Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Our Mount Hermon by M. Teresa Beem

Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 
Matthew 16: 24

Set within the Old Testament's tribal area of Dan, the three-peaked Mount Hermon is Israel's highest elevation. 

Its ground was once forbidden. 

God commanded Israel to place this Canaanite area under the ban of utter destruction and because of their disobedience to this command and the later schism, Israel erected a false temple nearby and plunged into loathsome idolatry. 

But that is not why the area was verboten, its dark reputation sinks back to antediluvian days. For here, legends whisper, on the very snow-covered peak of Mount Hermon heaven's rebellious angels fell when cast out by the Archangel Michael. St. Jerome was later to title this Golan Height, an "anathema."

At the southwest base of Mt. Hermon is the archeological paradise of the deserted city of Caesarea Philippi. There the malevolent folklore can be viewed today at the shrine to the shepherd god, Pan carved into the massive rock cliffs. Underneath the ancient shrine was a spring so deep that its waters were said to burst forth from the gates of Hades. This spring was once, but no longer, the headwater of the Jordan River.

It is here to the foot of Mount Hermon in view of this pagan site that Jesus brought his Apostles to inquire of them who men thought He was. Was He a shepherd god or the Messiah? Was He a blasphemer, a drunkard, or the spirit of Elijah?

Then when asked who the Apostles thought He was, Jesus knew His Father directly enlightened Simon son of Jonas. For Simon replied, "You are the Christ, Son of the Living God." And Jesus appointed him "Peter," head of His church. Then Jesus warned them that He would be going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be raised after the third day. When Peter swore that he would protect His Lord, Jesus turned around and rebuked him. Then he warned them in the above verse that anyone wishing to follow Him must deny Himself. We will take a closer look at that now:

If any man will come after me

Here, Jesus is telling His disciples that we each have religious liberty and more importantly, a free choice. Jesus does not threaten nor compel. He tells us that following Him is a choice of our will.

Let him deny himself

Jesus' disciples were expecting the long-awaited powerful kingdom of heaven that would rule the world from Jerusalem. The Messiah's friends would be held in high position and glorified. So why would Christ be telling them that they would have to deny themselves?

Perhaps they thought Jesus meant that they would deny themselves certain comforts as they took up the sword against the Romans. Did Christ mean the sacrifice of a soldier?

Later, it would be Peter, who would deny Christ by swearing that he did not know Him. More

likely this the denial that Christ was requiring of  His Apostles. But rather than denying their Lord, they would be denying themselves. Perhaps, Jesus meant that they were to look at themselves and swear, "I do not know myself." Was Jesus asking them to strip themselves of their political identity, their religious identity and release it all to Him? Yes.

They were to deny themselves: who they were and, in faith, allow Christ to give them a new identity.

Take up his cross

Ponder this statement. It was said before Jesus was lifted upon His own cross. This prophetic statement included His own death, as well as the death of Peter and the other Apostles, yet in addition a type of cross for all those who follow Christ. At the time it was spoken, this was an incomprehensible statement to Jewish ears. For the Roman citizen, the more honorable death was by beheading. For the Hebrew, death was by stoning. The cross of crucifixion was a humiliating, barbaric Roman torture and execution for the lowest and vilest of criminals. In addition, it held a curse for anyone dying upon a tree.

Christ was telling His disciples to pick up that hellish device and follow Him. His followers must have wondered where they were going with their crosses? They did not understand yet that they would be following Christ to His own death. At the very least they did understand that He was warning them of a life of suffering.

Follow me

Like today's Protestants following Luther or Calvin, it was popular for the men of Israel to favor one rabbinical school's interpretation of God's Word over another. Ancient sages included the prominent Gamaliel, Hillel the Elder and Shammai. Their disciples prided themselves in the greater spiritual wisdom found in their leader. 

So for Christ to ask His listeners to follow Him, would not have been a shock. Yet the context of denying themselves and taking up their cross was different. This wasn't a rival of the great rabbis. This was one who Peter called the Messiah and the Son of God. This was the Christ in whom they and all those of goodwill would be united. 

What is your Mount Hermon?

Christ will take you to your forbidden mountain, the place of your idols and ask you, "who do you say that I am?" 

That is the line in the sand. Do you really, actually believe? God must come out of your mind into reality. He cannot simply be a picture in your creative thoughts, but a Lord you will yourself to obey. 

When God takes you to your Mount Hermon and asks you give up your false gods for Him, it will be a moment where you realize that following Him will not be easy. It means self-denial and taking up your cross.

God's grace, mercy and love for us requires more than just our acknowledgment. His eternal sacrifice produces in us our sacrifice for Him. 


Lyndon Parsons said...

Teresa, I am afraid you are mistaken about a few things here. 1) Jesus, as the Son of God - let alone a devout Jewish man,would not enter the boundaries of a pagan Temple to Pan. He was in the vicinity, not that place. 2)Naming Peter, meaning a "pebble" or "chip" off of the "Massive Rock" (which is always a Divine term) in no way declares him Head of the Church. Christ is the ever-present Head of the Church (Matt.28:20). One more thing on this: All the Disciples heard Jesus' statement to Peter. If He had then made Peter Head of Church, why were they arguing a day later amongst themselves who would be the greatest? 3) John the Apostle lived 30 years after Peter. To accept Rome's claims re the Pope you would have to declare that John, for the last 30 years of his life was dependent on Linus (a Roman convert)for salvation. Just because Peter died in Rome does not instantly make the number 2 man in Rome a pope. And Christ alone is our Intercessor and King. Not a sinful man. Lyndon Parsons, Lake Elsinore, CA

Teresa Beem said...

Agreed. I wrote that Jesus was "in view of this pagan site" not there.

Point 2) Jesus often bestowed His own title upon His leaders. The original language of Jesus was Aramaic. Later Jesus words were translated into Greek. Jesus said that Peter new title was kephas. That does not translate in Aramaic as little rock. "You are kephas and upon kephas I will build my church." That is what Christ said.

As far as the arguing about who was the greatest? The disciples were thick-headed. Until AFTER His resurrection the Apostles had no idea what was going on.

I have no idea what you mean by John depending upon Linus for salvation. Catholics depend upon Jesus for their salvation, not the pope. The pope is the head of the church--but not the person we go to for salvation.