28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
37 The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
42 Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Mountaintops. Beautiful views high above it all looking down over the splendor of creation. Far from people, towns, roads, and noise. Isolated and quiet. These kinds of place offer a respite from the demands of daily life.
But mountaintops are not good places to live. Food and water are hard to come by and the top of a mountain. The weather is often harsh with no protection from the elements. And, after a while, mountaintops begin to feel lonely.
But, wow, mountaintops are great places to visit!
In today’s reading from Luke 9:28-45 we start on a mountaintop with Jesus and three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. Up on the mountain they have a holy experience. They see Moses and Elijah, Jesus himself shines out with heavenly glory, and the voice of God the Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
Powerful stuff! Mountaintops are, indeed, great places to visit.
But mountaintops are not good places to live--despite Peter’s misguided suggestion (vs. 33). Inevitably the light fades, Moses and Elijah depart, and the time comes to return to the valley. Almost immediately they are cast into the middle of a scene of chaos, despair and disappointment. A boy is being tortured by an evil spirit, and the remaining disciples are powerless to help. What a wrenching contrast between the glory of the mountaintop and the wretched need of the valley.
Jesus steps in, and after expressing his impatience with the lack of faith of the disciples (vs. 41), heals the boy. And—as they say, “The crowd goes wild.”. And, why wouldn’t they? They are overjoyed at the power of God to cast out demons and heal the suffering.
But, with the crowd rejoicing in the background, Jesus turns to his disciples and warns them of what’s coming: “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men” (vs. 44). And, predictably perhaps, we are told that the disciples did not understand what this meant (vs. 45).
This is not the first time that Jesus has told them about what will happen to him in Jerusalem. Just previous in Luke 9:18-27 Jesus asks disciples, “Who do the crowds say I am?” Disciples: “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets come back to life.”
Jesus: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
Peter: “The Christ of God!”
Jesus then begins to explain to them about the nature of his messiahship. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (vs. 22).
What that means to you: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (23).
Jesus’ messiahship would not be what they were expecting—glory, conquest, the throne returned to Israel. Jesus warns them to expect rejection and suffering and death. But, on the mountaintop, they witness his glory. They didn’t understand it at the time, but much later both Peter and John would reflect on its meaning in their letters. But the mountaintop experience was not supposed to last forever—that was Peter’s great error.
Throughout our Christian life, if we are so blessed, we may have many mountaintop experiences—our conversion, a decision for a deeper walk with Christ, a call to some special ministry. Even “ordinary” experiences—marriage, the birth of a child, a really great vacation—may serve as mountaintops for us. They can give us encouragement, hope and new strength.
But no matter how glorious, no matter how spectacular the view, sooner or later we must come down off the mountain. Our mountaintop experience with God may be thrilling, but it is not an end in itself. It is good for us to be there but we cannot stay there. We have to come out of the cloud and make our way down the mountain.
It MUST end if we are to continue to grow in grace. It is in the struggle that we develop trust in Christ. It is as we serve him in serving others that the glory of the mountaintop finds meaning. He didn’t come to earth to hang out on mountaintops. He came to confront evil and to heal. He came to give his life on the cross as a ransom for sin. And we, his followers, are not meant to live on the mountaintop. We are called to live in the valley, in the midst of chaos, need and suffering.
Have you been on the mountaintop? Maybe you’re still struggling to find your way to the top to meet God face to face. Maybe you are basking in his glory, afraid that if you come down you will lose that wonderful feeling of grace. It’s difficult to come down from the mountain, but we cannot stay there forever. There is work to be done at the bottom. There are wounded souls, there are outstretched hands, there are empty hearts that need to see the glory of God as only we can reveal it.