|Photo by W.carter 2017|
We soon came to a fork in the road, which neither of us had noticed on the map, as the trail overall appeared to be a circular loop. There were no trail markers at the fork to guide our journey. I preferred the shadier path to the left, while Richard felt that the right path was more likely to be on the main loop. So right we went, and were later relieved to see a blue number painted on a short post, suggesting that we were still on the main trail.
Yet without a map, we were still in the dark about where the trail would take us, and how long our journey would be. Suddenly I screamed as a large snake, once coiled out of sight behind a clump of grass, sprung across the path before slithering away in the bushes.
“It was black, so most likely a harmless racer – no need to panic, says the woman screaming,” I chattered away, more to calm my own nerves than to reassure Richard.
Soon we came to a lovely view, live oak trees framing a serene lake, their branches gnarled and fuzzy with dark ferns, giving them a distinctive yet oddly pleasing appearance resembling tarantula legs.
“We’ll have to come back one day for a picnic, if we can remember how to find it,” Richard said.
As the sun grew warmer, we began to tire and thought about heading back. Just then a fellow hiker crossed our path, and we asked him if he knew the quickest way to return to the trailhead (well, actually, I asked him, because you know how most men hate to ask for directions!).
“Oh, sure,” he said. “Follow this trail up ahead about 50 feet, where you’ll see a large boulder. Turn left at the fork there and that trail leads back to the parking lot – about 15 minutes.”
Our adventure made me think about how we navigate through life’s unknown terrain. Without landmarks of any sort, we would not only be lost, but without expectations or hope for what lies ahead (Ephesians 2:12).
The most memorable landmarks are often highly emotionally charged, like the snake startling me as it crossed my path. And yet these can be the least reliable. If I attempted to find my way based on where I had seen the snake, I would no doubt be lost, as I was too engrossed in a “fight or flight” reaction to have noticed the terrain, distinctive trees, or topographic features that would help me find the location again.
Nor could I count on the snake to stay in the same spot, for it would have moved on to a less travailed cranny in the bushes, out of sight yet lying in wait for an unsuspecting victim.
Then there are landmarks that would seem at first glance to be more reliable and immutable, yet may not actually be. We might think we could easily revisit the scenic lakefront spot, but what if a storm had caused a large tree to block the path leading to it, or a drought had dried up the lake altogether. The ferns growing on the live oak branches are epiphytes that may change in appearance with rainfall or seasons, so these would be an even less reliable marker.
The gentleman who gave us directions used landmarks that he knew would be there in the short amount of time it would take us to get there, as a heavy rock is unlikely to move and a trail unlikely to erode within half an hour.
But overall, the most reliable and durable markers were the blue painted numbers along the trail and the map at the trailhead laying out the whole course of the trail. Yet we gave these short shrift because they were neither exciting nor calming, eliciting neither fear nor peace.
It made me wonder if we sometimes do the same with God’s Word, ignoring its guidance at our own peril, because we are too easily distracted by and too eager to pursue (or run away from) transient sights that bring us pleasure or pain. Satan is often behind these pitfalls, luring us away from God’s Word with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16), and evoking fear and confusion that cause us to doubt God’s Word (2 Timothy 1:7; Matthew 14:31).
Yet His Word is the blueprint for our life, the lamp unto our feet and light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). But sometimes our eyes are blinded, our ears shut, and our hearts hardened to heed and follow it (Isaiah 6:10; Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Matthew 13:15; Mark 8:18; Acts 28:27).
Jesus gave His disciples simple, yet surprising, landmarks to follow when He sent them on divine errands. He guided them to the large upper room where they would celebrate the Passover feast on the eve of His crucifixion by giving them a strange instruction. They were to follow the first man they saw carrying a pitcher of water when they entered Jerusalem, and he would lead them to a furnished room where Jesus and the twelve would have the Last Supper (Luke 22:8-20).
How could Jesus know that a man carrying a pitcher would be a reliable landmark to fulfill His purpose? His omniscience allowed Him perfect knowledge of time, space, and even inner workings of the mind and heart (Psalm 139:1-6). For this landmark to be effective, He had to know in advance what the man would be doing (carrying a pitcher), and where and when (at the gate of Jerusalem where the disciples would enter, and at that exact moment). Jesus had to know what he had already done (prepared the room for a large feast) and his mental disposition (that he would offer the room to the disciples).
Not your typical landmark, like the ones the stranger we encountered used to guide us home. Yet we must consider the source, and realize that if direction we hear comes from God, it is true and without flaw.
What if the disciples had reasoned that Jesus couldn’t possibly know what would happen when they entered the city, and decided instead to rely on their own understanding? (Proverbs 3:5-6). What if they followed their eyes to the most lavish venue, which might not be available or affordable, or used their “wisdom” to find a reasonably priced yet unsuitable spot?
Knowing our short attention spans and faulty memories, God often blesses His children with tangible reminders of His goodness and provision, sometimes by acting through leaders He has appointed. When God answered the Israelites’ prayer for deliverance from the Philistines and gave them a great victory, the prophet Samuel set up an Ebenezer stone to remind the people of God’s faithfulness (1 Samuel 7: 8-14).
Twelve stones marked the spot where God parted the river Jordan to allow safe passage of His ark, for God commanded Joshua to place these as a memorial of His deliverance. When children of subsequent generations would inquire about the meaning of these stones, the people were to recount the Lord’s goodness, saying “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.” (Joshua 4:15-24).
Landmarks such as these could potentially be destroyed, much as Jesus predicted that the seemingly permanent structure of God’s temple would be razed to the ground (Mark 13:1-2). Some memorials are recurrent, yet evanescent by their very nature, like the rainbow God places in the sky after a storm to remind us that He will never again destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:11-16).
Some memorials are not linked to geographical location or to time, but are God-prescribed rituals to help us recall His mercy and love. The feast of the Passover preserved the memory of how God spared the firstborn of Hebrew households where the doorposts and lintel were marked by the blood of a sacrificed lamb (Exodus 12:1-27). This foreshadowed how the precious blood shed on the cross by the Lamb of God would save from physical, spiritual and eternal death all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).
What landmark did Jesus Christ leave for us, looking back at His sacrifice on the cross, uniting believers in present fellowship, and looking forward to His return? It is the sacrament of communion, which serves as a past reminder, present trail marker, and guidepost to our future as the bride of Christ, to be united with Him forever after the Rapture at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! He instructed us that every time we break bread or drink the fruit of the vine, we are to remember His coming until He returns (Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Revelation 19:9).
Until then, may we not only keep this sacrament, but follow His Word, a map to guide us to His blessings and preserve us from Satan’s traps (Ephesians 6:11) as He directs us to the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) of eternal life (John 3:16) in Heaven!
© 2021 Laurie Collett