Why is it that every time we have a mountain-top experience, it seems to be followed by a big downer? Why can’t we just stay up forever? Students often express that they’d like to stay at camp all year! I love the up too—but what goes up, must come down.

September 1-2, 2018
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
From the mountain to the valley
Luke 9:28-43 (p. 890)

Introduction and offering:

Have you ever had a mountain-top experience—off-the-charts good—only to have it followed immediately by a big downer? You’re up here, and suddenly you come crashing down, back to earth. Up…then down. Things are great…things are terrible. This happens a lot—have you noticed?

You get up early to read the Bible and pray; you connect with God; you come away filled and energized. Then the kids get up. Or you get to work. Or…you fill in the blank—but it’s back to earth, back to real life. It reminds me of one of favorite prayers:

ILL: Dear Lord, so far today, I’m doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, or selfish. I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I have charged nothing on my credit card. But I will be getting out of bed in a minute, and then I think I’ll really need your help!

It’s bad when the high point of your day is before you get out of bed, and then it’s all downhill from there!

Today we are reading two stories from the gospel of Luke: one up, the other down. One glorious experience on a mountain top; the other an embarrassing failure back down in the valley. Up…then down. We’re going to unpack both stories and then finish talking about the ups and downs of life.

Offering here.

  1. Up on the mountain.

Luke 9:28–36 (p. 890)

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Look back at the first verse. “About 8 days after Jesus said this.” Said what? Look at the verses just above. Jesus asked the disciples who He was, and Peter said, “God’s messiah.” Then Jesus predicted His death and resurrection, and told the disciples that they would take up a cross and follow Him. Finally, He promised that some of them would not die before they see the Kingdom of God.

8 days after saying that, three of the disciples see this.

They go up mountain with Jesus and as He was praying, He was changed. Transfigured—metamorphosed. His face changed—Matthew says, it shone like the sun—and His clothes became “as bright as a flash of lightening.” Dazzling! Blinding! I looked up artistic renderings of this, and none comes close. It must have been overwhelming!

Then they saw two men talking with Jesus. It was Moses and Elijah. I have always wondered how they knew it was Moses and Elijah—were they wearing name tags? Then I realized: of course they would recognize Moses!   Who hasn’t seen The Ten Commandments? Is there a movie about Elijah? Here are two of the giants of the Old Testament: Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the greatest of the prophets. They are also paired together in the last chapter of the Old Testament:

Malachi 4:4–5 (p. 824)

4 Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.

Remember Moses; look for Elijah. This was the final instruction in the Old Testament. Remember Moses; look for Elijah. And here are Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about His departure from Jerusalem. The Greek word is exodos. Just as Moses led the Israelites to freedom in the Exodus from Egypt, so Jesus is going to lead a new Exodus to freedom for all God’s children.

Meanwhile, the disciples were sleepy! Anybody ever get sleepy when you pray? You’re in good company! They were sleepy, but can you stay awake when the sun shines in your face? The blazing, blinding, dazzling glory of Jesus woke them up!

And Peter, not knowing what he was saying, offered to build three shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It’s possible Peter’s words had theological implications, that he was offering to build tabernacles to commemorate the presence of God. But I also think it’s safe to assume that Peter wanted to stay in the moment. “This is so cool. Let’s pitch some tents and stay awhile.” Do you know that feeling? You’re having that mountain-top experience and you just want to stay there as long as you can. When I picked up some kids from Kids Camp this summer, they sobbed most of the way home. They loved it and wanted to stay. I think that’s how Peter felt. “Let’s pitch some tents and stay awhile.”

Then a cloud covers them. In the Old Testament, the cloud represented the presence of God. It was called the Shekinah, the glory cloud, the dwelling of God among men. This cloud led the Israelites through the wilderness in the Exodus. This cloud settled on the tabernacle and later on the temple when they were completed. God moved in! And now this cloud overshadows the disciples. And out of the cloud, the Voice speaks, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” (Sound effects here.) Can you imagine?

And when the cloud lifts, they found that Jesus was alone. Only Jesus. “This is my Son—listen to Him.”

I want to make three quick points about Jesus.

  1. Jesus’ prayers.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray. In Luke, we find Jesus praying at every major turning point in His story. He was praying at His baptism when the heavens open, the Spirit descends and the Father speaks (3:21–22). He was praying all night before He chooses the Twelve disciples to whom He will entrust His work (6:12). He was praying before He asked the disciples who He was and Peter answered, “God’s messiah” (9:18). He was praying before the transfiguration (9:28–29), and He was praying in Gethsemane in the hours leading up to His arrest and crucifixion (22:41). And of course, He was praying on the cross as He gave His life to redeem all of us (23:34, 46).

Jesus was praying at every major turning point in His story. There are two possible explanations.

One is that Jesus prayed when faced with a crisis. “I’m in trouble, I better pray.” Or, “This is a big deal, I better pray.” I hope you all do that! I hope whenever you’re facing a big deal or trouble that you turn to God in prayer.

But it’s also possible to treat God like a 911 call rather than a friend. When do you call 911? Only in an emergency. When do you call your friends? All the time.

Michael Jr. alluded to this last weekend when he asked us to imagine that we were a house and Jesus was standing outside knocking, wanting to come in. He said some of us keep Jesus on the porch, open the door in an emergency and ask Him what to do, then close the door and leave Him outside and go about our business. That’s not a relationship, a friendship. That’s treating God like a 911 call.

So the other possibility is that Jesus prayed every day, that prayer was His habit, His custom.

Luke 5:16 (p. 884) But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Rather than prayer being just a reaction to an emergency, prayer was a relationship with His Father. And because of that, when the emergency came, when the big moment arrived, what is He already doing? Praying.

My first big takeaway is that I want prayer to be a relationship with God and not just a reaction to an emergency. I want prayer to be an all-day, every day relationship with my Father, and not just a 911 call. I want my habit to be that I talk with God every day so that when the crisis or big moment arrives, I’m ready. I’m already praying. And we’ll see in the next story why this is so important.

How about for you? Is prayer a relationship with God or a reaction to an emergency? Is Jesus in every room of the house, or still on the porch for emergencies?

  1. Jesus’ glory.

ILL: Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy peeks behind the curtain? Behind all the dazzling lights and thunderous voices was this guy. Not too impressive. Dazzling on the outside, but behind the curtain, not too impressive.

This story is the exact opposite of that. Not too impressive on the outside, but behind the curtain, glorious!

Jesus was an itinerant Jewish rabbi. He dressed and lived simply; He had no earthly titles or positions of power. He said that He had no place to lay His head at night—He was homeless. By most earthly measures, He was not impressive.

And then this. For a few moments, the curtain that shrouds Jesus’ glory is pulled back, and the disciples see Him shining! Blazing light! Blinding glory! The Voice of God!

We overuse the word “awesome.” The word means “inspiring awe” and awe is a combination of dread, reverence and wonder. Awe! This was awesome! This left the disciples truly awestruck by the glory of Jesus.

Peter would remember and write about it many years later:

2 Peter 1:16–18 (p. 1051)

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

We were eyewitnesses of His majesty! I imagine that Peter told people about this experience the rest of His life. “I saw Jesus transformed; I saw His glory.”

Luke tells us in verse 32 that, “when they were fully awake, they saw His glory.” This is my prayer for you and for me: that we will be fully awake and see the glory of Jesus. When you see who He really is, when you have that “awe” moment, it changes you forever. That vision will carry you when it gets tough.

All the disciples ended up dying for Jesus. Some of them suffered horrible persecution and died agonizing deaths. Some of them literally took up a cross, just as Jesus had done. What motivated and sustained them during those hardships? Not just a vision of Jesus dying naked on a cross—but a vision of Jesus’ glory, of Jesus blazing with blinding light. With that vision, they could say, “We have seen His glory. We know who He is.”

William Barclay wrote: We cannot live forever in the moment on the mountain but we cannot live at all without it.

We can’t stay there, on the mountain. But we can’t live without that vision of Jesus’ glory. I’m praying you have your moment of vision like this! Awe!

  1. Jesus’ supremacy.

Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. Peter wants to make shelters for all three of them. But then the cloud covers them, God speaks, “This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” And when the cloud lifts, it’s only Jesus. Moses and Elijah are gone.

What’s going on? This would have almost certainly reminded the disciples of a very important promise found in Deuteronomy 18:15 (p. 165)

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.

“You must listen to Him.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He is the Promised One, the fulfillment of the spiritual legacy of Moses and Elijah. He is the Prophet promised here by Moses. But Moses and Elijah are not His peers, His equals. Jesus is not just another prophet like them. Jesus is supreme. He is the unique Son of God. Listen to Him.

Listen to Jesus.

Listen to Jesus over anyone else—even Moses and Elijah. Have you ever read something in the Old Testament that left you scratching your head? Listen to Jesus. I often say: correct back to Jesus. When in doubt, when you’re not sure, just correct back to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. He is supreme.

This is why I think the gospels are the most important part of the Bible. And the red letters, the words of Jesus, are among the most important parts of the gospels. Jesus told us to make disciples by teaching them to obey everything Jesus said. Disciples—followers of Jesus—need to know what Jesus said so they can do what Jesus said. Listen to Jesus. This is why I tell new Christians to start their Bible reading in the gospels: read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And then read them again. And again. And again. Get to know Jesus. Listen to Jesus.

Listen to Jesus all day long. Jesus speaks to us.

John 10:27 (p. 923) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Jesus is supreme. Listen to Jesus—and follow Him.

So this was the mountain top experience—it was amazing, awesome in the truest sense of the word, and Peter wanted to camp out up there. But the next day, they headed down the mountain, and here’s what happened.

  1. Down in the valley.

Luke 9:37–43 (p. 891)

37 The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

42 Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

Can you imagine coming down off of the mountain top to this? It was chaos. Mark tells us that the teachers of the law were arguing with the disciples. Picture this distraught father, the powerless disciples unable to help him, the Jewish lawyers arguing with the disciples, and the crowd milling around watching all this. Chaos! From the mountain top down to the valley. I’ll bet Peter, James and John were ready to turn around and head back up the mountain!

Jesus listens to the man’s plea: “Please look at my son.” Jesus rebukes everyone for their unbelief and then asks the father to bring the boy to Him.   Jesus heals the boy and gave Him back to His father. And everyone was amazed by the greatness of God.

The word “greatness” translates the Greek word megaleiotes, which means “greatness, grandeur, majesty, impressiveness.” It is the same word that Peter used in 2 Peter 1:16 when he said they were eyewitnesses of His majesty. They saw Jesus’ majesty or greatness on the mountain in blazing glory; and they saw it in the valley in humble service to an epileptic boy. It’s a good reminder that greatness or majesty is revealed as much in humble service as in blazing glory. We see God’s greatness up on the mountain and also down in the valley.

I want to focus on just one thing: why couldn’t the disciples drive out the demon. The father said, “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” They could not do it. Why not? If you look back at Luke 9:1, before Jesus sent them out on mission, it says, “He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.” They had the power and authority to drive out all demons, including this demon. Why couldn’t they do it?

It turns out the disciples were wondering the same thing and they asked Jesus about it.

Matthew 17:19–20 (p. 843)

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Why couldn’t we do it? And what was Jesus’ answer? “Because you have so little faith.” Here is Mark’s version.

Mark 9:28–29 (p. 867)

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Why couldn’t we do it? And what was Jesus’ answer? “This kind can come out only by prayer.” What was Jesus doing on the mountain? Praying. So he was ready when the crisis came and had spiritual authority and power. What were the disciples doing while He was gone? I don’t know but I’ll bet they weren’t praying! If they had been, they would have had the faith and power to cast out this demon.

These two stories start and end with prayer. They start with Jesus going up the mountain to pray, and they end with Jesus teaching the disciples to pray if they want to have spiritual power and authority. It comes back to this idea that prayer isn’t just a 911 call for an emergency. (I think that’s what the disciples might have tried with this boy and failed.) Prayer is a relationship. And when you live in that relationship, when you talk with God all day, when you listen to Jesus, you live with faith and power and authority.

Here’s a big takeaway. Every day, pray and listen to Jesus. I know that when I’m praying daily, and listening to Jesus during the day, I live differently. What would happen if you devoted some time to prayer each day?

God answers prayer. Do you believe that? I believe that.

When I work, I work, but when I pray, God works. Do you believe that? I believe that.

When I pray, God changes me. Do you believe that? I believe that.

My first calling as a follower of Jesus is to listen to Him. Do you believe that? I believe that.

I believe all those things, but often my life doesn’t reflect that belief. Sometimes I live like I don’t believe any of those things. I don’t pray—unless it’s an emergency. I don’t listen to Jesus.

So my challenge to you and to me is to Live what you believe. If you believe those things, then pray. Make some time to pray. Jesus did. So should I, so should you. And listen to Jesus. All day.

  1. What goes up must come down!

Life is up and down. And the Christian life is up and down. There are great highs (mountain top experiences) and great lows (down in valley). All of us, like Peter, wish we could live on the mountain top, but like Peter, we live most of our lives in the valley.

ILL: I mentioned bringing a couple kids home from Kids Camp and they sobbed most of the way home because they wished they could stay at camp forever. I think most of the students who go to camp feel that way. felt that way. Camp was my favorite week of the year. I wish I could stay there all year.

But of course we can’t. If we stayed there, it wouldn’t be the same. Part of what makes those moments special is that they are…special. They are different. And if every day was camp, well, camp would just become another every day experience.

Here’s another thing: we love the emotional high, the energy. But we can’t stay there either. You’d burn out. I’ve learned that I need the highs and the lows. I need the excitement, and I need the recovery. I need the noise, and I need the quiet. I need the up and I need the down.

What goes up, must come down. Every spiritual high is followed by a low. But here’s the good news. Jesus is in the valley too, and He does almost all His work there, in the valley. He meets us there and frees and heals and teaches us.

ILL: We moved into this building on September 11, 2005. It had been a three year process of raising money, then designing and building this facility. On the day we opened here, I stood at an upstairs window with Pastor Noel and as we prayed together, we watched cars and people stream in. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Our church grew immediately because of the back pressure—people who were simply unable to get into our old location. What a great time it was! It was an up.

But what goes up, must come down.

Six months later, I was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery and a long recovery. It was hard, but I knew the Lord was with me in the midst of that valley. I’ve told you before that after the doc told me I had cancer, Laina asked me how I was doing. I told her, “I woke up this morning in God’s hands, and I’m still in God’s hands, so really, nothing has changed. I’m good.” Jesus sustained me—and I’m cancer free.

Then about six months after that my 22 year old son died. Honestly, that made the cancer battle seem easy. I spent the next six months grieving and depressed. It was the lowest valley of my life. But once again, Jesus met me in the valley and did some of the best work He’s ever done in my life.

What goes up, must come down. Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to embrace the high because Jesus is there, and embrace the low because Jesus is there too. In your valley, don’t run from Him. Run to Him! Run to Him! He does His best work there.

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From the mountain to the valley