One way to understand the theology of the Bible is to trace its themes from beginning to end. One important theme is the mountain. The story of our Christian journey intersects with three major metaphorical mountains in the Bible: Mount Sinai, Mount Calvary, and Mount Zion—and Jesus is King of all these mountains.
MOUNTAIN #1: SINAI
Moses ascends Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, and God appears to him in all his glory. There is fire, smoke, thunder, and lightning. The people below are terrified because they are being confronted with his holiness. Moses then brings down God’s Law to the people, which codifies God’s holiness and shows the spiritual gap between God and humanity.
Mount Sinai should terrify us too. When we see God’s Law, we see how unholy we are and how holy he is. I dare you to obey the Ten Commandments for one day. We have broken all of them thousands of times:
We’ve all stolen. We’ve all disrespected our parents. We’ve all hated people in our heart.
In comparison to a holy God we become aware of how sinful we are. Sinai shows us our sin.
MOUNTAIN #2: CALVARY
Physically speaking, Sinai is a huge mountain but Calvary is a glorified speed bump. Spiritually, though, Calvary is way bigger.
Grace terrifies us because it is beyond our efforts. On Calvary, justice and mercy kissed at Jesus’ crucifixion. The power of fire, smoke, thunder, and lightning on Sinai was embodied in the gruesome image of blood dripping off Jesus’ body on the cross. He was dying for all the times we broke the laws he gave us at Mount Sinai.
Our salvation is utterly dependent on God’s grace. Calvary shows it to us.
MOUNTAIN #3: ZION
We will one day ascend Mount Zion, where Jesus will literally bring down heaven.
The Zion in heaven is the mountain where God reigns, where our home—the New Jerusalem—will be, and where we will live forever (Heb. 12:22). Looking to Zion gives us hope that all of creation will be perfected, and all pain and suffering will disappear.
Jesus’ redemption of creation will one day be completed. Zion shows us paradise.
THE CHRISTIAN’S JOURNEY
In the Christian life, we journey along these three mountains. We see that we are sinners because we have violated God’s Law (Mount Sinai), that we have received grace through Jesus on the cross (Mount Calvary), and that we will be living in heaven with the reigning King (Mount Zion).
The Christian life is best when we live between Mount Calvary and Mount Zion—looking back at what Jesus has done for us and towards the future of what he will do for us.
Often in the Christian life we find ourselves at Sinai, beating ourselves up for breaking God’s laws, living in guilt and shame. This is expressed in thoughts like “If I go to church enough, I will get Zion.” Wrong! Zion comes through the promise, not the Law (Gal. 4:21–26). Zion is received, not achieved (Heb. 12:28). If we return to Sinai, the Law controls us through guilt. Living the Christian life at Sinai leads to total bondage.
Look at Calvary and you’ll see Zion.
Paul reminds the Galatians who have returned to Sinai of this, basically telling them, “Here’s the gospel—you’re stupid because you left it!” (Gal. 3:1) It’s not as if he’s calling them out just to be jerks, but he is giving them a rebuke that leads to repentance and a return to Jesus. Even though this is weird for a guy to say, Paul tells them that it is as if he is in the anguish of childbirth until they understand the grace of Jesus. (Gal. 4:19) Every Christian should have this same anguish.
So what do you do if you find yourself detoured back to Sinai?Remember Calvary, to be pointed forward to Zion. When we remember Calvary, we remember that we are children of the King and that Jesus is preparing a place for us on Zion. In Christ, we don’t belong on Sinai—we belong on Zion.
Which mountain is biggest in your life? Is it Mount Sinai? If so, return to Calvary.
When you look at Calvary, you will be able to see Zion.