A mountaintop experience

Annascaul Lake(Photo:  Annascaul Lake, Co. Kerry, January 2010)

Yesterday’s Sermon. Text, Mark 9:2-9

Do you ever like to ‘get away from it all’?  You know, to go to some quiet place, away from the busyness and the hustle and bustle of everyday life, some place to relax and de-stress.  Probably most of us like the idea but may seldom if ever get around to doing anything about it.  If you look at the gospels, you will see that the Lord Jesus liked to get away from the crowds, He liked to spend time alone with His Father, time to recover and rest so that He could continue His ministry with a fresh energy and vision.

One such time though, Jesus decides to not go alone but to take with him three of His disciples, Peter, James and John.  The four of them journey together up a high mountain.  I wonder what was going through the disciples’ minds as they journeyed along?  Perhaps they were curious as to why Jesus was leading them up such a steep and rocky path, perhaps they wished they could get to the top sooner, perhaps they wished they were not so hot and thirsty and tired.  But whatever they are thinking or saying they do not turn back, they keep following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Once they reach the top, something remarkable happens.  In the second half of verse 2 and then in verse 3 we read:

And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 

This word ‘transfigured’ is a curious one, what does it mean?  It means to change or transform; the Greek word used is μετεμορφώθη (metemorphōthē), from which we get the word ‘metamorphosis’.  It is like the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly, and it was something like this that happened to the Lord Jesus.  His appearance changed, Mark tells us that ‘his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.’  There is something wonderful and beautiful and heavenly happening here.  Peter, James and John are seeing the Lord Jesus in his glory, in His deity and power and His appearance is like nothing they have ever seen before, it is like nothing else on earth.

I would imagine that as Peter, James and John looked on in awe, that any sense of tiredness at climbing the mountain evaporated at this point and was replaced with joy, elation, wonder and even a little fear at this numinous, otherworldly encounter with Jesus, whom they thought they knew, but now know in a whole new dimension.

As the three disciples gazed, unable to take their eyes off Jesus, look what happens next.  Mark writes:

4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Elijah and Moses were two of the Old Testament greats, they were looked up to as men of God, as examples to follow, and great leaders of God’s people in the past.  During their lifetimes, both Elijah and Moses had spoken with God on mountains.

In Exodus chapter 34, we read about Moses meeting with God on mount Sinai and when he came down, his face had such a radiant glow that the people were afraid to come near him and so he had to put a veil over his face until he went back to speak with God again.

Elijah too met with God on Mount Sinai, (we can read about it in 1 Kings chapter 19), and it was there that God revealed himself not in a spectacular way, but in an incredibly gentle way, a ‘still small voice’ (KJV) or ‘gentle whisper’ (NIV).

So why then were these two Old Testament veterans meeting with the transfigured Jesus on another mountain and many many years after they had died?

Firstly, there is the obvious connection that they are, in talking with Jesus, in fact meeting with God.  There is an implied familiarity between them; these guys are not strangers, they have met before, they know each other.  Secondly, Elijah as one of the greatest heroes in the history of Israel, is there to represent all the prophets of the Old Testament and Moses, as the one through whom God gave the Ten Commandments is there to represent the Law.  So the significance here is that in Jesus, revealed in His Divine Glory, we are shown the One in whom all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah are fulfilled and the One in whom all the Old Testament law is fulfilled.  The Lord Jesus is shown to be above and superior to Moses and Elijah and the One who is the fulfilment of everything that had gone on before.

Last week we went on a family outing to the cinema to see the 3D Star Wars film that is out at the moment.  As we walked into the auditorium we were handed special glasses to wear so that we could see the 3D effects on the screen.  I must admit that the three boys found it very enjoyable (though my better half less so, as she actually fell asleep during the film).  Of course, special effects are not enough on their own to make a good film; the story needs to be good too.  The ‘Transfiguration’ of Jesus was much more than just special effects; there is a very important story and meaning behind what happened that day on the mountaintop.

Peter tries his best to deal with the amazing event and ‘special effects’, that he is witnessing and so he says to Jesus:

‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 

Mark tells us that Peter did not know what to say, he was terrified!  I think we can all have a bit of sympathy with Peter here; the experience was for him and the other two disciples way way beyond anything they had seen or heard before, even with Jesus.  Perhaps Peter is just trying to be hospitable and make a tent – they are after all on a mountaintop and maybe it was windy!  Peter, James and John may be terrified, but their life-changing encounter has not finished yet.

Next we are told that:

‘… a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 

God the Father is here and as He spoke centuries earlier to Moses and to Elijah He speaks again now to the disciples.  ‘This is my Son’, says the Father, the ‘Beloved’.  The bond of love and attachment between the Father and the Son could not be greater.  The word translated ‘Beloved’ means a complete and total unconditional and sacrificial love, a love that is beyond all others.  And it is the same word that Jesus Himself when He says to His followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

As the Father loves the Son so the Son loves us and asks of us to love each other.

Dumbstruck as they were, by what they had seen and heard, this extreme, mountaintop ordeal was now over for the disciples. We are told next that:

8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

It was over.  It had seemed like time had stood still, all their senses had been overloaded with this experience of the Divine and now it was all quiet, all calm and they were alone once more with Jesus, not the Jesus who was too bright to look at, but the same Jesus they had been with on the way up the mountain.

What they had witnessed Jesus told them to keep it to themselves until much later when He had risen from the dead.  I’m sure that once their fear had subsided and given way to worship they would have greatly treasured this ‘mountaintop experience’ for the rest of their lives and it would have been something for them to remember during times of doubt and fear, persecution and testing that lay ahead for each of them.  Perhaps we too can draw upon those great times with God that we may have experienced in the past to help us with the struggles of the present and future.  Mountaintop experiences can sometimes be the thing that keeps us going when we find ourselves in the darkest valley.

Maybe we think that getting away on a holiday would be the answer to all our stress and tiredness, but perhaps what we really need is an encounter with Jesus, a ‘mountaintop experience’ where we realise either anew or for the first time, who He is and what He has done for us, just how much He loves us and how He longs for us to come to Him, to follow Him, to believe in Him and to trust Him.  As God the Father said to Peter, James and John, so He says to us: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Amen.

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