Struggling against snow, wind, and altitude sickness, on June 22, 1802, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt and his party approached the peak of Chimborazo, a volcano in the Andes and the highest point in Ecuador. Shortly after 1:00 p.m., they reached 19,413 feet, at that time the highest anyone had ever ascended. That trip, in which he identified a moss that resembled a species in his native Germany, gave Humboldt a new vision of nature as interconnected across continents and oceans.
On an unnamed mountain near Caesarea Philippi, the disciples Peter, James, and John received an even more significant vision of the world. Following Jesus to that peak, they saw Him transfigured and joined by Moses and Elijah. They heard a voice boom, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (v. 5). Jesus was unmistakably identified as the successor to these great figures of Jewish history, the One who would carry out God’s will in the world.
But seeing and properly understanding are two different things. Peter at first misunderstood this experience and suggested that they make shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He seems to have imagined that he could somehow extend this amazing moment indefinitely. Mountaintop experiences are not meant to last forever but rather to empower us to serve the world. For Humboldt, that meant returning from Chimborazo to share his insights; for Jesus and his disciples, it meant descending the mountain and returning to the ministry of healing and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God.
Jesus calls us to follow Him to the mountaintops, and He also leads us back into the world to share His good news with others. Both are indispensable to the Christian life.
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