel the Ten Commandments. It was the late Martin Buber who observed that Moses gave Israel just the right number of commandments to be remembered using the ten fingers of our two hands.

Of course, Moses did not stop with the Ten Commandments. The Law of Moses—the Law of God—the Torah, includes c. 613 commandments. They run from the humdrum, to the sublime, to the downright shocking.

The most sublime commandment is found in Leviticus 19:18. There we read, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” When, in Romans 13:9, St. Paul says, “The commandments…are summed up in a single sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” he is quoting Moses.

One of the most shocking commandments is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. (ii) There we read that if a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey his father, or his mother, even though they chastise him, then they will take him to the elders of the city and say to them, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” And then the men of the city shall stone him to death stones.

Now I doubt that any of you have ever considered bringing a stubborn and rebellious child before the elders to be stoned to death; but it is not impossible. A man who ran for the state legislature in Arkansas in the last election proposed that we ought to enforce this Law, and others like it. He calls himself a Christian. When I read that, I found myself wondering if that man is a Christian or a father. A Christian would know the story of Jesus and the woman taken in Adultery—we will take that up in just a minute. A father would know that children often pass through times of rebellion before becoming the people that parents know they can be. I remember a time when my son was so head strong that we had a hard time living under the same roof. He would say the same. Now, I regard him as one of my best friends, and I confessed to him not long ago that he has become a far better father than I ever have been.

In the 18th century Bishop Spangenberg had good advice for parents of rebellious children. He said the children of Christian parents often enter a time of rebellion. He said that as Christians we have promises for our children, especially those we have presented to God in baptism. He said that in almost every case, they would eventually put aside their rebellion, and return to their roots. As the Proverb 22:6 declares, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old (Maybe not immediately—but when he is “old” or “mature”—WNG) he will not depart from it.”

I am willing to bet the law that permits the stoning of rebellious children took some of you by surprise. I wonder how many of you have read all 613 laws set down by Moses? If we read through the Law of Moses we invariably make two significant observations, and then, having made those observations, we ask two very important questions.

First, we observe that a great many of the 613 commandments still make perfect sense, and we still live by them today.

Most of you are perfectly happy to keep the Ten Commandments, and you are not ashamed to display them in your homes. Using your ten fingers, some of you can name them from memory. Even if you can’t you keep them, for you have a highly developed conscience, and you know them intuitively.

Second, we observe that a great many of the 613 commandments no longer make sense for us, and wittingly or unwittingly we ignore them.

All of us who are here this morning have already violated the Law of Moses in a number of important ways even before entering this sanctuary. I will name three. First, unless you were in church yesterday, you already missed the Sabbath. This is Sunday, the first day of the week, not the last. Second, some of us had sausage or bacon for breakfast, which is in direct violation of the law against eating the flesh of an animal with a cloven hoof. Likewise, the vast majority of us are wearing a blended fabric, and that, too, is in direct violation of the law. In James 2:10 we read, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” Yet few of you are troubled by what you ate for breakfast or by what you are wearing, or by any of the other laws of Moses that you break on a regular basis. The very fact of our personal indifference gives rise to two questions.

First, we might well ask, “Why did God lay so many burdensome commandments and ordinances on the Jews?”

What did it matter if the people of Israel ate pork, or wore blended fabrics, or violated any one of the hundreds of little details in the Law? I think it mattered for two reasons.

On the one hand, it mattered because God chose the Jews to be his people in the world. They were to bare witness to him, and the odder they were in the eyes of the rest of the world, the more dramatic their witness. That is still true today. Not long ago my son met with a team of Orthodox Jews from a business in New York to discuss a design project that the firm he works for was doing for them. He said they were dressed in black, and wore skullcaps, or kippahs, and their sideburns dangled in tight coils well below their chins. He said, “Dad, I was tempted to laugh, then it occurred to me that these people take their faith very seriously. They are a powerful witness to God.”

On the other hand, it mattered because it was the odd and distinctive appearance and behavior of the Jews dictated by the Law of Moses that enabled the Jews to survive as a people for more than 2,000 years even though, for much of that time, they did not have a land to call their own. They had a constitution without a country, but it was enough. Jews were often regarded as the dregs of society. Many countries forced them out of their homes, stole their wealth, and asked them to leave. Other countries herded them into ghettoes and prison camps. The inquisition killed thousands of them. Hitler killed more than six million of them. Yet, because of the Law of Moses, and because God still has a plan for them—-and both Testaments testify to this, the Jews have survived.  (iii)

Of course, a second question arises. That question is, “Are we still bound by the Law of Moses?”

We are and we aren’t. We are certainly ruled by the Ten Commandments, and by the Moral Laws. Though it has not always universally recognized, God always intended that the moral law be universal. We neglect it to our own peril. It is not so much that we break the moral law of God as we break ourselves upon the moral law of God. We are bound by the moral law, however, we are no longer bound by what the New Testament calls “the law of commandments and ordinances.” The law of commandments and ordinances was specific to the Jews. It was the Law of commandments and ordinances that made the Jews a people apart, and made them distinctive, and helped to cement their sense of identity. In Ephesians 2 the apostle says that the time for that kind of distinction has come to an end. He writes that the Jew was one man, and the Gentile was another man, but that Christ “…has abolished in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances that he might create one new man in the place of the two, making peace and reconciling us both to God on the cross.” (iv) Today, our relationship with God is not marked by our obedience to the details of the Jewish Law, but by our relationship with Christ.

Christians have freedom under the Law that the Ancient Jews did not, and the primary example of our freedom is found in Jesus himself. Some people are amazed how much freedom Jesus exercised with regard to the Law. Let me give you a few examples:

First, Jesus saw through the law to the Spirit and reason behind the law.

Let me illustrate with a story from Mark 2:23-38. One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields with his disciples. And the disciples began to pluck heads of grain, and, given the context, to eat them. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are your disciples doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus said to them:

“Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him. He entered the temple…. and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

And Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus was referring to the 4th commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.” He said that man was not made to keep the 4th commandment, but the 4th commandment was made to keep man. That is true of all the commandments. God gave the Law through Moses to protect human beings from our selves and from one another. This truth gives rise to one of the best definitions of sin I have ever heard:

“Sin is anything that we do, or fail to do, by which
we hurt ourselves or another.”

Second, Jesus set some laws completely aside.

Take the laws of clean and unclean foods. In Mark 7:14-23 (v) we read how Jesus called the people to him and told them that it was not what goes into a man that defiles him, for what he puts into his mouth enters not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on. He said that it is what comes out of a man that defiles him, for it is the from the heart (vi) that evil thoughts arise, including fornication, theft, murder, adultery, slander, pride, and foolishness. It is these things that defile a man. The text declares, “Thus (Jesus) declared all foods clean.” If you have barbecue for lunch, or if you go down to the beach this summer, and order Fried Shrimp, or eat a Po’ Boy Sandwich made with fried oysters, and lettuce, and tomatoes, on a hamburger bun slathered with Duke’s Mayo—I am hungry, you can thank Jesus for that freedom.

Jesus also refused to carry out one of the Laws of Moses that required a person to be stoned to death. In John chapter 8, some people brought to him a woman taken in adultery, and said to him, “Moses said that we are to stone such as her. What do you say?” And Jesus set the commandment of Moses aside when he said:

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a
stone at her. John 8:7

Her accusers melted away. Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Does no one accuse you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” He said, “Neither do I accuse you, go and sin no more.”

Jesus did not reject the moral law. He left judgment in the hands of God, but in point of fact Jesus often raised the law to a higher power. In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that, in the eyes of God, lust is the same thing as adultery. He says that we are to love our enemies, not hate them as some concluded from the Law and made a tradition. He says that Moses was absolutely wrong in his casual approach to divorce. Most Scholars agree that St. Matthew presents Jesus as a new Lawgiver, one who is far superior to Moses. Moses received the Law on a mountain. Jesus taught the Law on a Mountain. Likewise, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples of Jesus suggest building three booths, one for Jesus, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-8)

Third, Jesus changed other laws laid down by Moses by the very fact of his life, death, and resurrection.

Take for instance the laws of sacrifice. Moses made provision for many different types of offerings, chief of which was the sin offering, by which the priest made atonement for the sins of the people. Without the system of sacrifice laid down by Moses, we could scarcely understand the sacrifice of Jesus. Yet we are no longer bound by the system. The author of Hebrews (vii) writes that every priest stands daily at his serving, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. He continues:

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (i.e. “set apart by him”).”

Does the fact that Jesus changed so much of the Law mean that our faith is somehow radically different from the faith of the ancient Jews? Yes, No and Yes.

Yes, we are different for we are not bound by the laws of commandments in ordinances that Christ abolished by his body on the cross: We wear blended fabric; we eat pork.

No, for in some ways, especially touching morality, we are very much the same.

Moses bore a faithful witness to God in his time, and the Jews have never been without witness. Let me illustrate with a story from the Rabbis. It took place just before the time of Jesus. A non-Jew came before Rabbi Shammai. He said to him:

“I will convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one leg.”

Shammai did not like the conditions, so he hit him with a rod, and drove him away. The same man came before Rabbi Hillel, and made the same promise and the same appeal. Hillel said to him:

“What you hate, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Law of Moses, and all else is its interpretation. Go and learn.”

In point of fact, Jesus said the same thing, putting a positive spin on it, rather than negative. In Matthew 7:12 we read, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. “ That is also the Golden Rule that binds God’s people together in all times and in all places, and contrary to popular opinion, it is in the Bible, not once but twice, once in Matthew 7:12 and once in Luke 6:31. No doubt this saying is rooted in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Finally, yes we are very different in our total approach to the Law.

We do not live by the Law; we live by the Grace of Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:4  St. Paul says that Christ is the “telos” of the Law, meaning its “goal” or its “end.” In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul says that the Law was just a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ that we might be justified through faith (in Him). Finally, to establish it all in context, in John 1:17 we read:

The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came
through Jesus Christ.

Moses was a great man, the greatest man of his generation. He was the Lawgiver, but he was not God’s Messiah. He gave us the Law, but Jesus Christ gave us grace, and truth. If we have broken the law in one point, we are guilty of all. The law has the power to condemn us, but no power to restore us. Jesus has the power to forgive us, and to restore us, and to set us right before God. If we have joined ourselves to him in faith, when the world condemns us, he stands before us and before the world saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And when no one can, Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. “

Finis

Footnotes:

i If Moses had a weakness it was his sense of drama. God told Moses to command the Rock at Meribah to yield water for the people, but Moses struck the rock with his staff, twice, and it yielded water. It was because of this small act of disobedience that God allowed Moses to look into the Promised Land, but not go in. (Numbers 20:7-13)

ii 18   “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21

iii By the way, in his book, “This Is My God,” Herman Wouk says that one of the chief reasons he believes in God is the miracle of Jewish survival. He says that the very existence of the Jews shows the hand of God at work in the world.

iv 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.

v “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…” “Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean). “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21 For … out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

vi In the Bible the heart is thought to be the center of the mind, emotions, and will.

vii 11   And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Hebrews 10:11-14

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About the author:

The Rev. Dr. Worth Green is the Senior Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church.. Follow him on Twitter / Facebook.