When our son and family were here recently, I went hiking with them to Leigh Lake, my favorite place in the Cabinet Wilderness near our home in Libby, Montana. It is not a long hike (only a couple miles), but a very steep one with many switchbacks and loose shale rock. It is important to stay on the trail. If you get tempted to take a shortcut to bypass a switchback, you could easily fall or send rocks tumbling down upon the trail. Well, we had just about reached the beautiful waterfall below the lake when we heard hollering ahead and could hear rocks falling down the mountainside. We stopped walking and watched as a teen-age boy was sliding on his backside down a steep shale slide just past where we were on the trail, knocking rocks ahead of him as he made his way down. Fortunately he was only bruised up a bit but it could have ended up much worse, and–PTL–we stopped where we were or we would have been on the trail where the rocks tumbled down. As the rest of his party who had been hollering to him came down the trail, I reminded them of the danger of attempting to take shortcuts. It could prove fatal, not just to the one who takes the shortcut but to others around as well. By the way, we made it safely to our special spot on the lake to have lunch at a place where a snow-melt stream comes into the lake and creates a big ice tunnel near the lake. The view is spectacular as you sit there by the shore and look up to Snowshoe Peak (the highest in the Cabinets) towering above you, with big snow banks clinging to the massive rock wall. A big chunk of snow broke off and slid into the lake just as we started heading back.
Our experience reminded me of the danger that taking shortcuts can present. I thought of Abraham and Sarah who were promised descendants like the dust of the earth and the stars in heaven, yet had no children (Gen. 12;1-3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1,2). Rather than wait for the promised son, Isaac, they “took a shortcut.” Sarah, who was still barren, suggested that Abraham have a son through her handmaid, Hagar. Well they did, and Ishmael was born, and we all know how that worked out–the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue until the end of human history!
Isaac’s son Jacob continued the pattern of taking shortcuts. He traded a bowl of stew for his twin brother’s birthright. Esau, being born first, as the eldest son, had precedence over his brothers and was assured of a double share of their father’s inheritance. When Isaac was nearing the end of his life, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau. Jacob ended up leaving home and fleeing for his life because of his deception.
King Saul, in a serious conflict with Israel’s nemesis, the Philistines, was getting very anxious and rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive, He offered a burnt offering to unite the people and prepare for war. He resorted to situational ethics rather than biblical ethics (I Sam. 13:7-14). He took a shortcut and then offered excuses for his conduct, trying to justify himself instead of confessing his sin. Saul’s career after the pronouncement by Samuel demonstrated the futility of trying to discharge the work of God without God’s grace and blessing–i.e, by trying to shortcut God’s plan and orders.
But we do have some positive examples in Scripture as well. Jacob’s son Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, jailed on a false rape charge, forgotten in jail and yet he was willing to follow God’s plan and wait on God’s timing. When he arose to a position of power in Egypt he had opportunity to get even with his brothers, but he forgave them instead, saying; “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Gen. 50:20).
David, having been anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as King of Israel (I Sam. 16:1,13), had an opportunity to kill Saul (who had been attempting to kill David) and be installed as the new king, but he refused to do so, for Saul was still “the LORD’S anointed” (I Sam. 24:6,10). David was willing to wait for God’s timing rather than taking a shortcut.
But, the ultimate example is that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came to earth as the God-man to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9 cf 2:14,15). At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1). In Satan’s third temptation, he “took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these will I give You (NOW), if You fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4:8,9). Satan was indeed the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31) for Adam and Eve had given up that role when they disobeyed in the Garden. Jesus will one day rule over this world in His thousand-year reign, but the time was not right. He came to first suffer for sin on the cross. Satan was attempting to stop Jesus from becoming the Redeemer for mankind through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Remember when “Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Mt. 16:21). Do you recall how Peter responded? “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You'” (v. 22). And what did Jesus say to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan…” (v. 23). Satan again was trying (through Peter) to get Jesus to take a shortcut and bypass the cross.
Even as Jesus–the God-man– prayed in the garden before His arrest, He agonized over going to the cross and enduring the wrath of God on the sins of the world. Three times He asked God to take away this cup of suffering, but He concluded with: “If this can’t pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done” (Mt. 26:42). Praise God, Jesus did not take a shortcut and bypass the cross! Rather, the author of Hebrews exhorts us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Because of the empty cross and empty tomb, we have a full salvation!!
So, let us too run with endurance the race that is set before us and not be looking for shortcuts!