Pastor's Desk January 2019
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them. Mark 9:2
Mountain tops are interesting places, rising majestically from the earth, pointing toward the heavens. People climb mountains to get a better view of things, a clear vision of the surrounding territory. Looking from the top of a mountain gives you a clearer, more balanced view. You can see more than you can by staying in the valley. From the mountain top you can realize that there is more than just the place where you are. You are part of something larger, your vision is broadened. Moses went to the mountain top to talk with God and there he received the Ten Commandments, those words which spoke in concrete terms about what life lived in covenant with God was all about. On that mountain top, Moses got a clear picture of things.
The ninth chapter of Mark's gospel speaks about mountain top experiences and what happens when our Lord and his inner circle of Peter, James, and John make their way to the top of a high mountain. It had been just a few days before that Peter had made his momentous confession at Caesarea Philippi and had been told by Jesus that the Messiah must suffer and die. Now they were together on the mountain when suddenly something strange and wonderful happened. Mark tells us: "He was transfigured before them; and his garments became glistening, intensely white as no fuller on earth could bleach them."
Suddenly there appeared with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, those age-old representations of the law and the prophets, all summed up now in Jesus the Christ. Peter was speechless and wanting to say something [we all know folks like him] said, "Let us make three booths, one for you, and one for Moses and one for Elijah." Peter was in essence saying, "This is a wonderful experience; Lord, let's hang onto it. Let's stay here and enjoy it." But alas such was not to be, for a voice comes from the overshadowing cloud and says: "This is my beloved Son, listen to him." The words which Jesus heard at his baptism are now heard by the inner circle of the disciples, words which make clear just who this man of Nazareth really is.
Here we have a story of a vision--a vision of how things will be for Jesus, for his disciples and for those who would follow after. Jesus has already told them that he would suffer and die, words which no doubt depressed them. After investing so much of their lives with this man, they hoped for more than suffering and death. Now they are on the mountain top and are permitted to see, if only for a precious moment, that the one they had followed was the Lord of life. They were permitted to see beyond suffering and death to the glory. The suffering Jesus was the resurrected and ascended Lord of history.
On that mountain top was a vision of glory, of ecstasy, given to the disciples. Peter, James, and John most certainly needed such a vision of glory, and we do too! No matter what our particular troubles are, we need to know that there is this one most important person in our lives who transcends the turmoil. Each of us needs to have these mountain top experiences, these shining moments of glory, so that we can live our days hopefully and creatively. Such experiences renew and refresh us, and can become times which draw us closer to Christ.
As important as such experiences and visions are, they can never be the all and end all. Jesus does not stay on the mountain top, even though Peter wanted to build for eternity there. This is always a temptation--to stay on the mountain top where things are clear and calm, to hold the experience, luxuriate in it.
Think about your last great vacation. Everything went just right and you enjoyed every moment. Then the time came for you to go back to the real world and you didn't want to leave. "If only we could stay here forever," you said. But you know that you must go back, and Jesus knew that he and the disciples had to come down from the mountain. Mountains may be for visions, but valleys are for service. The inner circle could get a glimpse of the ultimate end; but, they had to realize that the ecstasy of the future would be gained only through the agony of the present. No cross, no crown!
Jesus doesn't stay on the mountain. After this shining moment, he comes down to be nailed to the cross. Just as Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people through the wilderness, Jesus comes down from the mountain and sets his face toward Jerusalem. Just as Peter and James and John shared in the vision, and as they would share in both the agony and the ecstasy, so do we who are following him on his road of sorrows. There are going to be losses, hurts, and hard times. Yet, to travel on our Lord's road is to know that we have a God who has been there before; a God who knows hurt and despair, loneliness and sorrow; but a God who ultimately triumphs.
Grace and Peace,