“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” – John Muir
I think I would have enjoyed hanging out with John Muir, also known as “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks.” I resonate with his sentiments about the mountains at a deeply visceral level. So much so that I have this very quote prominently displayed in my home office, just below a map of our National Park System and just above a map of Colorado’s “14ers” (mountain peaks with a summit of over 14,000 feet).
Ever since I caught my first glimpse of the Rockies at age seven, I have had a passionate love affair with the mountains. By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to climb to the top of several 14ers over the years. I have seen Mt. Everest, the highest point on this planet, with my own two eyes (from a plane, that is). I have also been to the highest points in many of the states here in the U.S. (I even made it to the top of Mt. Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas!)
Jesus loves the mountains, too. He made them, after all, so I think it is safe to say that he would resonate deeply with John Muir’s quote as well. Just consider how many of his most significant moments in public ministry took place in the high country of ancient Palestine:
- Mount of Temptation, also known as Mount Quarantine (Latin for “40 days”), where Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness of Judea
- Mount of Beatitudes, a hillside along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus delivered his “Sermon on the Mount”
- Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus displayed his glory to Peter, James and John in the presence of Moses and Elijah
- Mount of Olives, where Jesus often went to rest and pray during his final week on earth, and where he was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the temple guards
- Mount Zion, also known as the Temple Mount, where Jesus worshiped regularly, taught frequently, and clashed continually with the religious leaders of his day
- Mount Calvary, also known as Golgotha (“the Place of the Skull”), one of the highest points in Jerusalem, where Jesus was publicly humiliated, tortured and crucified
- Mount of Ascension, where Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection and gave them a Great Commission before returning to the right hand of the Father
Jesus experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the mountains, and never more so than during that very first Holy Week in Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, he descended from the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and then gradually ascended the Temple Mount to a chorus of cheers: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” But these triumphal cheers would soon turn to hateful jeers just a few days later on Good Friday, after being led in shackles from the very same Mount of Olives, across the very same Kidron Valley, up the very same Temple Mount, where this very same crowd shouted with one voice: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They continued to hurl insults at him all the way along the Via Dolorosa until he finally arrived at Mount Calvary, where what appeared to be the darkest moment in human history actually signaled the beginning of the end for the forces of darkness in our world. The victory was complete and irrefutable by the time Easter morning came around, and will soon be consummated when our risen Lord returns to establish his New Jerusalem here on earth, as the glory of Mount Zion is restored under the everlasting reign of our good and beautiful God. Even the most euphoric epiphanies in this world cannot hold a candle to what is awaiting us in the world to come: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Those of you who have been to the top of Pike’s Peak, one of the most visited mountains on the planet and the pinnacle upon which Katherine Lee Bates penned the words to “America the Beautiful,” will not soon forget the view. The experts tell us that on the clearest of days you can actually see five different states from the summit (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Kansas), and even the curvature of the earth fading into the distance. I can’t prove it, but I have a theory that the word “breath-taking” may have been invented here.
And yet, even Pike’s Peak in all of its glory is really just another “false summit” at the end of the day, a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountains from the climber’s limited vantage point, but upon reaching the top, it turns out that the ultimate apex is even higher. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Pike’s Peak (elevation 14,115) is not the highest point in Colorado. That honor belongs to Mt. Elbert (elevation 14,433). Oh, and by the way, Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth, rises to an elevation of 29,029 feet above sea level, more than double the elevation of Pike’s Peak!
And that, my friends, is not a bad metaphor for life in the Kingdom of heaven. The farther and higher you go, the bigger and better it gets.
No one knows this better than those faithful friends of Jesus who have gone before us, that “great cloud of witness” who are now experiencing unlimited visibility and unparalleled beauty as they take their place with Jesus around the very “throne of God,” the centerpiece of “Mount Zion,” the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:1, 2, 22).
As C.S. Lewis summarizes so beautifully and so hopefully in The Last Battle, the final volume in his Chronicles of Narnia:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all of my life, though I never knew it till now … come further up, come further in!”
In his discourse on heaven in The Great Divorce, Lewis offers this tantalizing conclusion:
“Every one of us lives only to journey farther and farther into the mountains.”
Happy trails, my friends!
– David O. Williams, Lead Superintendent