April 6 – Mountaintops – High Mountain of Revelation

Read Revelation 21:1-22:21

I love going to the mountains!  I love the view of the mountains and the view from the mountains.  The view of the mountains is always majestic as they tower above my valley vantage point.  And the view from the mountains is always exciting as I view things below from a different angle.

John’s perspective of the future New Jerusalem was a view from the mountain.  He was “carried away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high” (21:10).  And from that elevation, he was able to view the grandeur of what God has prepared for His people for eternity.  The city was aglow with the glory of God.  It was 1,400 miles in each direction and surrounded by a high wall.  Gates made out of pearls and bearing the names of Jacob’s twelve songs punctuated the walls.  And the walls themselves were laid on twelve foundations composed of precious and semiprecious stones that bear the names of the twelve apostles.  Of course the description of John’s incredible view extends well beyond the few things mentioned in these lines.

But there is still another perspective that we gain from his mountaintop vantage point that may be less obvious.  From John’s view, we also gain a panoramic view of God’s plan.

  1. His plan started with a beautiful garden and a tree of life, and it will end with beauty and a tree of life as well.  The tree of life had been available for Adam and Eve.  But then, after they ate from the wrong tree, angels brandishing fiery swords prevented them from eating and living forever in their sinfulness.  In eternity, that tree will be accessible, bearing a different fruit every month.  Even its leaves will provide healing.
  2. His plan that included patriarchs, tribes, and apostles was not random.  All of it led to the provision of Abraham’s offspring and his seed of Jesus.  All of it led to the spread of blessing to all nations.  That incredible plan, that may have seemed puzzling at times, fits together beautifully and is wondrously portrayed in the foundation and walls of the city.

Praise God for His incredible plan and our hope-filled future!

Steve Kern

April 5 – Mountaintops – Mount Calvary

Read John 19:1-42

If you go in search of “Mount Calvary,” you may find it difficult!  To find it in the Bible is noCalvary simple task.  Actually, it only appears once in the Bible…and then only in the King James Version (Luke 23:33 KJV), where the original translators chose to use a transcription of the Latin word “Calvariae” rather than translate it.  In other translations, “Golgotha” or “place of the skull” is used.

Similarly, if you go in search of Calvary’s actual geographic location, you may be challenged.  There is a traditional site, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built.  Meanwhile, recent arguments point to the possibility of another location.

Regardless of our present-day challenge of locating “Calvary,” let there neither be question of its existence nor of its significance.  Whether we refer to it as Calvary or as Golgotha, it is the location of the crucifixion.  Whether we believe it to have taken place at a traditional site or another location, the crucifixion really happened.

Mount Calvary was the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross.  It was the place where the cross was placed upright.  It was the location where Jesus bore our sins and nails bore His body.  It was the site where some spectators ridiculed while a handful of ladies and John mourned.  It was the spot where His clothes were divided.  It was there that He died and His side was pierced.

Arguably, no other location on the face of the earth has greater significance than this.  It was at Calvary, that the price of punishment for sins was once and for all paid through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  And because of that one act, forgiveness and hope are available to all!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.  (By William R. Newell)

Steve Kern

April 4 – Mountaintops – Mount of Olives Part 2

Read Matthew 24:1-25:46

Olives 2Along with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16), the passage you read today is one of the longest “sermons” or “instructions” that Jesus gave.  Spoken to His disciples while on the Mount of Olives (24:3), these two chapters are often referred to as the Olivet Discourse.  Their subject matter?  Jesus responded to an often-asked question about the timing of His return and the end of the age (24:3).

As much as we could wish for a specific date on a calendar, Christ’s bottom line answer was that the exact timing is unknowable (24:42-25:13).  That is not to say that there will not be some clear warning signs along the way.

  • There will be wars and rumors of wars (24:6).  Let’s face it…that has been the case from the time of Christ until today.  Jesus clearly says, “that is not yet the end.”

  • There will be apostasy and false teaching (24:10, 11).  Again, although different in degree, there has been an unending series of people antagonistic to Christ and teaching contrary to His.

  • There will be the “abomination of desolation” (24:15; Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:3, 4).  Midway through the Tribulation, the antichrist will position himself in the restored temple to be worshiped.  Jesus says this act should capture the attention of those on the earth.

  • There will be a number of people claiming to be “Christ” or to have seen Him (24:23-28).  This is no reason to think that a person has missed out on the event of His return.

Although the actual date is unknowable, Christ’s coming will be glorious and obvious (24:29-31).  There will be no mistaking its happening.  There will be no question, “Was that it?”

Interestingly enough, the Mount of Olives not only provided the setting for Christ’s instruction about His return.  It was also the location from which He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-12).  And it will also be the location to which Jesus will initially return at the end of the tribulation (Zech. 14:1-4).

But don’t ignore one of the major thrusts of Christ’s teaching that day on the Mount.  Are you ready?  Are you living life in strategic anticipation of that day?

Steve Kern

April 3 – Mountaintops – Mount of Olives Part 1

Read Luke 19:28-44

Joyful praise and mournful weeping…What a contrast of emotions.  But both ends of the emotional spectrum were represented on the Mount of Olives on that day.

The joyful celebration was a fulfillment of prophecies made centuries before.  Zechariah Oliveshad described a day when the King of Israel would triumphantly enter Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9).  That day had arrived.  With Jesus on a young donkey being ridden for the first time, the crowd paved the road with their garments and palm branches.  Other branches they waved.  As they reflected on Christ’s many miracles, they lauded Him as the King who had come in the name of the Lord (cf. Ps. 118:26).

There is no question that Jesus is/was worth celebrating.  But did those gathered really understand what they were doing?  Where were these people a few days later as Christ was sentenced and executed?  Were they looking for one who would be the King of their hearts to save them from their sin and from themselves?  Or were they merely anticipating a king who would rescue them from the Roman government that tolerated them at best?  Yes, they voiced joyful praise to Christ, but did they really grasp Christ’s identity and purpose?

At least part of the answer is given a few moments later as Jesus rounded a curve in his descent from the mount.  With the city in full view before Him, Christ, the One who had just been lauded by many, began to weep.  The city had been visited.  The Jews as a whole had seen or heard about the very One the Old Testament prophets had promised, but they failed to recognize Him as such.  Jesus was emotionally broken as He thought not only about His rejection but also about the judgment that would come upon the beloved city of Jerusalem.  From His vantage point there on the mount, He clearly prophesied of a day less than four decades into the future when much of Jerusalem would be destroyed.

If only.  If only the people had recognized Christ for who He truly is.  But, you know, that “if only” is not only true of people then.  I hope you recognize the “if only” people in and around your life.  It is not too late for them.  You can pray and share so that they can experience salvation.

Steve Kern

April 2 – Mountaintops – Mount of Transfiguration

Read Matthew 17:1-9

Peter, James and John witnessed their Master transformed before their eyes. Jesus was standing radiantly with two Old Testament heroes, Abraham and Elijah. Peter, feeling the need to say something as usual, offers some classic Jewish hospitality to the glorious guests. It’s cMount Hermonlear that Peter and the rest had no idea what was really happening here. I find it somewhat humorous that Peter’s talking is interrupted by the thundering voice of God which seemingly ignores Peter’s offer of hospitality.

After being calmed down from being scared out of their minds, the disciples headed back down the mountain with Jesus. No doubt Peter was thinking, “Andrew is gonna flip when I tell Him what happened!” But Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone what they saw. Why?

The key is that Jesus said not to tell until He is resurrected.[1] In Mark’s description, the disciples were confused at this and discussed with each other what Jesus rising from the dead might mean. They did not get it. A lot of what the disciples witnessed in Jesus’ ministry went right over their heads at the time. John mentions in his Gospel that they did not understand things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, they remembered everything that was said and comprehended with new eyes.

Jesus appearing with Abraham and Elijah was reassurance that the Old Testament promises of a saving Messiah were coming true. Most believed that the Messiah would be a fierce warrior, though, who would come to conquer Rome and set up a kingdom for Israel. If the disciples told people of the experience they had, this would have just heightened the madness and misunderstanding of what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was not a political activist; His kingdom is not of this world. He came to die for the world and in so doing conquered death itself.

What misconceptions of Jesus do we entertain in our minds? We may not say it, but we may feel like Jesus is obligated to bless us. We may not say it, but we may act like Jesus needs us to contribute to our salvation. We may not say it, but we may believe that Jesus is uninvolved or ineffective in our lives.

Stamp out the lies Satan tells you with truth from God’s Word!

Nathan Harley

[1] Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels

April 1 – Mountaintops – Mount Gerazim

Read John 4:1-45

Mount Gerazim had significance in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Perhaps you remember from less than a week ago; Mount Gerazim was the location on which half of the tribes of Israel were to assemble.  Meanwhile, the others half of Israel was to gather across the valley on Mount Ebal while the blessings and curses of God were read.  Those on Mount Ebal were to affirm the curses the people of God would experience for their obedience.  Those on Mount Gerazim, meanwhile, affirmed the blessings God would pour out on His people if they obeyed.

Mount Gerazim had other Old Testament significance.  It overlooked the site where Abraham built the first altar in the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6, 7).  Later, Jacob moved to that area (Gen. 33:18-20) and, before his death, promised it to his favored son, Joseph.

Gerizim2But Samaritans also ascribed special, spiritual significance to Mount Gerazim.  During the time of the Assyrian Exile, many Jews, you see, had intermarried with other non-Jews.  Their offspring adhered to some of the Scriptures, but not all.  And they declared Mount Gerazim to be a special place of worship for them.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  (v. 20)

Perhaps in an attempt to divert attention from her own sin, perhaps out of sincere curiosity, the Samaritan woman at the well asked Jesus for clarification on the location of worship.  Mount Gerazim or Jerusalem?

Before we look at the answer, let me ask you, do you ascribe special worship significance to a specific location?

Back to the story…  Jesus responded to the woman by saying that a new day in worship was about to dawn.  The location of worship would no longer be important.  We are now in that day.  The “where” of worship is insignificant.  It can take place in a cave or a mountaintop.  It can be in a private home or in a dedicated building.

While the location of worship is unimportant, the object and heart attitude of worship are of utmost importance.  No matter where you are, worship the Christ revealed in Scripture.  Do so with all of your heart.

Steve Kern

March 31 – Mountaintops – Mount of Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount)

Read Matthew 5:17-48

It’s so easy to view Jesus as the abolisher or fixer ofsermon mount the Law. In the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus declares that that is far from the truth. The Law of God is perfect because the God of the Law is perfect. Jesus has come to fulfill it, not destroy it.

Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This would have been devastating for the audience to hear. If you asked any Jew in that day who was the most godly, righteous person they knew, they would name a Pharisee without a doubt.

Jesus continues with a pattern of “You have heard it said…but I tell you…” Jesus is not referring to hearing from the Old Testament, but hearing from the Pharisees and religious teachers of the day. The Pharisees added hundreds of rules on top of the Law of God to make sure that they kept it. In essence, Jesus is saying, “The holiness that the Pharisees require is extremely difficult for you – basically impossible, but the holiness that God requires is even more difficult – literally impossible.”

He showed that the Law was more than just having enough self-control to not do an outward sin. God needs even our mind and heart to be perfect! Jesus preached that you aren’t innocent of murder if you hate someone and just haven’t physically killed them. You aren’t innocent of adultery if you have a lustful thought and just haven’t physically acted on it. Jesus isn’t abolishing the Law and He is not adding to it either. He is demonstrating what it has meant all along.

The Pharisees looked at the Law and the perfection of God as doable with the right discipline and the right rules around it. They did not look at the Law of God as something so holy and unattainable that they have no other choice but to fall on their knees to repent and trust in Christ.

The Pharisees and many Jews were looking to the WRONG MOUNTAIN for justification for their sins. Sinai was not the mountain from which salvation came, it was on Calvary where the only One to ever completely keep the Law died so that we could have His righteousness.

Today, people fall into the same trap.

Where are you looking to?

Nathan Harley

Baucham, Voddie, Jr. “The Law of God In Light of the Kingdom.” Sermon, Grace Family Baptist Church, Houston, TX, April 12, 2009.

March 30 – Mountaintops – Mount Carmel

Read 1 Kings 18:16-40

Needless to say, this is how I’ve pictured Mount Carmel since my Sunday school days. carmelUnfortunately, the real Mount Carmel is a regular mountain made out of rock, but what took place on it was one of the sweetest victories for God! (Please excuse the cheesiness).

The prophets of Baal spent all day praying, limping around, and abusing themselves to get their god to respond and he didn’t. On the other hand Elijah prayed two sentences and God responded by burning up the sacrifice, the rocks and the water. The clear difference is the one to whom each contestant prayed to.

People are often taken aback and even angered when God asks for our everything, for us to love nothing more than Him and for us to surrender completely for Him. It’s interesting to note that we seem completely fine with everything else in our lives requiring the same thing. In order to find fulfillment and satisfaction, a husband is willing to give up his wife and kids to have an affair, a teenage girl is willing to give up her body and purity for a boy, and a parent is willing to sacrifice family for the pursuit of money.[1] We will never find fulfillment or satisfaction in these places. Just like Baal, they will never be able to give us what we are asking for.

All humans have innate desires to have a purpose in life and fulfillment. All people long for true joy, justice and love. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “We have a longing for joy, love and beauty that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship, or success can satisfy. We want something that nothing in this world can fulfill.”[2] If we “want something that nothing in this world can fulfill,” then it points to something more beyond this world.

Only a surrendered life to God can give us a pure purpose and satisfaction while here on the old earth and the perfect new earth will finally bring absolute fulfillment of everything we long for.

The band, Ascend the Hill, produced a rendition of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” to which they added their own chorus. I think that these words are the perfect prayer for your heart that is always looking to places other than Jesus for fulfillment. Pray, “Oh God be my everything; be my delight. Be Jesus, my glory, my soul satisfied.”

Nate Harley

To listen to the song, click here.

[1] Young Man Gives an Unforgettable Speech About Jesus. Produced by Jefferson Bethke. 5 October 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pqYsZoH8IM.

[2] Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

March 29 – Mountaintops – Mount Zion

Read Psalm 48:1-14

It’s wedding season. You may be going to or are a part of planning one this summer if you haven’t already! On top of that, at Grace Church this week, we’ve been talking about the brutally honest Parable of the Wedding Feast. Believe it or not, this has a lot to do with Mount Zion, but first – what even is Zion?

It isn’t hard to stumble across the word “Zion” in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. It seems to have multiple uses and definitions throughout Scripture though. When first mentioned, Mount Zion was a Jebusite fortress before David captured it (1 Samuel 5:7). This fortress would become the site for the city of Jerusalem where the capital of God’s land was established. Zion/Jerusalem was God’s pride and joy. It was especially cherished by the people of Israel because God’s presence was there!

Zion grew to be used to describe God’s consecrated people as whole. Notice that in Psalm 48:2, it says that Zion is the “joy of all the earth.” As is evident throughout Scripture, the motivation behind God’s choosing Israel was to bring all nations to Himself.[1]

The New Testament uses “Zion” to refer to the New Jerusalem or God’s heavenly kingdom. Today, Christ-followers whether Jew or Gentile have access to the spiritual Zion and thus have direct access to God’s presence! Hebrews 12:22 says to believers, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” New Jerusalem

Christians experience this access to God’s presence in a partial sense now in this life, but will enjoy the fullness of His glory in the next life. When Christ returns, we the Church will be united with Him as His bride! The apostle John reports in Revelation 21:2, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” The bride will be dressed in the beautiful righteousness that Jesus traded us in exchange for our sin. He left our sin dead on the cross.

Will you be there dressed for the wedding?

Nathan Harley

[1] Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald B. Allen, and H. W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

March 28 – Mountaintops – Mount Gilboa

Read 1 Samuel 31:1-13 and 2 Samuel 1:1-27

David is widely known for his songs of worship and thanksgiving to the Lord.  The Psalms are filled with such expressions.  Similarly, several Psalms reflect pleading anguish written in desperation as Saul pursued David seeking to kill him.

In light of those realities, we would expect David’s song of 2 Samuel 1 to read differently.  What do I mean by that?  Let’s review some of what had happened.

  1. As king, Saul had repeatedly disobeyed the Lord and demonstrated his own willful rebellion against clear instructions God had given.
  2. God had clearly expressed his disappointment with Saul, even giving Samuel instruction to anoint another king.
  3. God had selected David as king.  In fact, His selection was made clear while Saul was still in office.  It was not to be realized until Saul’s death.
  4. Saul’s opposition to David was obvious.  He repeatedly attempted to murder the incumbent king.

So as the news trickled down to David from Mount Gilboa, one would expect David to Gilboa
rejoice.  After all, he would finally be able to assume the office for which he had been selected.  He would no longer have to be a man on the move, looking over his shoulder in fear of Saul’s next attempt to take his life.  It would seem to be the news that David had longed to hear.

But it wasn’t.

The man who expected to endear himself to David with a fabricated story of taking Saul’s life on Gilboa must have been surprised too.  Instead of being heralded as a hero, David had the man killed for taking the life of God’s anointed.  Instead of writing a song of praise, David wrote a song of mourning.  Instead of listing off all of his bad experiences with the man, David chose to honor him.

Rather than harboring anger and wishing ill on an enemy, David extended forgiveness and chose to see Saul as a person deserving of respect because of the position he held.

Friends, that example has broad application from how you respond to an enemy to how you speak of elected officials!

Steve Kern