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Enter the name of the tune for hymn 362
Mount Etna is one of the main attractions on Sicily’s east coast. Etna is the tallest active volcano on the European continent, over 10,000 feet high (3,329 m) and is the highest mountain in Italy, south of the Alps. It’s also one of the most active volcanoes in the world, as well as being a World Heritage Site.
So visiting it might not seem such a good idea unless you want an adventure! Thousands of people do visit it, however, and they evidently enjoy climbing up to its rim, covered with black lava sand and rocks that crunch underfoot, usually with a guide to ensure that nothing untoward is likely to happen.
Because eruptions are relatively frequent – the past twelve months have seen several powerful lava fountains, flows and ash emissions – the landscape around Etna never stays quite the same. And if the weather is kind the views from the summit are said to be spectacular, so the climb is judged to be worth the risk. Anyway, many people like living on the edge, and relish a bit of excitement. Nothing stays the same for long and variety is said to be the spice of life.
Our own life experience is rather like that, when you think about it. We all want some variety and a little excitement now and again. But I wonder if we think of ourselves as living on the edge of a volcano. For our society is in danger of erupting and many people now live in constant fear for their lives. In the last few weeks we have learned about a killer virus in Africa which has taken many lives. War has broken out in the Ukraine, and the allegations made about Russia’s covert involvement have resulted in several international conferences and the imposition of sanctions. Meanwhile the civil war in Syria has been overshadowed by the emergence of a fighting force now called the Islamic State, which wants to establish a Muslim nation covering a large part of the Middle East. And Israel has been at war again in Gaza to try and stop rockets being fired into her territory, a conflict which has led to the loss of many lives.
Israel was formed as a nation whilst the people were slaves in Egypt before they were rescued by Moses and led through the Sinai Peninsula. It was at a mountain that God met with His people and commissioned them to be His nation, living according to His law, in His land. And that mountain burned with fire when God manifested His glory on the summit. It must have been like watching a volcano at close quarters and the people were terrified. When 80 year old Moses was called to ascend Mount Sinai he was also frightened, but he went up nevertheless and there received the Ten Commandments and the other laws and statutes which are recorded in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible).
Writing to Jewish Christians, the apostle compares the experience of Old Testament characters with the Christian calling, and says this:
"You have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore" (Hebrews 12:18–19).
Instead, he says, believers in Christ have come to:
"Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:22–23).
If we understand God’s intended purpose with Jerusalem – that he intends to place His King there, who will reign over His Kingdom – then we will know that God is now assembling a group of people who will work alongside the Lord Jesus when he returns from heaven, so that the whole world will become beautiful and be filled with righteousness and truth.
The upset condition of 21st century society is a clear pointer to the nearness of the coming of Jesus and the establishment of his reign as King. But the writer of Hebrews goes on with his comparison between then and now by saying that God has often overturned human society and its institutions, and that he will do so again:
"He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:26–29).
Things that now appear to be stable and secure are not really what they seem. Looking at life with an open Bible in hand, we can see that our wartorn world is extremely fragile. Last week the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, warning of the knock-on effects of the struggle to establish an Islamic State said that the UK faces “a greater and deeper threat to our security than we’ve seen before.”
As world events move ever nearer to the day when God will send the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven to earth, we are likely to see that situation get much worse. But remember what the apostle said. The purpose that God has revealed – His plan of salvation – is both unchanging and unchangeable. If we believe what the Bible teaches and if we have been baptized into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ we have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to.