1 Corinthians 15:1-10
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
But God, the true God, is not like us. He does not chose this mountain because you can climb up to Him in the heavens there. Instead He uses it as a place to condescend our thoughts of God and come down to us. His “mountain” is merely a hillock surrounded by other hillocks, in the hill country. His mountain does not dominate the landscape. It is not high, or large, or grandiose. It is simply place to have access to Him.
It is His place of salvation. For centuries earlier Abraham had climbed up that same mountain to sacrifice his son Isaac. He was commanded to do so by God. For God is not like us. But Abraham knew God’s promise to him that through his son Isaac he would be the father of a great nation. And that a son of Isaac’s would bless all other families of the earth. Abraham went up that mountain to sacrifice his son knowing that God would raise him from dead if need be. For God is not like us. He does not break His promises. He is true to them.
And at the moment that Abe stood there with Isaac on the altar, knife raised to slay his son, the Angel of Lord, the Second Person of the Trinity, saved Isaac and Abraham. He stayed his hand. He provided a ram for the sacrifice. For Jesus means God is salvation. And even before He took on flesh true to His name He was saving His people.
This is why the temple was on that hill. For that hill is the place of God’s salvation. But since God is not like us you do not go up that hill to manipulate God, to buy him with your offerings, promises, or good works. You do not impress him the way you try to impress someone when trying to make business deal or on a first date. You don’t bring anything with you to buy His favour when you climb His holy hill.
We see that with the Pharisee and the tax-collector. Two men go up the hill. But notice how they climb. One has his head hung low. The other has his head held high. Nose in the air. Haughty. Arrogant. Convinced of his own righteousness. He goes to brag to God, to impress Him, thinking this will win him favour with the Almighty.
The other is lowly. A sinner. He knows he has no right to climb that hill. He will barely enter the temple. He stands far off at the door. He won’t lift his head. For sin has crushed him. Maybe he’s afraid that lightening will strike him for setting foot in that holy place. Yet in faith he comes. Not faith in himself. Not faith in his own goodness. For life, and his own actions and thoughts have shown him he has no goodness in himself. He has faith in a God who is not like us. A God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. A God who forgives. A God who unjustly gives His Son as the just payment for my sin. A God who promises goodness to those who do not deserve it and have not earned it.
Generations earlier Abel came to a similar altar. Similarly low. Bringing an offering, not to buy God’s love, but simply because it is right. Knowing that as a son of the first sinners who ruined everything he had no standing before God, no right to come to Him. He knew he would only be accepted by God if God was merciful. He came like the tax-collector saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
That is the Christian faith. It trusts in God’s mercy in Christ the saviour. It clings to His promises of grace to sinners. It does not look to itself. We know how the pharisee and Cain came to the Lord. They strode up that mountain like God owed them. They bragged of their good works. The pharisee said, “Look at my works, at my spirituality. I fast. I tithe. I am so much better than others.” Cain came to God with his vegetables saying, “Look, Lord, I am rebuilding Eden. I will restore paradise. I will do it.” Arrogant. Nose in the air. They thought themselves high and lofty as they climbed those hills to God. But their faith was not in God’s unfathomable mercy but in their run-of-the-mill goodness. With noses so high in air they could not but look down on everyone else. This is not the Christian faith. Repent of such.
For we are tempted to be that way aren’t we. “Lord, I suffer for you. I do what you want. I have worked so hard to do what you say, and yet I don’t get ahead. The wicked prosper. Why?”
But God is not like us. He does not tell us why. He only tells us of His Son. His Son who came down from heaven. His Son who died for wickedness: theirs and ours. His Son who died for self-righteousness, for anger over what seems so unfair, for the wickedness of the world, and for the wickedness of His own people’s hearts.
You see, though we go up God’s holy hill, Christian faith is not lofty or high. It is lowly like Abel, like the tax-collector. You go up low and come down high for He lifts you up.
For what does the sinner brought low find on God’s mountain? A great and glorious God clothed with thunder and lightening? Only when you go up that hill with your own righteousness in hand to show God how good you are. Then you come like Moses to Mt. Sinai and the Ten Commandments with its fearsome thunder, lightening and power. But when you go lowly you come instead to one of Zion’s lesser peaks, shaped liked a skull, where our God is lifted up and throned on a cross.
So we come humbly, not daring to look upon our God. Horrified by what our sin has done to Him. But in faith nonetheless we come. For nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.
And going up God’s mountain this way, we come back down justified. Right with God. Declared innocent of all our transgressions. Lifted up by God our Father. For from His cross Jesus said, “It is finished. Sin is finished. He paid sin’s price in full. God the Father holds nothing against you.
For in Holy Baptism the sinner is enthroned with Christ. Enthroned on His cross. Dead there to sin in Him. Alive to God in Christ.
And this is not some cleverly devised fable. This is the meaning of His cross and resurrection. His death and resurrection are facts witnessed to by hundreds. And this fact gives us humility and love for others to treat others as He treated us. For God is not like us. He treats us not according to our actions toward Him but according to His love for us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON