There I stood, attached to a rope and a wearing a helmet. The only thing in front of me: a 50 ft. high wall of stone. The only thing behind me: 50 middle schoolers. The only thing I was supposed to do: climb that wall and ring the bell at the top. The only thing I wanted to do: throw up.
This was the dilemma I found myself in during the summer of 1999 when I took a group of sixth, seventh and eighth graders to Young Life camp in Oakbridge, California. Our days were filled with activities and games and on this particular Tuesday, rock climbing was the task du jour. As some of you know, I really do not like heights, and I have done only about a half dozen pull ups IN MY LIFE, therefore, rock climbing has about as much appeal to me as pouring Tabasco sauce on an open wound. However, with the cheering masses of pimpled faces behind me, I had no choice but to suck it up and go for it. As I started toward the wall, I looked up and saw nothing but sandy colored rock, warmed by the desert sun. I did not know what to do. I had been told to climb the rock, but that general command was doing nothing for me. Thankfully, the instructor (seeing the confusion on my face) came over and told me to climb up using the blue colored hand holds that had been bolted into the rock face. After hearing this advice, my eyes switched their focus from the largeness of the rock, to the specific handholds that made a zig zag line to the top. Once I noticed these blue handholds, the situation got a lot clearer to me. Instead of requiring me to understand the whole rock, I had a specific place to grab onto and pull up to the next level. Using this strategy, I started my ascent. Five grueling minutes later, I rang the bell at the top of the mountain and repelled down. The blue hand holds had given me something to grab onto on the rock, and allowed me to reach the goal.
Now, with the picture of that mountain at Oakbridge in your mind, let’s look at another mountain. This mountain is found in Palestine and the scene goes all the way back to about 2000 B.C. The climb up this mountain was far more difficult than the mountain I scaled in the summer of 1999. This mountain was difficult to climb, not because of its vertical ascent (as there was a path that led up this hill), but because of the cargo that had to be carried along. The climber who ventured up this hill was none other than the Old Testament patriarch Abraham, and the cargo that he carried was a pile of firewood, and his curious little boy, wondering what they were doing so far from home. You see Abraham had only one son with his wife Sarah, and Isaac, that curious little boy, was that son. God had promised to make of Abraham a mighty nation, and that nation would become a river of blessing to the entire world, but all that seemed in jeopardy this day as Abraham and Isaac climbed the mountain together. God had told Abraham to offer Isaac up on an altar as a sacrifice . . . that’s right, God told Abraham to kill his son. Now this seemed to run contrary to the previous promises of God. What was Abraham to do? As he stood before that mountain leading up to the altar of sacrifice, Abraham was faced with a choice. If someone had been there that day talking to Abraham, they might have been tempted to say something sincere, but generic . . . something like “You just have to trust God.” This was and is a true statement, but it has about as much direction as telling me in the summer of 1999 to just “climb that rock.” No, if Abraham were to take this scary step, he needed something more specific to place his faith in. He needed some hand holds into the character of our God to trust in as he climbed the mountain by faith. Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us a clue as what those hand holds of truth were when it says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” As seen in these verses, Abraham grabbed onto the fact that God would make good on His promises no matter what . . . even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead! With that truth as an anchor, Abraham grabbed on, and climbed the mountain. This event is very important, because it showed us how Abraham was living by faith. As James 2:21-23 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.”
So, how about you? Think of a mountain in your life that God is asking you climb by faith. You know the mountains. They will be different for all of you, but I can guarantee that in this month, you will each find yourself, helmet firmly fastened, staring up at what appears to be a 50 ft. high rock of truth. For some of you, this is the rock of purity. Your feelings are pulling you toward an inappropriate level of physical intimacy with someone other than your spouse, and you don’t know what to do. Your Christian friends tell you to trust God, but that seems like such a big mountain to climb. For others of you, this is the rock of trust. You are feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety about your future, and you don’t know what to do. Your Christian friends tell you to trust God, but that seems like such a big mountain to climb. Still for others of you, maybe this is the rock of depression. No matter how hard you try, you are spinning downward into a dark, joyless existence. Your Christian friends tell you to trust God, but that seems like such a big mountain to climb. As you find yourself in front of these rocks, take a closer look. Firmly fastened onto the stone walls are blue hand holds of specific truths about God that we can place our faith in as we climb. Before you climb, take the time to identify the hand holds of truth from God’s Word and then trust in them by faith by actively living in accordance with their truth, we will ascend the mountains and reach our goal of maturity in Christ.
This Christmas season, as we “climb our mountains by faith” we need to remember God’s love for us that pulls us upward. God showed us His love by sending His Son to die for us. God provided an alternate sacrifice (a ram caught in the thicket) instead of requiring Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, but God did not provide an alternative for His own Son, Jesus. He offered up Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, and we can have a relationship with God as a result. As we trust in God to climb the mountains of our life, we need to be encouraged that God’s love keeps us from falling.