Tell It on the Mountain (2013 VBS Sunday)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
August 1, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Bible there are about 500 references to mountains. Sometimes mountains are used as symbols for places for refuge and security. Sometimes they are a threatening place of military slaughter. At times mountains are described as places that are inaccessible, barren, and uninhabited. Other times mountains are places where God’s people will dwell in abundance. In Scripture, mountains are also sites of religious experiences. They are places of pagan worship which God denounces. But they are also places of true worship which the Lord commands. Mountains in the Bible are places where humans encounter the divine—the One true God.
That was the key theme of our Vacation Bible School this past week. The God who is revealed to us in the Bible is indeed the one, true God who sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior and Lord. Through five mountaintop Bible accounts, we saw God meet with His people displaying His might and power, love and grace.
The first mountain we experienced was Mt. Sinai—a barren rock situated in the middle of a desert. It was there that God chose to meet with the people of Israel whom He had just brought out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and outstretched arm.” Why? Because He loved them. He desired that they be His people and that He should be their God. Israel’s slavery in Egypt had separated them from the one, true God. In a similar way, our sins separate us from the Lord, holding us captive to death and the power of Satan. But God loves us all with a forever love. He rescued His people from slavery in Egypt and was present with them in clouds and fire on Mount Sinai. Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has rescued us from our slavery to sin, Satan, and the power of the devil. Now our heavenly Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit meets with us, not on a desert mountain, but in His Holy Word and in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Because Jesus died to save us from our sins, we know that we have His blood-bought forgiveness. And that means that someday we will be with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in heaven forever.
Sinai isn’t the only famous Old Testament mountain. My personal favorite is another mountain located near the Mediterranean coast west of the Sea of Galilee. There an epic contest took place, a contest that would determine for the people of Israel who the real God actually was—Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Canaanite god Baal. Two sacrifices were set up on the top of Mt. Carmel. The prophets of Baal assembled theirs, a bull sacrificed on an altar. Elijah, prophet of Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, also assembled an altar on which was placed a bull in sacrifice. It was agreed that whoever answered by fire, the one true God he would be. The people seemed excited for pyrotechnics, but they were unprepared truly to meet God that day.
All morning and into the afternoon the prophets of Baal prayed, shouted, danced, and even cut themselves so that they bled. But nothing happened. Elijah sat off to the side, hurling insults at them and making fun of their false god Baal who didn’t listen. “Maybe he’s in the bathroom and can’t come right now,” Elijah taunted. Baal was no god at all. Then Elijah prayed that the God who had revealed Himself to His people with precious promises would answer. Twelve bucket-loads of water in all were poured on the sacrifice and the wood and the altar. (Water and fire don’t mix well, you know!) The prayer ended. In a moment, everything was consumed by fire from heaven: the bull, the wood, the rocks, the dirt, even the excess water from the dousing.
Our Triune God is the one, true God. And we are His #1 love. He does not want us traipsing after fake gods—whether they be made up idols like Baal or things like our possessions, money, sex, or popularity. The Lord wants us to stay close to Him as He comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. When we do fall into sin and fear, love, and trust in other things as our gods, the Lord shows us our sin and who He is in His Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we confess our sin and God forgives us for the sake of Jesus who died on the cross to purchase that very forgiveness for you and me. In repentance, our loving God turns our hearts back to Him, our one true God and Father.
Of course, there are some pretty significant mountains in the New Testament, as well. One is a mountain that we really don’t know where it is or even if it has a name. We call it the Mount of Transfiguration. It was there that Jesus Christ, true Man, revealed His glory as true God to His disciples Peter, James, and John. He was joined on that mountain-top by none other than Moses and Elijah! These three had mountain experiences before (on Sinai and Carmel). Remember, Jesus is God Himself and He was there with Moses and Elijah on those other two mountains! Now, they were together talking about Jesus’ death on the cross which He alone would undergo for the sins of the world. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, would purchase forgiveness and everlasting life for us by shedding His blood and suffering death and hell.
The Mount of Transfiguration so naturally leads to Mt. Calvary, or Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. It was not a high mountain, but a peak experience nevertheless. It was on the Mount of Golgotha that Jesus died to pay for our sins with His death on the cross. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He rose again in victory over sin, death, and Satan. God gives us eternal life now through His Son, Jesus our Savior, so that we can be with Him forever in heaven. In Christ, the love of our one true God is mostly clearly known and seen and experienced in the forgiveness of our sins and the new life we have in Him through the Holy Spirit.
And that brings us to the final of our five mountains. It is another mountain without a name—a mountain in Galilee. There, forty days after Jesus’ rose from the dead, He gathered on a mountain with His disciples. There He let them know what He wanted them to do in the name of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matt. 28:18)
This is our great commission as those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. The God who loves us and died and rose to save us is the God who sends us out into our world to tell it on the mountain, or in the valley, or on the plain. No matter where we are or what we do, we are called upon by our God and Lord to announce His love and grace and mercy to people who especially do not yet know Him as the only true God and Savior in their lives. That was one of our great opportunities this week at Vacation Bible School. There were a couple children that we know for certain didn’t really know Jesus Christ as Lord coming into this week. What a chance to tell them the Good News and let them hear about sins forgiven and eternal life given freely because Jesus is Lord!
Each Lord’s Day we gather here at what we might call life’s Base Camp. This is the place we come to at God’s invitation spiritually to rest up a little and to be charged up with His Gospel Word and the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood in order to go out and tell what we learn and receive from Him as gifts of God. Every Sunday as we break camp and go our separate ways, we go into opportunities to tell our family, friends, and others we meet that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Savior.
This message of salvation through Jesus Christ is one to shout out and share from the mountaintops to the four corners of the world. So break camp here today having been fed with the Word of God, having received the forgiveness of sins, and the strengthening of your faith in Jesus Christ. Go, tell it on the mountain, at the workplace, in the school, on the athletic fields, in the public square—Tell it! Jesus Christ is Lord! He is our one true God! Amen.