See the Mountain of the Lord
A sermon based on Isaiah 2:1-5
November 28, 2010 –Advent 1A
Ever been mountain climbing? If you have I doubt anyone here's ever climbed Mount Everest. The permit to attempt it costs about $25,000 US, partly just to make money of Tibet and Nepal's biggest tourist attraction, but in part to deter people from the attempt.
At 29,032 feet (or 5½ miles) above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. It was first conquered in 1953 after countless failed attempts and 11 lives lost. Since then there have been more than 200 more deaths on the mountain—with sub-zero temperatures and so little oxygen in the air that most are exhausted just trying to breath. In fact, conditions are so harsh that most of those 200 corpses have been left where they fell, a few of which—still frozen—are visible from the standard climbing routes. What an awesome mountain.
And yet, there is a mountain that is higher than Mount Everest. And even thought it's higher, the conditions on this mountain aren't harsh at all. They're perfectly tranquil and peaceful. This evening we travel with the prophet Isaiah to See the Mountain of the Lord. We'll see how it's the highest mountain there is and at the same time, the most peaceful mountain there is. Listen now to Isaiah's prophecy recorded for us in Isaiah 2:1-5…
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths."
I. The Highest Mountain There Is
This is the vision Isaiah saw. Now that's important to note. This isn't something he came up with by his own imagination. It's not some poetry he sat down to create. This is a vision from God that Isaiah watched and recorded for us. Why? To reveal to us what the last days would be like to get us ready (and keep us ready) for the advent—that is, the coming—of Christ.
So when are these last days? Right now! Peter made it clear in his Pentecost sermon that the prophecies about the "Last Days" were being fulfilled that day. He said, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.'" (Acts 2:16-17a) The writer to the Hebrews says the same: "in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:2) The last days have been going on since Jesus walked the earth.
So it's happening right now when Isaiah says, "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it." So what's he talking about? Is Mount Moriah—the mountain of the Lord's temple—bigger than other mountains? Not really. Are people streaming to that politically charged hotbed of turmoil, unrest and terrorism? Not really. Besides Jesus pointed out that these words were not to be taken literally, but figuratively when he said to the Samaritan woman at the well, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." (John 4:21, 23)
And what Jesus said also explains what this mountain is figuratively. It's the true worshipers of God. Mount Zion and the Mountain of the Lord are images used throughout the Bible of the true Christian church. See the mountain Isaiah saw? It's huge! Wherever someone trusts the gospel, there is the Mountain! It's so big, it covers the universe! And this mountain is higher than any other mountain. When every other mountain fails to reach heaven, this mountain does. And this mountain is so "high" that it can be seen around the world: …All nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths."
Like people rushing to the stores last Friday to get those once in a lifetime deals, so people from around the world rush to this mountain to hear the good news of forgiveness. Literally, the word "peoples" in verse 3 is Gentiles. That means that this Mountain of Salvation is meant for us too…
But how often do we stream to it? Don't we sometimes run away from it instead? We run toward our beds and away from worship. We run toward the TV and away from our Bibles. We run our dollars to the stores to get those great deals forgetting to run to the altar to bring our offerings of thanks to Jesus. And when we are confronted with our mountains of sin, wouldn't we rather run toward some other mountain to find a solution? Perhaps we'd choose the mountain of "I'm not that bad." "I may not be perfect, but I'm not that bad. God will surely see that I could be a lot worse and let me into heaven." Or perhaps we run toward Mount "Try Hard" and struggle to climb our way to the top. "I try my hardest to be good and pay for my mistakes. That's all anyone can ask, that I do my best."
But trying to climb those mountains is like trying to climb a ladder into heaven. They're never going to be tall enough. We can never be perfect (as God demands we be) by comparing ourselves to others or by trying harder. That's not something we like to hear—that we're not good enough for God and never can be, no matter how hard we work. But when we realize we can't get there on our own, we turn to him and through his prophets, through his Word, he reveals his Mountain, the Mountain of the Lord and Mount Calvary where he did the work for us. And this mountain is high enough. It takes us all the way to heaven.
You know, something I've noticed every time I've been back in the Midwest. Even without a GPS it's easy to know where you are. You just have to look up. In every town is a water tower with the name of that town printed clearly on the side. You know where you are, and you have a geographical landmark for miles and miles.
When we sometimes get lost in life—lost in the problems we have with relationships, with the finances, with work, when we get lost in our sin and our guilt. We just have to look up… and see the Mountain of the Lord. Then we know exactly where we are—in God's church, a part of his family. Then we have a fixed location to guide us so we can navigate through life. Knowing that our sins are forgiven, that heaven is ours, and that our Jesus is coming soon, gives us the courage and strength to navigate through life.
And when we do see the Mountain of the Lord, and put our trust in the highest mountain there is, then we'll experience the peace that God promises. Isaiah continues…
II. The Most Peaceful Mountain There Is
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
During my first year at the seminary I took a trip with some classmates to do some work at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in New York City, and one of the days of the trip we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing. We visited all the major sites: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Centers. And when we went to visit the United Nations I noticed that on a wall across the street from the UN plaza these words from Isaiah were engraved, "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
The world longs for peace: They want an end to terrorism. They want an end to war. They want an end to the murder and bloodshed they read in the paper every day. And perhaps even more they want internal peace: They want an end to the pain they feel. They want an end to their guilt or their regret. They want to know that God loves them and be at peace.
The latter kind of peace—internal, not external—God gives at the Mountain of the Lord. Jesus told us that in the end times, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." (Matthew 24:6-7) There will never be a perfect external peace on earth. There will never be a time when the world's weapons are literally destroyed and remade into farming tools. But there is a very real peace for the world found on that Mountain. And it comes through the Word…
"The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." First, the law does its work of destroying any thoughts that we can find peace in ourselves or in our actions. Then the gospel shows us the peace that we have in Jesus' mission accomplished for us. He climbed the Mountain for us. He went to Jerusalem to be tried and condemned for us. He went to Mount Zion—Mount Calvary—to be crucified and suffer hell for us. And as a result of his work Jesus could said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) We are perfect and holy in God's sight. And we're at peace with him.
And being at peace with God results in having peace with others. After all, what does it matter to me that I do more than my fair share of the work? Jesus did all the work in winning my salvation. What does it matter to me that I've been hurt? Jesus has forgiven me when I put him on the cross. What does it matter that others hate me? Jesus died for me when I was his enemy. When I'm hurt or angry or frustrated, I don't need to reach for the sword or the spear, but for the Word. There I find peace and recipients of God's peace can't help but become peace-makers.
So dear friends, "Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord." Continue to stream to the Mountain of the Lord—here in worship and at home in your Bibles. And as you grow in your appreciation for the peace of God that's yours. Strive for peace with others and share God's peace with others. "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) And they too will stream to the Mountain of the Lord.
In the movie "Field of Dreams" an Iowa corn farmer hears voices telling him to build a baseball diamond in one of his fields. The voice promises "If you build it, they will come." God gives you a similar promise. Share the gospel with others. They are longing for peace. And when you do, "all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…" If you share it, they will come.
Rejoice dear friends in the peace that you have! A peace won not by treaties or nuclear arms reduction, but a peace won by your Savior on the Mountain of the Lord. "And the peace of God, which transcends," that is, rises higher than, "all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) In his name, dear friends, amen.