Mountaintop Experiences: Jesus

Mountaintop Experiences: Jesus image

“Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” —Jesus[1]

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at stories from the Bible of people who had amazing, life-changing experiences with God on a mountaintop. First, we looked at Abraham and how he laid everything down before God on top of a mountain. Then we looked at Moses, who climbed a mountain and not only saw God, but found the direction that he so desperately needed. This week, we turn to the New Testament and look at a very special mountaintop experience. Let’s talk about Jesus on the mountain.

Jesus’ life was literally full of mountaintop experiences. Scripture tells that after spending a period of time healing and teaching, He would retire to a mountain to spend time alone with the Father. The most famous sermon ever preached is called The Sermon on the Mount because Jesus delivered it on a mountain. Jesus’ transfiguration, in which His glory was revealed to a few of His disciples and He talked with Moses and Elijah, took place on top of a mountain.

And now we find Jesus on the mountaintop once again. Luke tells us that after He celebrated the Passover with His disciples (a meal we now refer to as the Last Supper), Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray “as He was accustomed.”[2] But this was no ordinary prayer session. In this passage of scripture, we get a unique, beautiful look into the way Jesus, the Son of God and God Himself, interacted with the Father. And what does Jesus say? He says, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me — nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”[3]

Jesus knew what was coming. He was preparing for His next mountaintop experience, His crucifixion and death on the hill called Calvary. He knew in the coming hours, He was going to be betrayed by one of His best friends, abandoned by the others, arrested, falsely accused, and sentenced to death. He knew He was about to go through the most gruesome, painful, demeaning death one could imagine—all to atone for sins that He did not commit.

And there was at least part of Him that didn’t want to do it. You see, Jesus was human, just like us. He felt emotions just like we do. You know the pain you feel when a friend stabs you in the back? Jesus felt that as He watched every single one of His friends leave Him in His most desperate hour. Also, Jesus had nerve endings under His skin just like we do. Just like we feel pain when we get a cut or break a bone, Jesus felt physical pain as well, and He was about to endure the most agonizing pain imaginable.

But He didn’t have to. Just as much as Jesus was human, He was also divine. He had the power to stop everything that He knew was about to happen. Later that evening, when Jesus was being arrested, He told Peter that all He had to do was say the word, and God would send legions of angels to protect Him.[4] At any point during this whole process, Jesus could have stopped it. He could have said, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t have to do this, and I’m not going to do this.”

But He didn’t. Jesus climbed that mountain, and He had that experience with God where He said, “Not My will, but Yours, be done.” That may have been the hardest thing Jesus ever had to do. But I am so glad He did. Because He made that choice, history was changed forever. Because Jesus chose the Father’s will over His own human will, we now have salvation through Him. Because of His selfless desire to follow God’s will no matter what, we can now have a personal relationship with God and enjoy His presence everywhere we go. I am so thankful that Jesus had that mountaintop experience that day! Aren’t you?

Believe it or not, each of us is being called to do something right now. No matter who you are, God has something that He wants you to be doing for Him today, at this moment. It may be small, or it may be huge. But it’s something, and if God is calling you to do it, then it’s really, really important.

Scripture tells us that God has a good, acceptable, and perfect will for each of us.[5] God has a plan for my life, and God has a plan for your life. God wants to give each of us the best possible life we can have. That’s His desire for me and for you. My pastor, Bro. Will Harmon, puts it this way: Your purpose is to find, follow, and finish God’s good, acceptable, and perfect plan for your life. That’s it. Find, follow, and finish. It’s that simple.

Yes, sometimes God calls us to do things we don’t want to do. That’s a part of how God works. But we have to trust that He has our best interests at heart. Our field of vision is so small. God sees the big picture, and He will never lead us astray. When God calls you to do something, you’re supposed to trust that He knows what He’s doing and simply do whatever He asks. If you’ll trust Him to guide your steps, He’ll give you the best possible life. I promise you that.

Maybe God is calling you to do something that you just don’t want to do. Maybe it’s something you’ve been struggling with for a while, and you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You may be tempted to ignore God’s call or put it off, but I urge you to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He climbed that mountain, He humbled Himself before the Father, and He chose to do God’s will even though it was hard. You can do the same thing. You can climb that mountain and make that choice today. If you do that, if you climb that mountain, God will guide you and bless you every step of the way. And someday, you’ll look back on that choice that you made and think, “My life is different because I had that experience with God that day. I’m so thankful I chose to follow Him.” God’s calling you to do something, and He wants you to answer. Have that mountaintop experience with God today.

  1. Luke 22:42 (HCSB)  ↩

  2. Luke 22:39 (NKJV)  ↩

  3. This is the full version of Luke 22:42 from the HCSB.  ↩

  4. Matthew 26:53  ↩

  5. Romans 12:2  ↩

Mountaintop Experiences: Moses

This is part two in a series called Mountaintop Experiences. It is based on a sermon I preached at a retreat last month at Camp Beaverfork. You can read part one, Mountaintop Experiences: Abraham, here.

Last week, we talked about Abraham and the life-changing experience he had with God on the mountain. Abraham had what we call a mountaintop experience, a one-on-one encounter with God where a person takes his or her relationship with God to the next level. These experiences signify shifts in a person’s life where he or she can look back and say, “Because I had that experience with God, my life will never be the same.” Abraham had that kind of experience when he climbed the mountain and laid the most important thing in the world to him—his son—down before God and said, “I want You more than even this.” What an incredible, life-changing encounter with God Abraham had on the mountaintop that day.

This week’s mountaintop experience story is about Moses. Moses was God’s hand-chosen leader for His chosen people, the Israelites. During Moses’ life, God’s people went from Egyptian slaves to free, roaming conquerers on the brink of the Promised Land. Moses lived an incredible life and went down in history as one of the strongest men of God to ever walk the earth. And it all started (and ended) on a mountain.

Moses had several notable mountaintop experiences in his life. Moses’ journey with God really started on a mountain when God appeared to him out of the burning bush and called him to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. Once Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, he returned to the same mountain and spent 40 days on top of the mountain with God receiving the commandments for God’s chosen people. And Moses’ life came full circle when he climbed his final mountain on the border of the Promised Land and died in the presence of the God he had served all his life.

The particular mountaintop experience from Moses’ life covered in this post comes from Exodus 33:18–23. It comes right after a major crisis in Moses’ life. As I said before, Moses spent 40 days on a mountain with God receiving the commandments. And when he came down, he found that the Israelites had rebelled. They had given up on Moses and on God, and they were worshipping a golden statue of a calf that they had created themselves.

Moses was livid, and so was God. Moses destroyed the idol and punished the people, and then he headed back up the mountain to do some damage control. The people had broken their covenant with God, and now it was questionable whether or not God would even continue to go with the Israelites as they travelled to the Promised Land. Moses pleaded with God not to give up on them, and when God finally agreed to continue going with Israel, Moses made this request to Him in Exodus chapter 33 verse 18: “Show me Your glory.”

I think Moses really needed three things in this situation. First of all, he needed some encouragement. He was charged with leading a very stubborn group of people who couldn’t seem to learn their lesson. They had watched God send plagues down on their Egyptian slave masters so that they could be set free. They had walked across the Red Sea that God had miraculously parted for them. They had eaten the manna that God had miraculously provided for them. And yet, they still rebelled against Him and against His chosen leader Moses. Moses didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t handle these people alone. He needed some encouragement, and that’s exactly what he got on the mountaintop.

Moses also needed to feel God’s presence in his life. Really, when Moses asked God to show him His glory, Moses was asking God to show him His presence, to show him who He was. Moses felt betrayed and alone. The people had rebelled against him. God had almost abandoned the Israelite people and left Moses to lead them on his own. He needed to know that God was with him in a very real way.

Finally, Moses needed some direction. He was in charge of God’s chosen people. He not only had to lead them to the Promised Land, but then he had figure out how to lead them in claiming the Promised Land for themselves despite the fact that it was already inhabited. Moses had no plan. He had no sense of where he was going. He needed God to show him that, and God did show him that on the mountaintop.

Moses got everything he needed from this mountaintop experience that he had with God. He received encouragement and a very real sense of God’s presence in his life when God set him up on the mountain and let him see His back as He walked away. Moses literally saw God’s glory on the mountain, and this had a profound effect on his life. When Moses came down from the mountain, scripture tells us that his face radiated with God’s presence. He literally shined from reflecting God’s glory. He had to wear a veil on his face because people couldn’t look directly at him. That’s how present God was in Moses’ life after this experience that he had on the mountaintop.

Moses also got some direction up there on the mountaintop. God refused to show Moses His face because He said that any man who sees God’s face will die. And that’s true, but I think there’s more to it than that. While discussing this passage, a friend of mine once asked me, “Why didn’t God show Moses His face?” My friend paused for a second, and then he answered, “It’s because we’re supposed to seek it.”

When Moses looked out from that mountaintop, he literally saw God. He saw His back as He was walking away. And seeing God in that way gave him some direction to follow. It gave Moses something to seek. Moses wasn’t content with just having that one experience of God’s glory. He sought God’s face for the rest of his life. He spent the rest of his days following the direction God gave him on that mountaintop. Because he climbed the mountain and asked God to show him His glory, Moses’ life was never the same.

Moses was a great man of God. He has served as an example for billions of people throughout history of the kind of faith and dedication to God we should all strive to have. Moses was so great because he took the time to get away, to climb those mountains, and to have those life-defining experiences with God that shaped him into who he was.

Maybe you see yourself in some aspect of Moses’ story today. Maybe you need encouragement. Or maybe you’re in desperate need to feel God’s presence in your life right now. Or maybe you’re looking for some direction in making a big decision or figuring out what the next step is for you. If you see yourself in any of these situations, follow Moses’ example. Climb that mountain, whatever that looks like in your own personal spiritual life, and ask God to show you His glory. Choose to make today one of your mountaintop experiences. If you climb that mountain, I promise you will find Him there. And I promise your life will never be the same.

Mountaintop Experiences: Abraham

Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts entitled Mountaintop Experiences. These posts are based on a sermon I preached at Camp Beaverfork in February.

A good portion of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is dedicated to telling the story of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Abraham was a God-fearing man who moved his family from his homeland in search of a land that God promised to give to him and his descendants, who God promised would be as numerous as the stars. There was just one problem: Abraham didn’t have any children. His wife, Sarah, was barren, and they were getting too old to be having children.

But Abraham clung to the hope of having a son. He suffered a lot and faced many trials throughout his life, but he knew it was all going to be OK because God was going to bless him and would someday fulfill His promise of giving him many descendants. And eventually, God did give Abraham a son named Isaac. Abraham loved Isaac and saw him as the fulfillment of God’s promise He had made so long ago. God had finally come through for Abraham.

And then what did God do? He told Abraham to give up the one thing he had wanted his entire life. In Genesis 22, we read the story of God instructing Abraham to take his son up to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him on an altar. Think about it. God finally gave Abraham the son he had been waiting on for so many years, and now God was telling him to take his son and slaughter him like a sacrificial animal. How crazy does that sound? And yet, Abraham obeyed.

The Biblical text does not give us any information about what was going through Abraham’s mind, but one can only imagine the anguish he must have felt. He journeyed to mountain for three days, all the while knowing what he was about to do. He had to hide it from Isaac, who expressed confusion about why they weren’t bringing an animal along with them. How hard it must have been for Abraham to look into his child’s eyes and simply say, “God will provide.”

When they reached the top of the mountain, Abraham built an altar to the God who had asked him to give up the most important thing in the world to him. He prepared for the sacrifice, and then he took his son, his beloved, and he took out the knife to kill the person he cared about most. And then, suddenly, he heard the voice of an angel telling him to stop. He didn’t have to do the thing he dreaded. He had passed God’s test, and God had provided another sacrifice to take his son’s place.

In this story, we see that Abraham had a mountaintop experience. A mountaintop experience is a point in someone’s life where they come face-to-face with God and there is a sudden, drastic change in their lives. Abraham’s mountaintop experience literally took place on a mountaintop, and there are other stories in the Bible of people having life-changing experiences with God on the top of a mountain, and thus they are called mountaintop experiences. However, they can take place anytime and anywhere, and each of us can and should have at least one of these experiences during our lives. There should be a point or points in our lives where we can look back and say, “That was a turning point in my life where my relationship with God went to a new level, and I have never been the same since.”

Our mountaintop experiences probably won’t be as extreme as Abraham’s. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son because He knew that Isaac was the number one thing in Abraham’s life, and God wanted Abraham to show that He meant more to Abraham than even Isaac did. God wants to be number one in our lives, even more important than great things like our families and friends, and He calls us to lay those things down before Him and show Him that He is more important than anything or anyone else.

God wants us to want Him more than we want anything else. More than we want to do well in school. More than we want to be successful. More than we want to someday get married and have a family of our own or whatever our ambition is. More than anything else, God wants us to want Him and to depend on Him for everything. As long as we’re doing that, the relationships and the school and the career and the family will fall into place. As long as God is your number one, you’ll know that you’re on the right track.

Abraham chose God above even his own son. He went up on the mountaintop and had an encounter with God where he laid the most important thing in his life before God and said, “Here, it’s yours. I choose You above all else.” And because Abraham did that, God blessed him and used him to create His chosen people from whom would eventually come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Because Abraham chose to put God first, the whole world was blessed through his descendants.

Maybe you’ve been putting something before God in your life. If so, He’s calling you to climb the mountain and lay that thing down before Him. I know it may be hard, but if you take the time to get away, to have that mountaintop experience with God, to say, “This thing means the world to me, but I’m choosing to give it to You,” I promise your life will never be the same. God will honor your commitment to Him. He will bless you, and He will use you beyond what you ever could have imagined. Maybe today will be your time to have a mountaintop experience with God.