The highest mountain in the world has been in the news again the last couple of weeks. During this year’s spring climbing season, six people, one of them a Canadian woman, died attempting to climb Mount Everest, which is 8,848 metres (5.5 miles) high. It’s been the worst year since 1996 when 16 climbers paid with their lives for a taste of Everest’s glory. Climbers are vulnerable to exhaustion and altitude sickness, many fatalities occurring on the way down. This prompted one expedition leader to warn his clients rejoicing at the peak, “You’re only half-way there.”
All told, 240 people reached the summit this year, one of them a 73-year-old woman who set a record for being the oldest woman to scale the world’s highest peak. A week later a British teenager became the youngest woman to climb it.
Everest was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29,1953. Since then about 10,000 people have attempted to climb what has been called the ultimate peak. About 4,000 have been successful.
However, about 230 have made Mount Everest not only the highest mountain in the world, but also the highest graveyard. The bodies of climbers who died on Everest are irretrievable because of the altitude and the terrain—and the expense. They lie amid the snow and rocks on the windswept heights where they drew their last breath, their brightly-coloured mountain gear drawing the eyes of new climbers who year after year trudge somberly past the frozen corpses.
Yet year after year the number of climbers increases, undeterred by the very real prospect of adding to the growing graveyard there. There’s just something about altitude that’s very attractive to us earthlings, isn’t there. In fact climbing Everest has become a lucrative tourist attraction; you may not know a crampon from a crouton but if you’ve got the money (about $65,000) there are outfitters who will take you to the top.
People are continually trying to make new records climbing Everest. The first to climb it. The first to climb it without oxygen. The oldest to climb it. The youngest. The fastest. The one who’s climbed it most often. The first to climb it in winter. The first to climb it alone.
That would be Reinhold Messner, who climbed Everest without oxygen in 1978 with Peter Habeler. The world was astonished at their impossible feat. But it wasn’t enough for Messner. Two years later he climbed Everest without oxygen alone, and on one of the more difficult routes.
Now considered the greatest mountaineer in the world, Messner was also the first man to climb all fourteen of the earth’s peaks over 8,000 metres.
All these firsts even at the risk of death… for a glory that is as fleeting as the flower of the grass.
But let me tell you of another Man of renown, one who attained eternal glory. This one climbed a Mountain that causes world-renowned mountaineers like Reinhold Messner to lose their interest—and, when they hear of the route, their stomachs. They climb earth’s highest mountains mocking at fear, looking down with disdain on places where eagles fly. Yet their knees quake and their stomachs grow queasy at the prospect of this Mountain.
Because the way up this Mountain is down.
It’s the way our Lord Jesus Christ inaugurated for us when He climbed this Mountain— the first to do so.
He humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a man—but not a man of pre-eminence and high society—a bondslave. And as a bondslave He became obedient unto death.
Obedience unto death? That’s not too bad, you say, there’s glory in a hero’s death.
But this Man’s death was not a hero’s death. It was not an honourable death. It was the death of a cross—the death of a criminal. An ignoble death. In his case it was an unjust death. He had been wronged. He did not deserve this treatment. He had been falsely accused and maligned.
Yet He bore it all patiently without resentment. He didn’t cry out for what was due Him. He didn’t plead with His persecutors for the honour that was being denied Him.
He was sheared of His honour and led as a Lamb to the slaughter, opening not His mouth. He could have spared Himself the suffering by taking a little step of disobedience. But no, He was “obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.” For, He committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name
That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and in earth, and under the earth:
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Now He sits enthroned in glory on the summit of the highest Mountain in the universe—Mount Zion.
He that ascended first descended.
What about you and me? We love those Everest heights of glory in the eyes of men; somehow we know we were meant for the heights, for we were created in the image of the high God. But, oh… can we humble ourselves? It seems it’s the most difficult thing for us to do—to humble ourselves…
…To esteem others better than ourselves; to serve others rather than be served.
…To bear patiently wrong treatment when we are right, and pray for those who ill treat us.
…To acknowledge it when we are wrong.
…To ask forgiveness.
It’s a tough route… and cannot be accomplished without grace… and the Oxygen of the Spirit of God.
But only those who go this route arrive at the height of Mount Zion.