Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove
When you think of worship, what comes to mind? Is it a grand building, beautiful music, powerful preaching, people falling at the altars? And what about mountaintop worship? Isn’t that worship where we ascend to the peak of ecstatic spiritual expression? Isn’t that the place were we find God in His fullness empowering us to worship Him? If there is such a thing as mountaintop worship, then it follows that the ascent up the mountain will require holy sweat, a work of faith, and a labor of love.
I grew up in West Virginia. I grew up wading creeks and climbing hills. And I remember as a young boy seeing what’s called a right-of-way that had been cleared up the side of the hill. The green path, wider than a two-lane highway, looked like a stairway to heaven. I remember telling my mother and my aunt that I wanted to climb that hill. Seeing how high and steep the hill was they declined. I never forgot that scene and the desire I had to climb that hill. Years later I worked with a crew that cleared those right-of-ways for the gas companies whose gas lines ran through the middle of the right-of-ways. We traveled to the mountainous parts of the state and with gasoline powered brush cutters and chainsaws we climbed and cut. It was hard, hot, dangerous work and one summer spent cutting right-of-ways made me realize that getting to the mountaintop is hard work.
Let’s turn to our text and work our way through it, because at the end of the story there is a mountaintop experience. By looking at Abraham we can learn the principles for ascending to mountaintop worship.
I) UNCONDITIONAL AVAILABILITY
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tested [nacah (naw-saw’); to test] Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.”Abraham knew the voice of God. People who worship God on a consistent basis will know God’s voice when He speaks. People who have spent time in the presence of God will not be fooled by another. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).
Abraham responded to God’s voice with unconditional availability. He said simply, “Here I am.” This is the response of great men throughout Scripture:
In Gen. 46:2 God spoke to Jacob in a vision of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.”
In Ex. 3:4 God called to Moses out of the midst of the burning bush, saying, “Moses, Moses.” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
In 1 Sam. 3:4 the Lord called Samuel, and Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
In Isaiah 6:8 Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then Isaiah said, “Here I am; send me.”
The songwriter wrote, “Yes, Lord, yes. To Thy will and to thy Word I’ll say, “˜Yes, Lord, yes.” This is the answer of great men and women of faith, “Here I am.”
II) UNBELIEVABLE DEMAND
The reason we seldom get to ascend the mountain peaks of worship is that we so often fail to recognize the voice of God inviting us to ascend to a higher level in our walk with Him. It is easer to circle the mountain on the plateaus than it is to press upward and onward. Too often when God speaks a word of correction, or a word of challenge, or when God speaks of sacrifice and self-denial we cannot, or will not, hear His voice. But look in verse 2 at what God asks of Abraham:
2 And He said, “Take now your son, you only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
Abraham responded to God’s call with unconditional availability, no strings attached, just, “Here I am, I’m available to You Lord.” How did God answer Abraham? God answered with an unbelievable demand.
In an atmosphere of “gain is godliness,” of easy believism and cheap grace, we are being taught only to hear God when He speaks of blessings. We are not so accustomed to hearing things like:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:24-25)
We are not accustomed to hearing God say:
“One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross and follow me” (Mk. 10:21).
But Abraham was already familiar with the voice of God. He had heard and obeyed the voice of God when the Lord said:
“Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. 12:1).
We’re being told that we can have power without persistence. We are being told that we can have the anointing without the purity. We are being told that we can have the blessings without commitment. We are being told that we can have mountaintop worship without having to climb the mountains. But Abraham knew that he had to respond to the challenge, he had to prove his faithfulness before he would experience his fruitfulness.
What did God ask Abraham to do? God told him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise, Isaac. This was the son upon whom all the hopes and dreams of Abraham had been placed. Isaac, whose name means, “laughter,” was the one who had brought joy to the house, laughter to the lips of Sarah, and love to the home of an aging couple. And Isaac is the one whom God told Abraham to sacrifice; not the bullocks, not the rams, not the sheepï¿½ï¿½”God told Abraham to give Isaac. No doubt Abraham would have sacrificed every living creature in his possession to save the life of his son of promise. God demanded Abraham prove his love by being willing to give that which he loved most.
The test wasn’t to show God something He didn’t already know. God is omniscient, He knows all things, and He knew the heart of Abraham. The test was to prove to Abraham how far he could go with God, how much he could trust God and find that God is faithful.
Our trials in life do not prove anything to God that He doesn’t already know about us. Our trials prove to us much we can trust God. And how much we can give to God and find, at the end of the day, that He has given us much more than we could ever give Him.
God asked of Abraham the best that he could give. The very things that we hold back from God will be that which He demands of us. It is only when we give Him everything that He can begin to bless us, as He really desires to. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “You only lack one thing, sell all that you have give it to the poor, and come and follow me.” But it was that one thing which prevented this good man, this moral man, this religious man, from being a redeemed man. When we choose to hold back from God we are not robbing Him, we are robbing ourselves of the blessings He would pour out on us.
Abraham knew that he could not fool God, he could not trick God, because God sees all things. Even the night is as the day in the sight of God. Abraham knew he could not fake obedience, could not deceive God with an imitation. God said, “Bring you son, your only son to the place where I where I say and offer him there as a sacrifice to Me.”
Several hundred years later David would buy this very piece of ground from Araunah (2 Sam 24:21) to worship God at the end of God’s judgment upon him. Later, Solomon would build the temple on this spot. Today the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque, is built over the great rock that formed the altar upon which Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac. Even now Jews await the day when they can again build the temple and begin to worship Yahweh with the sacrificing of bulls, rams, lambs and goats.
III) UNQUESTIONING FAITH
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
How did Abraham respond to the unbelievable demand? He responded with unquestioning faith. The demand was unbelievable, but because it came from God Abraham believed. That is the essence of faith. When everything around you says it can’t be so, faith says, “If God said it, that settles it, I believe it.”
Notice the swiftness and deliberateness with which Abraham obeyed. It says, “Abraham arose early in the morning . . .” It is likely that the Word of the Lord came to Abraham in the night, so without delay he obeys. When our heart is fixed on God, when our will becomes lost in His love, then that which God demands we will do without delay.
Also, notice that Abraham prepares. He saddled up the donkey, he split the wood and bundled it, and then he set out with two of his servants and with Isaac. He moved with unquestioning faith to obey an unbelievable demand.
IV) UNFALTERING STEPS
4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
Though the place lay far off, a three days journey during which Abraham had time to contemplate and meditate upon the severity of the actions he must take, Abraham with Isaac at his side, took unfaltering steps toward the mountain.
It may seem that the mountaintop worship we wish to express and experience is so far from where we are today. It may seem as though the journey is too far and the demand too great, but when we “keep on keeping on,” when we refuse to be dismayed, when we make up our mind that worshipping God, honoring God, and obeying God is the most important thing we can do in this life or the life to come, then and only then, will our steps become unfaltering. But when worship and obedience are seen as options then our commitment stumbles. The road to mountaintop worship is strewn with the drying corpses of those who never understood the imperative of God to worship Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.
V) UNCONVENTIONAL WORSHIP
5 And Abraham said unto his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come again to you.”
Not everyone will make this journey. Abraham told the servants to stay back. No doubt they would not have understood the faith of this old man and might have tried to prevent him from following through in obedience. If those around us cannot make it to the mountaintop we must press on. The old spiritual said, “If you don’t want to praise, don’t hinder me!” Abraham said, “You fellows stay here, the lad and I are going to go and worship.” This was the hardest thing Abraham had probably been asked to do in his entire life, and yet he refers to it as worship. Sometimes worship isn’t about goose bumps and shouting. Sometimes worship is about blood, sweat, and tears. Notice the faith of Abraham. He said, “we will come back to you.”
I wonder if our modern definitions of worship would fit the circumstances Abraham was facing. No sound system pumping out toe-tapping music, no singers singing, no padded pews, no air-conditioning, no preacher jumping and spitting . . . just a big rock upon which Abraham was prepared to offer to God the most precious thing in his life. What Abraham himself would probably have admitted was that God had called him to express unconventional worship. It goes against everything he thought he knew about God.
Too often we come to worship with our spiritual wish list in hand. We come to the altar and say, “God I want this and I need that.” But when Abraham was on his way to do what he called worship, he was going to give. We will never know God as Jehovah-jirah, “the Lord Who Provides,” until we learn to worship Him with givingï¿½ï¿½”giving praise, giving time, giving treasures, giving our best to Him.
VI) UNDAUNTED RESOLUTION
6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
John Wesley said, “Isaac’s carrying the wood was a type of Christ, who carried His own cross, while Abraham, with a steady and undaunted resolution, carried the fatal knife and fire.”
7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Isaac’s question is understandable, “Where is the Lamb?” Perhaps we would do well to ask the same question of our worship services. “We see the sanctuary, we hear the music, we know the preacher, and we greet the people, but where is the Lamb?”
We can go through all the motions, we can appeal to the emotions, we can jump up and down and roar like an ocean, but there is no worship without the Lamb. We cannot be content with what we call church until we can honestly say to the world with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.
Could any words have been more prophetic? Abraham told Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb . . .” That was faith talking. Abraham was coming up the rough side of the mountain. He could have stopped short and quit at the things he did not know. He did not know why God would ask him to offer his son as a sacrifice. He did not know how God was going to allow him to kill his son and yet through this same son provide offspring. There were many questions that could have stopped Abraham. But the thing that kept Abraham pressing onward and upward were the things he did know about God. Abraham knew the voice of God. He knew what God had instructed him to do. But he also knew that God had promised to raise up a nation out of Isaac.
When you attempt to ascend the mountaintop of worship there may be many things that you do not understand. But what keeps you going is that you know God.
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself a lamb.” Why did Abraham say this? It must have been Abraham’s prayer for the entire journey. “God, provide a lamb so that I will not have to give my son.” Surely Abraham must have been praying for God to provide the sacrifice.
VII) UNRESERVED OBEDIENCE
9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
For the second time Abraham recognized the voice of God and again he answers with unconditional availability, “Here I am!” If we don’t know God’s voice in the call to service, we may miss His voice in the time of deliverance.
George Whitefield said, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” It is when we come to the place of no return, when we have fully committed to God, when we can truthfully declare, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” when we have counted the cost, when we have picked up our cross, when we have count it all but loss that we may win Christ . . . that is where God steps in and meets with us most powerfully and personally. That is where we find mountaintop worship. When we can give unreserved obedience in the face of life’s most difficult trials we are ready to worship from the mountaintop of God’s provision. That is mountaintop worship and it doesn’t come cheap.
VIII) UNSEEN ANSWER
12 And he said, “Do not lay your hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld you son, you only son from Me.”13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes, and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
Mountaintop worship is usually a path up the rough side of the mountain. It is blood, sweat and tears that keeps us seeking the voice of God, the will of God and the heart of God. The path is usually traversed in persistence, patience and prayer. There will be a thousand reasons why we should quit and settle down on the plateau. There will be a thousand temptations to stop short of the summit and settle for second best. But what Abraham could not see as he was coming up the rough side of the mountain, was that God was sending the answer to his prayers up the other side of the mountain and the he would only meet the answer at the top of the mountain.
There are some people who have climbed that mountain. Others don’t understand why you shout like you do. Others don’t understand why you cut loose with a dance and lift your hands in the air. But what they don’t know is that you’ve climbed the rough side. You stood at an altar prepared to give God your very best, even if it was the last dollar in the bank. And then you’ve seen the answer coming running up over the horizon to meet you just when you needed it most. People who’ve made up their minds to climb the mountain and to get to the place of God’s provision can’t help but worship God. And if you don’t want to praise, it won’t hinder them. They’ve come to far to let wet blankets put out their fire or silence their shout.
Some of you here today may feel like quitting. Some of you may feel like it’s all been uphill with no end in sight. But my brother and my sister, there is a place where your needs and God’s provision meet. You can’t see the other side of the mountain. You can see what God is sending up the other side to meet you at the top. But with the faith of Abraham you’ve got to keep on, keeping on. Satan doesn’t want you to meet your blessing. Satan doesn’t want you to experience your provision. I believe Satan can see the blessing coming up the other side to meet you at the top and he will do his best to keep you from meeting your blessing. But Satan cannot stop you from reaching the top, if your refuse to stop.
14And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
Jehovah-jireh, or Yahweh-Yuri, literally means, “the Lord will see to it,” or, “the Lord will provide.” When we learn to make it to the mountaintop for worship, the place seen of God, we find that God will see to our needs. We don’t have to fret or be anxious about anything, God will see to it. If you’ve climbed the mountain in faith, God will get the answer to you when you need the answer most.
Not only did God provide the immediate need of a ram for sacrifice, God went on to bless Abraham and his seed. The promise is repeated to Abraham because Abraham once again had been proven by God and found to be faithful. Neither passage of time nor the birth of Isaac had caused Abraham to grow spiritually lax. Abraham believed, Abraham obeyed, and Abraham was blessed.
15Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son– 17blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.
Do you want to express and experience mountaintop worship? Do you want to come to the place where Jehovah-jireh sees your needs? Are you tired of form and formality? Are you weary of religion and ritual? Are you hungry for a move of God so powerful that you hear His voice, see His hand, feel His touch? Are you ready for mountaintop worship? If you are, then:
You have to answer His call with unconditional availability.
You have to respond to His voice with unquestioning faith.
You have to learn to walk toward the goal with unfaltering steps.
You have to face the trials of life with undaunted resolution.
You have to give to God in unreserved obedience.
And you have to trust God for the unseen answers.
You may feel as though you are coming up the rough side of the mountain, but don’t stop short of the goal, don’t quit before you get the answer you’ve been praying for. On the other side of the mountain God is sending the answer to meet you at the top.