Sermon for Oct. 26, 2008 “The Death of Moses” Deut 34:1-12

Fairmount ARP Church                                                                             October 26, 2008

Scripture Lesson                                                                                                           Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Sermon                                         “The Death of Moses”                                                      Benjamin P. Glaser

Audio of Sermon

In the closing days of the Second World War Franklin Delano Roosevelt succumb to the effects of a hardening of the arteries surrounding his brain. He had been President for over 12 years at the time of his death; having directed the United States through the Great Depression and the vast majority of World War II. FDR was responsible for leading us through some of the toughest and harshest days this nation has ever known, before or since. Whether he did a good and commendable job in his control of our nation’s government is up to the historians but there is one thing that we can be sure of in looking back to those days. Franklin Roosevelt was unable to see, unable to experience the spoils of victory, which included deliverance of the Jews from the Concentration Camps, the release of Chinese nationals from the Japanese labor camps or even to see the surrender of his enemies, but probably most importantly for FDR he did not see the day where the men fighting overseas were able to come home and be out of harms way. As well FDR saw the foundations of the future of this country. Although he was all but being assured of the victory in Europe he knew that the alliance he had made with Joseph Stalin and the Russians would lead to a long and protracted time of tension between the Soviets and the West. Things were less than settled when he died in April of 1945. It would be safe to say that on the day that FDR died there was still a great discomfort and a guarantee that much more would await America in the years to come, for the people he had led the last 12 years.

In our Scripture lesson for this morning we read of the death of Moses on Mount Nebo, but before we speak about Moses death I’d like to spend a little bit of time reminding us about why it was that Moses was not allowed to enter the Holy Land. Because it should seem a little strange to us that the man responsible for leading the Israelites out of Egypt, by God’s power, parting the waters of the Red Sea, providing for the worship of the Lord our God, receiving the Law, guarding the chosen people of God for over 40 years in the desert, among many other things that he had faithfully and willingly done for the Glory of God in his life should be kept from experiencing the joys and wonders of the Promised Land of Israel? I’d like for you if you might to turn with me to Numbers chapter 20 verses 1 through 13 as we read together the background for the reason for God’s refusal to allow Moses into the land promised to Abraham. You can find it on page 000 of your pew bible. [pause for 7 seconds] Starting at verse 1, “In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Sin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried [who was Moses’ sister remember]. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he showed himself holy among them.”

Now at first reading it seems God was a little harsh to Moses and Aaron. Moses did what the Lord our God had instructed did he not? I mean Moses hit the rock just as the Lord had commanded? So why were they punished? Well Psalm 106 provides us with a little commentary on why it was God had punished Moses. Verses 32 and 33 from Psalm 106 say, “By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD, [they being the Israelites] and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” So here we have Moses being punished, one for his failure to control the people of God and for his and Aaron’s immature, almost childlike screaming at the people and their taking credit for the miracle of God. Look again at verse 10 in chapter 20. Moses says. “”Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Now who brought water from the rock? Did Moses bring the water from the rock? I do not think so. Moses in taking credit for the work of God had committed sin, the same sin that the representatives who had gone in chapter 13 of Numbers to explore Canaan had committed against God, not trusting in the Word of God to provide His people with the necessities that they needed and with the promises of His Word. This is key for us to understand in this time of great upheaval in our nation. Shall we be like the Israelites challenging God and His will in these times and shall we be like Moses reacting with anger and resentment, lashing out in rashness? We must trust in God, trust that God is not only in control of everything that is happening but also that it has a purpose in his providential hand and will in due time prove beneficial to God and His people. We must also remember that it is God who provides for us and must never come to the understanding that we can provide for ourselves using the means God has commanded for us as Moses tried to do here in this passage from the Book of Numbers, because we have seen what the punishment for such a lack of trusting and understanding in what God has planned for us in his Divine Hand.

Moving back to Deuteronomy 34 and our Scripture lesson this morning we have come to the end of Moses life, the wandering in the Wilderness of Sinai has ended. The last of those God had promised would have to die before they could enter the Promised Land has passed away and now God has allowed for the Israelites to approach the River Jordan to begin the process of preparing to take control, to annihilate the residents of Canaan as God had commanded them. Starting in verse 1 we read, “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” John Calvin at this point in his commentary on this passage makes a statement that we must understand at this juncture in the Scriptures, he says, “Now, the ascent of Moses was equivalent to a voluntary going forth to death: for he was not ignorant of what was to happen, but being called by God to die, he went to meet death of his own accord.” We observe in verse one that Moses, though of an advanced age required no assistance to scale a large mountain, which tells us that he was not in poor health. I do not know about you but I am a young, spry 28 year-old man and I could not imagine being like Moses who was 120 at the time of his death climbing all the way to the peak of Mount Nebo in the mountain range of Pisgah. Also we notice that Moses died alone with God on the top of Nebo, with none to hold his hand, alone to face the reality of his sin. [pause for 5 seconds] Though why is any of this important? Why does it matter if Moses went on his own accord to die upon the mountain? Why should we feel sorry for Moses? Firstly it matters because it had been appointed by God that it be so. It matters because Moses was a faithful follower of God’s call and God’s will, knowing that God had commanded that he should not enter the Promised Land. He was perfectly satisfied by God’s providence to get an understanding of what God has provided in the boundaries of the Kingdom that will come to be in Palestine, Moses knows by faith that God will be true to his promise and give him a gaze into the blessing which God had promised, that which was but a type of the blessing Moses himself was about to receive in his death. Moses had learned from his earlier sin at Meribah. He had learned to trust in what God had called him to do. Though most importantly these verses of God’s Holy Word teach us something even greater.

I ask you now to think of anybody else in Scripture that this reminds you of, anyone else in Scripture who went willingly to His death on a mount, who otherwise was in perfect health, who lovingly carried out the will of His Father who is in Heaven. Who else died alone on a mountain? Who also was given a glimpse of the glory that awaited Him for following the Will of God?

Turn with me if you will to the book of Matthew chapter 27, verse 41, which is page 000 in your pew bibles. [pause] Starting at verse 41, “The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus here like Moses went freely to His death. He also like Moses died alone, abandoned by the disciples, abandoned by His people, to die an excruciatingly painful death upon the Mount of the Skull outside of Jerusalem. There was isolation in that hour of unexplained desertion; misery and loneliness that is unfathomable to us. Christ sounded an intense cry quoting the 22nd Psalm, of which we can barely even begin to understand, this chasm that was created between God and Jesus in Christ’s death was greater than any expanse we can imagine. We get a picture of this chasm in our Scripture lesson when we read of Moses’ separation from the Promised Land. Moses was looking out across the plains of Moab, across the River Jordan in to the land that would be Jericho’s, the plains which Joshua would lead the Israelites in battle against all who currently lived in the Land God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was barred from this place because of the sin of his people and his own personal transgression. Alexander MacLaren writes, “Christ was parted from God in His death, because He bore on Him the sins that separate us from our Father, and in order that none of us may ever need to tread that dark passage alone, but may be able to say, ‘I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me’—…Christ died that we might live. He died alone that, when we come to die, we may hold His hand and the solitude may vanish.” Christ died alone so that we who call upon Him and receive Christ as our Savior will not die alone as Moses and Jesus himself did at Mount Nebo and on Calvary.

Most hospitals in this country have a policy that no one is to die alone and when someone is close to death the nurse is required to contact the on-duty chaplain so that even those with no family present can have someone hold their hand as they die. They do this because even they recognize the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with dying by yourself, with no one to share in your pain and in your ache. If those outside of Christ see the agonizing sadness of dieing alone how much more do we who are the followers of Christ have not to fear dying by ourselves because we know that Christ is with us?

In closing, Moses had been called by God to save his chosen people from the chains of slavery in Egypt. Moses had led them through the Wilderness, providing for them in every way that God had commanded him to do. In the same way Christ had been ordained by God, born of a virgin in the City of David, to die so that we, God’s chosen people, the Israel of God may live in the Promised Land of the Age to come. Moses got a glimpse of that land from far away but those of us who live in Christ Jesus are greater than Moses, we have been given the opportunity, the ability in Lord’s Day worship to experience the glory and the power and the presence of Jesus Christ and his Spirit here today. Let us not take for granted, as many have done, the pleasures of worship and the glory that we are able to enjoy because of Christ’s atoning death. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross we who have been blessed to be in Christ because of God’s choosing get to receive this glimpse of the Promised Land each and every Lord’s Day right here at Fairmount Church. Just as Moses was allowed a glimpse of the Promised Land, Christ is our promised place of refuge and peace. So as we go out into a world that is hostile to the Word of Christ let us remember one thing, that we go not alone even to our death. For Jesus Christ, our Savior and King, is with us always, even to the end of the Age.

To God Alone Be the Glory, this day and forevermore, Amen

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

Here is an article by Al Mohler on a subject that recently came up on Toby’s Classical Presbyterian blog:

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? This question would perplex the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, but modern denials of biblical truth make the question tragically significant. Of all biblical doctrines, the doctrine of Christ’s virginal conception has often been the specific target of modern denial and attack.

Attacks upon the virgin birth emerged in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, with some theologians attempting to harmonize the anti-supernaturalism of the modern mind with the church’s teaching about Christ. The great quest of liberal theology has been to invent a Jesus who is stripped of all supernatural power, deity, and authority.

The fountainhead of this quest includes figures such as Albert Schweitzer and Rudolf Bultmann. Often considered the most influential New Testament scholar of the twentieth century, Bultmann argued that the New Testament presents a mythological worldview that modern men and women simply cannot accept as real. The virgin birth is simply a part of this mythological structure and Bultmann urged his program of “demythologization” in order to construct a faith liberated from miracles and all vestiges of the supernatural. Jesus was reduced to an enlightened teacher and existentialist model.

In America, the public denial of the virgin birth can be traced to the emergence of Protestant liberalism in the early 20th century. In his famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?,” Harry Emerson Fosdick–an unabashed liberal–aimed his attention at “the vexed and mooted question of the virgin birth.” Fosdick, preaching from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, allowed that Christians may hold “quite different points of view about a matter like the virgin birth.” He accepted the fact that many Christians believed the virgin birth to be historically true and theologically significant. Fosdick likened this belief to trust in “a special biological miracle.” Nevertheless, Fosdick insisted that others, equally Christian, could disagree with those who believe the virgin birth to be historically true: “But, side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact. To believe in the virgin birth as an explanation of great personality is one of the familiar ways in which the ancient world was accustomed to account for unusual superiority.”

Fosdick explained that those who deny the virgin birth hold to a specific pattern of reasoning. As he explained, “those first disciples adored Jesus–as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God–as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God’s special influence and intention in his birth–as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.”

Thus, Fosdick divided the church into two camps. Those he labeled as “fundamentalists” believe the virgin birth to be historical fact. The other camp, comprised of “enlightened” Christians who no longer obligate themselves to believe the Bible to be true, discard this “biological” miracle but still consider themselves to be Christians.

More contemporary attacks on the virgin birth of Christ have emerged from figures such as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and German New Testament scholar Gerd Luedemann. Luedemann acknowledges that “most Christians in all the churches in the world confess as they recite the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Now…modern Christians completely discount the historicity of the virgin birth and understand it in a figurative sense.” Obviously, the “modern Christians” Luedemann identifies are those who allow the modern secular worldview to establish the frame for reality into which the claims of the Bible must be fitted. Those doctrines that do not fit easily within the secular frame must be automatically discarded. As might be expected, Luedemann’s denial of biblical truth is not limited to the virgin birth. He denies virtually everything the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ. In summarizing his argument, Luedemann states: “The tomb was full and the manger empty.” That is to say, Luedemann believes that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that He was not raised from the dead.

Another angle of attack on the virgin birth has come from the group of radical scholars who organize themselves into what is called the “Jesus Seminar.” These liberal scholars apply a radical form of interpretation and deny that the New Testament is in any way reliable as a source of knowledge about Jesus. Roman Catholic scholar John Dominic Crossan, a member of the Jesus Seminar, discounts the biblical narratives about the virgin birth as invented theology. He acknowledges that Matthew explicitly traces the virgin birth to Isaiah 7:14. Crossan explains that the author of Matthew simply made this up: “Clearly, somebody went seeking in the Old Testament for a text that could be interpreted as prophesying a virginal conception, even if such was never its original meaning. Somebody had already decided on the transcendental importance of the adult Jesus and sought to retroject that significance on to the conception and birth itself.”

Crossan denies that Matthew and Luke can be taken with any historical seriousness, and he understands the biblical doctrine of the virgin birth to be an insurmountable obstacle to modern people as they encounter the New Testament. As with Luedemann, Crossan’s denial of the virgin birth is only a hint of what is to come. In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Crossan presents an account of Jesus that would offend no secularist or atheist. Obviously, Crossan’s vision also bears no resemblance to the New Testament.

For others, the rejection of the birth is tied to a specific ideology. In The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, Jane Schaberg accuses the church of inventing the doctrine of the virgin birth in order to subordinate women. As she summarizes: “The charge of contemporary feminists, then, is not that the image of the Virgin Mary is unimportant or irrelevant, but that it contributes to and is integral to the oppression of women.” Schaberg states that the conception of Jesus was most likely the result of extra-marital sex or rape. She chooses to emphasize the latter possibility and turns this into a feminist fantasy in which Mary is the heroine who overcomes. Schaberg offers a tragic, but instructive model of what happens when ideology trumps trust in the biblical text. Her most basic agenda is not even concerned with the question of the virgin birth of Christ, but with turning this biblical account into service for the feminist agenda.

Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church offers further evidence of modern heresy. In an address he presented on June 25, 2002 at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, this bishop denied the faith wholesale. Sprague, who serves as Presiding Bishop of the United Methodist Church in northern Illinois, has been called “the most vocally prominent active liberal bishop in Protestantism today.” Sprague is proud of this designation and takes it as a compliment: “I really make no apology for that. I don’t consider myself a liberal. I consider myself a radical.” Sprague lives up to his self-designation.

In his Illiff address, Bishop Sprague claimed that the “myth” of the virgin birth “was not intended as historical fact, but was employed by Matthew and Luke in different ways to appoint poetically the truth about Jesus as experienced in the emerging church.” Sprague defined a theological myth as “not false presentation but a valid and quite persuasive literary device employed to point to ultimate truth that can only be insinuated symbolically and never depicted exhaustively.” Jesus, Sprague insists, was born to human parents and did not possess “trans-human, supernatural powers.”

Thus, Sprague dismisses the miracles, the exclusivity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection as well as the virgin birth. His Christology is explicitly heretical: “Jesus was not born the Christ, rather by the confluence of grace with faith, he became the Christ, God’s beloved in whom God was well pleased.”

Bishop Sprague was charged with heresy but has twice been cleared of the charge–a clear sign that the mainline Protestant denominations are unwilling to identify as heretics even those who openly teach heresy. The presence of theologians and pastors who deny the virgin birth in the theological seminaries and pulpits of the land is evidence of the sweeping tide of unbelief that marks so many institutions and churches in our time.

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.

Anyone who claims that the virgin birth can be discarded even as the deity of Christ is affirmed is either intellectually dishonest or theological incompetent.

Several years ago, Cecil Sherman–then a Southern Baptist, but later the first coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship–stated: “A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the Virgin Birth should not be fired.” Consider the logic of that statement. A Christian can be led by the Bible to deny what the Bible teaches? This kind of logic is what has allowed those who deny the virgin birth to sit comfortably in liberal theological seminaries and to preach their reductionistic Christ from major pulpits.

Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.

“Everyone admits that the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false.” So declared J. Gresham Machen in his great work, The Virgin Birth of Christ. As Machen went on to argue, “if the Bible is regarded as being wrong in what it says about the birth of Christ, then obviously the authority of the Bible in any high sense, is gone.”

The authority of the Bible is almost completely gone where liberal theology holds its sway. The authority of the Bible is replaced with the secular worldview of the modern age and the postmodern denial of truth itself. The true church stands without apology upon the authority of the Bible and declares that Jesus was indeed “born of a virgin.” Though the denial of this doctrine is now tragically common, the historical truth of Christ’s birth remains inviolate. No true Christian can deny the virgin birth.

This article was originally published on December 13, 2003. It is republished here by request.

As Al Mohler rightly says, of course one cannot deny the virgin birth and be a Christian. It is false doctrine to believe otherwise.