Go, Tell It on the Mountain

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
 get thee up into the high mountain!
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
 lift up thy voice with strength;
lift it up; be not afraid!
 Say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold your God!
 Arise, shine, for thy light is come;
 and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee!

A writer often leads off with an anecdote to catch the attention and interest of the reader. I propose to do better and use an anthem to lead into my sermon. It will call for a bit of cooperation on your part. If you have a recording of Handel's "Messiah," now find the alto aria based upon the words printed above and listen to it. If not that, get the score and sing it. If not even that, read the words above and hear in your head as much of Handel as you can manage. Our treatment necessarily will focus upon the word of God; but I am utterly convinced God meant those words to be heard to Handel's music--it adds!

The composer's text is taken from two widely separated passages—Isa. 40:9 and Isa. 60:1--and it uses a translation that does not conform even to the King James and almost certainly is in error. It seems clear that the prophet's original command was for Zion Jerusalem) to get up into the high mountain--which is where it is located--and tell the good tidings to the lower down cities of Judah. Besides, neither we nor Handel will interpret the good news as the prophet intended: he was talking about the return of the exiles from Babylon; we are talking about what God has done in Jesus Christ. But all these glaring discrepancies will bother us not a whit; the Holy Spirit acts with a freedom that sweeps right over them!

0 thou that tellest good tidings. "Good tidings" is, of course, a precise translation of our word "gospel" and the "evangel" of our word "evangelism." Yet perhaps we need to be reminded of the translation more often than we are; the gospel of evangelism as discussed in this book dare never, in the first place, be the conviction of sin, the threat of eternal punishment, or the implication of moral or spiritual distance between the evangelist and his hearer. No, always, in the first and primary place, we are called to be tellers of good tidings.

And once a person has "good tidings," once he is convinced that what he has are indeed "good tidings," what possibly is there to do except to "tellest" them? That's what good tidings are good for; that's about the only thing one can do with them. As a medieval English poet humorously observed, the likely reason Cod engineered a group of women to be the first discoverers of Jesus' resurrection was that he wanted the good tidings to be told abroad. Good tidings--truly good tidings as much as impel their own telling.

It follows (inevitably, I am afraid) that to the extent we are not involved in some sort of evangelism, to that extent is indicated the fact that we have not yet heard Christianity as truly being "good tidings," the best possible tidings. The first step in evangelism, then, lies not in our deciding to become evangelists but in our hearing the gospel in such a way that nothing can stop us from becoming evangelists. Once the word actually is heard, it has its own way of making an evangelist out of the hearer.

In this regard, it must be said that the good tidings of our concern are themselves broad enough and "good" enough that "evangelism" dare not be limited to that proclamation directed at winning people to a first acceptance of Jesus. No, these tidings also are good for those who already know him as Lord and Savior. They are good for those who are still too young to adequately understand what it means for him to be Lord and Savior. They may even have a quality of goodness that can be heard by those who have chosen not to hear that he is Lord and Savior.

Although the telling of good tidings dare never omit the interest in new acceptances of Christ, neither dare it be confined to this interest. Yes, the language of the "body" in Christian education, worship, fellowship, and service--any activity that effectively communicates to anybody any aspect of the good news of what God has done for us in Christ--any of this is authentic evangelism. We need take care only that our pursuit of one sort of evangelism does not become an excuse for ignoring other sorts.

Get thee up into a high mountain; lift up thy voice with strength! With this command the prophet seems to have had two thoughts in mind. First, Zion should get up to where she has a good angle for beholding God as he brings the exiles home across the Arabian Desert. Evangelists are not encouraged simply to charge out and start telling whatever they have heard from whatever source; they have a responsibility to know what they are talking about, to have seen it for themselves with some clarity and perspective. So, get thee up into the high mountain of Bible reading and theological study, of learning what Christianity is, so you can know what's going on, so that there will be some chance that the good tidings you tell will be an accurate first-hand report.

Second, obviously Zion should get up so that her voice will carry as far as possible. For us, this means looking out to find the methods and styles of evangelism which, according to our own particular gifts and resources, will make for the widest and most effective hearing. So what is your high mountain? For some, certainly, it will be that which goes under the name "visitation evangelism." For others, perhaps, "revival preaching." For others, "everyday witnessing." For others, teaching. For others, writing (my own particular mound). For others, the providing of financial support, building up a high mountain from which someone else's voice can be heard. It would be foolish for us to try to enumerate all the possibilities. And it is foolish, too, for any evangelist to claim that his method marks the only truly high mountain and so look down on those who feel they can do better from a different peak.

Say, "Behold your God!" Here is perhaps the most important and helpful note of all. The message of evangelism can be summarized just this briefly: Behold your God!

"Look! Look! God is here! He has come to us in Jesus Christ! Look! See him in his love, his grace, his kindness, his helping and healing, his serving and saving! Behold your God; see who he is and what he does. See him come to us, come for us, come wanting us." Evangelism is more of a pointing and saying, behold--so that the other person can see for himself--this, more than it is like anything else.

This means that evangelism is not a case of matching wits with another person, of trying to convert or win him (in the sense of "getting victory over him"). We simply invite the prospect to look ... and God is able to take it from there. This means that we do not in any sense make ourselves a focus of attention; we are pointing away from ourselves. We do not set ourselves over others to lecture them, to set them straight, to get their theology corrected, to sell them a product, to convince them they're sinners, to get them to confess to us or to make a commitment to us or to sign a dotted line for us or to agree with us. No, simply:

"Behold your God!"--calling attention to God in as winsome a way as possible ... and letting God take it from there.

In actuality God is his own evangelist--and an entirely capable one, it should be said. It is not that he has laid upon us the evangelism assignment as some sort of task that he needs us to do for him. Rather, he has invited us, offered us the privilege of joining him in the exciting thing he is doing. And all we are asked to do is point, "Behold your God!"--and if this beholding of God doesn't convince that other person, then you can be sure that none of your techniques would change the situation in any case. If you feel "a burden to win souls" (to expose an old chestnut of a phrase), it isn't Christian evangelism you're talking about, because it, by nature, is very much a light, free, exciting, "looky-here-would-you" sort of thing.

Arise, shine, For thy light is come! This is it, what evangelism is all about! Rise and shine! And you don't even have to generate your own candle-power. The text makes it clear that the only reason you can shine is because thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Your shining is done with reflected light and in no other way.

Each morning when the sun comes up and its first rays hit the snow-crowned top of Old Baldy (the ten-thousand-footer beneath which I live), what does It do? It rises and shines. "Rises?" Indubitably; any fool can see that that mountain is much higher early in the morning than at any other time (for that matter, you can't see it at all after the smog builds up). From its high mountain, Old Baldy gives a witness and tells to the cities of Judah (actually, those of the eastern Los Angeles basin) the good tidings that the sun is up and the day has come, Behold your God!

And now that the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon us, what are we to do? Obviously, arise tall and proud and free--and shine! And just how does one do that? There are as many different ways of doing it as there are different people. Don't let anyone tell you that it has to be done a certain way or it isn't evangelism. No, you let the light shine in the way it happens to bounce off a "you"--shaped mountaintop--whether that happens to be an Old Baldy or some more hirsute prominence. If the light is indeed that of the glory of the Lord, the shape of the reflector won't make all that much difference. It is all right, even, to plan, learn, and practice some "evangelistic techniques"; but it is not here that success or failure lies. The only success is the success that God himself gives to the effort; the only failure is our failure to rise and shine.

How varied can they be, these ways of evangelism, of telling the good tidings? We will speak to the question through the refrain of a familiar hymn. Recall the opening anthem and what Handel did with the Isaiah texts through the use of classic, formal, sophisticated orchestration. But hear now (better, sing now) another treatment of one of those same texts, exploring the same idea, proclaiming the same message--yet done in a completely different musical idiom. And don't you even dare ask the question as to which is the truer, more authentic expression. If it is the one God each song moves us to behold, both are wanted and both needed.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain--
That Jesus Christ is a-born!

Copyright (c) 1987