After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus . . . Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9:2-4,7
Do you suffer from year-end fatigue? I know I do. And it doesn’t help that the pace of life picks up between September and December like a roller coaster racing downhill.
I start to expend more than I take in. I begin to feel like there are parched neglected places inside of me.
Whew! What to do? Well, there’s all this wonderful holiday stuff, guaranteed to lift my spirits! So I immerse myself in shopping, decorating, baking, feasting, and special activities. And I start to experience this sort of a strange mix of euphoria and depletion — like eating a diet of sweets.
After awhile I realize I need something more.
That’s why I think Jesus went up on the mountaintop. He needed something more.
And in doing so, he was showing us that we all really need mountaintop experiences. We need times of extra connection with God, and extra assurance that he is with us.
I don’t think it was just random timing that Jesus went through the transfiguration six days after he told his disciples that he would have to die. He deliberately went up on a mountain, as he had on other occasions, to be strengthened by God for his coming ordeal.
And he was strengthened in a huge way. First of all, he was strengthened as he prayed. According to the parallel account in the book of Luke, as Jesus began to pray, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”
Jesus was also strengthened because God gave him two of the biggest spiritual powerhouses, Moses and Elijah, to talk with and encourage him. Luke lets us know what the conversation was about, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) Jesus had some hard times coming, but he got to benefit from the experience of two men who faced challenges with faith and humility.
Finally, Jesus was strengthened because God spoke from heaven and gave him a massive verbal affirmation.
But Jesus wasn’t the only one who was strengthened by this time. It made a huge impact on Peter, John and James. We know this because Peter mentioned it in his second letter. “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-17)
What’s really cool about this is that Peter came to have the same mindset as Jesus had, in looking towards his death. “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
Peter knew that life on earth was in preparation for the next life. This is true for us too, and that makes it especially important that we have times of strengthening so we can carry out our mission and make it to the finish line.
So let’s plan a mountaintop experience! Any time of getting away to spend time with God is good. A day of fasting is good.
But there’s just something about praying in the midst of God’s creation. I’ve found that it’s especially powerful on a mountaintop. When I lived in Atlanta, there were times when I felt like I was at the absolute end of the rope. Then I would drive to Stone Mountain, holding back tears the whole way, and hike up the mountain. There, at the top, I would find a solitary place where I could see the whole city. I would open my Bible, read scriptures and pour out my heart to God. I always felt the weight lifting, and my mind clearing as I did so. The Spirit would lead me to just the verses and truths I needed. I would be completely refreshed and invigorated.
We may not realize it, but we’re thirsting for that! It’s wild. I find myself surfing different sites on the web, and I realize that I’m reaching out. I’m hungry for a connection with something. Ha! Why do I think that I’m going to get this need met electronically?
God is standing ready to meet our needs for more. And here is one more encouraging thing about that. We think it was supernatural that Jesus became radiant when he prayed on the mountain. But II Corinthians 3 promises us that we can become radiant. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Cor 3:18)
We are going through a transfiguration as well! Ours is just taking more time. But think about it. We live in a time when we can come into God’s very presence, the Most Holy Place, that only the high priest could enter. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” Heb 10:19
Every day, we have an astounding opportunity to be transformed by the very presence of God. We just need to draw near to him.
This past weekend we put on a little Christmas show for church, and I performed a piece on Naomi. Naomi came to a place in her life where she felt completely empty. But as she got on the road to return to the land of her God, the Lord remembered her and began to bless her abundantly. She was redeemed.
God is the one who redeems us from hopeless places! He takes us from emptiness to fullness, from depletion to invigoration, from the valley to the mountaintop.
Let’s deliberately go to him, as Jesus did. God will strengthen us in a huge way.