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Go Tell it on the Mountain, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
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December 16, 2021 9:00 am

Go Tell it on the Mountain, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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December 16, 2021 9:00 am

We’re looking at the classic Christmas song, Go Tell It on the Mountain—penned by someone who wasn’t afraid to stare down the mountain and overcome obstacles in order to share Jesus.

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Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. And Isaiah says there's no group anywhere. There's no matter how broken or lost, not shepherds or slaves or homeless who are surrounded by whatever mountains of oppression for whom Jesus has not won the victory.

So you've got to scale those mountains. You've got to go everywhere to all groups of all peoples and all places at all times in all situations and tell them the battle has been won. Welcome to Summit Life with pastor, author and theologian J.D. Greer.

I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. You know, sometimes the road ahead of us is blocked by obstacles or mountains that seem too big to overcome. We've all been there, myself included, looking to the left and the right.

And we're wondering, how do we move forward? But today, Pastor J.D. reminds us that no matter what we're facing, we need to remember that all of our battles have already been won. As we continue our Christmas teaching series titled carols, we're looking at the old Christmas song, Go Tell it on the Mountain, penned by someone who wasn't afraid to stare down the mountain to tell everyone about Jesus Christ.

So let's join Pastor J.D. for the conclusion of this important message. We do not know exactly who wrote Go Tell it on the Mountain, but we do know that it was a slave song, most likely composed in the South sometime between 1840 and 1860, right before the United States Civil War.

The text of the song goes like this. While shepherds kept their watching o'er silent flocks by night, behold, throughout the heavens there shone a holy light. The shepherds feared and trembled when low above the earth rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior's birth. Down in a lonely manger, the humble Christ was born and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. He made me a watchman upon the city wall.

And if I am a Christian, I am the least of all. Go tell it on the mountain. Over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

So much wonderful imagery in this song. The song appears to be based on two primary passages of scripture. First, obviously, the story of the shepherds in Luke chapter two. And second, maybe less obviously, Isaiah 52 seven. Isaiah 52 seven, where the prophet Isaiah foretells a day when the good news of the Messiah will be announced throughout the whole earth.

And after he talked about the death of Jesus Christ and how the Messiah would die for our sins, Isaiah says this in chapter 52 verse seven. How beautiful upon the mountains, go tell it on the mountain or the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns. So the writer of this carol, this slave says, go to the mountains and tell this good news about Jesus being born.

So what this song does in picking up on Isaiah 52 seven is it takes this verse and it connects the Christmas story to the great commission. And it highlights three very important and I would say rather surprising things about the good news of Christmas. And they are these three, number one, to whom the good news comes. Number two, what the good news brings. And then number three, where the good news sins. Number one, to whom the good news comes. This song notes in the first three verses of the song that the message came first to the shepherds. Now that the slave who wrote this song felt drawn to the story of the shepherds is not surprising since shepherds were considered to be the lowest class of people in Jewish society at the time, much like the slaves would have been considered the lowest class in their time. You see, in coming to the shepherds, God reached down to those that everybody considered to be on the bottom, showing that there was no one too broken, no one too poor, no one too insignificant for Jesus's kingdom. In fact, you're gonna find out in the ministry of Jesus that he prefers the poor and the broken.

Why would he prefer them? It's because they're in a better position to receive the good news. They realize they need it. In Christianity, all you need is need, but you need need.

And if you don't have need, then you won't have Jesus. Number two, what the good news brings to whom the good news comes. Number two, what the good news brings. Like many Negro spirituals, this song focuses on God's promise of relief from suffering. You see, as slaves, the world they lived in was a terrible world, but they knew that the birth of Jesus Christ was bringing about a new world in which sin and suffering and slave masters would no longer reign over them.

So again, Isaiah 52, seven, that the writer of this carol is thinking about how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness and publishes salvation. And see, that's good news for shepherds. And that's good news for slaves.

And it's good news for you and for me. Number three, where the good news sins. This Christian brother of ours, this slave says, you gotta tell this everywhere. You see, if the good news really means that there's nobody too lowly for God to pursue, no one's so lost that God couldn't find them.

And you gotta tell this everywhere. Let me now explain the mountain imagery. You see, in those days, most cities in the Middle East were settled between mountains. And so in a day before cell phones and before radio communication, when a city was awaiting some kind of news, the city waiting on this news would look up to the top of the mountains because that's the first place you would see the messenger come carrying the good news. So you had the watchman on the city walls who are waiting and watching, looking on the crest of the mountain for the messenger to come over the mountain with the flag.

And there was a certain flag that represented, this is good news. And then the watchman would begin to publish the news that the messenger is coming. The battle has been won and we have been saved. That's why the writer of Go Tell It on the Mountain uses that in the fifth verse, the watchman on the wall. He made me that watchman. I'm the one who has seen salvation.

I'm the one who has experienced it. And now I get to tell the rest of the city that salvation has come. You see Isaiah 52, Isaiah imagines groups of people scattered all over the world in different cities, different nations, different languages, different situations, different classes of people, all waiting, all waiting, overwhelmed and oppressed by the curse, scared of death without hope. And here comes the messenger to announce the battle is over and the kingdom has been restored. When I read this, it reminded me of that scene from the second book of the Lord of the Rings, Nerd Alert, The Two Towers. Aragorn, Theoden, Theoden, and Legolas, who are the good guys, they got this little small remnant army.

They're trapped by these huge armies of orcs of Sauron and they're about to be destroyed. Now all hope is gone when Aragorn remembers the promise that Gandalf gave him the last time he saw it. And the promise was at first light on the fifth day, look to the east, look to the mountain of the east and you will see my coming. Gandalf is the good wizard. And so Aragorn walks out and he looks up, there's all these armies of oppression that are about to destroy them. And he looks up to the east, right as the sun is coming up and it pops its head over the mountain. And there is Gandalf with all the cavalry of the Rohirrim coming over the crest of the hill, bringing rescue and salvation. That is exactly the kind of scene.

In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien may have been thinking about that when he wrote that, but that's the scene that Isaiah pictures is that there's a group of people that are surrounded by hopelessness and oppression and over the mountain comes salvation. But it's a messenger whose feet are beautiful. Feet are not a beautiful part of the body.

They are not, right? You don't want to see my feet. I don't want to see your feet, but when your feet carry good news of salvation, then they feed themselves become beautiful. And Isaiah says, there's no group anywhere. There's no matter how broken or lost, not shepherds or slaves or homeless who are surrounded by whatever mountains of oppression for whom Jesus has not won the victory. So you got to scale those mountains.

You got to go everywhere to all groups of all peoples and all places at all times and all situations and tell them the battle has been won. I know of a pastor up in Newark, New Jersey, who a couple of Christmases ago was preaching, and he actually was using go tell it on the mountain. And he said he wanted to get out of this cute little nativity scene mindset that everybody kind of has. And he wanted to find a way to make this real. So he just asked the question, he said, who would Jesus come to today? If he came 2000 years ago, he came to the shepherds, who would the equivalent of the shepherds be today? And he figured the closest equivalent to the shepherds in our day, would be the homeless. So he decided that week in preparation for his sermon, rather than just pouring through commentaries, he decided he would live on the street for a couple of days as a homeless man. Here's how he shares it with his congregation that Sunday.

He told him on Wednesday of this week, I decided to be homeless and to live on the streets for a couple of days. He went down to Penn Station in downtown Newark, New Jersey, because that's where he said he most often encountered homeless people. And he said, the first thing I noticed was that the homeless were kind of a mixture of different kinds of people that a lot of them were old. Some of them were mentally disabled. Some of them were drug addicts. Many of them had good jobs at one point, but some kind of tragedy set them on a tailspin and they tried to medicate it through alcohol and drugs.

And so eventually it destroyed their lives. And he said that the next thing I noticed about the homeless is that they always seem to be seeking rest. He says in Penn Station, they were always trying to get close to the benches and the public restrooms so they could lay down and sleep for a while.

But every 10 or 15 minutes, the police would come along with a little baton and they would smack the bench or smack their legs and make them get up and walk around. At 3 p.m., he said, the homeless shelters in Newark closed their doors. He said, so if you're not in by 3 p.m., then you're going to be on the streets for the night.

He said at 11 p.m., they closed Penn Station. And so we all got kicked out. And I walked out with a homeless woman whose name was Milagro. And I asked her what I was supposed to do next. And she graciously told me about a bridge that she slept under that had a few extra spots and invited me to come and be close to them for the evening. He says, as we walk along the streets, I then learned that the first spots to go in the city streets are the benches. Benches are like VIP seating for homeless people.

If you can find a spot next to a storm drain where hot air was blowing out, then that was awesome, too. She taught me how to sleep on the streets. She said, you put down your cardboard box and then you spread your blanket on it and you lay on it. He said, I was pretty uncomfortable, so she showed me how to sleep with my back against the wall or against the stairs.

That way, she said, nobody can attack you from behind. At 1 a.m., I finally fell asleep. He says, was woken up just a few minutes later by somebody kicking my boots. It was the guy who goes around cleaning up cigarette butts on the streets.

And all he said was, out, out, out. At 2 30, I saw my friend at 2 30, I saw my first drug deal, 2 30 in the morning. All these teenage kids showed up under this bridge with cash so that they could buy a hit. So some of them came over and actually offered it to me and I said, nah, I mean, I got to preach in three days, so probably wouldn't be good. So the police drove by multiple times that evening and they paid no attention to us.

It was just a normal night in Newark. I went over to a woman I saw on the ground to offer her a pair of socks. She freaked out and recoiled.

She thought I was going to rape her or attack her. And he said this, listen, the homeless, it turns out they never really rest. The next morning, I decided to ask passers by for a buck for coffee. He said it was like I was invisible. It was like the Red Sea partying around me. And then I realized at that moment that I'm normally on the other side of this equation. I'm the one coming out of the concerts, the games.

I'm the one coming out of the coffee shop telling the kids not to pay any mind to these people. It was devastating to be on this side, to be invisible. Imagine taking this day after day, month after month, maybe even year after year. What's it like to live this way for years and not be able to go home after two days to my family and my warmth and my comfort?

What if your primary hope in life is just to get the good bench at night? Mother Teresa says it's the poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for, which is the greatest poverty of them all. The writer of this carol, the writer Isaiah knows that these are the ones that Jesus came to first, that that was the mountain he scaled so that he could come to them and publish salvation. And the writer of this Christmas carol says, don't they deserve to know?

Shouldn't we be scaling the mountains of homelessness to get the gospel to them? Over Thanksgiving, my oldest two daughters and I took a mission trip to the Dominican Republic when my daughters turned 10 years old. I try to take them on a mission trip. So my oldest daughter is 12.

My second daughter is 10. And so we went back to the Dominican Republic with a group called Compassion. And the way that Compassion works is you sponsor a child that is in a poverty stricken country. And so we have one for each of our children and they sponsor them and then they write them letters throughout the year and just stay up with their lives. So you go and you take a trip and me and a few dads here at the Summit Church and our kids went. And the way it works is this, is you go visit some of the projects in the Dominican Republic where, and this is one of the countries they're in, but you visit these projects where they are helping kids get their basic needs met. They are in education, some really impressive education and technical skill training programs. And then spiritually they're teaching them what it means to walk with Jesus. They always work through a local church there in one of these places.

And so you spend time, a couple of days with the projects. They do what they call an in-home visit where you visit one of the kids that's just been inducted into Compassion. And the little girl that we visited with had only been in the program about two months. And she, two months before, had been rescued out of the sex trafficking industry in the Dominican Republic at five years old. And now she's here. I mean, the place she lived was, the way one of my daughters described it, was like a tin can.

It was a hovel, but she was safe. And she was involved in this program. And you're just seeing, it's just amazing seeing how these kids are being transformed and being changed. Well, we had three translators with our group, all of whom were in their early 20s, Dominican Republic young adults, and just some of the most impressive people I've been around. They were smart. They were articulate. They loved Jesus.

It was contagious. You're just blown away by these, you know, in fact, they were some of the most impressive 20-year-olds I'd ever been around anywhere. And on the last day of your trip, oh, I forgot one thing. On the day before, they bring in all the kids that you sponsor and you hang out with them for an afternoon, you get to meet them and just love them and just get to know them and kind of, well, give them gifts.

And it's awesome. Well, the last day, these three translators reveal that they grew up in the Compassion program, that they were ones that had been born either in poverty or been impoverished. One of the girls, one of the translators, her name was Diana, she starts telling us her story up on the last day. And she says, that little five-year-old girl you visited was a lot like me. She says, my dad abandoned us when I was a kid and it sent us into poverty. And she said, probably the biggest thing was his rejection of me. I took as a rejection of my whole life. I thought that nobody loved me.

I thought that his, he left me because there was something wrong with me. And she said, I realized it just carried this like a cloud for the next several years. She said, it was my sponsor in the United States. Somebody like you that began to write me and began to just tell me over the years that I mattered to God and that I mattered to them. And that God had not forgotten about me and that God loved me and that God has sent his son to die for me. And it gave me a plan to believe in when I felt like nobody else believed in me. And she said, so I completed this program. And now, you know, she said, I've got a job, I've got a future ahead of me, but it was because somebody bridged this gap and somebody entered my life and told me about these things. And the question that you are presented with on a trip like that, when it's not out of sight, not of mind, as you say, who scales that mountain to tell those kids that they matter to God.

Amy Carmichael, who was the missionary to India a hundred years ago, started an orphanage over there. She said, does it not stir up our hearts to go forth and help them? Does it not make us long to leave our luxury, our exceedingly abundant light to go to them that still sit in darkness? If the good news really means that there's nobody too lowly, that God would overlook them. There's nobody so guilty that God would forsake them. No one's so broken that God would not heal them.

How could we not scale that mountain to take the gospel, the good news of liberation to them? It was said that Hudson Taylor, who was one of the early pioneers that carried the gospel to China back in the 1850s, they always said that he could barely stand to be in a church service like this one, where there were a thousand English people. He was from England. He said, when we go back, I couldn't stand to be in the service. It's not that I didn't like worship. It's not that I didn't like crowds. He said, I just couldn't stand the sound of a thousand people who were just bathing in the light of the gospel, knowing that there were millions of Chinese who never even heard Jesus's name. He said, so when I would go speak at these churches, I literally could not stay in there for the worship.

I'd have to go outside because it was too overwhelming to me. I know that there's this mountain, that mountain for him represented Chinese culture, and he had to scale it, but they had to hear. And see, most of us are sitting around still talking about, I don't know if I'm called, waiting on some special Damascus road experience to tell us to get engaged. William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, minister to the homeless and still ministers of the homeless, used to say it this way, not called? Not called did you say?

Refused to hear the call, I think you should say. Just put down your ear to the Bible and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell and hear the damned and treat you to go back to their father's house and warn their brothers and sisters not to come there. And then look Jesus in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him you will not join heart and soul and body and circumstance in this march to publish his mercy to the world. It is no longer a question of calling, he says, it's a question of obedience, or like we often say at the summit church, the question is no longer if you're called. That call was given to you when you began to follow Jesus.

Follow me and I'll make you a fisher of men. The question is only where and how you are called. The great commission is not a special suggestion for a sacred view of us that went to seminary.

The great commission is a mandate for everybody. Go tell it on the mountain is not a sentimental song we sing at Christmas time. Go tell it on the mountain is the marching orders and the mandate for every person who knows the name of Jesus. So the question that I have for you is who are you telling? What mountain has God called you to, oh scale, to go across? I know you're not all called to the homeless, I understand that. I know you're not all called to China, I'm not all called the Dominican Republic or India, but every one of you is called somewhere, every single one of you. That's why Paul takes that verse and he says how?

How? How are they going to call on somebody they've never heard about? How are they going to hear unless you're sent? Every one of you is sent, that's what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You're not all sent to the same people, but you're sent but you're sent somewhere.

That's why we end every service here at the summit with that admonition. Summit church you are sent because that's what your role is. Let me tell you as your pastor what I think about a lot of times for you. I know that one day you're going to stand before Jesus and you're going to answer the call. You're going to answer as whether or not you went where he told you to go because I know he told you to go somewhere.

Every one of you told you to go somewhere. We preached about Sodom and Gomorrah a couple weeks ago, a few weeks ago, and we talked about how God destroyed that city. If you ask the average Christian what was the sin that made God destroy Sodom, right? Every Christian I know would just reflectively say homosexuality. That's what made God destroy Sodom and it's true homosexuality was a bad sin and it was certainly part of the wickedness of Sodom. But in Ezekiel 16 49 when the prophet Ezekiel talks about why God destroyed Sodom he did not mention any form of sexual impurity.

What he said, Ezekiel 16 49, was the people of Sodom lived in luxury and ease while the neighbors around them suffered and they didn't do anything to help. I know you're not all called to the same places but I know you're called to scale something. I know that you're called to scale some mountain to carry the gospel. For some of you it's going to begin by walking across the street and beginning a relationship with a neighbor that's going to be out of your comfort zone but that's the first mountain you're going to scale. Walking across the office into the cubicle and beginning a relationship where you're going to share the gospel. For some of you it means a change of career.

For some of you it means a change of where you live. For some of you it's going to mean going to an unreached people group. For some of you it means getting involved with the homeless, the orphan, the prisoner, the unwed mother, the high school dropout. It means getting involved with ministries here at the church that minister to teenagers or minister to kids.

You know on our website this weekend there's a little place where you can see how our church engages with the ministries of the city and how you can take mission trips and I know you're called to go somewhere to do something. I don't mean physically necessarily you move but you're called and I want you to be able to stand before Jesus with a clean conscience and say I know I wasn't called everywhere but I was called somewhere and I knew where that was and I went I went. Who were you telling?

Who were you telling? You see what you realize hopefully is what this slave who wrote this song realized listen is that I was the homeless. Spiritually speaking I was restless. I sought the solace of a park bench in the city of sin and that was my whole life and that was when Jesus found me. He healed me and he restored me. I was the shepherd. Spiritual condition of me was the same as the physical condition of the homeless and the shepherd. I was the slave when Jesus emancipated me and now having been emancipated he says go tell him on the mountain.

Cross that mountain and go to people in valleys like the valley you were in and tell them the Savior's been born. That's your commission. That's your calling. It's your mandate.

Why don't you bow your heads. Let me pray for us. Father renew this church's commission and its vision to see the gospel to see the gospel transform our city our neighbors our children and nations around the world we pray in Jesus name. Amen.

So who are you telling this season? How are you scaling mountains to make the gospel known? You're listening to Summit Life the Bible teaching ministry of pastor and author J.D.

Greer. It's a joy to be here with you on your station on your TV and online so that you can dive deeper into the gospel message with us each day. While these messages come to you free of charge they actually take a lot of financial support to produce and distribute and that's where friends like you come in.

When you donate to Summit Life you're bridging that gap. At this time of year your donation is more important than ever and we have a special offer for you this week only through tomorrow December 17th. When you join with us today as one of the first 500 people to commit as a gospel partner we'll send you a signed copy of Pastor J.D.

's new book on prayer titled Just Ask. We're inviting you to join in what God is doing through this ministry by becoming a regular monthly donor. Go all in with Summit Life today and be part of the team that's reaching people with gospel-centered Bible teaching.

It's easy to sign up right now by calling 866-335-5220 or it might be easier to learn more and sign up online at You can also join the mission by giving a special year-end donation of $35 or more and we'll say thanks by sending you the 2022 Summit Life Planner. I'm Molly Vidovich inviting you to join us again Friday as we continue our teaching series called Carol's on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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