In Zechariah 4:7, it was predicted that a great mountain was going to become a plain: “Who [art] thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel [thou shalt become] a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone [thereof with] shoutings, [crying], Grace, grace unto it.” Read the following two Scriptures and then see if you can figure out to what all three of these Scriptures are referring, because they are actually all talking about a very similar subject that we will study in this article.
Read next about a prediction of the work of John the Baptist who was to come to prepare the way for the Messiah. This passage was written 700 years before the time of John the Baptist. The New Testament says, and John the Baptist himself says, that he came to fulfill this prophecy: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of Jehovah; make straight a way in the desert, a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be brought low.” Isaiah 40:3, 4. Now, about what is that talking? Then verse 4 continues: “And it shall be the steep ground for a level place, and the rough places shall become a plain.”
This almost sounds like the construction of an interstate highway, where the mountains and the valleys are smoothed out so the road is straight and level, and travelers may drive their vehicles over 70 miles per hour on it.
Jesus talked about this very same principle in Matthew 21. Skeptics and non-believers, to criticize Christians and to try to prove that the Bible is not true, have used this passage. All they have proved, though, is that they do not know what the Bible is saying. “And early in the morning, He returned to the city, and He was hungry. And seeing one fig tree in the way, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And He said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you from now on forever.’ And immediately the fig tree was withered away. And the disciples, seeing, were astonished, saying, ‘How quickly the fig tree has dried up!’ And Jesus, answering, said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only what is done to the fig tree shall you do, but also if to this mountain you shall say, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it shall be done. And all things whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.’ ” Matthew 21:18–21.
Skeptics and scoffers have said to Christians that they have never seen or heard of any mountains being cast into the sea. They will argue that the Rocky Mountains are still where they were, and the Sierras are still where they were. Mount Everest and the Himalayan Mountains are still where they were. The Andes are still where they were. They say that even though Jesus said that if we believe and pray, then the mountains are going to be cast into the sea, they do not believe, because the mountains are all still there, and they have never seen this happen. The problem is, they do not know what the Bible is really saying.
Jesus was not talking about literal mountains, just as Zechariah 4:7 was not talking about a literal mountain. Isaiah 40 was not talking about a literal road; John the Baptist never built highways.
Well, then, what are these texts talking about? They are talking about the obstacles—the difficulties, the trials that are in front of you that are like a mountain. You cannot get over it or around it or through it, and you are stuck. So, what are you going to do? The Bible is full of stories where God has illustrated the experience of His children in past ages who were hemmed in with all kinds of obstacles, trials, and troubles.
Jesus was talking about a spiritual mountain or difficulty or obstacle in your life. He was not talking about the Rocky Mountains or the Andes Mountains. He was talking about the spiritual obstacles in front of you that you do not know how you will get around. You do not know how you are going to overcome them. He said, “If you will pray and believe, these apparent impossibilities that are in front of you can be removed.”
Obstacles of the Christian
What are the obstacles that face the Christian? The Christian is faced with both external and internal obstacles. We will first look at the external obstacles. They are the easiest ones. The internal obstacles are the harder ones.
The external obstacles that the Christian faces are first of all what the Bible calls “the world.” The New Testament has a lot of discussion about this. 1 John 2:15–17 gives the obstacle that the Christian has in the world: “Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Because everything that is in the world—the lust (that is, the craving) of the flesh and the craving of the eyes and the ostentatiousness (or the pride of life)—is not from the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away and the craving of it, but the one doing the will of God remains forever.”
So, the external obstacle is of the world, and what is in the world? It is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Incidentally, these three temptations are the three temptations that the devil brought to Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 4.
The lust of the flesh is the sensual temptation, temptations in regard to sexual passions and appetites for food and drink and other substances that are sinful. Now, it is not a sin to eat and drink, but you can sin eating and drinking.
Then the second temptation, the lust of the eyes, is the desire to make a display. Remember what the devil did to Jesus? He told Him, “Come up here on the temple and cast Yourself down. The Lord will protect You. He has announced Your Messiahship. Everybody will believe You, because You will be known all over the world as the One who jumped off the temple and did not get killed.” That is the temptation to presumption.
Sensual temptation is the first temptation; the devil comes to everyone with that. It is usually successful, but if the devil does not succeed in getting you to fall for sensual temptations, then he is going to come to you with the second temptation of presumption.
Ellen White wrote that when the devil comes to people with the temptation of presumption, he is successful nine times out of ten! (See Testimonies, vol. 4, 44.) We do not have a very good average when we are dealing with temptations of presumption.
Presumption is when people claim the promises of God, but they do not fulfill the conditions. It is one of the most common sins in the Christian world today. There are millions of Christians who claim God as their Father; who claim Jesus as their Saviour; but they are not doing the will of God. They say, “We are going to heaven,” but the Bible says that they are not.
Jesus said, “Not everyone that says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ is going to enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will come to Me in that day and they will say, ‘Lord, Lord, You have made a mistake! We know that we are saved, because we have cast out demons in Your name. We have prophesied in Your name. We have performed many miracles in Your name.’ Then I will say unto them, ‘I never knew you.’ ” (Matthew 7:21–23.)
Can you imagine what a shock that will be? to be a Christian, to go to church every week, to come right up to the day of judgment, and say, “Lord, I know I am saved,” and have Him respond, “No, I never knew you.” “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Verse 23, last part.
This is the besetting sin of the Christian world today. People think they can be saved while they are breaking God’s Law. The Bible does not teach that.
So, the temptations from the world are lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (that is, the love of the world). I am always amazed at how easy it is for us to fall on the temptation of love of the world. The devil promised Jesus the whole world. He would not take it. But there are people that will fall for just a little piece of real estate—not a piece the size of Wichita or the size of Kansas. If the devil offered you all of the city of Wichita, Kansas, would you be willing to give up eternal life to get the whole city? If he offered you all of Kansas, would you be willing to give up eternal life to get the whole state?
Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36. A lot of people are falling for that one today, just as in Jesus’ day. So, the world is the first external temptation.
The second external temptation that Christians face is the same one that Jesus faced, and that is the devil. The devil comes to every Christian, every man and every woman, every boy and every girl. The devil comes with various temptations to get you in some way to break the Law of God, because he knows that if you do that, you are on his side. The Bible says, in 1 John 3:8, that everyone who sins is of the devil. And sin is defined in 1 John 3:4: “Sin is the transgression of the law.”
So, if the devil can entice you, seduce you, terrify you, some way get you to sin, you are on his side of the great controversy. That is his whole goal. You are going to lose your soul if you stay there on his side.
Those are the external temptations: the world, with sensuality, presumption, and the love of things, and, then, the devil.
Next we must consider the really bad obstacles that the Christian has to face, and those are the internal obstacles.
If you are not a Christian, you can become a Christian today. In a Christian religion, you do not have to do penance; you do not have to do all kinds of things like that to become part of the body of Christ. You become a Christian by surrendering your will, your mind, to Jesus Christ. If you surrender to Him, and acknowledge Him as your Saviour from sin and as the Lord of your life, then you become a Christian, even if you have not yet been baptized. You can choose to do that right now.
Jesus said, in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you do not do what I say?” So, you cannot call Him Lord and not obey, but if you are a Christian, you have a goal. What is your goal? In 1 John 3:2, we read, “Beloved, now are we the children of God; and it is not yet apparent what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; we shall see Him as He is.” When Jesus appears, we are going to be like Him, so what is your goal, if you are a Christian? Your goal is to be Christlike. Jesus called it the narrow way that leads to eternal life. (See Matthew 7:14.)
Let us think this through. If your goal is to be Christlike but there is something inside of you that is not Christlike, what is your problem? You have an obstacle. Your goal is to go to heaven and have eternal life, but you are not there yet. You have an obstacle that you have to overcome to get there.
You see, anything in your character that is not Christlike is an internal obstacle that you must overcome if you are going to be ready for Jesus to come. Do you understand that concept? It is discussed in 1 John 3:1–3, and it says, in verse 3, “Every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.”
If there is something in your character that is not Christlike, that is an internal obstacle that you have to overcome if you are going to be ready for Jesus to come. And those, of course, are the far more serious obstacles that the Christian has to meet. The internal obstacles are far more difficult and far more serious than the external obstacles.
You see, God has the ability to remove obstacles. God has the ability to take away the devil’s power on the outside, but it would not do any good to take away the external obstacles if the internal obstacles were not removed first. Just think that one through. That is why, before God removes the devil’s power over you on the outside, which will happen when you are taken to heaven, He must first remove the devil’s power over you on the inside.
Those are the obstacles that the Christian has to overcome. Incidentally, not only are there obstacles for individual Christians, but there are obstacles for groups of Christians, for churches. Churches have obstacles to meet too.
One of the great obstacles for the church is the obstacle of false teaching, or heretical doctrines. Jesus talked about this a great deal, including in Matthew 24. He said that many false prophets were going to arise, and they were going to deceive many. Whenever you see revival or reformation happening in any church, you will find the devil trying to push off onto that church all kinds of heretical and fanatical doctrines. It never fails.
Do you know from where the greatest obstacles for the church come? Ellen White wrote, “We have far more to fear from within than from without. The hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 122. From where is our greatest danger, our greatest opposition, going to come? It is going to come from professed believers, from other Christians. “How often have the professed advocates of the truth proved the greatest obstacle to its advancement!” Ibid.
“If we hope to wear the crown, we must expect to bear the cross. Our greatest trials will come from those who profess godliness. It was so with the world’s Redeemer; it will be so with his followers. . . . The opposition which Christ received came from his own nation, who would have been greatly blessed had they accepted him. In like manner the remnant church receive opposition from those who profess to be their brethren.” Review and Herald, August 28, 1883.
Does the greatest opposition come from your enemies? No, it comes from the people whom you think are your friends. That is where it is the most dangerous too.
One other question that needs to be addressed before we look at how to deal with these obstacles is a question that many people have in their minds, especially people who have newly become Christians. This is a very perplexing question to many new Christians. Have you ever thought, or heard someone say, “I have given my life to Christ. I have chosen to follow Him, and now I am in more trouble than I have ever been before in my life. When I was out in the world and I was practicing all the sins of the world, I was not having a tenth of the trouble I am having now that I have decided to follow the Lord. What is this?” People are tempted to think that if God is all-powerful, and if He is really leading them, then why are they experiencing so much trouble?
There is a reason for it, and it really is true. When you decide to follow the Lord, you do have more trouble than you had before. Let me explain how that happens and why that happens.
“Trial is part of the education given in the school of Christ, to purify God’s children from the dross of earthliness. It is because God is leading His children that trying experiences come to them. Trials and obstacles are His chosen methods of discipline, and His appointed conditions of success.” The Acts of the Apostles, 524.
So, what are the appointed conditions of success? They are trials and obstacles, because there is no other way that God can get you from where you are now to where you need to be. Did you know that God never sends to us a trial that we do not need? Now, that is a hard statement. People can hardly believe that. They can hardly believe that God does not allow trials to come to us that we do not need. They say, “Lord, something is wrong here. Preacher, I do not have enough faith to believe this.” Maybe some of you do not have enough faith to believe it, but that is what inspiration says.
“God’s care for His heritage is unceasing. He suffers no affliction to come upon His children but such as is essential for their present and eternal good. He will purify His church, even as Christ purified the temple during His ministry on earth. All that He brings upon His people in test and trial comes that they may gain deeper piety and greater strength to carry forward the triumphs of the cross.” Ibid., 524, 525.
Trials and obstacles are God’s chosen methods of discipline and the appointed conditions of success, and if you are going through severe trials and obstacles, that means that God has something wonderful in store for you when you get past them. Study your Bible; study the great men of the Bible. I will give you a few examples, which you can study on your own.
The man Joseph is one of the greatest men ever written about in the Bible. He became the Prime Minister of the strongest nation in the world, and he became known worldwide as the savior of the people. Before God exalted him to that high position, did he have to go through some trials, some really severe trials?
Yes, first of all he was sold as a slave, and was taken away from his family when he was about 17 years of age. He was taken to a foreign land where he had to learn a new language, new culture, and new customs. Then, when he became successful, his master’s wife accused him to his master. She first tried to commit adultery with him. He would not do it, so then she accused him to his master, and he was wrongly thrown in jail. As a slave, he had no way to get out of jail, and he spent years there. He would have been in that jail for the rest of his life if the Lord had not delivered him.
Does that sound like a pretty hard trial? That is perhaps a harder trial than some of us have been through. You see, the greater the future and the destiny that God has for you, the greater the trial that He may allow you to go through to get there.
Consider the man David. David is one of the greatest men in the Bible, even though he made some very serious mistakes. Did God allow David to go through a period of trial before He allowed him to become the king of Israel, probably the greatest king that Israel ever had? Yes, David was on the run for his life for about ten years. He was a fugitive, running from here to there, always in danger of being killed. You can read the story in the books of Samuel.
Daniel, also one of the greatest men ever to be recorded in Holy Scripture, was taken captive when he was around 17 years of age too. He was taken to a foreign country where he decided that he was not going to drink alcoholic beverages or eat unclean foods. He risked his life for his convictions when he was just a young man. Read the story in Daniel 1.
But that was just the beginning of the trials and tribulations that Daniel had. Some of the hardest trials he had came when he was an elderly man. He was the Prime Minister of the greatest nation in the world, and the other officials of the government became jealous of him. They decided they would get rid of Daniel, and they determined that the only way to get rid of him, because they could not find any fault in him, was through his religion. So they had a law made that if an individual worshiped anybody other than the king for 30 days, he would be thrown into the lions’ den.
Daniel had to make a decision. He had always worshiped God publicly in the window of his house, three times a day, and he was tempted to say, “Well, I will close the window today when I pray, and they will not be able to see me.” That was the temptation the devil brought to him. “I will go to my closet, and I will still pray three times a day to the God of heaven, but I will close and lock the door and nobody will hear me. Nobody will be able to arrest me, because they will not know.” But that had not been his practice, and he knew that that would give the impression that he was being obedient. He was not willing to even give the impression that he would worship anybody but the God of heaven, even if it meant being thrown into the lions’ den. God had not told him that He would deliver him! But He did.
God has not told you in advance what He is going to deliver you from either. When you see the obstacle, all you can see is the obstacle. It looms before you just like the lions’ den. Oh, friend, whatever the obstacle, God knows how to deliver you at the right time. But God could never have delivered Daniel from the lions’ den if Daniel had not been faithful, and God cannot deliver you when you meet an obstacle unless you are faithful.
To be continued . . .
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559