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Devotion: Life Off The Mountain

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25)
After a dusty hike, the four men reached the mountain’s summit and were rewarded with a sweeping view as they recovered their breath.  They were seeking a place to pray, perhaps a bit of solitude from their increasingly hectic lives.  They climbed the mountain in search of a spot where they could speak with God unencumbered by the concerns of life down below – and they found it.  In fact, the moment was so perfect that they didn’t want to leave.  One of the men, exhilarated by the height and the feeling of closeness to God, suggested staying there indefinitely:  “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here.  If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah'” (Matt. 17:4).  For the four men who hiked up the mountain (Jesus, Peter, James, John) had been joined by none other than Moses and Elijah, who “appeared in glorious splendor” (Luke 9:31).  And Jesus himself “was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2).
Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay?  This experience of God’s presence was so incredible, so unprecedented, that the disciples were actually prostrated by awe and fear at one point.  Where could one ever hope to find a more amazing worship experience or to be closer to God than in this original “mountaintop experience,” the Transfiguration of our Lord?  And yet Peter’s suggestion that they remain there, basking in the presence of the glorified Jesus, is followed in Luke’s account by the words “He did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:33).
Carried away by the moment, Peter had forgotten (perhaps he chose to forget) the ominous things that his Teacher had been saying, all the warnings about trials to come and references to the Messiah’s impending death.  Only a week before, Jesus had proclaimed to his followers the famous passage that begins, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).  Jesus knew that the trail off the mountain was the trail to
Gethsemane, to the cross.  He knew his work down below awaited completion.

Though the disciples followed Jesus off the mountain, one can imagine that their minds may have returned to that mountaintop moment in the dark days that followed.  They may have wondered, “Why couldnt we stay up there on the beautiful mountain, so close to God?  Will we ever again feel God’s presence as surely and as powerfully as we did there?”  We wonder the same thing at the moments when we feel far from God, when our most moving worship experiences seem like just a dream or a distant memory.
What we forget at those moments is that God did not remain remote in heaven, and Jesus did not stay safely on the mountain, though he could have.  The Father spoke to the disciples on the mountain, declaring that Jesus was his much-beloved Son.  Jesus knew that leaving the mountain would bring him to the place where he would cry out, utterly abandoned and alone, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as his life ebbed painfully away.  Yet Jesus came down from the mountain, leading his disciples back into the squalor of life below, choosing to embrace the cross for us.  So when he calls us to follow him, we can hardly expect to remain on the mountain either.  Like Peter, James, and John, we can bask in the glory of exhilarating mountaintop worship experiences, but we will dutifully, even joyfully, follow our Lord back down to complete God’s work for us in the trenches below.  This is the sort of worship to which we are called on a daily basis: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).
Inevitably, as we drudge away down below, we will long for another mountaintop moment.  But when we feel the farthest from a mountaintop God, we remember that our Lord chose to come down off the mountain for us, with us.  He is here.  Here, in the suffering and the confusion, is where he inexplicably, inextricably, has chosen to be.  And so, as surely as Jesus was transfigured before the disciples on the mountain, our “ordinary” life is gloriously transfigured to the eyes of faith.
 

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