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The Road Less Traveled

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on March 6, 2011.
Matthew 17:1-9

They’re back. After a long, cold, wet winter, the hikers have returned to Stone Mountain. The first time or two I climb the mountain in the spring, I can tell I’ve had a lay-off, especially when I get near the top. As you know, it is steep and demands all the energy you can muster.

I wonder if the mountain Jesus and three of his disciples climbed had a steep incline. Even if it did, I suspect they handled it fairly easily. After all, they walked everywhere they went.

We’re not exactly sure where this event in the life of Christ occurred. It could have been Mount Tabor, near his hometown of Nazareth, where the Church of the Transfiguration has been built. On the other hand, it could have been Mount Hermon, a few miles northeast of Caesarea Philippi, where the preceding events took place.

No one knows for sure, which is as it should be. When Peter wanted to mark the spot with a monument to hold it for history, which he must have thought was a grand idea, he was told to quit talking and listen to Jesus. This led one of our Sunday school teachers to say recently, “I wonder if we have done a better job of building monuments to Jesus than we have of listening to him.” What do you think?

Obviously, more important than the location of this event is what occurred there, the message it conveys and the function of this experience in the unfolding gospel story. Jesus took three of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John to a high mountain where they saw his appearance change. “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white,” the way Matthew described it.

Suddenly, he was joined by two others that the disciples recognized as Moses, the Lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet. The two of them engaged Jesus in a conversation.

Since Peter was never at a loss for words or ideas, he offered to construct three dwellings, one for each of them, so they could stay indefinitely on this sacred mount. At this time, a cloud overshadowed them and a voice spoke, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Even Peter quit talking and fell to the ground in fear, along with the other two disciples. Who wouldn’t?

Knowing they were traumatized, Jesus went to them, touched them and reassuringly said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” As they departed the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about this event until after the resurrection.

As I pondered this text last week, these questions emerged. Why did Jesus take three of his closest disciples and go up the mountain that day? What was he seeking? Did he find it and what difference did it make?

It is not unusual for me to engage strangers in conversation on Stone Mountain. “Why do you climb the mountain?” I ask to give me a breather just before I make the final trek up the steepest part. “It is good exercise…it is one way I can clear my head and think…I love to be out in nature…I come to meditate.” These are the typical answers I get.

Why did Jesus climb that mountain with three of his disciples? Perhaps the best way to answer this is to discover what was going on in his life. This could give us a clue as to what his purpose was.  

It appears Jesus was at a crossroads in his life. He had to decide if it was time to leave Galilee and head to Jerusalem. Doing so would put him in direct conflict with some of the religious leaders he had criticized for misrepresenting God and being insensitive to the needs of the people.

How would his message be received in the Holy City? What could happen to him while he was there? What if he was arrested and crucified? Could the kingdom he had prayed for and worked so hard to establish survive without him? Could it come through apparent failure?

These were tough questions and this was a difficult decision he was facing.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” American philosopher and baseball legend Yogi Berra said. There’s never been another like him, has there?

Jesus was definitely at a fork in the road, but he could only take one. Which one would it be? Would he stay in Galilee where he was loved, for the most part, and be safe? Should he go to Jerusalem with the masses to celebrate Passover and confront the religious leaders head on, which would put him at great risk?

I think he went to the mountain that day in search of wisdom, guidance and courage. This is what everyone facing a fork in the road needs and he was no exception.

Did he find what he needed? Read the rest of the story. Jesus was confident, courageous, focused and faithful all the way to the cross. Yes, I think he found what he needed from God and his Old Testament counterparts. You see, Moses and Elijah also faced tough decisions and stiff challenges. There were times when they needed wisdom, guidance and courage to go down the road less traveled and they found it in their faith, just as he would.

What tough decision are you facing today? Have you come to a crossroads? What do you need? Where do you need to go to find it? What voices do you need to listen to in order to make this decision?

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! You recognize these are the same words spoken at his baptism, with the addition of the last command. This, by the way, was another time Jesus was at a crossroads and needed wisdom, guidance and courage. Listening, especially to Jesus who has been where you are, is crucial when facing tough decisions!

There is a time to speak and a time to listen. Wise is the person who knows what it is time to do.

Is it time for you to listen? Is it time for you to share your story with someone who is struggling with a tough decision? Is it time for you to make that tough decision and move ahead with confidence and courage?

Let’s talk to the Lord about it now and seek His guidance and support.