Up and Down
As a boy, I was very susceptible to motion sickness. And so at amusement parks, I would avoid anything that spins. But I loved roller coasters, especially the big rush felt from the speedy plunge down the first big hill. Chug, chug, chug up the hill, and then whoosh! In Luke 9:28-43, we take a ride with Jesus both up and down. As we reflect on what these two movements mean, we realise we need both in our lives.
The context for these events is about one week after 'these sayings'. The sayings were that Jesus was going to go Jerusalem, suffer, die, and be raised (Luke 9:22); and the call for disciples to deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus daily (Luke 9). These are both difficult sayings: first, none of the Jews had conceived of a Messiah who died; second, the call to deny self and life sacrificially in the service of Jesus is challenging. What happens next is designed by God to obliterate questions in the hearts and minds of at least some of the disciples.
1. UP: Luke 9.28-36
In this text, Jesus takes his inner circle (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain for prayer - and more. While Jesus is praying, the disciples are sleeping. And while they sleep, he is transfigured - his eternal glory, the glory of the eternal Son of God, shines through his human body. Luke writes that 'the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white' (Luke 9:29). It's like Jesus unzipped his humanity to reveal his eternal glory.
And in this moment, Elijah and Moses show up, talking with Jesus about his impending departure. Jesus faced push-back from his inner circle regarding the plan to go to Jerusalem and die; they didn't like the strategy and challenged him on it (see Mark 8:31-33). And so Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, show up to encourage Jesus and confirm that both the law and the prophets confirm both the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world and his resurrection from the dead and coming glory.
Peter and the disciples wake up towards the end of the conversation, clumsy from speech, and overwhelmed by the scene. Trying to extend the moment of glory, Peter suggests tents for these three mega stars. But at that moment, Moses and Elijah leave, a cloud overwhelms them, and God the Father speaks from heaven: 'This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).
There are three key points to derive from this episode:
First, Jesus is more than Messiah, He's the Son of God. There was a growing buzz that Jesus might be the Messiah, but his talk about suffering and death created a conundrum for the disciples; they didn't have a category for dead Saviours. And so the voice from heaven grabs their attention, telling them to listen to Jesus, and affirming his identity as the Son of God.
Second, we need mountain-top revelation of the glory of God in Christ. We live in the valley, and sometimes the mundane-ness, the darkness, and feelings of futility about this life can grip us, torture us, and immobilise us. The core antidote to darkness in the valley is the light of revelation. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they would have the eyes of their heart enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). What revelation did he pray for? That they would know the glory of God's power in the resurrection of Jesus (Ephesians 1:19-20). We need a revelation of Jesus.
You may have heard the expression, 'So heavenly minded he's no earthly good'. Most people I meet are the opposite - they are so earthly minded they're no heavenly good. Paul wrote the Colossians:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2
We live well in the valley by the light of God's revelation in Christ. The Lord invites us up so we can catch a glimpse of his glory in Christ.
Third, we can't stay on the mountain top; we've got to go down and engage life in the valley. I love going to conferences because a) I'm away from the routine of home life, b) the preaching is great, c) the worship is awesome. Conferences are super encouraging - but they're not real life. It's great to go get the encouragement of a mountain top experience, but we live life in the valley, and that brings us to our next scene.
2. DOWN: Luke 9.37-43
The next day, Jesus leads Peter, James, and John down the mountain, and a scene unfolds that feels familiar by this point in Luke. A desperate father approaches Jesus about his only son, who is both suffering from epilepsy (Matthew 17:15) and demonic oppression (Luke 9:42). Jesus heals the boy, physically and spiritually. This is nothing new: when darkness encounters the Son of God, darkness flees, Jesus wins.
There is, however, another twist to this story. While Jesus was up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, the boy's father had come to the remaining disciples, asking them to heal his son. They could not. When Jesus heard this, he rebuked them for a lack of faith. He calls them a 'faithless and twisted generation' (Luke 9:41). In recounting this episode, Matthew adds a detail Luke doesn't: after the healing, when they were alone, the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn't heal the boy. Jesus answer is simple: 'Because of your little faith' (Matthew 17:20). He goes on to say:
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
The implication is clear: Jesus expected his disciples to have sufficient faith to confront the darkness and heal the boy. Faith derives from a revelation of who Jesus and God's power to deliver.
1. God calls us up to enjoy fellowship with himself and to gain perspective on his majesty and power through a revelation of Jesus. How can we go up? In the Word, in worship, in prayer ... you can have as much of God as you want. Actually - you do have as much of God as you want. To the degree you prioritise going up, you'll be thinking on the things above, not the things beneath.
2. We live faithfully in the valley of life in light of knowing - not just with our heads, but with through the revelation of spiritual insight - who Jesus really is and what He has done.
3. Grounded in Christ, faith grows in our hearts to confront the darkness that marks this life. You may thinking, 'I don't encounter demonised epileptics!' That's probably true. But you do face darkness - in your own soul, in relationships, in circumstances. Whether it is anxiety, or a bad boss, or financial pressure, or relational tension, the foundation for navigating this life well is a revelation of God in Christ. So do whatever it takes to get up on the mountain top - and then come back down.