/ Transfiguration / Joel Hart

The Christian's Mountaintop Experience

By now, it’s a Christian cliché: the mountaintop experience. For Christians, it seems that anything from a relaxing woods retreat to a Mountain-Dew-induced sugar-high at a youth conference can gain the mountaintop moniker.

As Christians, we long for experiences of the transcendent that we believe will forever change our perspective on life. We long for the mountaintop.

But what, biblically speaking, is a mountaintop experience? And if such an experience is to be sought after, how can the Christian be found on the mountaintop time and time again?

To answer this question, it seems wisest to evaluate the mountaintop experience par excellence of Scripture, the transfiguration of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:16-21).

On the Mountaintop

The mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus Christ was certainly a transcendent visual experience for Peter, James, and John. There, Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:2). Peter himself later recounts that the disciples were "eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).

But it seems that the visual experience did not generate the immediate fear and awe one might expect. Upon seeing Jesus shining as the sun, Peter offers a surprisingly casual – and perhaps clueless – initial response. The Apostle who once fell at Jesus’ knees upon a miracle of Christ (Luke 5:1-11) now offers His skill in tent-making to the transfigured Messiah (Matt. 17:4).

But then, everything about Peter’s mountaintop experience changes. The Father speaks from the cloud (Matt. 17:5), and Peter and the disciples fall to their faces (17:6). In later reflection, Peter described what he heard as the “Majestic Glory” (2 Pet. 1:17). No wonder Peter fell to his face. The Word communicated the fullness of the glory of God manifested to them.

To hear the voice of God is to be led to the mountaintop.

Peter’s Reflections

But, maybe you say, “The church doesn’t hear the voice like Peter did. How can we reach this mountaintop?”

Consider how Peter engages this question in 2 Peter 1:16-21. There, for Peter, the mountain-hearing of the Father’s Majestic-Glory serves as the paradigm for the church’s engagement with the Word of God. And so:

  • Just as the Majestic Glory spoke on the mountain (2 Pet. 1:17), the words of Scripture are words “from God as … carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
  • Just as Christ shone before the disciples in radiant majesty (2 Pet. 1:16), so the Word is as a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:20).
  • Just as the disciples heard the Word on the mountain (2 Pet. 1:18), so the believer does well to “pay attention” to the Words of the prophets (2 Pet. 1:19).

Often, 2 Peter 1:16-21 is presented with the idea that Peter contrasts the visual mountain experience with the Word-based experience of heeding the “prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Pet. 1:19). Yet, it seems that Peter actually does the opposite. Instead of presenting a contrast of experiences, Peter presents a parallel. The believer’s present experience of hearing the Word of God parallels the experience of hearing the voice of God on the mountain.

Here is our startling recognition: the Christian’s mountaintop experience is to come in contact with the Word of God. When we read His Word, the Majestic Glory of God speaks through His Spirit. When the Word is preached, the power and majesty of God are communicated to His people.

To hear the voice of God is to be led to the mountaintop.

Life on the Mountain

The one time I climbed a mountain of any size, I was amazed at how long I enjoyed spending time just looking at the view in the distance, enjoying the air, and experiencing the warm sun. I wasn’t so eager to leave the mountaintop.

So many of us begin to desire to leave God's mountaintop through lax engagement with God's Word because the experience feels so ordinary. Certainly, there is a rhythmic, ordinary nature to daily encounter with God’s Word. But never forget that it is a rhythmic, ordinary encounter with the Majestic Voice of God speaking in His Word.

As Christians, when we know what we have, we never want to leave the mountain of God. And as we immerse our lives in the majestic glory of the Word of God, we never need to.

With this idea, though, one final observation must be made. As the transfiguration reveals, the voice of Majestic Glory in the Word is a fearful thing. Some of us may prefer to not be confronted with such a frightening voice whenever our Bibles are opened.

While such fear is proper, it may and must be accompanied by hearing the other mountain-voice of the transfiguration. For after the disciples fall in fear, the Divine Voice speaks again on the mountain. “But Jesus came and touched [the disciples], saying, 'Rise, and have no fear' (Matt. 17:7)." Through His Word, Jesus presents grace to frightened disciples on the mountain.

To hear the voice of God in His Word is to be led to the mountaintop of glory and grace.

Joel Hart

Joel Hart

Pastor at Columbus (IN) RP Church. Husband of Orlena. Father of 5 (David, Jenny, Elisha, Esther, Seth). Proclaiming the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

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