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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Climbing Many Mountains

First Sunday in Lent

 

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

 

“Here I am,” he replied.

 

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac - and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

 

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

 

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

 

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

 

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

 

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

 

“Here I am,” he replied.

 

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

 

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Genesis 4:1-16

 

 

Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson was about the transfiguration of our Lord. That was truly a mountaintop experience for Peter, James, and John – probably what could be called the ultimate mountaintop experience. And our Old Testament lesson for today tells of another mountaintop experience – the time that “God tested Abraham.” (Gen. 22:1)

 

Our trips to Israel could be described as a spiritual mountaintop experiences – and they could also be described as a series of actual mountaintop experiences, because when you visit Israel you visit a lot of mountains.

 

There’s Mount Carmel, part of a range of hills jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea near the modern port of Haifa. This was the place of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal. You remember that he poured 12 jars of water onto his sacrifice, called on the Lord who consumed the sacrifice with fire, and then killed all the prophets of Baal. On the top of the mountain there’s a big statue of Elijah with a dagger in his hand.

 

Then there’s the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional sight of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – one of my favorite places. The spot is commemorated by a convent and a chapel built in 1937 by, of all people, the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini! Here the Beatitudes are always read, Jesus’ specification of what every Christian should be.

 

The beautiful Mount of Olives overlooks the city of Jerusalem. David fled this way from his son, Absalom. From here Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday. From here Jesus wept over the city. On its slopes is the Garden of Gethsemane, where in anguish Jesus prayed three times to His Heavenly Father, “Is there any other way? Is there any other way? Is there any other way?” And when His Father said there was no other way, Jesus got up and headed for the cross, never looking back. From the top of the Mount of Olives Jesus ascended into Heaven.

 

A cable car is the best way to ascend to the top of Masada, King Herod’s mountaintop resort overlooking the Dead Sea. After the Roman’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it became a refuge for fanatic zealots. Roman armies finally captured it after a long siege, only to find nearly all the defenders dead from a suicide pact. Today (March 2006), Israeli soldiers finish their training by climbing to the top, up a trail known as the Snake Path. And their slogan is: “Masada will never fall again!”

 

But the ride up Mount Tabor, traditionally called the “Mount of Transfiguration,” is the ride that gets your adrenal glands working. The road to the top is narrow, gravel, steep and a series of “switchbacks” – or what we used to call “hairpin curves”. It’s too steep, too narrow, and the turns too sharp and too near the edge for a bus, so you reach the top by taxi cabs – 7-passenger Mercedes Benz driven by Arabas – wild Arabs! – who take the turns with gravel flying to give you a little thrill. Some years ago, when we got to the top, Pastor Scherer said, “No wonder Peter said, ‘It’s good, Lord, to be here!’”  

 

Now, on this First Sunday in Lent, I think it would be good for us to climb some mountains – some biblical mountains.

 

The first mountain we’ll climb is Mount Sinai, “The Mountain of God,” where God gave the tablets of stone with the Law and the Commandments. There are some interesting references to time when we read about Moses going up on the mountain.

 

We read that the cloud covered the mountain for 6 days, and the Lord spoke out of the cloud on the 7th day. The symbolism of the Sabbath is pretty obvious – and doesn’t the Lord speak clearly to us on our day of rest and worship?!

 

And then we read that Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years. Elijah travelled 40 days and 40 nights to “The Mount of God.” And we are now in the 40 day church season of Lent. What an experience for Moses. In the presence of God so long that his face shown so brightly he had to put a veil over his face when he spoke to the people. But do you remember what he came back down the mountain to find? The people whom God had delivered from the Egyptians were singing and dancing and worshipping a golden calf! And the dumb excuse, “We all just took our gold, and threw it in the fire, and this calf came out!” Yeah, right!

 

Moses had to go from the glory and peace and joy of being in the presence of the Lord, to a sinful people, set on evil, and ready to worship whatever false god came along.

 

How fortunate for this “stiff-necked” people that God is a forgiving God. And how wonderful that He had them build a Tabernacle – a portable temple – where He would meet with them, and they could confess their sins and be forgiven, and worship the Lord their God.

 

Now the second mountain we’ll climb today is Mount Moriah, the “Temple Mount.” This is the location of David’s altar, of Solomon’s temple and the temple of Herod the Great, the temple of Jesus’ day. Today it’s the site of the golden-domed Muslim temple, the “Dome of the Rock,” the site from which Muslims say Mohammed ascended into heaven – on his horse!

 

But the real history of Mount Moriah is found in the 22nd chapter of Genesis, when God tested Abraham. God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” What could Abraham have thought when God told him to sacrifice his son? Maybe something like, “But Lord, that doesn’t sound like you! You promised to make of Isaac a great nation, and he isn’t even married yet! What will happen to all your promises if you make me do this thing? And what about Sarah? This will bring her down to the grave with grief.”

 

Whether Abraham actually thought such things or not, Scripture doesn’t say. All we’re told is that he obeyed God, with no questions asked. What faith! Abraham surely passed God’s test. So in the Book of Hebrews we read this: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)

 

The experience of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a type, or prefiguration, of the offering of Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son, on Mount Calvary. That Isaac is a type of Christ is confirmed by Galatians 3:16: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed. The Scripture does not say, ‘and to your seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”

 

There’s one more mountain that we want to climb together today – and we’ve already climbed it! This is it! We’re here together on top of God’s holy mountain. We waited 6 days after we’d been together in His house – and the 7th day we’re back together with Him again.

 

And we’ve beheld his glory. We’ve heard His Word. We’ve confessed our sins to Him and heard His absolution. We’ve sung His praises. And in a few minutes we’re going to see and touch and smell and taste the bread and wine – His Body and His Blood. And we can say like Peter, “It’s good, Lord, to be here!” But we can’t stay up here on the mountaintop any more than Peter, James, and John could. We, too, must go down into the plain – the plain of home, of neighborhood, of work, of school. Where there’s temptation, and sin, and idolatry, and sickness, and death. But we don’t go alone, any more than Moses or Peter, James, and John did. The Lord goes with us.

 

Peter said, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty… We heard God’s voice from Heaven… We were with Him on the holy mountain.” And we can say the same thing. We are witnesses to the majesty, the glory, and the forgiving love of God. And now we go out into the world to proclaim this to others as Peter did to his readers. We’ve heard the Good News and want to share it with others. We want to tell them, no matter where we find them, or how we might be related to them.

 

We want to say, “You too can be God’s children. It was for you too that Christ died on the cross. God has forgiven and accepted us, and we want you too to have this new life that is ours.”

 

Later on, Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, and were forbidden to speak of Jesus any more. But they could only reply, “We can’t stop speaking of what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

 

If we’ve been on a trip, or had a pleasant experience, or enjoyed a good book or movie for that matter, we can’t stop speaking of what we’ve seen and heard. And how much more important it is to pass on the message that we’ve heard from God – the message of Jesus Christ. The Father has reconciled the world to himself through His Son, and that message must go out into the world through us.

 

You and I are right smack dab in the middle of the transfiguration. Through the eyes of faith we have seen Jesus Christ glorified, risen, and alive in our world. We have seen Him and all that He came to accomplish for our salvation. As Jesus and His Disciples returned from the mountain to their everyday lives, so must we. But we go as people whose eyes have seen the King, and whose ears have heard the Good News of salvation. May the Holy Spirit help us this week, and in the coming weeks, to be eye and ear witnesses to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Amen

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