Ever heard that phrase, “mountain top experience”? I don’t know if it is directly linked to the transfiguration of Jesus (on a mountain) and the experience of those who witnessed it . . . but, there are a few things I have been reflecting on – from that story and also from Jesus’ discussion with his disciples in John 15 and, maybe more significantly . . . how we move from the mountain to the mundane.
So, here we go then – straight in, no messing!
1. Jesus goes up the mountain. In each of the transfiguration accounts (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36) Jesus takes his closest friends up the mountain. Jesus is the instigator, the initiator – and he accompanies his disciples. He climbs the mountain. We don’t head up the mountain to find Jesus – He leads us, guides us, goes with us. What is the prompting of the Spirit in you? In Luke’s gospel, the transfiguration is in the context of prayer – Matthew and Mark don’t mention that, but I can imagine Luke digging for the details of this encounter from Peter, James and John . . . so, when we pray – what are our expectations? The disciples had a fresh revelation of who Jesus was, it was precious and personal – just three disciples witnessed it.
2. They saw only Jesus. I know, they experienced so much – radiant garments, a cloud, a voice speaking, Elijah and Moses! Often, when we have mountain top experiences we can focus on so much of the extra stuff . . . who was with us, where we were, all the peripheral stuff . . . if we are not careful, even if we have met with Jesus in a fresh way our view of him can be obscured . . . and we can even try and “re-capture” something of that special experience (if I can only create the right atmosphere or environment – it will happen again!). I love how Matthew puts it,
“Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus”
It is great to have a shared experience (the disciples did, there were three of them with Jesus when he was transfigured), but . . . what remains? Are we caught up in something real and meaningful that will change our lives . . . or, are we sometimes simply caught up in the excitement of an event, experience, the crowd? Nothing beats a fresh vision of Jesus – however great some of the other things we might see and hear. Do we see Jesus? Is he our focus?
3. Jesus went back down the mountain. This is pretty obvious – but, sometimes we can think we have to go and “find” Jesus in a special place . . . and then we head “away” from Jesus again. Finding ourselves back with a bump in the reality of life and stuff. Peter wanted to maintain or keep or protect or (I don’t know what) just respond in some way when on the mountain with Jesus, Elijah and Moses . . . he suggests he build 3 shelters (one for each of these amazing people!),
“Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Sometimes, like Peter we can think “it is good for us to be here” – but, maybe what we mean is “I never want to leave!”, how can we maintain or keep or just hold on to that mountain top experience? Isn’t this the best place? Do we need to be anywhere else? What can we build that can contain this experience and keep it here? A tabernacle was the dwelling place for God’s Spirit with the Israelites as they wandered through the desert – it didn’t stay on one place, it moved with the people.
Same here, Jesus does not indulge himself (or the disciples) remarkable and exciting though this time on the mountain is! Jesus heads back down the mountain with the disciples. Jesus is not distant. Do we remember that Jesus goes with us? Walks with us in the normal, regular, mundane stuff of life . . . everything that isn’t happening up a mountain with Moses and Elijah? With us? Right Now? Where we are?
We cannot remain up a mountain but we can remain in Christ.
Here we are then. The rubber hits the road. I have not long got back from Spring Harvest, I was there over the Easter break serving a bunch of young people. It was amazing to see God move in their lives in so many different ways – it was such a privilege! But, Jesus continues to be in them and me, as I (and they!) continue to be “In Him”. This is the crux of discipleship. What we sometimes don’t tell young people (or adults) often enough – because so often our worship and our life with God revolves around getting people to join us at services, worship events, happenings, conferences, weekends away, special times, places, meetings, and on – and on. Great though these things might be – they cannot replace, be a substitute for, be instead of . . . “remaining” In Christ. Jesus puts it like this,
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
We literally cannot, according to this verse, do anything apart from Jesus. We are also in Him AND He is in us! I don’t know how that works exactly (!) but – we cannot get closer to God by going up a mountain (whether an actual mountain or in seeking an experience) – by his Spirit, He is within us.
We are to “remain” in him, which is an active thing to do. We are told here to do something . . “remain in me” Jesus says. We remain through love (read the rest of John 15), a preferring love – preferring what Jesus wants, what He desires, following the leading and prompting of the Spirit. We also remain by waiting. If someone says, “remain” here. They mean wait, don’t go anywhere.
In the midst of the rushing, the dash up and down the mountains, the long paths of “why is nothing happening” and the thrill of “wow, I met with Jesus” are we willing to just simply wait? Waiting is a lost spiritual discipline. In that simple act, which costs us nothing except our time and a bit of effort to not be so quick to “do” something to make the waiting go quicker . . . in that simple discipline, we might discover MORE than we could ever have imagined.
Maybe we will see only Jesus – we don’t need to wait with desperation for the next service at church, the next event with thousands, the next podcast from our favourite preacher, the next inspirational tweet . . . we could simply wait.
We could simply remain.
* A quick note, the art with this blog post is from a fantastic video by Dan Stevers (which is about the Ascension rather than the Transfiguration, but it felt just right – I am hoping he doesn’t mind – as doing a little plug for his work). Go and check out his videos and media stuff here :: Dan Stevers