We don’t just find mountaintop experiences in the Old Testament. Three of the apostles had an amazing one. It’s a story that’s told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Peter and the Transfiguration
One day, Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to go up with Him to the top of a mountain. Maybe it was the high altitude or the end result of the climb, but Peter and the others got kind of sleepy. When they woke up, they were in for a shock.
Jesus had been transfigured, His appearance transformed. His clothes become dazzling white and His face shone like the sun. Not only that, but He was joined by Moses and Elijah. Jesus spoke with His two guests about what would happen to Him in Jerusalem.
Now there’s a lot that I could say about the deep symbolism of Moses and Elijah appearing on that mountain. There’s even more that could be said about God’s loaded statement to the disciples. But today, I’m more interested in Peter’s reaction to this glorious tableaux.
Just put yourself in Peter’s sandals (or lack thereof). He wakes up from a brief nap and he spots Jesus, His appearance radiant, like that of a flash of lightning. He’s talking with two of Israel’s greatest heroes. Peter must have been excited, overwhelmed.
And, like always, Peter has an attack of his perpetual foot-in-mouth disease. He blurts out, “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 wanted to stay up on top of the mountain. He wanted to build little houses for Jesus and His friends. Then they’d never need to go back down again. And who can blame him for wanting that? The first thing they encounter when they go back down is a boy possessed with a demon that seemingly can’t be exorcised.
And isn’t that the way we often react when we’re on a spiritual high? We don’t want to come down. We want to stay there for as long as we can, because we know what’s waiting for us down below.
But there’s a pattern at work here. Peter’s about to crash, and crash hard. But it’s a delayed reaction.
Peter Hits Rock Bottom (pun sort of intended)
Okay, so maybe it’s not that kind of Rock Bottom. It’s actually worse.
Months after the Transfiguration, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples. Once again, I could say a lot about what’s going on there, but there’s one thing I want to focus on. Jesus predicts that all of His disciples will abandon Him.
Peter, once again suffering from his speak first, think never disease, objects:
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
Yeah, we all know where this is going. Jesus is arrested and brought to the house of Caiaphas to be put on trial. When Peter is recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples, he absolutely abandons Jesus. He denies he ever knew Him, not once, but three times.
And we can do the same thing. While we’re up on a spiritual mountain, we make the same sort of promises that Peter did: Lord, I’ll always be with you. There’s nothing that could happen that would make me fall away.
But then we come back down the mountain and, through our words and deeds, we do just that. We pretend like we don’t know Jesus. We live as if He’s a complete stranger to us. We fall away.
It’s a shame that Peter denied Christ, because he missed the ultimate second mountaintop.
Jesus on the Mountain
If you’ve been reading this series, you know that there’s a pattern to these mountaintop experiences. A person has their first mountaintop, then they crash, but then they experience a second, greater mountaintop experience, something that reveals something about God.
For example, when Moses had his second mountaintop experience, he got to see God face-to-back. When Elijah had his second mountaintop experience, he learned how God was going to deal with humanity from then on.
By running away and denying Christ, Peter missed his second mountaintop experience, where he could have not only seen God face-to-face but also seen how He’s going to deal with humanity from now on.
Actually, Peter’s second mountaintop experience is really Jesus’, because that second mountaintop experience happened on Mount Calvary.
It’s there, with Jesus pouring out His life on the cross, that we see God face-to-face. It’s there, with Jesus sacrificing Himself so we can be forgiven, that we see how God is going to deal with us from now on.
Here’s the thing, though: that second mountaintop experience completely eclipses anything we might experience in the here and now. That’s what gives us our identity. That’s what makes us what we are.
And it’s why, ultimately, any other mountaintop experiences we’ve been on will pale and fail. Because when you come right down to it, Christianity isn’t a matter of emotional highs.
But that’s what we’ll talk about next week.