You’ve probably seen pictures taken from some dizzying height featuring panoramic scenery. You may have had the privilege of standing in such locations. It has taken some effort to get there but it’s been worthwhile. The air, the space, the sense of achievement and perspective. We sometimes describe other good events in life as ‘high points’ or ‘highlights’. Some even talk of having a ‘mountaintop experience’.
One of our sons is an Outdoor Pursuits Instructor and he recently shared some images from Oman where he had been involved in preparing climbing routes for an adventure holiday company. One of the lovely things is how he and his friends equip, guide and encourage participants of all abilities (even nervous ones!) to face the challenge and ‘stand on the heights’.
His pics sent me hunting for this Bible verse Psalm 18v33 and in particular the phrase ‘he enables me to stand on the heights’.
The writer King David had faced many challenges already but had learned young to trust in God as the Lord his ‘Shepherd’. God had enabled him to slay the giant, survive as an outlaw and in time become King of Israel. David’s burning desire was now to build a place of worship to honour the name of his God in his capitol Jerusalem high in the Judean hills.
Mountain shrines of various kinds are common worldwide. However some of the practices associated with pagan ‘high places’ in ancient Israel were sexually promiscuous, abusive and even violent. By contrast David asks in Psalm 24v 3: ‘Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?’ He then answers his own question with, ‘ - He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.’
To ‘stand’ blameless and without fear in God’s holy presence we need to be clean in both attitude and lifestyle. This means we have a problem, for as a later Psalm puts it, ‘If you O Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand?’ (Psalm 130v 3) Psalm 1 is even more blunt, warning, ‘the wicked will not stand in the judgement’ but ‘perish’, swept away ‘like chaff.’
The Gospels echo this, recording how when Jesus identified Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, the armed group who had come to arrest Him drew back and fell to the ground. They couldn’t stand in the presence of the Lord! Even Simon Peter when he first sensed God’s nearness in Jesus fell at His knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5)
How encouraging then that Jesus replied to Peter, ‘Don’t be afraid’, and invited him to become a disciple, apostle and evangelist!
The Apostle Paul spells out the theological implications of how Jesus ‘enables’ people to approach God without fear in the early chapters of Romans. Jesus’ offering of Himself at Calvary has atoned for human sin. Trusting in Him we are forgiven and ‘justified’, declared fit for the heights of Heaven.
‘Therefore’, he writes in ch5, ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.’
My son and his friends enable people to stand on some of the heights of this earth.
The Son of God enables His followers to stand in the highest place of all.