Shelby G. Floyd
Good morning. It is good for all of us to meet together to worship Almighty God. I am glad that I can stand before you today and present the word of God. The topic that I have chosen to speak on today is, The Mountain Top Experience. How many of you have had a mountaintop experience? About the highest mountain I have ever been on is Mount Eagle that is located shortly after you come out of Chattanooga, Tennessee and are heading north. It is wonderful when you go over the top and head down into that beautiful valley in Tennessee.
But mountaintop experiences cannot last forever. Some of our members put on a lot of photos of mountaintops in Switzerland and other places. And I look at everyone, and it struck me one day, that in every one of those photos, the people live down in the valley. They do not live up on top of the mountain. That is the way of all mountaintop experiences. You experience it, and you enjoy it, but then you must come down in the valley where people live their daily lives.
I was thinking also of some mountaintop experiences that all of us go through in our life. Do all of you remember the day that you were married? Do you remember how beautiful and how wonderful it was to start a new family or home? And perhaps you went on a honeymoon that will be a beautiful lifetime memory. But after it was all over, you had to go back to your job and go to work, and take care of your family, mow the yard and 100 other things that are involved in living our life every day.
Having a Baby
And what about having a baby come into that new family? That is a mountaintop experience. It is wonderful to remember back when each one of our children was born and became a part of our family. Remember how wonderful they were, how much we loved them, and how we could not wait to take their picture and present it to all the members of our extended family. But after the birth of the baby and everyone returns back to their home, there is a lot of work that must be done in taking care of that child. And all of that continues through grade school, middle school, high school and until they leave home to start out on their own. It is a great responsibility!
Day of Your Baptism
Then do you all remember the day that you became a Christian? Do you remember when you made the good confession that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God and were immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sin? Do you also remember when you rose from the waters of baptism to live a new life modeled after your Lord Jesus Christ? But then as we go forward, it is not easy to live the Christian life every day. There are temptations and sometimes we sin, and then we get back up, repent and go forward to overcome our shortcomings. The lesson for all of us is how wonderful it is to have a mountain top experience, but after it is all over, we have to come down into the Valley and go to work in all of our everyday activities.
Now I want to talk to you about the mountaintop experience that we really are going to focus upon during the rest of this lesson. It is found in Matthew seventeen, Mark nine, and Luke nine, and also in our text that was read in our hearing found in 2 Peter 1:15-19. In order to get an accurate picture of this mountaintop experience. We must look at every one of those passages in which the mountaintop experience is rehearsed. And I will say that right before they experienced this mountaintop experience, Jesus made an important statement:
And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power” (Mark 9:1 NKJV).
In this statement Jesus said plainly that the kingdom of God would come in the lifetime of some of those who were standing there with him at that time. The kingdom of God has definitely come into existence in time past. Therefore, the preachers who are running around telling people that the kingdom of God is to come at any time are making false statements and their message should be rejected by all sensible people. And when you add what other inspired writers wrote like the statement in the book of Hebrews that says that they were receiving a kingdom, then we know the kingdom has come into existence!
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Hebrews 12:28).
Therefore, we know that the kingdom was in existence at the time of the closing of the divine revelation from God to fallen mankind (Revelation 1:9).
THE TIME OF THE MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE.
In reference to the mountaintop experience that Jesus and some of his apostles experienced, Matthew and Mark in their writings indicate that this great event occurred six days after the previous event, while Luke indicates that it was about eight days (Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28). When you first look at the statements, it seems to indicate a contradiction in what is said. But there are no contradictions in the Bible if they can be reasonably explained to harmonize. That is the case in this instance. It seems that Matthew and Mark are using the Jewish system which would number the days between the two events while Luke is using the Roman system in which he counts the days on which the two events occurred as well as those in between. Therefore there is no contradiction. And not only that, but Luke says, “about eight days!” Therefore, these three witnesses of the mountaintop experience all harmonize in their statements.
At this point in the ministry of Christ, it seems he is only about 6 to 9 months away from his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Therefore, the authors of the life of Christ begin to recount the activities that are going on in a time sequence that will better enable us to understand the last year of Jesus life.
THE PLACE OF THE MOUNTAINTOP TRANSFIGURATION.
Most biblical scholars agree that the Transfiguration most likely took place on Mount Herman, which rises to about 9,166 feet in elevation. Mount Herman is located in the area of Caesarea Philippi where Peter had made the good confession and affirmed that the church would be built upon the rock of the deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ:
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19 NKJV).
Peter, James, and John, often called the inner circle of the apostles, were the only ones who went up on the mountaintop with Jesus Christ. The same three apostles had also witnessed the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and also it would not be long until the same three individuals would go with Christ into the deep dark shadows of Gethsemane, as he prayed to his heavenly father before he was betrayed and handed over to be crucified as a condemned felon. In all respects, these three individuals who were with the Lord from the time that he began his ministry until the day that he was taken up into heaven, are very credible when they give us testimony of this event.
JESUS WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE PETER, JAMES, AND JOHN.
While Jesus and Peter, James, and John were on the mountaintop, the scriptures tell us that Jesus was praying. And Matthew describes the great event which took place: “… And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). In the parallel accounts we learn that the clothes of Jesus were whiter and brighter than any launderer could possibly make them. The English word “transfigured” is defined as “to change the outward form or appearance. To make glorious and to idolize.”
This same Greek word is often translated as “transform” as found in Romans 12:1-2:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Therefore, in like manner Christian people are to undergo a major change in our thinking, attitude, and physical habits. The gospel of Christ has the power to make these changes in us and help us to live a faithful Christian life.
GOD BROUGHT BACK MOSES AND ELIJAH TO APPEAR WITH CHRIST.
All three of the gospel writers describe this event in words that we can all understand. For instance, Mark writes, “… and Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:4-5). Why did just Moses and Elijah appear with Christ? There were a lot of other worthy spokesmen from the Old Testament history of God’s dealing with his people Israel. Why just Moses and Elijah? It seems that these two men represent the two leading segments of Old Testament history. Moses, who was highly revered by God’s people was the one who represented the law of the Old Testament. It is called the law of Moses, even though it was the law of God. It was called the law of Moses because he was the leading figure in the Exodus from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. And Elijah represented that great group of spokesmen called the prophets. The major and the minor prophets spent their lives calling God’s people back to his original instructions as how to worship and how to live among the ungodly Gentile people living all around them.
These two individuals were talking with Jesus while he was transfigured before them. What were they talking about? According to Luke’s testimony, they were talking about his departure from this world. It is interesting that the word departure in the Greek is the word exodus. So they were talking with Jesus about his exit from this world:
“And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31).
Moses had died in solitude on Mount Nebo and he had been buried by the angels of God in an unmarked grave. Nobody knew where he had been buried. And the great prophet Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a chariot and a whirlwind and it seems that he had never died (2 Kings 2:11). It is interesting that these two individuals who had been in the spirit world for many years are now appearing with Jesus in some kind of spiritual body. This demonstrates strongly that when we leave this world, we are still alive in another world. The scripture says that they appeared in glory, which seems to indicate some kind of form. We do know that Paul in his great chapter on the resurrection of the body, says that we will be the resurrected in a glorious body. Paul affirms that there is a mortal body, and there is also a spiritual body. Therefore, both Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in some kind of spiritual body or form. God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living!
WHAT ABOUT THE PROPHECY CONCERNING THE COMING OF ELIJAH?
After this amazing mountain top experience with Jesus and also Moses and Elijah; Peter, James, and John had a question to ask Jesus as they came down from the mountain. And Jesus straightforward answered their question about Elijah:
And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
12 Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:11-13).
Many people in Israel were asking when Elijah would come. They were asking this because the last words of the Old Testament concerned Moses and Elijah:
“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant,
Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel,
With the statutes and judgments.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4: 4-6).
Jesus interpreted Malachi’s words for them without telling anything about who this Elijah was. In order to find out more about Elijah we must go back to the birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zacharias knew the name of their son even before he was born. God named him John. Even though this was not a name that had been passed down from the family, many in the family wanted to give him a name after his father. But Zacharias when asked what his name was, three times said his name is John. The Holy Spirit even explained to Zacharias the work that John was to do when he started his ministry:
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17).
Therefore, the Elijah who was to come was no other than John the Baptist and the great work that he did in preparing a people to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we know this? Because as Jesus and the three disciples were coming back down the mountain, they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? Then He answered and told them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how it is written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:11-13 NKJV). So Jesus said that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist who went about preaching in the spirit and power of Elijah!
PETER’S PROPOSAL TO BUILD THREE TABERNACLES.
As the bright cloud overshadowed Jesus along with Moses and Elijah, Peter proposed to build three Tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah: “…then Peter answered and said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, let us make here three Tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4). But Luke in his account explains to us that Peter and those with him were very heavy with sleep and it was only when they were fully awake, that they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. It is at that point that Peter makes his proposal. But Luke says: “not knowing what he said.” And in Mark’s account he further describes the actions of Peter by saying, “because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid” (Mark 9:5-6).
Peter was an outstanding apostle. He was able to walk on water when nobody else volunteered to do so. He was given the privilege of preaching the first gospel sermon at the inauguration of the kingdom of God on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47). He preached about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He convicted many in his audience of being guilty of the death of Christ on the cross. And when they cried out, “what shall we do?” He replied, “…repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” About 3000 people were added to the church on the very first day. So Peter had many fine attributes as an apostle.
But Peter also had several weaknesses. He was very cocksure of himself and said that he would never deny Jesus Christ. And all the other apostles also followed his lead and said they would not deny him. But Jesus knew better. He knew the weakness of Peter and said to him, “…before the cock crows twice. you shall deny me thrice.” And guess what? “The rooster crowed!” Then, Peter went out and wept bitterly because he had denied his Lord and Savior. So Peter would often shoot off his mouth before thinking about what he was to say. Later, the apostle Paul had to rebuke him to his face before many members of the church because he acted hypocritically before the Jews and the Gentiles. So we need to be careful when we think we are a lot stronger than we really are.
THE MEANING OF THE VOICE FROM HEAVEN
The apostle Peter was so enthused at seeing Moses and Elijah speaking to Christ, that he made a proposal to build three tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He really did not understand what he was saying. As Moses and Elijah were leaving Christ, a bright cloud overshadowed them and when the cloud disappeared, there was no one left but Jesus only. Matthew describes the scene in these words:
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only (Matthew 17:5-8).
What is the message of the voice from heaven? The voice teaches us that Christ is the center of the Christian system. We are to listen to him rather than Moses and Elijah! Christ is God’s spokesman for the age of the kingdom of heaven or the church (Hebrews 1:1-2). Every aspect of the Christian religion takes its meaning from Christ himself. For instance, Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”(Matthew 16:18). The rock or foundation upon which the church is built is the confession that Peter made when he said, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Therefore Christ is the foundation of the church.
The meaning of baptism, or immersion derives from the fact that Christ died, was buried, and rose again to live a new life in heaven. Paul declared that this is the case in Romans 6:3-4: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
And we are commanded to take the Lord’s supper upon the first day of every week. The very items that are used in the Lord’s supper are symbolic of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ at Calvary. The apostle Paul declares to the Corinthian congregation:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
We know that this mountain top experience of Christ, along with Moses and Elijah and also with Peter, James and John as witnesses is true, because later in his life, the apostle Peter left us firsthand personal testimony of what had taken place on the mountaintop when Jesus was transfigured in all of his glory before them all:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (Second Peter 1:16-18).
But when it was all over, they had to come down from the mountaintop to the towns and villages below where the people were and where the gospel needed to be preached. Jesus preached the gospel throughout Judea, Samaria, and many other places during his lifetime. But his last words to us were to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person. He told us to baptize those who were willing to repent in water for the forgiveness of their sins. This has been going on for about 2000 years and will continue until we see the Son of God coming in all of his glory in the clouds of heaven* #
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* Copyright © 2021 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered the essence of this sermon, August 1, 2021, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 W. Main St., Greenwood, Indiana, 46142