Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on July 25, 1976
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a
mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO, I went to Israel during a time of great personal stress and strain. I rented a little Mustang convertible and spent three weeks just driving around in that land that we call holy, where Jesus walked and preached. I went because I have built my life on the premise that Jesus meant what He said when He prayed in John 17, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” He didn’t add anything to it: He said this is life eternal. So much “stuff” in the Christian world covers up Jesus. I had learned that even when you are working for the Lord, you can lose sight of the Lord Himself. I went to take a new fix on the Lord Himself, and I was human enough to want to be helped along by going to the places where He had ministered. I felt led of the Lord to visit some mountains; and I began to pay attention to the mountaintop experiences in our Lord’s ministry.
Throughout the Bible, mountains are used by men of God as places to get away from it all. God called Moses up on a mountain and gave him the covenant of the Old Testament. When Elijah faltered, the Lord let him to a mountain and He spoke to him there. (1 Kings 19:8-9) Again and again in Jesus’ ministry, He leaves the hustle and bustle and pressure of life and goes to a mountain, sometimes to stay for a long time. Luke tells us Jesus prayed all night on a mountain before He chose His disciples. (Luke 6:12)
So I drove all over that land, and I climbed mountains. I sat on those mountains to try to take a new fix on spiritual development crises times in the Lord’s ministry. It began to take shape in my mind that some of the mountains were typical of experiences that any servant of God must face on his journey. So I am going to preach a spiritual geography lesson, or “spiritual mountaineering” today. I am not speaking to the crowd, as much as to individuals, that somewhere in the message the Word might hone in right where you are and minister to you in that place.
If there is any one thing the Bible talks about concerning this Christian life, it’s that it is a journey, a process. You are forever moving on. While focusing on the mountaintop experiences of Jesus’ life, I began to tune in on why the Epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus “the captain,” or literally, the first-goer of salvation. (Hebrews 2:10) In the path that He followed, there are some things that you and I have to do, too. So take a journey with me today.
When I arrived in the land, there was trouble on every side. If you have ever been to Israel, all you have to do is land in Ben Gurion International Airport and go through that process of security to know it is a land full of trouble. It seems to have always been that way; it was a land of trouble when Jesus was there.
That morning after checking in to my hotel on the Mount of Olives, I headed down the hill and through that canyon where the brook of Kedron flows. Winding up the hill through Bethany, you top a rise where there is a modern road that heads down to Jericho, which is an oasis city in the Jordan Rift just a little north of the Dead Sea. I was there in mid-August; as you drive down through those barren wastes, the heat radiates. As I pitched off down the asphalt road, to the left there is a looming, barren, rocky, wilderness hill that towers above Jericho. Tradition identifies that mountain as the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus, after He was baptized, went into the wilderness.
Matthew’s Gospel presents the temptations in a consecutive order that most scholars accept as the actual sequence of events. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Mount of Temptation precedes the Sermon on the Mount which is in chapters 5 through 7. I spent two days coming and going, finding every little road I could take up to that mountain. Two days was about all I could endure as I drove in the heat. Our Lord spent 40 days there. Everybody knows about the temptation in the wilderness, but as I wandered around on that hill, I tried to come to grips with what that temptation really means, spiritually.
It was the first mountaintop experience, where Jesus had to settle something before He even got started on His ministry.
In your mind’s eye, imagine that desert waste and the kind of heat that Jesus had to face during those 40 days. He was weakened in exposure and fasting. Along came satan to tempt Him, doing what he is good at: quoting Scripture with his own little twist on it. He said, “Turn these stones to bread.” (Matthew 4:3) You have to be awfully hungry to even tune in on what Jesus was facing. The devil’s first temptation zeroed in on fleshly appetites; he tempted Jesus to do what was within His reach; to cater to His own flesh.
John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-14) The Greek word translated dwelt literally means “tented:” the Word tented in human flesh. He struck a tent and moved into flesh and blood. The book of Hebrews teaches He was kinned with us. He took our frame upon Himself. Every appetite, every desire, every fleshly drive became His. Theologians stumble over the question “was He really tempted?” Sure He was. The best way to interpret God’s book is to believe it means what it says. It says He was tempted. The devil came along and catered to fleshly appetites.
Jesus responded to the devil’s temptation of bread with a quotation that was right from Scripture, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Matthew 4:4) He resisted the temptation to yield to fleshly appetites and become a slave to His own desires.
After He mastered that fleshly appetite, along came the devil with the second temptation that catered to the desire to be super-spiritual. I don’t know how this was done, but the Scripture says the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. Some people imagine that the pinnacle spoken of might be the corner of the wall on the southeast side that towers about the brook Kedron. The devil said, “Didn’t God say He would give His angels charge over You? Cast Yourself down; the angels will catch You.” (Matthew 4:5-6) Can you envision that? Jesus was God’s Word revealed to men. He came to His own, and He would find His own would receive Him not. If you want to make an impact as a spiritual leader, I don’t know how to do better than to just get up on that pinnacle and dive off in full view of all the worshippers by the temple, then an angel comes along, catches you in his arms, wafts you down gently, and settles you on the ground. You would have a crowd in a hurry, wouldn’t you?
I see in Matthew’s chronology a pattern of that subtle deceiver of the brethren. The church has been so bogged down in the sins of the flesh that they seldom pay attention to the sins of the spirit. I happen to believe what the Bible reveals. God Himself recognizes that those sins of the flesh are the easiest ones to take care of. Once you conquer the flesh and die to that, you will still have to battle it throughout your days.
The real danger to the church and to Christians in their journey is in that spiritual area, because the minute you conquer the flesh, you feel so good about it and so super-spiritual that you are a setup for the devil who subtly tries to get you to show off your spiritual strength. The church world is overpopulated with that kind. They want spiritual power because it is just good to have the recognition of spiritual power. There are some people who covet the best gifts, not because they want God’s gifts to be expressed as He wills to the edification of the body of Christ, they just like the attention it brings. Jesus would neither cater to the flesh nor to the “spiritual” urge to become the giant spiritual image of the area in one fell swoop. He said, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” and He wouldn’t misuse God’s power to get attention for Himself. (Matthew 4:7)
When Jesus conquered the flesh and conquered the desire to be super-spiritual, then the devil came along with the last thrust. It will always be that way to anyone who achieves victory in the spiritual kingdom. He offers a way to short-circuit God’s plan and to get what God wants to give us anyway, compromised a bit with the devil’s stamp on it. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of this world. The irony of it is that God had promised all the kingdoms of this world to Jesus. You read about it in Philippians 2. God had promised Him everything, but the path to that was the will of God that led to Calvary where He would die for the sins of the world. “Wherefore,” following that, “God highly exalted him,” and made Him “a name which is above every name,” and “every knee should bow.” (Philippians 2:9-10) The devil, knowing that plan, comes along and offers a short circuit, a quick way, an easy path – but with a hook on it. Just leave the devil, that whispering voice that suggests a path other than God’s will: “Get thee hence, satan,” Jesus said, and He marched from that wilderness mountain. (Matthew 4:10) To let God do it in God’s time, God’s way, He came to die at Calvary.
As I sat on a dry, dusty , hot hill in Israel, I looked at myself and my path after God, and I ask you to look today. Christianity, as I have said, is not hard in the sense of being complicated; it is hard in the sense of being tough. It is not easy: self has to die. In Jesus’ case, He was just starting His ministry. As you begin to give your life to Jesus, and at that moment typified in the obedient act of baptism where you are buried and come out to give your life to God, expect the devil to go to work on you. His temptation will be to get you to bow to your own fleshly desires. After you conquer that, the temptation will arise to be super-spiritual for its own sake. When that fails, and you have mastered these in the flesh and in the spirit, the devil will come along and try to get you to deviate from the path of achieving God’s will His way in His time, which is the path of the cross. There is nothing mystical about that.
I don’t know where you stand, but if you are going to follow Jesus, you are going to walk off of that hill saying, “Lord, I am Yours to command. I will neither get in a hurry, not will I yield to the flesh, nor will I try to be super-spiritual. I’ll do things in Your way, in Your time. My job, since I gave myself to You, is to do Your will.”
I drove north, and what a complete contrast it was. If you have ever been to that land, you know why Jesus liked Galilee. You drop down off the bluff towards that sea that lies at the northern part of the Jordan Rift, where the breezes cool it. When you drive around the north side, there is a hill called the Mount of Beatitudes right above the ruins of the city Capernaum, on the south and a little east. On the west and southwest side, the hill fans out like an amphitheater. As I parked my car, I could imagine the crowds gathered at the Mount of Beatitudes to listen to Jesus. I sat there and looked at the hill and tried to put it in perspective with the Mount of Temptation and with what I considered to be the path of the Christian.
Once you make the commitment to God and will not let the devil bend you at all, you establish who the Master is. You will not be ruled by fleshly appetites, and you will not be driven with desire to be a spiritual showoff. You will let God do His will through you, His way, and you will not be tempted with any deviation. Then, God is going to give you an influence. You can write it down as a law. It will be God’s doing. You don’t have to be a speaker to crowds of thousands; it may be on your job or in your neighborhood. But I have seen a pattern in God’s development. He brought the Son to a position of prominence after He conquered temptation to where this trusted Servant could now be the Voice of God, and the multitudes gathered.
I opened Matthew, and I imagined Jesus preaching. Jesus is sometimes made out to be a namby-pamby type of preacher, but He is pretty tough. In His crowd there was every kind of person: religionists, Pharisees, Sadducees, crooks, politicians, gangsters, sinners of all kinds, and self-styled saints. Jesus never minced any words. He said, “I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) in this one stroke, He knocked the self-righteous ones aside. To those who would yield to fleshly indulgence, He said, “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out . . . If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” (Matthew 5:29-30) That is Jesus preaching!
To those who would look on religion as outward performance, Jesus zeroed in on the heart. To those who thought they were okay because they looked good outside, He said, “You’ve heard it said unto you, don’t commit murder; I say unto you, if you hate in your heart, you’re as guilty as the murderer. You’ve heard it said unto you, don’t commit adultery; I say unto you, if you desire in your heart, you’re as guilty as the adulterer.” He exposed the motives of their hearts.
To the spiritual showoffs, He said, “Take heed you don’t do your alms before men, to be seen of them. When you give your gifts to God, don’t sound a trumpet in front of you.” Can you imagine that scene? When they were giving to God they would send trumpeters in front of them to get attention. So when the offering was taken, everybody would see how much they gave. “When you pray, don’t be as the hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the street, that everybody might see them praying.” Spiritual showoffs. “When you fast, don’t do it like the hypocrites, wearing a long face and looking sad so that everybody knows you are hungering in your fast.”
“Enter ye in at the straight gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) That is pretty tough! What does that say to you?
The biggest pressure on me as a preacher, and I submit the biggest pressure on you as a Christian, is to forever compromise the truth of the gospel to what people want to hear. The biggest pressure on the church of God today is to get on the bandwagon of the modern humanists who have borrowed from the hedonists of ancient Greece and have made God a candy-striped god, or a Santa Claus, who only exists to cater to our wants. Once God has gotten you in shape and begins to use you and gives you an audience, then comes the test. Will you use it and perpetuate the popularity that He gave you by catering to what they want to hear, or will you let your life declare, “Thus saith the Lord?”
I happen to believe that all Jesus had to do was just turn the focus meter of truth a little bit, soften the blows, cater to what people wanted, and His popularity could have been perpetuated. I worry about a church, about a preacher, and about a Christian who has ever-growing approval from the world. It is Jesus who said that the world is going to hate us. It is Jesus who said, “Blessed are you when they persecute you.” (Matthew 5:10-11) It is the Word of God that says there will come those in the last days “heaping to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2 Timothy 4:3) They like to have their ears scratched by the people saying how wonderful they are because they are saying what the people want to hear. When God sees that you have passed the test of temptation and He gives you the voice and the audience where you have a chance to declare Him, follow Jesus and declare it the way He declared it. He didn’t mince any words, and it cost Him His crowd.
It was nighttime when I drove off the plain of Megiddo. I crossed a little bridge near the village of Nain, where a widow is immortalized in the Gospels; then I did something I have wanted to do for years. I turned left on a little road that goes up Mount Tabor. Scholars have debated for years whether or not the Mount of Transfiguration was Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor. Catholic tradition identifies it with Mount Tabor, which has a history down through the years of conflict by various religious groups trying to possess that land. Today, Barluzzi’s Church of the Transfiguration sits on the top.
It was nighttime; and I was there in a time of unrest. The road ran through villages in territory occupied since the Six-Day War. I was alone, but I said to myself I am going up there. I drove through the first village, and up that hill right about Nazareth to the north and the west, towering about the plain of Megiddo. Finally I broke out on the top, and to the right of the road was a clearing that hung about the bluff before you head down the road that goes to Barluzzi’s church. It was a full moon night; I could see the whole plain of Megiddo, and I started imagining Jesus’ experience on that hill.
I had driven; Jesus and three of His disciples had walked. They were tired when they got there. The Scripture records that the disciples went to sleep, and while they were sleeping God sent two others, Elijah and Moses. The Scripture also says something which may tell you why He was on that hill. It says they “spake to Jesus concerning His decease.” (Luke 9:31) You find as you read on in the Gospels, He will come down from that mountain to talk for the first time of the cross that lay ahead of Him. I believe He knew what would come next: He is going to steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, the Passion week will unfold and He is going to die. He fought it out in His spirit on the Mount of Temptation, dedicated to follow God all the way; He passed the test on the Mount of Beatitudes that He would not yield to popularity; He became the Voice of God. Now, leaving the crowds and facing the cross, He goes up a hill with three trusted disciples to talk about the tough path that lies ahead and to get ready for it.
Our first Captain suffered some of the things we have to suffer. And like every leader, He reached a stage where, I am sure as He faced a big test, He wanted some understanding, some sympathy, some sharing from those around Him. But they went to sleep.
One of the things that stand out about Jesus to me is the way everybody disappointed Him. If I am going to follow Jesus, and if you are going to follow Jesus, you are going to have to find out one of these days that you can’t count on anyone else. He did the will of God though everyone forsook Him!
As I sat there that moonlit night I imagined the Lord of Glory wanting some sympathy and understanding from His chief followers. They had followed Him, they had witnessed His miracles, now He is going to explain to them for the first time the path that lies ahead. He wanted some understanding – but they slept. So God sent Him two others who had learned to talk to God alone on a mountain. Isn’t it beautiful who God picked? Moses, who by himself had talked to God on Mount Sinai, and Elijah, who in his failure was sent by God to a mountain where the “still small voice” put him back on track. God sent those two giants, who had learned what it was to do God’s will alone, to strengthen Jesus.
If you follow the Lord, you are going to face the test of Temptation Mountain. You will face the test of Beatitude Mountain: whether you will please God or men. And somewhere you will face the test of whether or not what you do for God is going to rely on those around you and their support, or whether God is going to be enough.
I don’t expect God to send Elijah and Moses to talk to me. I wish He would! But I don’t have to have that. This book is full of the saints of God who teach me the lesson that all you really need is God! The problem is not God taking us through; the problem is our coming to that place of trust where God is enough to take us through. Even Jesus, the Lord of Glory, with the drag of flesh, wanted sympathy, wanted support, wanted understanding. That is normal, but He was taught by God before He got ready for the test that all He needed was God; and God provided the restoration, the help and the conversation. The message of Transfiguration Mountain is to take heart! We can trust God to take us through. He’s enough.
I left Transfiguration Mountain and drove to Jerusalem. I went into the garden tomb area and walked around behind that rock identified as Calvary by Gordon. It towers above the modern bus depot in Jerusalem today. On the top of it is an Arab graveyard. Those of us who believe that Gordon’s Calvary is the true one see the hand of God in putting a graveyard on the top of it, that it might be preserved and not desecrated.
I walked up through the graveyard and stood about that rock, and I retraced the steps of our Lord. He started at Temptation Mountain, where God tested His dedication. He was tested at Beatitude Mountain: would He please God or man? He was made ready at Transfiguration Mountain, where He learned that God is enough. And then Calvary.
What stands out about Calvary is that it came at the end. The last mountain was the toughest. You who think you are going to retire from the faith walk, let it settle in. Everything else prepared Him for it. We have seen this in the life of Moses; he endured to the end. Where was the toughest test in Paul’s life? In that prison cell 19 feet underground. The message of the book of Hebrews is hold fast until the end. Endure to the end! How terrible it is to see a runner run a race and collapse in the last lap. Saints, how many have found it tough in your life? It is going to get worse. God is getting you ready to break the tape.
I stood in that graveyard and said, “God, will You make me take a fix on the truth that it will not get easier?” Every step of the journey leads home, and the closer I get to home the closer that last test may loom; the toughest one is the last. And Jesus died there.
The next morning I drove out to another mountain. Luke 24 says that He took them out to a place called Bethany, the Mount of Olives. I will call it Ascension Mountain. He blessed them there, and He ascended. Dr. A.W. Tozer has said that no man who follows Jesus has a right to expect any more than Jesus got; and Jesus died a failure in the eyes of men. It took the Resurrection to vindicate Him. There are those who want the approval of men here and now. But if you follow Jesus and do His will, you may die a failure in the eyes of men and your mountain may kill you. But the Resurrection will vindicate those who follow Jesus. That is a long wait, but I made up my mind, I am going to wait.
I ask you today, where are you on your journey? You may still be battling it out on Temptation Mountain. If so, hang in there is my message. You may have a position of influence and the acid test may be coming down. If so, will you listen to God’s voice, or are you going to take over? If you’re on Transfiguration Mountain, with its disappointments in those around you, God will give you fresh encouragement, if you look to Him. You may be heading toward Calvary. So what! He was the firstfruits, and we will join Him in Heaven. That is what Christianity is about.
Re-printed with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
Prayer Requests for August,2014
For Vangie Gonzales (Silver City, NM), for health.
For Dennis Martin (Lexington, OK) who has had several heart surgeries.
For Rodney Bracken (Mount Sterling, IL), who has numerous health problems.
For Frederick Gray & his family (Oklahoma), for health.
For Willie Scott (Grady, Arkansas), that he will be granted clemency from the parole board.
For Michael Small’s Mom, Suzanne (Illinois).
For Anthony Grayson (Elmira, New York), that he finds legal assistance. The innocence project is looking at his case now.
For Mike Long (Larned, Kansas), for health.
For Sister Ann & the Carmelite nuns in Little Rock.
For Freddie Lee Lott (Chicago, Illinois), to stay “cancer free.”
For Robert Heffernan (Grady, Arkansas), that DNA evidence in his case will be tested.
For Frank Williams, Jr. (Grady, Arkansas). Frank’s retrial is over. He received a life sentence and is no longer on death row.
For all the Wingspread brothers who have recently gotten out of prison.
For Pastor Scott’s health; & her ministry in Los Angeles.
For our friend & neighbor, Ginger, for her strength and health.
For Margaret, for healing of glaucoma.
For all of us at Wingspread.
Quotable: “Life has no ultimate meaning unless it continues not temporarily but eternally, beyond both the grave and the passing existence of this physical universe. Consequently, life is only lived wisely to the extent that it is spent in preparation for the eternity which follows.”
Whatever Happened to Heaven?
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