If you will remember from last week, we finished up talking about Moses’ first mountaintop experience, in which God told Moses that he would worship the Lord on that mountain again. Now, let’s fast-forward that very occasion. The story can be found in Exodus 19. Moses had returned to Egypt, dealt with Pharaoh, seen God use him in mighty ways to send plagues on the Egyptians, witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, and ultimately led the people out of Egypt. Moses had come a long way since his first mountaintop experience. But he still had a long way to go, too.
At this point, you may be wondering how these mountaintop experiences relate to the Psalm 24 lifestyle we discussed at the beginning of this series. It certainly does not seem like Moses had done any preparation of heart before his first mountaintop experience with the burning bush. If you’re thinking that, then you’re right. Moses’ first mountaintop experience came as a total surprise, out of the blue. There was no cleansing of hands or purifying of heart at that time. But there most definitely was a purification process prior to Moses’ return to the mountaintop.
A powerful principle rests in this observation. Often, when God initially gets a hold of us through a powerful encounter, it requires little to no preparation on our part. This is because, at this point, we do not know any better. Most people equate their initial mountaintop with God as their salvation experience. I would venture to say that few people plan out their salvation date several days in advance. No one goes around saying, “Okay, three days until I get saved. I need to cleanse my hands and purify my heart to get rid of all unrighteousness so that I can ascend the mountain of God on that day.” Don’t be ridiculous! Salvation encounters are almost always spontaneous and unexpected, just like Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. Now, I’m not saying that people don’t experience a deep hunger, a tugging on their heart for days, weeks, and even months prior to their salvation. Many people do, but that’s not the same thing as the purification process of Psalm 24.
However, the story becomes different when we as Christians mature. As God raises us up, we must purpose in our hearts to sanctify ourselves so that the Lord can do His work in us. For this reason, the second mountaintop experience of Moses in Exodus 19 was much more structured, thought-out, and prepared-for. In Exodus 19:10, God said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
The Lord went on to tell Moses not to allow any of the people to ascend the mountain of the Lord. Think about it. Doesn’t that process sound a lot like Psalm 24 with the cleansing of their hands and the purifying of their hearts? And yet, the people had to do this even though they were not even allowed to ascend the mountain of God!
Now, look at what happened on the third day, as all the people had the chance to hear from the Lord (Ex. 19:16-20):
Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
I included the entire passage of Scripture above because it is just that amazing that you have to read it for yourself. If you glossed over it the first time, go back and read it again! Wow, what an encounter!
Notice that all of the people stayed at the bottom of the mountain except for one person: Moses! Moses went up! A study note in my Bible says that the Hebrew word for “went up” is the word ‘alah, which is the same word used for ascend in Psalm 24:3. Psalm 24 asks, “Who may ascend?” The answer is: Moses! Think about it: All the people cleansed and purified themselves, but still, only Moses was allowed to go up.
Remember, I am equating the idea of ascending with the concept of taking prayer to another level. Any pure Israelite could meet God at the bottom of the mountain, but not anyone could ascend. In order to ascend, a price has to be paid. But if we pay that price, it will be so worth it! The question is: Is it worth the cost? Are we willing to take the necessary steps to become Psalm 24 people? We should be, but are we really? Take some time to analyze your own motives right now, and then watch for part 4 for the final section on Moses next week!
Salvation vs. Discipleship: Salvation is free; discipleship costs something.
I firmly believe that it is very important to make this distinction. All throughout Scripture, we see a dichotomy—an antinomy of sorts—regarding the free gift of salvation and the cost of discipleship. Which is it? Is it free or does it cost? Well, it depends on what it is! Salvation and discipleship are two separate things. People often confuse the two, and that is where we become in danger of works-based salvation or of grace-based rewards. The Bible is clear: salvation is the free gift of God (Rom. 6:23), but discipleship is a costly process (Luke 14:25-33).
How does this relate? Well, think of it this way: Salvation is one kind of mountaintop experience (i.e. Moses’ first encounter). I’m not saying that that was Moses’ point of conversion, but I do believe it represents ours. This encounter was free, Moses didn’t do anything to earn it, and God just met him right where he was at.
Discipleship is a second kind of mountaintop experience (i.e. Moses’ second encounter). At this point, there is a cost on our part. God doesn’t meet us where we’re at this time; we meet Him where He’s at, and doing so requires ascension on our part. Ascending costs us. In order to continue to grow in our discipleship process with the Lord, we have to be willing to count the costs and ascend. We must cleanse our hands, purify our hearts, lay down our idols, and cast away all deceit.
So, practically speaking, what are you willing to lay down at the foot of the mountain? You have to get rid of your extra baggage before you can ascend! Ask God to reveal to you those things that you need to lay down. Then, do it! The more you lay down, the higher you can ascend, and the closer you can get into the Presence of the Most High in a discipling, mentoring, and growing relationship. It’s time to take your prayer life to another level. It’s time to ascend!