Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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From a sermon by Preacher Clark at Grandma’s house, early 1970s.
Gary’s Reel 3, CD-10a, Track 3
In 1993, I went to Israel to see the land. I had been teaching the Old Testament for years, emphasizing the importance of the geography, and I felt a need to walk on the dirt, to cross the desert, to climb the mountains, and to drink the water of the land I had been talking about for so long. While I was there, the land fascinated me because as I viewed it, I could picture better than ever just how certain Old and New Testament events transpired.
One of the drawbacks of traveling around that area (not to mention the possibility of being shot at) was the lack of adequate road signs, as well as other kinds of signs. I can remember thinking near the end of my two-week stay that if I ever become a billionaire, I would donate to the government of Israel maybe a hundred million dollars or so for the production of good road signs and accurate maps. It took us a while to figure out that there were villages and roads missing from the maps we were given and that using the maps we had been given was one reason that we were constantly finding ourselves in confusing and, sometimes, dangerous situations.
After a while, we learned just to trust our instincts and ignore the few signs that we found. We eventually gained such confidence that we could as nonchalantly drive past a road sign forbidding travel on a certain road as we would eat a slice of bread. (We never stopped giving heed to the signs warning of land mines.) We just went wherever we wanted to go until someone made us go away. And this worked pretty well until we climbed a mountain in the southern end of the country. The mountain was called Solomon’s Mountain.
We were far up on the mountain when the trail markers we had been following suddenly ceased to exist. But this did not bother us much because by this time, we had learned that the governmental powers that be in Israel obviously felt that maps, signs, trail markers, and the like, were inconveniences more than necessities, and that they were intended from the foundation of the world merely to provide travelers with a vague, general idea of where they were. We Americans do not understand such imprecise guides, but in Israel, given enough desperate situations, one learns to trust one’s own inner compass and finally to see maps and road signs as they were really meant to be: nuisances that interfere with confusion rather than resolve it.
Anyway, as Brother Jimmy and I neared the top of the mountain, where the person who originally marked the trail must have run out of blue paint, Brother Jimmy and I had to make a choice: turn right or turn left. Since we were trying to ascend the mountain and the path to the right went up (as far as we could see), I chose to go to the right. Since Jimmy was also ascending the mountain, he chose to go left, where the path went down (as far as we could see). As you can already sense, no doubt, Jimmy had clearly adapted to the mapless world more quickly than I. In half an hour, I was lost and scrambling across a slippery slope of crumbling rocks on the side of the mountain, and holding on for dear life as best I could. That is no exaggeration. That was the worst moment of my entire trip, the most dangerous, and all because when I wanted to reach the top, I went up.
At one point, as I scrambled across the broken rocks, I was so vertical that my water bottle tumbled out of my back pack and went silently over the cliff just below me and into oblivion. I paused and thought, “Only in a country like this could I go wrong by going up in order to reach the top of a mountain.” I could hear Jimmy’s voice and others somewhere on the mountain above me, and I knew that I should have taken the path that went down in order to reach the top of Solomon’s Mountain.
In his sermon at Grandma’s house in the early 1970s, Preacher Clark said, “The way down goes up.” By that, he meant that the way up to God is the way down on your knees. Humbling ourselves leads to being exalted with Christ. Those who puff themselves up will soon find themselves in danger of falling over a cliff, but those who abase themselves before God are raised up to sit with Christ in heavenly places.
“The way down goes up.” I learned that while climbing Mount Solomon in Israel in 1993, but I never got the spiritual meaning from my adventure until I heard it from a sermon that was delivered by Preacher Clark twenty or more years before my journey to that far away and strange land.