Central Idea: On the mountaintop, our faith is tested and we meet God.
Last week Jesus went into the desert, this week he heads to the mountains.
If you have not read the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It tells the staggering true story of an ill-fated expedition climbing up Mount Everest in the mid nineteen-nineties. Krakauer, a writer for Outdoor Magazine, was part of the party who lost several members to the fabled mountain.
It is a harrowing story. Why anyone would attempt to climb Everest is beyond me, besides the fact that it is there. It is expensive (between $65,000 and $200,000). It is time consuming. (You have to climb for months to get acclimated to the altitude.) It is painful. (Imagine having a splitting headache for three months straight. And we didn’t even need to mention the frigid temperatures.) It is dangerous. (One small slip and you make it back down the mountain…rapidly. One out of five climbers die.) Krakauer made it to the top, stayed there for all of five minutes with “the mental capacity of a very slow child (because of the oxygen deprivation)” and has spent the rest of his life feeling guilty because of the deaths of eight others during that trip.
I remember reading this book in the middle of the summer and feeling very cold and trying to catch my breath as I read. It is a scary, fascinating book.
So I ask again, why would anyone dare to do that?
Mountain climbing is a test. A test of one’s endurance. A test of one’s ability to survive. A test of one’s faith. Through the ordeal, through the trial, through the test, you discover what you are truly made of, what you are truly about. You cannot hide from the truth on the mountain, you are not allowed to fake yourself out at the summit. People are said to go to the mountains to seek truth, and it is there, boy howdy is it there. In point of fact, the mountain abhors fakes, frauds, phonies and charlatans. Liars need not apply for a permit up Mount Everest.
In everyone’s life there are mountains to climb, there are tests. And although some of them may not be as intimidating as Everest, they are almost always daunting and difficult. And they always demand the truth from us. For Abraham, the trip to the mountain was to see whether he trusted in God. For Jesus and his apostles, the trip to the mountain was to encounter glory, but a glory that could only be revealed on another mountain, Calvary.
I think it is worthwhile for us to reflect upon, to pray about, the tests we have faced in our lives. Each test we encounter, every mountain we climb, does two things. First, it gives us strength to face the next test, the next ordeal. (I would advise you that if you do plan to climb Mount Everest, that you may want to start with something just a tad lower.) Second, we learn about ourselves, we learn the truth of our lives. We learn about our limitations, our fears, our hopes, our abilities, our capacity for survival and love.
It is not surprising that with all that we gain when we face the test of the mountains of our lives, that this is the exact place where the ancients encountered God. Whether it be Abraham discovering God as he is about to sacrifice Isaac, or Moses seeing God face to face or the apostles encountering the glorified Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor, it is so ironic that the most difficult, the most tumultuous, the most harrowing moments of our lives are conversely the exact opportunities when we discover God..
Therefore, though I would not advise you to go looking for trouble, (and I will flat out tell you that even thinking about climbing Mount Everest is outrageously unwise,) the mountaintop experiences often define and transform us. So we shouldn’t necessary avoid them at all costs, like a student who skips school on exam day.
One of the most famous mountaintop experiences of our time is that of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. We do not know exactly when and where he had it but he spoke about it in his prophetic Mountaintop Speech made in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. As it turned out, that speech was to be his last because the following day, only hours after he made that speech, he was stopped by an assassin’s bullet. The Mountaintop Speech ended with these words:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land….
Like Jesus, he gave us a vision. He climbed the mountain. He passed the test.