"Jesus takes His Disciples on Two Field Trips"

A Sermon base upon Matthew 16:13-24 &17:1-9

When I was at Thunder Bay Junior High, Mrs. McWhirter took our journalism class on a field trip to Fletcher Paper Company. We saw the whole process: from the grinding of wood-pulp to the curdling mash in huge vats, the subsequent drying and pressing process, to the final rolling-out of huge rolls of newspaper stock, hundreds of pounds per spool. In other parts of the factory, heavier grades of paper stock were being bleached, or dyed… rolled out and then cut into reams of paper. When I came home from the Army (several years later), I discovered that the Fletcher Paper Company had closed its doors for good, just like the sawmills had done that had stood along those same riverbanks in by-gone years. I was a bit sad. Not only was a good “job-producing” factory gone; so was the place where I had first fallen in love with paper-products (my books & files).

Teachers used to take their students on occasional “field trips” in order to have them see things from a new perspective -- perhaps a bit more “hands-on” (like to a dairy farm, or to the Shipwreck Museum), or to put matters into a deeper “context” than classroom discussions.

I believe that is what Jesus was doing when he took his disciples on the “field trips” described by Matthew in the two texts that Tom Grubaugh read for us this morning. First, he took them to the district of Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mount Hermon, 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee; and then he took three of them to Mount Tabor (the Mount of Transfiguration) about 20 miles southwest of the lake.

Now, Jesus could have asked his disciples the question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” anywhere. And most likely the answers they came up with would have been the same: “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

You see, the similarity between John the Baptist’s very popular repentance “movement” and the “ministry” that Jesus had initiated among the Baptist’s followers down at the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13-17), was apparent to all. Even King Herod was haunted by the thought that Jesus was actually John the Baptist “brought back to life” (Matthew 14:1-2); and that’s why these powers were at work in him! The sad news of John the Baptist’s beheading by King Herod had only recently been told to Jesus and his disciples. Perhaps people were expecting some kind of retaliation from Jesus’ followers.

And the speculation that Jesus was a re-incarnation of Elijah – the great Hebrew Prophet who was expected to return to earth in preparation for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah – fit nicely into the Passover Seder tradition of families’ setting a place at the table for Elijah, the forerunner of the “Messiah” (God’s anointed one).

The debate as to whether Jesus was actually Elijah or Jeremiah, or another of the prophets, highlights the fact that the crowds (the multitudes) saw in Jesus’ ministry one who spoke the word of God, acted it out in demonstrable ways, & challenged the powers-that-be. This is what John the Baptist had been doing; it is what the great Old Testament prophets had done, and it is what Jesus was also doing.

As I said, Jesus could have asked his disciples that question anywhere. And most likely the answers would have been the same. So, why did he take them 20 miles north (a two- or three-day journey by foot) to Caesarea Philippi ?-- a city of the Roman Empire, designed by King Herod Philip to serve as his Capitol in the province of Syria.

Brian McLaren, in his book “We Make the