There it was. Through the haze of the warm afternoon, the mountain came into view.
Soon they would see him again.
It had taken them days to get there. Every step to the north, every step down from the mountain of God, was filled with bewildered hope. For most of them, they were travelling home, back to the country they had roamed in their youth, back toward the sea they had swam in as children, worked on as young adults, and on whose shore they had first seen him.
But all that seemed so long ago. An age had passed since then, and life would never be the same.
How could it be? They had walked with God, or rather, God had walked with them.
On the very sea he had called them on, they had seen him stride through stormy gale. This same sea opened up its gates to receive the swine, now filled with a legion of the accursed, while a reborn man knelt weeping at the feet a carpenter from Nazareth. And now, it was to the land around this sea that they returned.
Their journey stretched from one mountain to another. The mountain they had left still bore the scars of the gore that had been spilt upon it. A mountain that had buckled under the wrath of heaven as sin left a crimson stain. And while the scenes of their riven Lord seared fresh in their memory, it was to a different mountain they now looked. A mountain of hope. This was the mountain the Teacher had pointed out to them, the mountain where he would walk with them once more.
As they neared the foot of the mountain, conversations of empty tombs, locked doors, rushing wind, and tongues of fire echoed amongst this little band of brothers. Everything was different now. Every conversation shared with their Master now replayed with crystal clarity, wisdom from on high resting in uneducated men, divine treasure in clay pots.
With every step up the mountain of hope, conversation retreated. Inward thoughts swirled in quiet wonder. The sound of sandal on stone broken only by the intermittent humming of Psalms of ascent. One by one the well-known tune drew out the rough notes of fisherman whose tongues were more accustomed to cursing then praise.
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
As the words still hung in the air, they bridged a crest and saw him.
It wasn’t an unusual sight. After all, for three years they walked beside this man, ate with him by the evening fire, and slept beside him under the expanse of the heavens. For three years they heard him teach, saw him extend his hand to the broken and the outcast, felt his tender care as he loved them even when they could not understand. No, it wasn’t unusual, but it was a miracle.
They’d seen his broken body slump, his rasping breath go quiet, his trembling outstretched fingers go still. They’d seen his lifeless form sprawled on the ground as the cross was dropped for his body to be taken away. They’d seen the death shroud wrapped crudely and hurriedly before being laid on a cold stone in darkness. They’d seen him. A thousand times seen him. The scene replayed in nightmarish horror each time they closed their eyes. Yet, here he was.
All earth stood still.
Immanuel. How can it be?
Jesus turned from his view over the valley below. His eyes pierced theirs, his teeth clearly seen behind his growing smile. His hands once again stretched wide toward them, but this time they carried no load, instead they welcomed and beckoned.
Knees buckled. Then, from some deep recess of divine memory, echoed John the Baptisers words, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
Tears flowed. Worship began.
But some doubted...
What an incredible scene. And yet, for all the wonder of that day, even the wonder of that moment, this is how Matthew records it:
Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
I think that for so many years my eyes leapt to, "All authority...", but in doing so, I've overlooked a great mystery.
"And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted."
But some doubted.
What a phenomenal phrase. That as the risen Christ, the Lamb of God, is presented before his closest followers, some rushed forward in worship while others fell back in doubt.
Thus it was, and forever shall be. At least, that is the case this side of glory.
As week after week our churches present the risen Christ who once was dead but is alive forever more, there are those who respond in authentically spiritual worship, while others are weighed down in their doubt and fears.
Yet regardless of the response, we must never cease to direct our vision to the radiant one of God. Only Jesus can overcome our fears and doubts.
Pastors and preachers: Paint a picture of Jesus before your people; lead them ever upward to find their soul's delight in Immanuel, God with us. Immerse yourself so deeply in the gospel that it would ooze from your very being as you continually lead others to the feet of our Saviour.
But remember, you will find worshipers, and you will find doubters.
Jesus is enough. He sees the worship and the doubt—then in his stride beckons us to look over his shoulder to the valley below and says, "Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Continue the mission. Lead people to me. I will never abandon you."
"I will never abandon you."