(The Last Sunday after Epiphany) March 6, 2011
2 Peter 1:16-21
246, 135, 527, 719 [TLH alt. 657]
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended. Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
In Christ Jesus, the Prophet and Servant who is even greater than Moses, dear fellow Christians:
If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Baraboo, WI, I’d recommend a stop at Devil’s Lake State Park. It covers a large, beautiful area of lake and woods, and there are a variety of different hiking trails. Some of the trails are wide level, and paved which makes for easy walking, and many visitors stick to those. Then there is one called the Balanced Rock trail. It is much narrower and the trail guide describes it as a “difficult, steep, climbing trail with stone steps on the south face.” Which trail would you take?
There are choices like this throughout life regarding work, relationships with other people, and our standing with God. Jesus says there is a broad, easy road of least resistance, and then there is a narrow, uphill path. Which is better? Which will you take? Today, let’s learn from Moses as we follow him on the trail up the mountain.
As we slowly make our way up the mountainside and pick our path among the rocks, we are amazed at Moses. We have a hard time keeping up with this 120 year-old who climbs like a man less than half his age. He waits for us to catch up and then takes the opportunity to talk about the journey. He explains that it actually began 40 years earlier when God called to him from the burning bush and sent him to Egypt to lead Israel out of slavery. He had faced mighty Pharaoh and when the proud ruler refused to let the people go, Moses had announced a series of devastating plagues from the Lord. Finally, after the killing of the firstborn, Pharaoh let Israel go, but then quickly changed his mind and pursued them with his army. Moses held his staff over the Red Sea, and God made an escape route right through the parted waters. Those same waters became the Egyptians’ grave. Throughout the entire journey to Canaan, God was faithful in His love and care for the people. He fed them with manna and saw to it that their clothing and shoes did not wear out.
The people, however, were anything but faithful. They whined and complained about how God was mistreating them, and they longed for the “good old days” in Egypt. When Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the stone tablets of the Law, they had Aaron make a golden calf for them to worship. Even though they deserved to have God abandon them in the desert to both physical and eternal death, Moses interceded for them. He even offered that God could erase his name from the Book of Life and spare Israel. Moses was God’s faithful prophet and mouthpiece. He was humble, strong, and capable. Under his leadership, the people arrived on the border of the Promised Land.
After reviewing his life for us, Moses once again starts up the mountain. A wave of sadness washes over his face and a tear wells up in the corner of his eye. He goes on to say that he can’t remember how many times along the way he dreamed of that day when he would finally cross the Jordan and set foot in the Promised Land. He dreamed, that is, until God told him that he would not be allowed to enter the land. It was not due to old age or failing health, but to a spiritual failing. Once when the people were wailing about a lack of water, God told Moses to speak to a rock, and He would cause water to flow from it. But rather than obey and speak a word of God’s grace, Moses in anger and frustration lashed out at the people: “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 NIV). Then, instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it with his staff. The consequence of his disobedience was that he would not enter the Promised Land. For all of Moses’ hard work and greatness, he came up short.
Look back on your journey so far. Are you any better? When the Lord says, “Follow Me on the narrow path of faith,” do we lace up our hiking boots and say, “Lead the way, Lord. I’m ready!”? Aren’t we often more like Israel and say, “I don’t want to go that way. I have a different path in mind.” We have not stayed on the path the Lord has mapped out for us as believers, children, parents, spouses, and neighbors to those around us. We have grumbled and complained. We, too, deserve to be disowned by God and left to eternal death.
Moses interceded for Israel, but who interceded for Moses? Who speaks in our defense? Who can complete our imperfect, unfinished lives? We need someone greater than Moses. Moses and Israel needed Him too. Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15 NIV). The Father pointed out that greater Prophet on the Mount of Transfiguration when He said of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5). Moses had a face-to-face relationship with God, but Jesus is the only-begotten Son, one with the Father and the Spirit. God sent Moses to speak His Word. God sent Jesus as the Word-made-flesh to speak and fulfill His saving message. Moses was ready to sacrifice his own life. Jesus did lay down His life on Mount Calvary as the sacrifice for the sins of all.
Every day on our journey through the wilderness of this world, we face a choice of directions in the clothes we pull out of the closet, in the language we use, in how we spend our free time, and in our overall attitude toward life. The world beckons us to take the wide, paved path, and it is certainly the most popular. There are no steep inclines or rocky patches of persecution. There is no straining of spiritual muscle or doing anything which the sinful nature does not want to.
But what would Moses advise? In light of his disappointment over not being able to enter the Promised Land, we might expect that he would tell us the narrow path of faith is not worth it. But in his farewell address to Israel in the chapters before our text, he urges them to remain faithful to the Lord. He would tell us the same. It is without question a difficult path. But we don’t have to make the climb by our own strength. The Lord calls us to follow Him and promises to provide directions and the strength we need for the journey. Isaiah writes: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary…He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31). Follow Moses up the mountain of faith and obedience. Set out each day with the prayer: “Lord, lead and bless me on Your path!” Trust that it is worth the climb.
The Balanced Rock trail at the state park lives up to its description. It is a difficult, narrow, steep trail with many switchbacks. It takes a lot of time, energy, and patience to climb it. But it is also worth it because the view from the top is stunning. The lake lies hundreds of feet directly below your feet. Surrounding it in every direction for miles are rolling hills blanketed with trees. You could stay there for hours forgetting everything else and just relaxing.
The climb with Moses to the top of Mount Nebo opens up an even more spectacular panoramic view of all the territory which God would give Israel. But it was more than an awesome sight. This was the confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would possess the land. It was the down payment that the rest of God’s promises would also be fulfilled at the proper time, including the one which told how in Abraham’s family all the nations of the earth would be blessed for the Savior would be born from that family.
Moses’ faith was not disappointed. He never entered Canaan. He died there on the mountain and was buried by God. But on the Mount of Transfiguration he appeared alive with Elijah, talking with Jesus in His glory about the work He was about to complete in Jerusalem. The Son of God whose face shone brighter than the sun and whose clothing was whiter than white would humble Himself even to the point of becoming a curse for us. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was forsaken by the Father so we would be accepted. He suffered eternal death on the cross so we could live forever.
We see it even more clearly than Moses did, for the Lord has led us up to the mountaintop of His Word and shown us the fulfillment. It is worth the climb, not just once, but over and over again. Jesus is ready to lead us as He led Moses, Peter, James, and John. Do we follow, or do we tell Him, “It is pretty smooth down here, and there is plenty of company. Besides, I’m incredibly busy, so perhaps some other time”?
Make the time this Lenten season to follow the Lord up the mountain. As He leads us higher we can look down and see our life for what it is. We can see the blunders and stumbles, our guilt, and the trouble we have brought on ourselves by trying to go our own way. But keep climbing, for the view from the top is extraordinary. There spread out before us are all of God’s promises—from the first one made to Adam and Eve to Jesus’ promise that He will return at the end of time.
But what truly takes our breath away is the view of Jesus Himself. His glory outshines everything else! The brilliant white of His righteousness replaces the black, filthy rags of our sin. His suffering and death remove the curse from us. His peace calms our every fear and uncertainty.
When you look ahead, the path the Lord calls us to follow can be intimidating. Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV). But don’t worry. We don’t have to travel it alone. The Servant of the Lord, the one prefigured by Moses, but greater than Moses, leads the way. His righteousness is our traveling clothes and His cross clears the path for us. Keep following Him. The view of endless glory at the top is worth the climb! Amen.
Lord, take my hand and lead me
Upon life’s way;
Direct, protect, and feed me
From day to day.
Without Your grace and favor
I go astray;
So take my hand, O Savior,
And lead the way.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.