Summary: Christ’s glory was hidden in his humanity, affirmed by the Father, and revealed most fully in his suffering.
On Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Schools are closed, our church office is closed, some of you have the day off, all to commemorate the life work of Rev. Martin Luther King. The day before Rev. King was assassinated he delivered his final sermon in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. When you read that sermon from April 3, 1968 you get the uncanny feeling that Rev. King knew that his death was drawing near. Listen to Rev. King’s words from the conclusion of his final sermon:
"I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord" ("I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" preached on 4/3/68).
Rev. King had a mountaintop experience that showed him what was to come, and that mountaintop experience filled him with peace as he faced his future.
Mountaintop experiences are like that. In the ancient world, people believed that mountains were special places, places where heaven and earth intersected. The ancient Hebrews believed that mountains were places where godly people encountered God in a special way.
I’ve had a few mountaintop experiences myself. Many of my mountaintop experiences were at Men’s Retreats with our church in the mountains of Wrightwood. I remember sensing God’s direction for my life with a new clarity at one men’s retreat. At other mountaintop experiences I’ve sensed God’s affirmation in my life in a new way or received new insight into myself. At a staff retreat last year I remember sensing God speak to me about a unique need in of one of our staff members and how to best meet that need. There’s something about the smell of pine and brisk wind blowing through your hair, the sights and sounds of the forest, and the solitude of a mountain peak that opens your heart to God in a unique way.
But the problem with mountaintop experiences is that you eventually have to come down the hill. Rev. King had to come down from his mountaintop experience and face the reality of a bullet that would take his life. I remember sinking into a brief depression after some of my mountaintop experiences. You see, after the intensity of the mountaintop, we come back to the normal routine, and the two seem to collide. As one person once said about coming down from the mountaintop, "After the ecstasy comes the laundry." And it’s kind of hard to get excited about the routine things of life. Billy Graham once said, "Mountaintops are for view and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys."
Today we’re going to look at the ultimate mountaintop experience. We’re going to look at a mountaintop experience Jesus shared with three of his closest followers. Jesus Christ’s glory exploded on this mountaintop for his followers to see. And we’ll see in this mountaintop experience three realities about Jesus Christ’s glory that are important for our lives as well. And like our own mountaintop experiences, we’ll see that Jesus’ followers didn’t want to come down from the mountain of glory back to the realities of the valley.
1. A Hidden Glory (Mark 9:2-4)
Let’s look at how Jesus ended up on a mountaintop with his three friends. Christians call this event the transfiguration. To "transfigure" something is to "change" its appearance, and Christ’s appearance was radically altered in the full view of Peter, James and John. The way Mark describes this event, he wants us to know that this isn’t a vision, but that this is actually happening in the full view of Jesus’ inner circle.
Now the exact location where this event occurred in unknown. The traditional location is Mt. Tabor in Israel, though it could just as easily have been virtually any other tall mountain in the area.
In telling this story, Mark is deliberately echoing another mountaintop story. You see, thousands of years before Jesus, Moses had a very similar experience on the top another mountain, Mt. Sinai. That experience is recorded for us in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Exodus. Moses’ experience occurred right after Israel had been delivered from her slavery in Egypt but before Israel settled into the Promised Land of Palestine. Moses took three of his followers, along with 70 of Israel’s elders up to his mountain, just as Jesus took three of his followers (Exodus 24:1, 9).