Sermon 02-27-2022: “Down in the Valley”

March 10, 2022

Scripture: Luke 9:27-43a

I don’t know about you, but last week, on three different occasions, I had the rare privilege of spotting a truck in town that represents a certain brand of hot dog… This truck is actually in the shape of a giant hot dog. I’m referring, of course, to the Oscar Mayer “Weinermobile.” It’s ridiculous and funny and I absolutely love it… And I promise each time I saw this truck, I laughed at loud. It brought a big smile to my face. I mean, how can you not laugh when you see that thing coming?

And it is a rare privilege to see the Weinermobile, especially in Toccoa, because there are only six of them in the entire U.S.!

Did you see the Weinermobile last week? I hope so!

Sadly, the Weinermobile has left town. It has moved on to Louisiana. It’s going to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I wish it could have stayed! Wouldn’t it have been nice to have something that could cheer us up, to lighten our moods, to put big smiles on our faces when we see it coming.

But life isn’t that way, is it? No matter how much we may want to hold on to some happy experience, things change… and often not for the better, at least as far as we can tell.

Believe it or not, on a much larger scale, something like that is going on in today’s scripture. Jesus’ three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, had what we often refer to as a “mountaintop experience,” with God, and like all such experiences, it doesn’t last. They had to leave the mountaintop and go back down in the valley—where they immediately encountered problems. And figuratively speaking, we always have to do the same thing. In fact, the vast majority of our time is spent not up on mountaintops but “down in the valley.” 

So with that in mind, I want to examine what today’s scripture can teach us about living life “down in the valley.” And I want to do so by talking about four important aspects1 of today’s scripture: The vision, the valley, the villain, and the victory!

First, the vision… What is the meaning of what the disciples experienced up on that mountain?

Well, the first thing to remember is that people in the Bible often encounter God on mountaintops. In fact, it’s no coincidence, I think, that Jesus and his three closest disciples encounter Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop. You may recall that Moses and Elijah each had some profound encounters with God on a high mountain—Moses met God on Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai. Elijah, you may recall, fled to Mt. Horeb after his encounter with the prophets of Baal—after Queen Jezebel vowed to kill him. It was there, on that mountain, that God spoke to him in the “still, small voice.” Remember?

But let’s focus on Moses. In Exodus 19, God tells the people, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud.”2 And when Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God, the mountain is enveloped by a cloud.3 The disciples would have remembered this scripture from Exodus 19 when, in verse 34, a “cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.”

And then in Exodus 34, we’re told that every time Moses came down from the mountain to tell the people what God told him, “the skin of his face shone, and [the Israelites] were afraid to come near him.”4 So Moses had to put a veil over his face, so that the people wouldn’t be freaked out by his appearance. And why was Moses’ face shining? Because Moses had been in God’s presence, and his face was reflecting God’s glory—which, to the naked eye, looks like blinding light… Similarly, in verse 29, it says that Jesus’ “face was altered and his clothing became dazzling white.” 

Jesus, like Moses before him, had a shiny face, except with one incredibly important difference: Jesus wasn’t merely reflecting God’s glory, he was the source of God’s glory. God’s glory was emanating from his face and clothes. 

The Transfiguration is like a real-life parable of something the apostle John tells us in John 1:9: that Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone.”5 It’s as if Jesus were lifting the veil that separates his humanity from his divinity and saying, “Let me show you who I really am, in case you’ve missed it so far: I am God!” And if that weren’t enough, the disciples also hear the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as his Son.

That, my friends—whew!—is a mountaintop experience to end all mountaintop experiences!

So that, I believe, is the main meaning of this vision. Now let’s notice verse 37: “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.” When they had come down from the mountain… down into the valley, in other words.

And this is Point Number Two… Let’s talk about the valley

Mountaintop experiences are intended to come to an end. And then what? Back to work… Back to school… Back to the grind… Back to the place where all your problems remain unresolved and the answers seem uncertain… Back down to the valley!

Up on the mountain, things seemed so clear, so trouble-free, so easy… “Easy like Sunday morning.” But down in the valley? “No, thanks, Lord, I’d much rather stay up here, if it’s all the same to you.”

Wouldn’t we all?

Peter certainly would! That’s one reason he wanted to build these three tents. See, this plan of Peter’s was to make permanent what Jesus intended to be strictly temporary. Peter was saying, “Let’s just stay here on this mountaintop, Lord, and never leave.” 

But suppose Peter had somehow gone through with his building plan. We can imagine Jesus telling him, “If you want to stay up here, Peter, that’s fine; I’m not going to stop you. But… that’s not where I’m going to be. If you want to be with me, if you want to experience me, if you want to get to know me,if you want to spend time with me, I’m going to be down there… down in the valley, down in the muck and the mire, down in the trouble, down in the pain, down in the sickness, down in the heartache, down in the stress of just living life every day. In fact, that’s where I’ll be doing my best, most important work… down in the valley. I know it feels comfortable up on this mountaintop. I know it feels safe up here. I know it feels easy up here. But when you’re down in the valley, it’s not like you’ll be by yourself. I’ll be with you there, just like I’m with you here. I’m not leaving you!”

In a recent quiet time, I was journaling my way through Deuteronomy 7. There, Moses is preaching the word of God to Israel just before they’re about enter the Promised Land. He’s telling them they shouldn’t be afraid of any of the nations that they’re going to have to wage war against and drive out. But he says this in verse 22: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.”

Do you hear what he’s saying? “God is going to give you victory; that’s certain. But here’s how he’s going to give you the victory: little by little. Not all at once!

And I think, isn’t that usually the way God’s victories in our lives come? Little by little. Never on my timetable… And why doesn’t God work on my timetable? He seems to want me to struggle. He seems to want me to fail—so long as I learn something from my failures. He seems to want me to wait. Whereas yours truly…? I always want immediate victory!

Moses also tells Israel in this scripture that God has good reasons for allowing them to struggle… and wait… and learn patience… and try and fail, and try and fail, and try and fail again. God has good reasons for not giving them victory all at once. 

Not that I believe this most of the time! See, if “success,” as I define it, comes too slowly for me, I rarely ever think, “God must have good reasons for making me wait.” And I usually don’t even have enough faith to blame God. Instead I think that other people are to blame… Other people are impeding my success. Or other people are enjoying the success that I think that I deserve. Or other people are standing in my way. So I hold “other people” responsible for the ways in which I struggle—when I should be holding God responsible. April said this a couple of weeks ago in her Bible study, on the Book of Habakkuk: as the prophet in that book demonstrated, it’s perfectly okay to get angry at God; if you must be angry at someone, be angry with God. He can handle it.

My problem, too often, is that I don’t have enough faith to get angry at God, so I get angry at other people instead… because I easily forget what God’s Word tells us in so many places: that God has good reasons for making us wait, for allowing us to fail, for allowing us to struggle.

I easily forget that this valley in which I so often find myself… is not some unexpected deviation from God’s perfect plan; it is a part of God’s perfect plan from the beginning. 

I forget that truth all the time. And when I do, I get angry and stressed out and depressed and filled with self-pity. 

And I so easily forget all the reasons I have to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”6

And of course I say this with extreme caution. I know that some valleys that God leads us into are deeper, darker, and scarier than others… I know that the way down into some valleys is often steeper than others—that the footing feels less sure, the way feels less certain… I know that, I promise. I don’t mean to suggest that “living down in the valley” isn’t, at times, incredibly difficult. And I’m the biggest wimp of all, as I’ve told you before. God knows I never want to go down into valleys that are too deep, too dark, and too scary! But I need to be prepared—we need to be prepared—if or when those valleys come! Because they will!

So with that in mind, I get inspired by saints who have gone before me down into some deep, dark valleys… Saints like Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s an internationally known author of 45 books, she’s an artist, she’s a speaker. And… she’s a former athlete. In fact, she was voted “best athlete” in her senior class—a champion swimmer, diver, and tennis player. And fifty-two years ago, at age 17, she dove off a raft into the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay. She misjudged the depth, hit her head on the sandy bottom, and lost all sensation in her arms and legs. She was paralyzed. She has been a quadriplegic ever since.

Talk about valleys! She prayed hard for physical healing countless times. She attended three healing “crusades” led by Kathryn Kuhlman, a well-known Pentecostal evangelist at the time. Physical healing never came. Instead, in an article on The Gospel Coalition website, she describes a deeper, better kind of healing. Listen to these words:

Does God miraculously heal? Sure, he does. But in this broken world, it’s still the exception, not the rule. A “no” answer to my request for a miraculous physical healing has meant purged sin, a love for the lost, increased compassion, stretched hope, an appetite for grace, an increase of faith, a happy longing for heaven, a desire to serve, a delight in prayer, and a hunger for his Word. Oh, bless the stern schoolmaster that is my wheelchair! 

It’s all to the praise of deeper healing in Christ.7

As reluctant as Joni Eareckson Tada was to go down in that valley, she found a “deeper healing” while she was there. Christ met her there! Christ had a plan for her there!

So that’s Point Number Two: Since we’ll spend a lot of time down in the valley anyway, isn’t it good news that that’s exactly where Jesus wants us to go that he’s going to meet us there… he’s going to do powerful things for us there… that he’s got a plan for us there?

Back in the first decade of this century, and the early 2010s, there was a popular movement in our culture known as “New Atheism.” It was an aggressive, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners kind of atheism. Fortunately it has receded from view in recent years, but I’m sure it led many young people astray. The movement’s leader was an Oxford biologist and author named Richard Dawkins, who published a best-selling book, which I read, called The God Delusion. There were several other bestselling books written by the so-called “new atheists.” I even had the pleasure of watching one of my seminary professors from Emory debate one of the new atheists, Christopher Hitchens, at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta back in 2007. Spoiler alert: my professor won!

But I heard new atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens make the following point on more than one occasion: They said something like this: “When you consider all the gods that people have believed in over the millennia—Greek gods like Zeus and Apollo; Norse gods like Thor and Oden; Egyptian gods like Osiris and Isis—not to mention the pantheon of gods that Hindus, for instance, continue to worship today… when you consider all these gods we no longer believe in, atheists aren’t really so different from Christians. After all, we atheists simply believe in one less god than you do!”

That passed for a clever argument, I guess… 

But you know what? I’m afraid these “new atheists” were giving us Christians too much credit. The difference isn’t even as big as that! Because so much of the time we only half-believe in the one God we say we believe in! One theologian from the 20th century named Reinhold Neibuhr memorably said, “The world is full of half-believing unbelievers, and of half-unbelieving believers.”

Jesus’ own disciples in today’s scripture, who return to the valley and fail to heal this father’s young son, are at least half-unbelieving… Probably more! Listen to Jesus’ harsh judgment in verse 41: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” In fact, in Matthew’s version of this same account, Jesus blames the disciples lack of faith for their failure to drive out this demon. Matthew’s version of this story includes these famous words: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

My point is, even Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t have much faith! Apparently they had faith even smaller than a grain of mustard seed! So even if we’re “half-unbelieving” we’re in good company!

And this brings us to Point Number Three… Who’s the villain that so often makes life down in the valley so hard? Let’s look in the mirror and find out. Because the first villain is us! And our lack of faith. Notice verse 41 again: Jesus says, “Bring your son here.” In other words, Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the power to heal this child; Jesus had the power to heal him. Why did the father have to go to Jesus? When Jesus came down from the mountain, the first thing the disciples should have done is to bring this father and son to Jesus. Because that’s where healing takes place! So it’s easy to imagine the disciples’ pride standing in the way: “We can do this by ourselves; we don’t need Jesus!”

I have a friend who teaches psychology at a university in the metro Atlanta area. He’s not a Christian, he’s Jewish. But he shared this wisdom one time: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice.” Pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice. What he means is, what makes us miserable most of the time isn’t the bad thing itself, it’s the way we respond to it… We have control over how we respond.

Frankly, this is good, biblical wisdom, and as a Christian, I would add, “Yes, we do have a choice in how we respond: And we can respond to bad stuff not in despair, but in faith.” That’s what these disciples should have done in today’s scripture. 

But it’s safe to say that the disciples had some help and some encouragement in letting their pride get in their way.

And here’s what I need us to notice now: What did Jesus and the disciples immediately encounter when they went back down in the valley? Look at verse 39: “And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.” A spirit seizes him… In other words, when the disciples came down from the mountaintop and entered the valley, they had a fight with another well-known villain: they had a fight with the devil.

My point is, if we find life especially hard down in the valley, let’s remember we have two villains working against us: ourselves, and our own lack of faith, and Satan.Paul points this out nicely in Ephesians 6:12 when he says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

So how do we win a victory over these great enemies? This brings us to Point Number Four… Victory… We fight and win victories over our lack of faith, and over the devil, by doing what our heavenly Father tells us to do in verse 35: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Listen to Jesus.

And the main way we listen to Christ is through reading the Word, which his very Spirit breathed out for us. When we read it in faith, something supernatural happens: Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus meets us in its pages, and he speaks to us. He gives us specific guidance, specific direction, for our lives. 

Recently, as I said, I’ve been journaling my way through Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 7:19 Moses is preaching to Israel while they’re on the brink of entering the Promised Land. He tells them, if you’re afraid of facing all these scary nations that they will soon drive out of the land, don’t be. Instead, Moses said, 

[Y]ou shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So will the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

Well, it just so happened when I read those words I happened to be afraid of some stuff! I’ve told you before, I am often afraid of stuff in my life—afraid of people, afraid of circumstances, afraid of judgments, afraid of what might happen in the future. I’m a mess! So I read these words about remembering what God’s “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” have done for God’s people in the past, and I think: “Hold on! I’m a highly favored son of my heavenly Father8, chosen by him to be his child before the foundation of the world,9 adopted into his family through faith in Christ… My Father chose me as his “treasured possession.”10

My Father has numbered every hair on my head, he values me so much.11 He promises only to give me good gifts.12 He promises to only give me what I need.13 He promises to always be on my side.14 He promises that nothing or no one can ultimately be against me.15 He promises that he loves me, his child through adoption, exactly as much as he loves his Son Jesus.16 He promises that his Holy Spirit is always searching my heart, always listening to my innermost groanings, always asking the Father to give me what I need—so in the mystery of the Trinity it’s no exaggeration to say that God prays to God for me—and to say the least, God always answers the God’s prayers for me with a resounding “yes.”17 The Father promises to work all things in the universe together for my good.18

These are some good verses to remember, especially when Satan attacks… Because one of the most effective weapons in the his arsenal is accusation: “God doesn’t love you anymore. God is disappointed in you. God is mad at you. You’re not righteous enough for God to care about you. You’re too big of a sinner.”

You can’t hear those promises from scripture and still believe the devil’s lies!

So, getting back to Deuteronomy 7:19, if God’s promises to ancient Israel were true for them, then they are no less true for me! This means that when God’s mighty hand works on my behalf, God’s hand will be exactly as mighty as it needs to be in order to help me in the best way possible! It means when God stretches out his arm on my behalf, he will always stretch it out exactly as far as he needs to stretch it in order to protect or defend me or do me good. 

“So why, Brent, are you afraid of that particular situation, that circumstance, that unfair judgment, that problem, that enemy, that illness, that failure, that setback?”

Brothers and sisters, when I was journaling in my Bible that morning, that was Jesus asking me those questions! That was Jesus speaking these words to me! That was Jesus reminding me of those promises! And praise God, he does these sorts of things all the time for me when I do what the Father tells me to do in the Transfiguration and listen to Jesus speak to me through his Word… 

And lest you think I’m speaking with a very big head because “Obviously, Pastor Brent, you’re speaking as if God thinks highly of you.” I want you to know that all these promises—each and every one—apply to you, too, if you know Jesus as your Savior and Lord. 

Listen to him! And win the victory! Amen


  1. 1 Kings 19:12 KJV
  2. Exodus 19:9 ESV
  3. Exodus 19:18-20
  4. Exodus 34:30
  5. John 1:9
  6. Philippians 4:4 ESV
  7. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Why Joni Eareckson Tada Praises God for Not Healing Her,”, 17 July 2019. Accessed 20 July 2019.
  8. Luke 2:14
  9. Romans 8:29-30; 1 Peter 1:1
  10. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18
  11. Luke 12:6-7
  12. Matthew 7:11
  13. Luke 11:11-13
  14. Romans 8:31
  15.  1 Corinthians 3:21-23
  16. John 17:23
  17. Romans 8:26-27
  18. Romans 8:28

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