Summer of Freedom
God’s Law: A Tale of Two Mountains
Pastor’s Note July 31, 2017
Outside Magazine has come to represent the symbol of life in the Great Outdoors in North America. The thrill of climbing higher and more difficult ascents seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. However, the death of Ueli Steck last spring, one the greatest climbers of this generation, serves as a reminder mountains leave precious little margin for error, even for folks as sure-footed and experienced as Steck.
The Bible conveys a similar sense of respect and awe with the idea that God is holy. The Israelites, after their ‘deep sea’ adventure and gnarly trek through Mount Sinai ‘National Park’ (Ex 15, 16-17; see Psalm 114:7-8) finally come to the foot of Mount Sinai. They are terrified at the sight of the Mountain of God with its summit engulfed in a huge thunderous cloud. What really gets to them is God’s voice (read Exodus 19-20 for the full context). Moses, in response to their terror, challenges them: “Do not fear, for God has come to test you that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Ex 20:20).
The obvious point is the law and the Mountain of God are very much restricted access. Only Moses, the covenant mediator (their ‘mountain guide’) is allowed to summit to hear God directly. On the other hand, the law also represents freedom and identity to the Israelites: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:1) that is deeply couched in terms of endearment (God calls His people His “treasured possession” Ex 19:3). The sense of tension in the narrative between the goodness of God’s law and its awesomness is palpable.
But God has a second mountain. Figuratively speaking, Mount Zion is very much part of the same range as Sinai, but far higher in elevation (Isaiah 2:2) and a much harder ‘climb.’ Jesus puts it this way on the sermon on the “mount”: “You have heard that it was said,” “but now I say to you…”(see Matthew 5:21-22). Yet, in spite of being such a hard climb, Mount Zion actually feels more like Beacon Hill (or the hills of Galilee). It is now completely accessible because we have a new ‘guide’, Jesus Himself, the mediator of a New Covenant (Hebrews 12:24). In the Gospel, by taking our place on the Cross, Jesus actually carries you and me up to the summit. Hebrews 12:20-24 contrasts the two mountains powerfully. At Sinai, even an animal drawing near the mountain would die. But we have come to Mount Zion, to Jesus Himself who has made it through the ‘death zone’ (an infamous section of the climb to Mount Everest), all the way to the top, into the Presence of God.
For Isaiah and his own description of the two mountains, Mount Sinai’s centrifugal forces are now replaced by Mount Zion’s centripetal forces (Isaiah 2:1-4). God’s teachings in His Word functions as the main attraction and “many” are coming to Him. Isaiah’s attractional vision of God’s Word offers a powerful counter to the antinomianism (= ‘against God’s laws’) of our time!
Where do we go from here? Those of us who have summited Mount Zion through our faith in Christ have an experience to share with others. It’s time to ‘come down’ and invite those who are very much afraid of God to draw near Him. As we ourselves are attracted to the Word, we too explore it with the zeal of modern days mountaineers: “open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). We no longer are afraid, but with awe and respect, we come to the Word and store it in our heart, so that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
Are we afraid of drawing near God’s Word? Are we determined to explore and learn His Word with the same attention we give to our favorite Outdoor (or Indoor) past time? Do we really believe that His Word, not buildings, personalities or programs is the main attraction for the Gospel to take root in our hearts? Let us know in the comments or reach out to a pastor.