2. The Mountain Too High To ClimbRelated Media
We are familiar with the Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz. Some of the cartoons present good theological insights. For example see this cartoon. Charlie Brown and Lucy are sitting inside their home and it is raining heavily outside. Lucy expresses her concern that this may flood the whole world. To which Charlie responds, No, that cannot happen, because God promised Noah that He would never do that again. Lucy’s response, you have taken a great load off my mind. To which Charlie responds, Sound theology has a way of doing that.
You see, theology impacts life. What you believe determines how you live. Your worldview, your value system, your lifestyle, and things you do and do not do; all is determined by your theology. That is why we have to make sure what we believe and what we believe is the truth or not. We are people of convictions. And our convictions are not formed by the lies we hear in the world, but the truth we learn from the Word.
There are two problems with religion, especially with Christianity. One, you have to take it by faith; you cannot prove it by imperial scientific evidence. It is not physical, it is metaphysical. And two, there are many things that we cannot understand. And this is true of all religions, but most for Christianity.
There are two results of these two problems. One, many have invented their own ways, manmade religions and two, we, believers, sometimes doubt our own faith. And so it is always good to think about what we believe, what is the Truth.
From our first lesson you remember the story of the three cheaters? A Hindu priest carrying a goat. One of the cheaters comes and tells him, how can you, a holy man, carry a dog? To which his response, are you blind? This is not a dog! This is a goat! Few minutes later another cheater tells him the same thing. Now the man is confused. Not sure what he is carrying. A little later third cheater tells him the same thing, how can you, a holy man, carry a dog? The man throws away his prized goat and runs away.
The moral of the story is: When a lie is repeated several times, it does not become truth; but it does become easily acceptable and convincing. Today we live in a pluralistic, polytheistic, agnostic or atheistic culture and have been bombarded with all the lies from all the directions so that the very truth of God and His Word is questioned not only by people of other religions, but by some of the very people who are known by the name of Christ. We hear that all the roads lead to the same place. All religions are just different ways to reach God.
Last time we noted some of the major differences between Christianity and the major world religions: the concept of God, the concept of man, the concept of the sin and salvation and how to attain it, the concept life after death; and so on. Today we want to talk about one more major point that sets Christianity apart from any other world religion. The topic today is the mountain too high for anyone to climb.
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
Gods Seated On The Mountaintop!
For nine years, we lived in a small mountain town in India located in the foothills of the Himalayas. During this time, we travelled to different mountain areas. At one time, we took a bus for two days and reached a small remote village in the mountains. From there we walked three miles crossing a valley filled with beautiful flowers known as The Valley of Flowers (you can look up online under the same name) situated at about 10,000 ft elevation.
Then we began climbing up a steep mountain crossing numerous glaciers. After hours of trekking about four miles and climbing about 4000’ of elevation finally we reached the top, 14,000 ft. There we saw a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain peaks and fed by glaciers. This place is called Hemkund, literally, bowl of ice. There on the top of the mountain is a temple. Approximately 150,000 pilgrims travel to Hemkund every year.
Every mountain peak you climb in the Himalayan mountain range, there you will see a temple. People go there not for the natural beauty and the joy of being surrounded by God’s awesome creation, but for a pilgrimage. We visited other places like Hemkund, such as Gangotri, the mouth of the River Ganges (10,200 ft.). And Badrinath (10,170 ft.) and Kedarnath (11,755 ft.), that we did not visit, are some of the most popular pilgrim places in India (you can view all these sites online). All these mountaintop venues have major temples and are pilgrimage destinations.
Many civilizations are notable for mountaintop temples. The Incas built their temples on high mountain peaks and steep slopes. My wife and I recently toured Peru and saw some of these sites. The Mesopotamians built ziggurats and the Khmers built temples on mountains. Taoists and Buddhists also built their temples on high mountain peaks and ridges. Some are located on mountain slopes so steep that access is very difficult.
The ancient Greeks believed that their gods lived on Mount Olympus. The Hindus believe that Mahameru (Great Mountain) is the abode of gods. Ancients often looked to the skies and believed their gods resided there. As the gods lived in the heavens, places that were closer to the gods would have been considered as sacred.
The ancient Canaanites and other nations worshipped the heavenly bodies and their idols upon hills, mountains, and artificial elevations. The Israelites were commanded to destroy these places of idol worship, but instead, they imitated the heathens and worshipped the idols at high places (1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 17:10-11). These places of worship were known as the Bamah (High Places, used 105 times in the Old Testament including Numbers 33:52; Leviticus 26:30; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 20:29), because they were literally situated on higher grounds, on high hills or small mountaintops.
Clearly, mountains have an important place in spirituality. The use of mountains and high places for worship is so widespread as to be almost universal. From the dawn of human civilization man has somehow imagined that the higher you climb, the closer you are to God. It’s as if God is sitting on top of a high mountain and by climbing that mountain you can reach God.
Not only is there a belief that the higher you climb the closer you are to gods, but also the higher you climb the more significant you are. The closer to the stars, sun and moon you get, the more significant you become. By climbing physically higher, man has imagined becoming spiritually greater; not just being closer to God, but being more like God; attaining more of His power and spiritual attributes.
Biblically, the Tower of Babel served this purpose, “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves’” (Gen. 11:4). Towers serve this purpose as do many other tall structures. There is constant competition in the world to build the tallest building.
Eternity In Their Heart
Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes presents the contrast between the things above the sun and the things under the sun in Chapter Three. By using the formal structure of couplets of the Hebrew poetry, he very vividly portrays that everything under the sun is for a moment:
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance (3:2-4, NIV)
What Solomon is saying here is that there is nothing under the sun that is permanent, everything and every event has a brief appointed time. There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under the sun (3:1), and, He has made everything appropriate in its time (3:11a).
Although everything under the sun is temporal, God has set eternity in man’s heart (3:11b). Every culture, no matter how primitive or developed, has a concept of eternity, of something that will last forever. Because of this sense of eternity in his heart, man is looking for something that will last forever; most of all, something that will make him last forever.
Our Futile Attempts To Climb The Mountain
Because of this eternity in his heart, man, from the beginning of civilization, has been trying to reach God and has come up with various ways to climb the mountain that no one can climb. All world religions are man’s futile attempts to climb the mountain to reach God.
For example, the Mormon theology is that God was just like us, humans, but he attained his godship by climbing up a ladder to divinity. In the same way we can attain the same high and exalted position that God now has. The central tenet of Mormon theology is: God once was what we are now (just like us human being), we will be what God is now (just like God, the same high and exalted position).
The central tenet of Hindu theology is: I am Brahman! Man is divine. The only problem is we do not know our full potential. Like a burning coal covered by ashes, our divinity is covered by our ignorance. So, the Yoga provides an eight-step path to reach that full potential and become one with God.
Satan tempted Adam and Eve; “When you eat of it (the fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God (Genesis 3:5). Does it not sound very much like Hindu theology? You are just like God, only that you do not know it. When you eat this fruit, your eyes will be opened, your ignorance will be dispelled and you will realize that you are just like God! From that point on man is in constant search to find ways to develop his divine potential and reach the ultimate heights.
Even Socrates, considered as father of the Western philosophy, said, “Know thyself” and “Knowledge is virtue”, meaning if you knew yourself, if you really realize who you are, if you knew how good you are, you will be really good.
The Mountain Too High To Climb
But the obvious problem is, if God is really God, a Supreme Being, transcendent, infinite, over and above every created thing, including humans, any attempt to physically reach God will leave a person frustrated and unsure of what is possible. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). If God were seated on a high mountain, that mountain is too high for anyone to climb.
Similarly, Solomon said, “When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night), and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover” (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17). What he is saying is that man just does not know and cannot know. And if you think you know, you do not even know that you do not know!
One Sunday afternoon my family and I were cleaning up a church building. I was vacuuming children Sunday school area and found a small piece of paper. I keep that piece of paper in my Bible; keeps me humble. It reads, “If you have any question ask someone else because I’m stupider than you. My name is Rick”. He is not shy in giving his name. Too bad the Sunday school teacher did not get hold of it.
Out of the mouths of babes! Come to think of it, that is all of us before God! Actually, the Word of God says the same thing. On the other side of that piece of paper I have written Proverbs 30:23. Agur, one of the wise men, says, “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I do not have the understanding of a man. Neither have I learned wisdom, nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One”. And this was a wise man, whose words are recorded in the Word of God!
Do you know how much we know about the physical universe? Even with all the progress of science in the twenty-first century, scientists know only about five percent of the universe; the ninety-five percent still remains unknown. We don't know why the universe exists, what dark matter, or dark energy, is, or whether life exists anywhere else. We don't fully understand our own biology. We would never fathom how the human brain works. We don't know how the Earth works. There’s a lot we don’t know. All the stars, planets and galaxies that can be seen today make up just five percent of the universe. The other ninety-five percent is made up of stuff astronomers can’t see, detect or even comprehend. “The overwhelming majority of the universe is: who knows?” explains science writer Richard Panek, “It’s unknown for now, and possibly forever.” My question is if we do not know ninety-five percent of the universe, how can we know that we know five percent of it?
Isaac Newton, who discovered the Law of Gravity when he saw an apple fall from the tree, was once complimented for his genius. His humble response, “I am like a boy collecting sea shells on the seashore while the vast ocean remains unexplored”. Almost three hundred years later (he died in 1727) we have not much progressed. That is true of the universe. But even more so of the God who created the universe. Because God has to be far greater than the universe He created.
How can the finite human being reach this God? How can you know Him? How can you have a relationship with this Inaccessible God? How can you fill the hole in your heart? How can you have a meaningful and joyful life? There is no way a puny human being can do that by his own human efforts.
“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there was someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.” (Job 9:32-35, NIV)
God Comes Down The Mountain
The only way a finite human being could reach God, and have access to the infinite and transcendent God, is if God Himself came down to the human level and made Himself accessible. The only way man can know God, can have a relationship with Him, is if God revealed Himself to man.
And that is exactly what God has done in Jesus Christ. The Word that existed from the eternity past, the Word that was with God and the Word that was God… all things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. This Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14).
The Creator of the entire universe became flesh, incarnated Himself in human body and made His dwelling among people. Instead of man trying to reach God and failing miserably, God Himself reached down to man. There is no other way for man to reach Him or to have the relationship with Him, apart from Jesus Christ as God’s provision.
“Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11, NIV)
A few years ago, we received a Christmas card. On the outside of the card there are pictures of some of the most prominent men of the history: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hitler, Lenin, Napoleon, Mao, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Buddha. The caption over those pictures reads: “History is crowded with men who would be gods.” Opening the card inside is the picture of baby Jesus in the cradle and the caption reads: “But only one God who would be man”.
History is crowded with men who would be gods. But only one God who would be man. This is what makes Christianity unique among all the world religions: instead of man trying to reach God and failing miserably, God reached down to man and made Himself accessible to whoever wants to come into relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God so loved people that He provided the way of salvation, the way to come into a relationship with Him, by sending Jesus Christ into the world. By first coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ any one can attain the relationship with God and live eternally in the presence of God.
“No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet, all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders that God became man. Alongside the brilliance of holy night there burns the fire of the unfathomable mystery of Christian theology” (Bonhoeffer in Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010), P. 472).
We would never fathom the mystery of incarnation. But we do not have to understand it. We have to believe
One, it is only in Christ that we have access to God. There is no other name. Christianity makes sense. All other religions are man-centered. Christianity is God-centered. In all the other religions man takes the initiative and fails miserably. In Christianity God takes the initiative and fulfils the plan of salvation. Only through Christ we have access to God. As Christ Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). And as Paul said, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Two, we do not have to understand; we have to believe. God is transcendent, infinite, beyond our reach and understanding. We will never understand Him fully. Even the eternity would be too short to understand Him. But not being able to understand is no excuse for not believing. Now we only see dimly like in a mirror (1 Corinthian 13:12).
Paul said “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). He was speaking in a spiritual sense. But we apply that more in our physical life than in our spiritual life. When we board an airplane, we do not know the pilot, we do not know the security personnel who checked everything and everybody, we do not know any of the ground crew, we do not know the mechanics who checked the engine; and yet we sit in the plane and just relax reading a book or dozing off.
When we drive we do not know the other drivers around us, their driving habits, their mental and emotional condition, whether they are drunk or not, physically impaired or not, their driving capability; whether our car would hold up; whether the road or the bridge hold up. But we go seventy-eighty mile speed trusting all things going well and keep driving, even though things do go bad, bridges collapse and we and other drivers make mistake.
We can take example after example in physical realm where we live by faith and just assume everything is alright. Because there is no other way! We would go insane if we did not. But when it comes in the spiritual matters, we want proof. We want to put our fingers in the hole.
And God in His grace does provide proof. But we have to accept that and believe that. Those who believe there is ample evidence of the truth. But those who do not want to believe, no matter how much proof is there, they will not believe. As in physical realm, so also in our spiritual realm we have to live by faith and not by sight.
Three, not being able to understand everything in the Word of God is no excuse for not trying to understand. The Old Testament prophets were intently searching Scriptures and were trying to understand what God was revealing to them in His Word (1 Peter 1:0-12). Similarly Peter instructs, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
Four, not being able to understand is not an excuse for not obeying. God does not expect us to understand everything, but He does expect us to obey. Certain things we will never understand, but the Word of God is plain and simple that demands our obedience. Mark Twain said, “I am not bothered by the things of the Bible I do not understand, what bothers me most are the things that I do understand” Because then you have to obey them!
Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
We have to be grounded in the Word of God. We have to study it, try to understand it, cherish it, share it and live by it. Do not let anything rob the joy of your salvation.
Yes, there are two problems with religion. You have to take it by faith and many things we cannot understand. This creates obvious problems; many have invented their own ways-religions and we sometimes doubt our own faith. But God has given us enough light in His revelation that we can trust Him and be grounded in the Truth He has revealed so that we are not beguiled by all the lies we hear around us and doubt our faith, but live life as a believer confident of the truth and living by the truth.
The Man And The Birds
by Paul Harvey
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Come all ye faithful – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.
And he sank to his knees in the snow.
A man becoming a bird is nothing compared to God becoming man. But that is exactly what God did. Because otherwise to reach Him is a mountain too high for man to climb (Phil 2:6-11).
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.