Such a Great Salvation (5)
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? Hebrews 3.16-18
So close, but so far away
Here is my candidate for one of the top ten saddest verses in the entire Bible:
It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. Now it came to pass in the fortieth year… (Deut. 1.2, 3).
Mt. Horeb, in the Sinai desert, is where Moses met with God to receive His Law. There the people of God saw the glory of the Lord upon the mountain, in fierce lightning and terrifying thunder. They marveled at the glory that shone on Moses’ face. It was at Mt. Horeb that the people gladly joined together to provide everything and more than was needed to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. Yes, there was that episode of the golden calf – a bit too much spiritual exuberance, mingled with pragmatic religion. But even that misstep was followed by more of the mercy and grace of the Lord.
All in all, life at Mt. Horeb was exciting for the people of Israel. They had just been delivered by God through the miracle at the Red Sea, and at Mt. Horeb they saw how great God was and got a taste of the blessings that awaited them in His Law and in the promised land. They might have been content just to remain there, had not God commanded them to go on to the greater perfection of life in the promised land (Deut. 1.5-8).
It is eleven days’ journey from Mt. Horeb to the border of the land of promise. And that journey took the people of Israel forty years to accomplish.
They actually did make it to Kadesh Barnea in eleven days, and there they received a foretaste of the fruit and bounty of the land of promise – just as Moses had said, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of rest.
But they refused to go forward, refused to enter more fully into the great salvation of the Lord, and were cast back into the wilderness where, for forty years, they grumbled, complained, plotted ways back to Egypt, threatened to overthrow their God-appointed leaders, and subsisted on the same daily fare as they had known from the beginning of their salvation. For an entire generation, the great salvation God had promised them went neglected and refused, as the people complacently wandered around in the wilderness, waiting for that disobedient generation to die.
The allure of the mountaintop
The allure of the mountaintop is undeniable. Noise, singing and dancing, excitement and music, the glory of God all around us! Even the disciples would have preferred to remain indefinitely on the mount of Transfiguration, so great was their joy in the presence of Christ and His glory.
But for many believers, the essence of Christian life consists of perceived mountaintop experiences, especially their Sunday morning service of worship. If it’s lively and upbeat, if the people are all happy and singing, if the testimonies are sincere, and if the pastor preaches a comforting message, then this is what it’s all about to be a Christian. If my church fails to deliver such mountaintop experiences, I might complain to an elder or the people in my small group, or I might go looking for another mountaintop experience somewhere else.
But the mountaintop is not the place where we find the rest promised in our great salvation. The people of Israel might have wished it were so, and we might wish it, too. But the rest God promises – that freedom from fear, want, uncertainty, doubt, loneliness, and self-loathing – is merely glimpsed during our services of worship. It is realized, and we grow in it by laboring to obtain the promises of God and to live for His glory within His appointed place and calling for our lives.
But there are plenty of false advance men telling us it ain’t so: The world is too hard, the people too mean and indifferent to spiritual matters, we can never make a difference out there, and after all, we have all our own stuff and issues to deal with. Only a handful of Joshuas and Calebs keep trying to get us to recall the promises of God, see the evidence of greater salvation to come, and commit to a life of obedience, service, and witness so that the rest of our great salvation can be increasingly ours.
A matter of obedience
You may be quite content with the various mountaintops that constitute your view of what it means to be a Christian. But if all you do as a Christian is get to the mountaintop, if you never strive for the promises of God and the greater-than-mountaintops salvation that Jesus has secured for you, then you will never know the fullness of God’s blessed and holy rest.
And you will be disobeying the God Who saved you – not for the mountaintop, but for the daily life of following Jesus in service and witness in your part of His world.
The Christian life is a race, and running races is hard work. And it’s not just a race, it’s a marathon. And more than that, the Christian life is a marathon steeplechase, filled with challenges and obstacles and unwelcome surprises, and requiring strenuous exertions of faith and obedience in all your relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
But it is also a life fraught with precious and very great promises, promises of blessing and rest, promises of becoming more like Jesus and advancing His rule on earth as it is in heaven.
Our great salvation beckons, calling us not to abandon our mountaintops but to see them for what God intends them to be – rallying-places designed to sharpen our focus on Him and to prepare us for daily obedience, faithful witness, and living for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Let us go on to perfection in Him. Let us refuse to neglect our great salvation. Let us use our mountaintop experiences as ways to see further into the promised land of rest; and let us prepare for each next leg in our race of obedience to Jesus.
1. Mountaintop experiences aren’t bad. They just aren’t everything. Explain.
2. Why does going on to our great salvation mean that we have to do so much work?
3. Neglecting our great salvation is rebellion (v. 16), sin (v. 17), and disobedience (v. 18). How can we keep from falling into such neglect?
Next steps – Preparation: What are your mountaintop experiences as a Christian? How can you use these as encouragement in your race to gain more of God’s greater salvation? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.