Coming Down the Mountain
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 9:2–9:9
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 14-15, 2015
“Coming Down the Mountain”
How many of you have ever climbed a mountain? You can decide for yourself how to define “mountain” – majestic 14,000 footer or not very high hill. It can certainly be strenuous going up, but we really feel it when we’re coming down that mountain, right? Coming down the mountain is when we really start to feel the pain because we’re trekking down at this odd angle in order to stay on balance and not go tumbling down the mountain. Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord and in heart and spirit we climb up a mountain with Peter, James and John. Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that it was not just a mountain but a “high mountain,” and it is there on that mountain top that Jesus’ eternal splendor and majesty are revealed as he was transfigured before them. We are told that “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). The original word here for transfiguration is metamorphosis, which means a marked change in form or appearance. Think caterpillar to butterfly. Those towering figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, appear with Jesus and they are talking with him. They had been dead for hundreds upon hundreds of years and yet here they are! And then that mysterious cloud overshadows them, and the voice of the Father, heard first at Jesus’ baptism, is heard once again: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). All of this up there on top of the mountain in that brief, fleeting span of time, however long it was (and Scripture is silent on this). And then as quickly as it happened, it’s over. No more Moses or Elijah. Jesus looks like the same Jesus that Peter, James and John are used to seeing. And it ends with their coming down the mountain, as we are told: “And as they were coming down the mountain, he [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9). On this Transfiguration Sunday, it is that image of coming down the mountain that forms the basis of the message for today. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Up there on the mountain top we are able to see far and wide from this high vantage point. Up there on the mountain top we marvel at the beauty of God’s creation, feeling a sense of wonder and awe. Up there on the mountain top it’s often peaceful and quiet, and truth be told, we’d like to stay there – just like Peter wanted to stay up there and hold on to this moment forever. We’d often prefer to put up our tent and hang out where it’s beautiful, peaceful and quiet. But we have to come down the mountain, and Jesus leads the way. In coming down that mountain, the way before Jesus is one of rejection, betrayal, suffering and death upon the cross. But he goes down anyway, knowing full well what’s ahead of him. His mission is before him and he will not abandon it. We’ve spent the last five weeks reading through the book, Joining Jesus on His Mission. For Jesus, that mission took him from the summit back down the mountain into the valley of bitter pain, anguish and sorrow. Jesus would endure all of this in our behalf so that when we come down the mountain (not if but when) and enter into our own valley of pain, anguish and sorrow, we would know we are not alone. Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us, and he is right beside us. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). It’s beautiful, peaceful and quiet up there on the mountain, but if we’re ever going to grow and mature, we have to come down the mountain because it’s in the valley that we grow.
A woman named Jane Eggleston wrote a poem entitled “It’s In the Valleys I Grow,” that captures what this is about. Here are a few verses:
Sometimes life seems hard to bear,
Full of sorrow, trouble and woe
It's then I have to remember
That it's in the valleys I grow.
I have so much to learn
And my growth is very slow,
Sometimes I need the mountain tops,
But it's in the valleys I grow.
I do not always understand
Why things happen as they do,
But I am very sure of one thing.
My Lord will see me through.
Thank you for valleys, Lord
For this one thing I know
The mountain tops are glorious
But it's in the valleys I grow!
So where are you in life? Are you up there on the summit of the mountain, or are you down in the valley? Surrounded by beautiful vistas and peaceful surroundings, the temptation of being up on the mountain’s summit is that we can become complacent and self-satisfied. We like where we are and we don’t want to move. We can become resistant to God’s calling to leave that place and follow where he is leading. On the other hand, the temptation of being down in the valley is that we become overwhelmed with struggle, heartache and suffering. We feel like God has abandoned us and our situation is hopeless. The closing verse in today’s Epistle lesson (2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6) reminds us: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). And the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is revealed not only on the mountain of Transfiguration, but on another mountain: Mount Calvary. If we want to know the character of God, the glory of God in the face of Jesus, we need to look to Jesus on the cross of Calvary. It is there, in the pain and agony of Christ on the cross, that we see what kind of God we really have: One who loves us so much that he would not withhold the life of his only Son, but freely give him up for us all – for your sake and for mine. This is the good news that gives hope as nothing else can do.
The Father’s voice calls us out to us still: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” In the midst of so many different voices calling out to us, in the midst of our busy and distracted lives, whether we are on the mountain height of bliss or in the valley of despair, listen to him – listen to Jesus, and know that he loves you and give his life for you. And in listening to him, let us also follow him back down the mountain and into daily life. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.