By Pastor Glenn Pease
Mountains have made men marvel at the majesty of God's creation all through history. Man needs the mountains, for the heights are in his head and heart. Mountains awaken in man the instinct for heaven. He knows when he looks at the mountains that he was made for a high and lofty purpose. "But chief of all Thy wondrous works, Supreme in all Thy plan, Thou has put an upward reach within the heart of man!" Once the mountains get into a man's system he can never be content on the plain. Egypt had no mountains, and so they built their own in the pyramids.
When Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon he married a woman from the hills and took her to Babylon. She was unhappy and so he built for her the famous hanging gardens of Babylon, which was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Bliss Carman, a modern poetess, knew how she felt, for she also longed for her mountains and she wrote,
I am homesick for my mountains,
My heroic mother hills,
And the longing that is in me
Knows solace ever stills.
Men wonder at the mystery of both mosquitoes and mountains, but they are glad that God made mountains. When you gaze at those massive snow covered peaks you are forced to think big. The mind as well as the eye is lifted by their loftiness. Mountains force the thought of God upon you, for there is not where else the mind can go and be relevant. Man becomes insignificant and humanism melts into oblivion before these rocking monarchs of the earth. In their majestic silence they shout at you that God and only God is great.
I need not shout my faith. Thrice eloquent
Are quiet trees and the green listening sod;
Hushed are the stars, whose power is never spent;
The hills are mute, yet how they speak of God.
Frank Gaebelein in A Varied Harvest wrote, "From the mention in Gen. 8:4 of Ararat, the great 17 thousand foot peak in Armenia, capped by its glittering ice dome, to Rev. 21:10 where John in his vision is transported to a high mountain, whence he sees the New Jerusalem in all her splendor, the Word of God is full of mountains. Names like Ararat, Moriah, Sinai, Horeb, Zion, Carmel, Herman, Gerizin, and Olivet have rich associations; indeed the basic structure of sacred history might be related to the mountains of Scripture."
In one of his books of sermons Wallace Hamilton told of how the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright made the statement that all public buildings should be only 12 feet high so people would not feel inferior or insignificant. He had a point, but Dorothy Thompson wrote and article that quickly dulled it. She pointed out that when GI's visited the great Cathedrals of Europe and knelt under the lofty arches of Notre Dame and starred up at the great art of Michangelo on the dome of St. Peter's, they were not made to feel small, but were awakened to higher aspirations. They were made to think big in the presence of bigness. You do not feel any longing for greatness by gazing in the gutter. It is only in the presence of greatness that one is motivated to greatness. That is why mountains are a must for men's minds. Wallace wrote, "Emerson did not advocate a 12 foot ceiling when he said hitch your wagon to a star...The height to which a man grows is commensurate with his vision. Set his ceiling at 12 feet and he will eventually be living underground."
Man needs the mountains to remind him of how small he is so that he can be motivated to get climbing toward the heights of what God intends him to be. It is the awareness of our need that gets us climbing. Mountains motivate us. Bishop Foster said, "If you have no sense of need, you will assuredly make no progress." This is what we see in the church of Laodicea in Rev. 3. Jesus said that they were neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, and he tells them why they were on this dead level plain making no progress. He said in verse 17, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked." They lost the vision of their need. They felt adequate and satisfied. They had a 12 foot ceiling and didn't feel inferior or insignificant. The result was that they lost their motivation to climb.
This can happen to any of us and that is why it is good to go to the mountains. It is healthy to look at something so big that it forces you out of your self-centeredness. When we drove out of the mountains of Yellowstone down into Cody, Wyoming we had a vision that sent chills up and down my spine. Part of it was due to my fear of heights, and part it was due to shear awe at the grandeur of it all. It looked like we could look down on the whole world. We were even above the clouds. It must have been just a spot where Jesus was taken in His temptation to behold the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
Jesus had visions from the heights like this before. Henry Van Dyke in his book Out Of Doors In The Holy Land describes Nazareth where Jesus grew up as a boy. It was much like the Western part of our nation. Jesus could climb the hills above the city and see for 60 miles in one direction and 20 miles into other directions. He could see practically the whole of the land of His ministry. Jesus did a lot of climbing in His life, for He climbed often to pray, and He preached His most famous sermon the Sermon On The Mount, by climbing.
Near the end of His ministry He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem from Jericho. That was a climb all the way, and He was heading for the mountain top experience that makes all other mountain top experiences possible, and that was the cross. Jesus did not die in a valley, but on a hill. It was a hill we call Mt. Calvary, which was the Mt. Everest of Sacred Mountains. From that lofty place He promised to draw all men to Himself. The Lord is a lifter, and you cannot lift unless you ascend to the heights yourself. When he did ascend to the right hand of the Father He did so from a mountain. When He returns He will do so to the mountaintop. He was transfigured also on the mountain. Henry Van Dyke concludes, "Christianity is an out of doors religion. From the birth in the grotto of Bethlehem to the crowning death on the hill of Calvary outside the city wall, all its important events took place out of doors." He might have added that they were not only out doors, but on mountain tops.
Our very language makes up positive and down negative. A valley or low point in our life is negative. "Though I walk through the valley of the shallow of death." The God of the heights is with us, but it is still a negative experience. The positive and joyous is a mountaintop experience. To be high is to be happy, and to be low is to be sad. The Christian goal, therefore, is to be like the mountains high and lifted up. According to Jesus every Christian is to be greater than John the Baptist, who was the greatest under the Old Testament. In other words, we are to rise above the people of God in the Old Testament that we make them look like the foothills to the mountains. Christians are to be lofty mountain people. The Old Testament saints were to be like mountains also, and the Psalmist tells us so in our text. In fact, he compares both believers and God to mountains. Those who trust in the Lord are to be like Mt. Zion, and like the mountains surrounding Jerusalem so the Lord is around His people. Mountains are symbolic of what God is and of what His people are to be.
We saw many miles of mountains on our vacation, but I never thought of any of them as Christian mountains, or believing mountains. It is you and I who can be mountains who give literal praise to God. When we can move a Christian to do what God wills him to do, we are movers of mountains. Sometimes it is easier to move physical mountains than spiritual mountains, for believers can become so drunk with the wine of self-contentment that they develop hardening of the arteries of concern. They feel like the poet who wrote,
I wish I was a little rock
A settin on a hill.
I wouldn't do a single thing,
But jes keep settin still.
We saw an enormous number of rocks doing just that, but I know this was not what the Psalmist had in mind when he said those who trust in the Lord are to be unmoved. This Psalm is one of the songs of ascent, which means it was sung by a procession of worshippers as they ascended to Jerusalem. It was a mountain climbing song, and a happy song of climbers as they arrived at their destination. Mountains are used to symbolize two things we want to examine. First,
I. THEY ARE SYMBOLIC OF STABILITY.
The Living Bible states in verse 1 this way: "Those who trust in the Lord are steady as Mt. Zion, unmoved by any circumstances." This is the ancient equivalent of saying, "He's as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar." Reality falls far short of this ideal symbol. James had to warn Christians not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. Paul had to encourage them to be steadfast and unmovable always abounding in the work of the Lord, and to not become weary in well doing. You don't have to tell real mountains to be stable and unmoved, but we as symbolic mountains need constantly to be challenged along this line. We are a mixture of sand and rock, and we need to be perpetually reminded to build on the rock. Those who trust in the Lord are ever building on the rock, and are stable witnesses to His glory, and they will be even when their heads are snow capped with the white of age.
God wants men and women to match His mountains. When you see the miles and miles of mountains you wonder what they are good for. One tourist asked a rancher, "what can you raise in these mountains," and he said, "Men."
Mountains are good for raising strong people. God raised Moses on a mountain. What good was Mt. Sinai? It was good for raising Moses to be one of the highest peaks in sacred history. From that mountain God gave to His people the Law to keep them stable in all their relationships of life.
God knew that man's greatest problem was his instability. His own people were constantly wavering and being moved away from their loyalty to Him. Helen Keller spoke profound wisdom when she said, "Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits." Our un-mountain like spirits are our greatest enemies. They cause the greatest of people to become unstable and to stumble. Noah on Mt. Ararat had just been delivered from God's greatest judgment, and yet he got drunk and brought sorrow into the new beginning of life. Elijah had won a great victory on Mt. Carmel, but soon he was so discouraged he wanted to die. God had to get him to go to Mr. Horeb, the mountain of God, where he was restored to stability by God's revelation. The mountaintop experience enables the believer to remain stable when they reach low points in their life. We need to pray with Neil Griffith,
Builder of mountains, make me like a mountain,
Firm let me stand against the winds of strife;
Give me a soul that reaches up to heaven,
But plant my feet in needs of human life.
II. THEY ARE SYMBOLIC OF SECURITY.
The only way we can maintain the stability of a mountain is by putting our trust in one who is as stable as a mountain. Stability is based on security. When we feel the security that mountains can give, then we can be stable. Believers who feel secure in Christ are the most effective servants. They insecure person burns up all his nervous energy just coping with life. The secure person can apply his nervous energy to creative efforts and to climbing. The sense of
well-being that comes to those who live in this mountain like atmosphere of security is what God intends all of to experience. Someone wrote,
Oh, the shear joy of it!
Living with thee,
Lord of the universe,
Lord of a tree,
Maker of mountains,
Lover of me.
Mountains can add music to your life. Security and creativity go hand in hand. Litzt and Mendelssohn wrote some of their best music in the Alps. Wagner spent 16 years in the Alps, and he wrote, "Let me create more works like those which I conceived in that serene and glorious Switzerland, with my eyes on the beautiful gold-crowned mountains." Brahms wrote of how friends walking with him in the Alps would say, "That's just like your third symphony."
The mountains not only in spire men to climb, but they can give such a sense of security that one is not fearful to strive for greatness. This is the kind of security God wants all His children to possess.
A blind girl sat on her father's knee when a friend came into the garden and picked her up and walked down the garden path. The girl experienced no fear, and the father said, "Aren't you afraid darling?" "No," she said. "But you don't know who is carrying you." She responded, "But you do father." Her trust in her father gave her security. She knew he would not allow anyone who was unsafe to carry her. If only we could so trust our heavenly Father, and have that security that would set us free from all the fears that hold us back. Those fears prevent us from climbing to the heights God wants us to reach. All of us could climb higher if we could be rid of our fears and have a greater sense of security.
Moses failed God in a low period of his life, but God still granted him the blessing of dying on a mountain from which he could view the Promised Land. And then in the New Testament we see Moses on the Mt. of Transfiguration with Jesus in the Promised Land. God gave him a mountain view of the land before he died, and so he could die secure in God's promise. Charles Wesley put these words in his mouth:
Rejoicing now in earnest hope,
I stand, and from the mountain-top
See all the land below;
Rivers of milk and honey rise,
And all the fruits of Paradise
In endless plenty grow.
It is wonderful to be on a mountain looking down, but it is also wonderful to be looking up from below. We were at Mt. Rushmore for the evening lighting service where, after a film, seven or eight hundred people rose to sing the Star Spangled Banner as huge floodlights focused on the mountain faces. All eyes were lifted, and the point of the film was to look up and as you see those faces look back and remember all they represent of the goodness and greatness in our history. That is what Jesus had in mind for us when He instituted the Lord's Supper. He died on a mountain, and the cross is always lifted up because we are to be always looking up to the Christ is the cross and remembering what He did for us on Mt. Calvary. It is in this mountaintop experience that we gain security and grow in stability. Annie Johnson Flint wrote,
I look not back, God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets,
But I look up, into the face of Jesus,
Who graciously forgives, and then forgets.
Jesus climbed for us. He took the high road and struggle all the way to the top to die for us that we might live forever in the heights. The Christian life is a life of saying thank you Lord for climbing for me.