False Summits and a Gospel View
Several years ago I was hiking Gothic mountain outside of Crested Butte with two friends that where competitive mountain bikers. I mention their street cred because I was barely keeping up. Dave and Hanna were experienced hikers but none of us had been on this mountain, nor had we done much research of the summit. It was an amazing mountain, deserving of the title of “Gothic”. We were all working hard but I had a feeling that I was the only one trying to hide how hard I was breathing. :-) Finally, the peak was near, and I was ready for a rest and the summit lunch. Then we saw the truth, the summit ahead was a false summit, after this pitch we had 200 feet down and 500 more up, ugh. False summits have the reputation for being a psychological blow and sometimes even dangerous when not properly understood by those with “summit fever.”
I have been in Luke 9 and my study reminds me of that day. Jesus has been revealing his true identity and forming a new community with his disciples. He has redefined the law, fed the 5,000 like the Father did with manna, raised a boy from the dead and Peter is starting to get it. Jesus asks in 9:18 “Who do folks say I am” and they answered just like Herod had previously, maybe Elijah or John the Baptist reborn. When directly asked, Peter famously nails it, “you are the Christ”. Jesus, you are the one we have waited for, and we know what kind of power and glory are just over this ridge. Jesus then clarifies, the Son of Man must FIRST suffer, be rejected, die and be raised. And the painful clarity doesn’t stop there, if you want to be my disciples you will journey the same path, you will need to deny yourself and take up your cross. We naturally look everyday for ways to profit ourselves and save our lives, glory awaits for those who lose it and are not ashamed of Jesus.
As these truths were settling in, about a week later- Peter, James and John see Jesus in radiant glory alongside Moses and Elijah on the Mount of transfiguration. Everyone is overwhelmed but of course Peter is the only one who finds his voice. It is important to note, when Peter sees the glorious visitors, the text tells us they were about to leave. At that moment he says, let’s build some shelters here for you all and we can make this last! This is probably the glory and power that Peter expected when he confessed the Christ a week earlier. This is the summit,,, or is it? Quickly the men were gone, and it was simply Jesus, back to his normal, non-glorious look.
I believe we see glimpses of the summit here and there, a moment of the miraculous, beautiful, the perfect. In that moment I see just what I have been wanting, and then it’s gone, back to the normal. When life is hard, I may even think I am breathing harder than those near me. I see a glimpse of the summit, but then the reality of my brokenness and this fallen world brutally brings me back. The path to heaven is filled with false summits, something Peter wasn’t done learning on his path with Jesus.
There have been many mountain hikes since that day and now I never fail to look for a false summit on the map. Now when hiking I approach these false summits with a different perspective. I know it’s coming and that changes everything. I think the same is true for our journey with Christ. We know but sometimes need reminded that the life with Christ will be and up and down journey. We need a gospel perspective for our path. It is a path of suffering, rejection and dying to self. Our Messiah has come but not yet come again in power to reign. Our glory will come, we even see glimpses of it but someday that summit will be our only view. For now we faithfully move ahead, submitting to the path the Lord has laid out for us. Jesus says it clearly in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I am on the hike with you, confessing to you that I am out of breath but pushing on for the true summit.