By Verse : Mark 9:2-8 Topic :

WHY GOD GIVES MOUNTAIN TOP EXPERIENCES

Every once in awhile I like to have us sing that little ditty that kids sing from time to time. At the end most VBS nights they would all go home with a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts from singing with gusto, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”
Yes, it’s a kids’ thing, but when you get into it, it can change your spirit. You may not like to do it, but when you clap, or stomp your feet, and even when you shout, and I mean shout, “amen” there is something that stirs your soul. You just feel better. It’s fun. It brings worship alive, and you realize that worship, church, God is a fun thing. We enter these gates of worship to experience the presence of God. And sometimes, we need to come as a child, open, listening, learning. We come because God has something to say to us. He speaks, and we listen. He calls us to be part of his family, and if we allow God into our space, he offers words of encouragement, words of hope, words of correction, words that transform us repeatedly, words that touch our hearts and our souls. They are the Words of life that can stir the heart when they take residents in your heart. They are the words God wants you to remember when you come are walking through the valley, or have been sidetracked, or just having a bumpy time.
This morning’s Scripture is the last we might say in the season of Epiphany. Coming to the office recently a line in a song caught my attention. It went something like this: “It’s not that Jesus WAS. It’s Jesus IS.” That means it’s not putting Jesus in the past, but Jesus is in the here and now. We learn from the past and carry it forward to the present. It’s because he lives today we can always face our tomorrows with hope.
This story in Mark is about what happened when Jesus invited James, John and Peter to join him on a mountain. They were what we might say the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, his chief of staff, his secretary of defense, his closest confidant. They climbed that mountain not knowing what to expect. Maybe he wanted to go over his plans for the next couple of weeks. Or maybe he just wanted them to be with him and pray with him about the future.
Mark records the story. “There, Jesus 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 to Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up some shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud.

“THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE. LISTEN TO HIM.”

God’s Holy Word. Let those who have ears, hear the voice of God.
Why do you think Jesus called only those three guys to the mountain to experience what they did? It doesn’t say. But thinking about it, these where his inner circle. Though they didn’t understand what their mission was going to be after Jesus died, Jesus did. This was their chance to experience for themselves that this one who called them to follow was in fact God’s Son, chosen for a task so great that it would impact the world for years to come. And they, being witnesses would be able to pass it on to others because it would not be hearsay, but they would experience it. They had prominent roles in writing their stories for history so that we could know the story of faith and salvation as well as how much God loves us. Jesus tells them something that racked their brains. He said don’t tell anyone about this until I have risen from the grave. What did rising from the grave mean? They never heard that before. And well, they were so amazed by seeing Moses and Elijah, throw in hearing God’s voice, who wouldn’t want to race to tell the others, guess who I saw today. Guess who’s voice I heard. They had a mountain top experience that boggles the mind, and yet are told you got to keep it to yourselves. You got to tuck it in your memory bank and unlock it later when Jesus has risen.
This Scripture comes about every year at this time because it is the pivotal point in Jesus’ mission, for it leads to the cross. He has been born, he has grown, he has called his disciples, he has come on the scene with flair and we know he comes with a message of hope through believing in his Father. His ministry is touching one life after the other. Rejected by some but embraced by others. In Mark’s gospel it’s the turning point of his gospel. His focus, the cross, the suffering, the pain, the agony, the rejections. Was he, is he ready? On the world’s stage, this is it…. this is why he came to be among us. It all would boil down to one thing. Will the people believe?
This experience they had that day was so great, they wanted to build places to stay. They were caught up in the moment. When Jesus began to change, and Moses and Elijah appeared I imagine their eyes were as wide as saucers. They were in awe of the moment. They were so carried away by the moment as Moses, Jesus and Elijah huddled together, though they could not hear what was being said. They must have thought they had died and gone to heaven. Perhaps they pinched themselves to make sure they were still alive and on this earth.
But then a greater moment happened. They were caught up in that same cloud with the three, and a voice could be heard. No trumpet sounding it’s coming. No angel introducing it. In that moment a voice came beaming down directed right at these three. A voice so strong, yet so compassionate, so loving that it conveyed the message that would live in their hearts forever. “This is my Son. Listen to him.” If they weren’t afraid before, hearing the voice of God sure would have brought a touch a fear to their lives. No one hears the voice of God and lives. It’s a special moment and they were amazed. It was the message that touched them. It told these three exactly who this was that they had been called to follow. And not only that. They were instructed to listen to him. It goes further than just listening like some of us do. I mean if you have ears you can hear my voice, or at least the words that I say. But in this case with God speaking about listening to his son it goes deeper. It means, pay attention to what he says. Don’t daydream while he speaks, while he teaches. Listen with your ears, with your heart, with your mind, with your spirit, even with your eyes, so that you will understand the love I have for you and for the world. Listen not just to the words of Jesus, but those whom he touches along the way. Listen and you decide for yourself who this is you are following. And just as fast as it came, it was gone. The voice gone. The cloud gone. Moses gone. Elijah gone. And Jesus clothing changed back to normal. No discussion, just words by Jesus to keep these treasures in their hearts until later. And then they made their way down the mountain, to the real world where they lived.
Wouldn’t you have liked to experience that moment? On Christian radio these days they have begun to promote a movie called “I Can Only Imagine” based on the story of the fellow that wrote that song. For those of you who don’t know the song it’s about getting to heaven and seeing Jesus face to face. Last Sunday Linda played that as one of her devotional songs and I immediately began to sing some of those words to myself that brought a peace and a joy, for I can only imagine.
When I hear that song, I am reminded of the first time I heard it. It happened the following Sunday after vacation while we were in Roanoke/Secor. A young man with a great voice was the special music the week before at Secor and the people told me you got to hear this song, it will melt you. I asked if he, a junior or senior in high school who came to our church, would do it the following week. When it was time, he stood in front of the huge mural of Jesus they have on the wall in the front of the church, and he began to sing. When he got to those words that said, “I can only imagine,” when we would see Jesus, he faced the mural, went to his knees and the congregation stood, not because they were encouraged to do so, but because the Spirit prompted them. I can still picture that moment and it still gives me a few goose bumps. Through his singing, through those words, it was as if we were on the mountain with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and God was saying, “My people, listen to my Son. Listen to his words. Listen to his heart.” Some folks were raising their hands in praise, some with tears in their eyes, some with smiles on their faces, some with joy in their hearts, some I believe even clapping and celebrating, kind of dancing in their pews, not afraid of what others were thinking. Really almost un Methodists but grasped by the Spirit. They were engrossed in the moment. It was a wonderful, magical moment. We were transported to the mountain top with Jesus. It was if we were dancing with Jesus. It was an awesome experience. It kind of took your breath away. We could have quit right then and there and gone home because God’s message was given through this young man and that song as he sang it with the power of the Holy Spirit coming with each word and with each expression. We had been to the mountain kneeling along side of Peter, James and John. We heard God’s voice loud and clean…. you can only imagine!
Why does God give us those mountain top experiences? Perhaps to pump us up, to prepare us for the long journey of faith we must travel. He gives those mountain top experiences to prepare us for the valleys as we face our own difficult moments like Jesus was about to do. He gives us those times that remind us that he has prepared us for that journey and not be afraid. We have the backing of those Super Stars in heaven led by Jesus himself. We don’t take the journey alone. God goes before us.
Isn’t that what we think Moses and Elijah were doing for Jesus? This wasn’t a gathering to see how Jesus was doing. This was these two wonderful saints sent by his Father to tell him it is time to set his face for the cross, for the mission he was called to this earth to do. Maybe they came to ask if he was ready for the task ahead. Maybe they came to ask are these you brought with you who will eventually tell your story ready for what lies ahead? So yes, perhaps they were there to offer God’s comfort and words of advice on the journey he was sent here to do. And for the 3 amigos’, if you allow me to call them that, God wanted these three to understand that this is his son, so they better listen to him as he prepares them for what was to come, remembering when we walk through our valleys, God is there, for there are more valleys then there are mountain top experiences in our journey. He has prepared the way, he has cleared the path so that our way would be smoother. We don’t follow Dorothy and her dog on the yellow brick road. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus that will lead us not to Kansas, but to our eternal home.
My friends, it’s great to have mountain top experiences because you feel the joy of what is taking place at that moment. You want to build a tent and stay in the moment. You feel free, you feel joy, you feel exuberance, you feel like you’re on top of the world. But then you have to come down from the mountain to continue the journey. That emotional high, that mountain top experience tops fades away and it’s time to get back to earth. It’s like Martin Luther King saying he had been to the mountain top and been with God. It’s that moment when we realize that God is real. It isn’t as if Jesus and God WAS. It’s a reminder that Jesus and God IS. We serve a risen Savior who is in the world today.
So yes, I can only imagine how those disciples felt when they were blessed to have that mountain top experience. That’s the one they had to recall as they hid in the Upper Room or went to the tomb and found it empty. That’s the one that perhaps the big three were able to share once they recalled Jesus’ words about a resurrection.
And their journey reminds us that we can’t stay on the mountain top either, though we would like too, but that we must come down and finish our journey, to face this world that seems so goofy and chaotic. We face it with the knowledge that those who persevere will one day receive their crowns and they will dance for Jesus. Parise the Lord! I say again. Praise the Lord!
This week there is a special day coming. It’s Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. These next 40 plus days until we celebrate Easter are reminders of that journey that Jesus took from the mountain top to the cross. It reminds us of all that took place, the rejections by many, the denial by some, and the struggles that happened especially during the last week of his life. But that mountain top experience had prepared Jesus for those moments. The encouragement he received from Moses and Elijah gave him the strength, the courage, the fortitude to continue the journey. Maybe, just maybe when he was in the garden praying to his Father to take away the cup of sorrow he was about to endure, he could see not only his Father, but Moses and Elijah giving him thumbs up reminding him it will be okay.
Why do we have one of those mountain top experiences, so we can be ready for the valleys, so we can prepare for the rough spots like Jesus had to face. And that mountain top experience? It also helps us to imagine what true eternal life will be one day, for Christ journey to the cross didn’t stop there. It opened the door to paradise for all who believe.
I can only imagine….and folks, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good!

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