When I first visited the mountain the locals told me it was possible, but each visit left me in doubt. No matter how many visits I made to Mt Nebo, I could never catch a glimpse of Jerusalem. I could easily see the vast expanse of the Jordan Valley stretching from the Dead Sea in the south toward the north somewhere near the Sea of Galilee. I could make out the city of Jericho on the other side of the Jordan just before the mountains began to rise again on the Western side of the river. Beyond that, to the west, only a jumble of rocky peaks and valleys. Never Jerusalem. There was always too much dust in the air or too overcast.
Then one day it happened. It was Easter Sunday. A gathering of fellowships from Amman met at the ancient Byzantine monetary for a sunrise service. As we exited the service we sat on the steps of the reconstructed church facing the valley toward the west. We sang hymns as the sun rose from behind us, revealing a crystal clear view of the valley floor and beyond. Amid the mountains there was a distant glint of the sun off the Dome of the Rock and we could make out the spires of the city. I was moved beyond words.
I wonder how clear it must have been the morning Moses stood on Mt Nebo and gazed into the promised land? He could see all the way to the “western sea”. Just a glimpse would have to be enough. He could see well enough, the text tells us. He had enough strength to continue, even at 120 years old. But He would not enter, for his was a generation who had failed to trust God’s promise to the point of obedience.
No doubt he had mixed emotions. He wanted to see this through, yet he knew this story was not about him. This was the story of a God who would be faithful to a covenant people; the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. This was the God of burning bushes; of smoke and fire pillars, manna, and quail. With all of the encounters along the journey, this glimpse was a reminder that he was a transitional leader. God would see this through. Joshua would lead the people into the fullness of the promise.
We live in the “already and not yet” reality of the Kingdom. This gives us a way to understand eschatology in the Wesleyan tradition. Likewise, this concept gives us a soteriological insight into our own lives. We are made whole in Christ, yet we are not what we shall be.
Some may feel this passage speaks of the long term effects of disobedience. While that is true I believe it misses the larger point. This is a declaration that God finishes what God starts. It is good news. As a pastor, I can know God’s faithfulness extends beyond my view. Even Moses, the “greatest of the prophets”, was a transitional leader in God’s great design.
There is one other feature of modern day Nebo which I find interesting. Yes the vast mosaics from the sixth century are nice, but I speak of a modern sculpture which stands in the courtyard. It is a stunning depiction of a cross, fashioned as Moses’ staff with a serpent wrapped around. The plaque below references John 3:14, “As Moses lifted… the Son of Man must be lifted up.” I confess I often confuse that verse with John 12:32, where Jesus declares, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (NRSV) Yes, there is a clear reference to the resurrection here, but there is also an indication that the resurrected Christ will finish what he started. Christ is risen and is still drawing all people to himself. He finishes what he started.
It has been nearly 20 years since my Easter experience on Nebo. It is still vivid in my mind. But I confess many times I have longed to go back and view the spires, even from a distance, one more time.
As a pastor, with more years past than lie ahead, I long to catch a glimpse once more of what God is doing. I want to see beyond my own ministry and regard God’s work yet to come. I look at my young colleagues in ministry and wonder what joys lie before them. If I linger on the mountain long enough- gaze at the view frequently enough- I like Moses, may catch a glimpse of the Kingdom to come. One more glimpse, Lord, one more glorious glimpse!