Posts tagged ‘Mountain’

October 18, 2012


Earlier this month we took our Confirmation group away for the weekend and one of the highlights of the trip was a walk up Ireland’s highest inland mountain, Galtymore.

It was a beautiful day, bright and clear, yet with an autumnal chill in the air.  As we climbed higher the wind became increasingly ridiculous, (just watch the video at the end to get an idea of what I mean)!

I left my camera behind, relying on an iPhone 4 to take the pictures…

February 20, 2012

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.

March 6, 2011

Mountaintop experience

Carrantuohill, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Film Scan of a photo from November 2003 – Ireland’s Highest Mountain, Carrantuohill, Co. Kerry

Today’s Sermon, Text Matthew 17:1-9.  The Sunday Before Lent (Year A)

Years ago, when Sonja and I were living in Sligo, we climbed a mountain with a group from the Summer Camp we were helping out with.  We had climbed it many times before and although it was not Mount Everest, it was a decent enough climb and the view was always spectacular – the lakes, valleys and mountains going into Co. Leitrim to the East, up into Donegal Northwards, and South and West looking over Sligo town and far out into the Atlantic Ocean.  On this occasion, as we set out it was cloudy and as we were climbing up the side of the mountain we soon found ourselves  in the midst of the cloud, but it was a well-worn path, so we were able to continue without any difficulty.  When we got to the top we found that we were above the cloud, as if we were on an island with other mountaintops poking out as islands in the distance, it was spectacular.  We sat down to have a rest and to cook some food.  A little later the Sun began to set, the sky turned wonderful hues of orange and red and lit up the clouds beneath us, the blanket of cloud looked like a sea of red hot lava!  It was a special moment and a spectacular sight and one that I will always remember – a real ‘mountaintop’ experience.

Of course ‘mountaintop’ experiences don’t just have to take place on a mountain!  In our lives as followers of the Lord Jesus, we often refer to those times of great religious or spiritual experience, times when we know and encounter God’s love and presence in a special and unique way as ‘mountaintop experiences’.  When they happen we don’t want them to come to an end – we want to stay there because it is such a wonderful place to be.

In today’s gospel reading Peter, James and John have what might be described as a very dramatic mountaintop experience!  The Lord takes them on a journey, up a high mountain.  The heat of the sun, the dust from the path, the hardness of the rocks and their out-of-breath lungs would have left them in no doubt that this was real, they were not dreaming, but nevertheless the things that were about to happen, what they were to hear and see, were something well beyond the realm of normal experience and were to give them a glimpse behind the curtain of eternity – to see Jesus glorified and to see those who had long been dead as very much alive.

Matthew writes:

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (v2,3)

‘Transfigure’ means to transform into something more beautiful or elevated, and this is what happened to the Lord Jesus, suddenly he was blindingly bright, his face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzlingly white. Imagine what this would have been like for the disciples!  How would you have responded if you had been there?  The purpose of this was perhaps to encourage the disciples, to give them some idea of Jesus’ divinity – everyday they were with Jesus and they saw Jesus the man (though they must also have known and realised that He was so much more than just a man). Here was an occasion when they were reminded of how Jesus was before He came to live on earth and how He would be in eternity and specifically how He would be at His second coming.

There would be much sorrow and hardship ahead for the disciples and this vision of Jesus would have been a great encouragement to them in the darkest and most difficult days that lay ahead (and so also for Christians throughout the centuries and today).  Just a few days ago Shahbaz Bhatti, a remarkable man and Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs was assassinated in Islamabad, why? Because he was a Christian.   Since he was high profile we heard about it in our part of the world, but there are many many more Christians killed daily only because they are followers of the Lord Jesus.  What has kept them going and what has always kept God’s people going during times of persecution and hardship?  The knowledge that this life is a preparation for the next; that we shall see Christ in His glory can and does give the believer strength and courage to face the trouble and the evil of today.

Now if we have never heard this bit of the Bible before we might be wondering the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.  The remarkable thing here is that these two men had been dead for centuries and yet here they are talking with Christ!  Surely then these verses show us that those who have died live on in the next life, but they have another purpose too – Moses and Elijah were two great Old Testament characters, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets.  In other words the whole of the Old Testament was leading up to its fulfilment in the Person and work of Christ.  The Lord Jesus does not do away with the Old Testament, He fulfils it.  So when we read the Hebrew Scriptures (which we all should) we see them through the lens of Christ, we use His teaching and the words of the New Testament to interpret all that we read in the Old.  So the purpose then of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to Jesus was for the benefit of Peter, James and John (and ultimately all believers) to show Jesus’ authority and rightful place in the scheme of things; yes Moses and Elijah were important, but Jesus is infinitely greater.

Peter, James and John were in awe of what was happening and Peter has one of those moments when he doesn’t really know what to say or how to respond, so he says:

‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (v.4)

Whether Peter wanted to preserve the moment or to somehow give Moses and Elijah a place to sit down and have a cup of tea we are not sure!  This was such an awesome experience that Peter didn’t want it to end – he wanted to stay on the mountain longer.   But next, while Peter was still speaking we read:

“… suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” (v.5-7)

We can be left in no doubt that this is God the Father showing not only His approval of God the Son but also proof of Jesus’ divinity – Jesus is one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.  Peter wanted to put up thee tents as if Moses, Elijah and Jesus were on a par with each other, clearly they are not because even before Peter has finished speaking he is told in a most dramatic way that One is there who is far greater than even these towering figures of history.  So the warning is there not only to Peter James and John but to all of us never to put our trust in any person other than Christ, people will always let us down, Christ never will let us down.

As the disciples were huddled on the ground in fear Jesus comes over to them and touches them, He comforts them and tells them not to be afraid.  They find the courage to open their eyes and when they do so, all they see is Jesus.

So where does that leave us?  I think it is an important reminder that our religion, our faith is a supernatural one.  Too often, we try to sanitise God, make him presentable and acceptable, ordered and dare I say it tame!  But God is not tame; He will not fit neatly in a box!  I think it leads us also to being honest with ourselves and asking the question about whether or not we are happy with our relationship with Christ.  How is that relationship going?  Is it going well or is there any relationship at all?   – Only you and He know the answer to that– so let us pray:

Lord God forgive us for trying to keep you at a safe distance, actually we long for a greater encounter with you, we yearn for a deeper relationship with you and we hunger and thirst for more of you in our lives.  Help us to let go of all that gets in the way of our relationship and help us to seek you with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  May we know you more fully, more completely and by your grace help us to listen to you, to not be afraid and to do all that you require of us, that you Holy Name may be glorified in us and through us … Amen.