There is great appeal to the “mountain top” experience. It is human nature to search for deep satisfaction, and, for the Christian, nothing is quite so satisfying as those moments of spiritual intimacy that we often refer to as the “mountain top” experience. The ultimate mountain top experience was, of course, what Peter, James and John experienced during Jesus’ Transfiguration. Standing on the top of the mountain, staring in awe as Jesus is transfigured before them, with Moses and Elijah standing guard on either side, then listening in as they discuss Jesus’ impending death, resurrection and ascension. Peter’s response was no surprise, and probably similar to the response the rest of us would have. He wanted to pop up the Coleman tents and stay awhile. God, on the other hand, had other plans. In response to Peter’s declaration, God surrounds them in a cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” God is not only affirming Jesus’ deity and position as messiah King, he was expressing to Peter the need to follow Jesus and his directions, even though it meant leaving the mountain. What makes this even more intriguing is the knowledge that leaving the mountain, for Jesus, meant walking off the mountain and toward the “valley of the shadow of death”. The Transfiguration marked the second of three steps toward the coronation of Jesus as messiah King. The first was his baptism, the second; the transfiguration and the final being his resurrection. Jesus knew that walking off that mountain meant walking towards the final step in his coronation, that being his death and resurrection. It is against this backdrop that God speaks clearly and both affirms Jesus as messiah King, and commands the others to follow Jesus, regardless of how painful that call may turn out to be.
I cannot help but study this story and think of our own lives. We live, searching for satisfaction, and even in the context of the Christian life we chase one exciting, exhilarating moment after another. As followers of Christ we often live for those great moments of spiritual intimacy, and it makes all the sense in the world that God would want us to live there. It made much sense to Peter as well. Yet, it is almost always true that in the midst of these “mountain top” experiences that God calls us to walk off the mountain, following Jesus into the valley, occasionally even the valley of the shadow of death. It is altogether too easy to assume that these painful experiences are bad, the “mountain top” experiences are good, therefore God is in the mountain, and merely walking with us when we are in the valley. To believe this, though, is to miss the point. Sure, much of modern Christianity reinforces this point. From prosperity preachers to our orthodox friends who deny God’s complete sovereignty over even the most painful of situations seem to imply that only what we perceive to be “good” is a gift from God while the rest is merely permitted by Him. The bible, however, teaches otherwise. The bible reminds us that God is good, always, and that in his good providence there is not only a happy providence, but there is also a painful providence. In other words, God does not just allow difficult experiences to happen in our lives, often he orchestrates them for a greater redemptive purpose.
To Peter it made no logical sense that God would call him to leave that mountain top, particularly not when leaving it meant walking towards Jesus’ death. To Peter climbing down that mountain was illogical and ran contrary to the idea that God was a good and loving God. God, on the other hand, knew that the sacrifice of Jesus had to happen to purchase redemption for all who would believe. If Jesus, along with Peter, had been permitted to stay on that mountain, you and I would never get to. It is because of God’s good, and painful, providence that the mountain is a possibility for you and for me.
Close communion with Jesus, the presence of those who have gone before us, most of all the glory of God displayed in clear and stunning splendor; all of this is possible because Jesus left the mountain and walked to his death. So, as you walk through life, let me encourage you to enjoy the “mountain top”, praise him for his glorious splendor in those moments, but do not miss the beauty of the valley. Just because it is painful does not mean it is not purposeful. The mountain may beckon, but be careful not to spurn the valley.