(All Scripture references are in the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
Have you ever had to get away from the hustle and bustle and chaos of the world around you in order to regroup and recharge your batteries? Maybe you went on retreat with other like-minded people or you went to your “happy place” alone, where you always go to get refreshed and energized. It could be at a secluded beach or a cabin in the woods or the “Bridge of Flowers” (Shelburne, Mass.) or it could be just taking a walk along a mountain stream or spending time in “your room” with the door shut, doing something you like to do – reading, writing, listening to music, watching a movie or sporting event. When you have gone away and had time to think and pray and read and enjoy nature and practice the art of having free time, have you ever had a “mountaintop experience” when God spoke to you right where you needed encouragement and healing?
Sometimes, this “mountain high” may last for a long time and sometimes, when you get back into the “real world”, it’s like opening a door of a hot oven or being doused with a bucket-full of ice water (We all know about the “Water Bucket Challenge” for A.L.S.). The “mountaintop experience” vanishes into thin air and it’s back to the old grind of real life and all it‘s demands and responsibilities. Hopefully, sometimes, the “mountaintop experience” stays with you and you are able to use what you have learned from your time away with a new and better perspective on how to handle life‘s challenges.
In a unique way, a “mountaintop experience” happened to Jesus just before He walked into the chaotic situation of the large crowd watching the disciples and the scribes [religious elite] arguing about a distraught father begging the disciples to heal his only son from having life-threatening convulsions (See Mark 9:14-18 and Luke 9:40). Just prior to this scene, “The Transfiguration” happened:
“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I can make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him’ ” (Matthew 17:1-5). [Also see Mark 9:1-7 and Luke 9:28-35.]
Needless to say Peter, James and John were terrified at this point. Jesus told them not to be afraid and revealed what was going to happen to Him in a short time and that John the Baptist was His forerunner (Elijah) to “the Son of Man”(Jesus Himself, the Messiah) and He told them to keep this to themselves for now. (See Matthew 17:6-13, Mark 9:8-13 and Luke 9:36)
(View from Summit House on top of Skinner Mt., S. Hadley, Massachusetts)
Throughout the Gospels we read about Jesus going to a secluded place to pray to His Heavenly Father. For example, Jesus went up a mountain alone to pray all night before He picked His twelve disciples (See Luke 6:12-16) and Mark 3:13-19). Jesus went alone to a secluded place to pray when He heard that John the Baptist was beheaded (See Matthew 14:1-13). Mark 1:35 tells us, “And rising early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed.” After He prayed, He told His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for this is why I came” (Mark 1:38b ). Jesus left town before more people who needed healing could get to Him in time (See Mark 1:36-37). Can you imagine how these people felt? I can, having cerebral palsy from birth and have never been healed from it.
BUT GOD has given me the gift of faith to believe in Jesus, Who has healed me in so many other ways. I also know, by faith, that Jesus always prayed to His Heavenly Father for the strength to do His will and that is what I want to do. I may not understand God‘s will sometimes, but I don‘t have to understand it to believe God is working for my ultimate good. He uses my trials to bring me closer to Him.
At critical times during Jesus’ ministry, His Heavenly Father both encouraged and strengthened His Son’s resolve to finish God’s plan of salvation for all those “who believed in [Jesus’] Name” (See John 1:12). When Jesus first made Himself known, He was baptized by John: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17 ). [Also see Mark 1:10-11 and Luke 3:21-22.] Right after Jesus was baptized, He was tempted by the devil in the desert for forty days and forty nights, while fasting. At the end of that time, God the Father sent angels to minister to Jesus (See Matthew 4:1-11 and Mark 1:9-13). The most crucial time of Jesus’ ministry, when He needed His Heavenly Father’s strength more than ever before, was in the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to be crucified. Three times Jesus asked, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (See Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-36, Luke 22:39-42). Luke 22:43-44 reads: “And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” After Jesus’ time praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was strengthened and was able to “drink the cup” of crucifixion. Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead, so that we might die to sin and live for Him now and for all eternity! If the Son of God needed to make time for alone time with His Heavenly Father to pray, how much more do we need to do the same?
When Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the rarefied air of the “Mount of Transfiguration” into air that was so thick with tension one could cut it with a knife, Jesus became angry at the people‘s callousness and lack of compassion. The people involved in this chaotic scene wanted to be right more than they wanted to help a desperate father and his needy son. I don’t think it’s out of character for Jesus to say what He did: “O you unbelieving (warped, wayward, rebellious) and thoroughly perverse generation! How long am I to remain with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Matthew 17:17b [Amplified Bible]). On the “Mount of Transfiguration” Jesus was reminded of what He left behind; the sweet fellowship He enjoyed in heaven, for the conflict and chaos of the world ruled by sin. But, there is more to Jesus’ anger and frustration than this. To fully grasp where Jesus was coming from, one needs to understand why Jesus went to the mountaintop with Peter, James and John. What happened to cause Jesus to want to get away and go up to the mountaintop? When we find the answer(s) to this question, we will find out who the “unbelieving and thoroughly perverse generation” are and whether or not there was any hope for them.
We will continue this topic after Thanksgiving.
(By the way, the difference between Jesus and a modern-day guru is: Jesus did not stay up on the mountaintop, but always came down to be with the people who needed Him. Jesus continues to “stoop down” to our level to meet our needs and make us great. Jesus is truly “the Friend of sinners”.)
“You give me Your shield of victory, and Your right hand sustains me; You stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn” (Psalm 18:35-36 [N.I.V.]).