A Mountain-Top Experience

Monday, April 18, 2011

As Christians, we use the phrase "mountain-top experience" to refer to an emotional high: often one where we feel especially close to God.

The Bible is full of mountain-top experiences, literally as well as figuratively.

Imagine how Noah and his family felt when the flood waters began receding and the ark came to rest on a mountain. Think of the awe Moses experienced in his mountain-top encounters with God: on Mount Horeb as a voice came from a burning bush, on Mount Sinai as Moses received the Ten Commandments, and on Mount Pisgah as God showed him the lands the Israelites would possess. Or the adrenaline rushing through Elijah when God defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.*

The mountain-top experiences continued in the New Testament. Again, imagine the emotional high the disciples must have felt when they looked out at the crowd that filled nature's auditorium during the Sermon on the Mount. Picture the awe on Peter's face as he saw Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration.**

But there are two mountain-top experiences that don't fit the pattern.***

After celebrating the Passover with his disciples on Thursday, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives and pled with God to take away the agony Jesus knew was coming. He was still there when he was betrayed and arrested.

Then came Friday. We often picture Jesus dying on top of a rolling green hill, the central figure with a cross on each side. While the Bible says he was crucified at the place of the skull, called "Golgotha," we don't know exactly where that was. It probably wasn't the pastoral setting of the old hymn and children's drawings. Still, Jesus was crucified just outside the walls of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself was (and is) perched on a mountain. There Jesus cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" And there Jesus died.

Not my idea of a mountain-top experience.

But that doesn't change the fact that it was one.

If a mountain-top experience occurs when we are closest to Christ, how much closer can we get than these times when his humanity was at its height? On the Mount of Olives, his humanity made him want to escape the horror that lay ahead. As he hung on the cross, his humanity felt the separation from God that, to me, is the essence of hell.

So why did he do it? For me. And for you.

Or, as I recently heard in a radio sermon, he did it because God's divine nature demanded it. Because God is just, he must have justice. I'm grateful that he executed it on himself rather than on me.

And that's a true mountain-top experience.

* See Genesis 8:1-5, Exodus 3:1-6, Exodus 19:1-20:21, Deuteronomy 34:1-6, 1 Kings 18:20-39.

** See Matthew 5:1-8:1, Matthew 17:1-8.

*** See Matthew 26:36-56 (the Garden of Gethsemane is on the Mount of Olives), Matthew 27:45-50.

1 comment:

Loree Huebner said...

Beautiful post. Love your thoughts on mountain top encounters with God

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