SESSION 2: JESUS IS LORD
Matthew 14:22-33; Matthew 16:13-20; Hebrews 12:1-2
Below is the Individual Study Guide for Session 2 of Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus, a new 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Learn more at http://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus.
By Paul Baxley, CBF Executive Coordinator
At the beginning of this series, we reckoned with the terrifying possibility that we might be missing Jesus. The experience of Jesus’ parents and family leaving Jerusalem without him and not realizing till after a day into the trip that he was not present among them, forces us to ask when have we taken the presence of Jesus for granted and when have we assumed we were following Jesus only to find out we were not. In what ways is Jesus missing from our lives, our congregations and our public witness?”
In this session, we place the terrifying possibility next to the primal Christian confession. In Matthew 16, we find the account of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. After a series of questions, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, perhaps for himself or perhaps on behalf of the group, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
When Jesus hears Peter’s confession, he replies, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” Some scholars believe that Jesus means that Peter is the rock on which the church is built, others suggest that the confession is the rock on which the church is built; but either way it is undeniably the case that the confession “Jesus is Lord” is primal, foundational and catalytic for the life of the church.
Before we go further, we need to remember that Jesus and his disciples have this conversation at a pivotal moment in their ministry together. The Galilean ministry, with its large crowds and dramatic miracles, is coming to a conclusion. Following the retreat to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus and his disciples will embark on a journey to Jerusalem. Not long after Peter’s confession and Jesus’ response, Jesus will begin talking about all that awaits in Jerusalem. It is clear that what is immediately ahead for Jesus and his disciples will be very different from and, in many ways, vastly more challenging than the chapter that they are closing. So, we should not be surprised that Jesus wants to begin that journey by focusing his disciples on what matters most—namely, who he is and what their relationship with him is to be.
We enter this series in a dramatic time of change and transition in the life of congregations and in a tumultuous time in the life of our nation and the world. The road we have travelled since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 has not been easy; but with time, the challenges within us and around us have only intensified. We are still discerning what it means to be faithful to Christ in the midst of a turbulent and difficult time. The public health pandemic first forced us to reimagine everything about Church and the larger context of that pandemic has forced us to wrestle with ultimate questions about faith, witness, justice and mission. The challenges still persist. Just as Jesus engaged his disciples around ultimate questions at Caesarea Philippi, so we are called to ask ultimate questions now and return to the catalyzing question and the primal confession on which the church was established. Who do we say that Jesus is? Jesus is Lord!
The pages of the Gospel after Matthew 16:13-20 make it clear that the disciples really struggled to remain focused on Jesus. There is conflict between Peter and Jesus about what it means for Jesus to be Lord. There are arguments among the disciples about which of them is the greatest and who will have the most power. Jesus has to explain three different times what is ahead in Jerusalem. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God goes to extraordinary lengths to get the attention of Peter, James and John and try to refocus them on who Jesus is and what their commitment to him is.
And that struggle didn’t begin after Caesarea Philippi. Our text from Matthew 14, which we first considered in the introductory session, is a powerful illustration of how hard it is to stay focused on Jesus, especially when storms come, waters rise and adverse winds blow. First, the entire company of disciples in the boat do not recognize Jesus walking toward them. Then, when Peter sees it is Jesus and is invited to walk toward him on the water, he struggles to maintain focus on Jesus.
In challenging times, it is especially difficult to maintain focus on Jesus. There are even more than the normal number of risks that distract us and that could leave us like Mary and Joseph as recorded in Luke 2, missing Jesus after taking our focus on him for granted. But in adverse, challenging, changing times, it is more important than ever that followers of Jesus remember our primal confession “Jesus is Lord” and keep our eyes fixed on him.
After all, “Jesus is Lord” is not just the confession Peter made at Caesarea Philippi. It isn’t even just the confession of faith Thomas made after Easter. It is the profession of faith we Christians made when we were baptized in the name of the Trinity and entered into the life of the church. Do you remember your experience making a profession of faith in Jesus? Can you remember what it was like to stand in the waters of baptism, make the declaration “Jesus is Lord” and be plunged underneath the waters? Do you remember who baptized you? Can you remember what the water felt like, first as you went under and then as you stood in the baptistery?
It has been more than 40 years since I was baptized as a nine-year-old child. But I still remember well the conversations with my parents and my pastor about wanting to become a follower of Jesus. In those days, those of us who had that interest were invited to be part of a Saturday morning discipleship class hosted by our pastor for further conversation about what such a commitment would mean. This meant that a large group of us made a profession of faith on the same Sunday, and were baptized at Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC, on the same day.
I still have clear memories of so much that happened on that day. In that profession of faith and baptism, I committed my life to Christ, and in those waters, I was overtaken by a grace and power that has carried me ever since. Increasingly I realize that the remainder of my life is a working out and growing in what happened in those waters on a January day in 1979. The journey that began there led to a call to ministry and some incredible opportunities to serve, and has also included some unbelievably difficult challenges. In some seasons I have done better than others in remaining focused on Christ.
What is undeniably true is that when I responded to Christ’s invitation, made that profession of faith and received the gift of baptism, I declared that Jesus would be my Lord. I found myself making a statement remarkably similar to the one Peter made at Caesarea Philippi.
What does it mean to declare that Jesus is Lord? What does that mean for you? For me? For all of us who have made that statement? Surely it means that Jesus will be the highest authority in our lives. It has to mean that all other authorities, commitments, responsibilities and opportunities have to have lesser power in my life than Jesus. It means that I am a follower of Jesus before, above and beyond any other identity marker. It means that I am a follower of Jesus above and beyond any political affiliation, national citizenship, social interaction or other attachment.
From the beginning, “Jesus is Lord” has been a political statement in the purest sense of that word. In the time Jesus lived on earth, there were emperors who wanted to be addressed as Lord and God. When I declare that Jesus is Lord, I am rejecting the notion that any emperor, king, president or governor is the highest authority or greatest power in my life. When the early church sang the hymns of Revelation in the presence of Roman government representatives, announcing that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” don’t you think the powers got nervous? Do you think they might have been accused of being political?
Notice also that we speak the confession “Jesus is Lord” in the present tense. That makes the statement always current, always demanding, always decisive. We do not say “Jesus was Lord.” We affirm “Jesus is Lord,” which ultimately affirms that Jesus is not a person who lived historically, taught brilliantly, died factually and has now taken his place among the great leaders of history.
Instead, to confess that Jesus is Lord is to know that Jesus is not buried in a borrowed tomb, but rather rose triumphantly, is alive, has gone ahead of us, is calling us, challenging us, meeting us, renewing us and even coming to us on the choppiest waters of our lives. This means the confession “Jesus is Lord” is not something we utter once and then move on. Instead, it is a confession we renew each day of our lives by growing in faith and joining our lives to Christ’s mission.
Heard in all these ways, it becomes clear that Jesus is Lord does not mean that Jesus is one among many authorities in my life. It does not mean that Jesus is an important part of my life. It does not mean that I serve Jesus only when it is convenient or beneficial or fits neatly within other commitments of my life. To declare that Jesus is Lord and receive baptism are not just rites of passage like getting a driver’s license or graduating from high school. No, to declare that Jesus is Lord is to say that Jesus is the highest authority, the greatest power, the very center of my life, work, witness and family life. To declare that Jesus is Lord is to reject all rivals.
If Jesus is Lord, then it is Jesus to whom I pay ultimate attention in all circumstances. Jesus is the focus of my life. It is Jesus who shapes my perspective, defines how I understand the world, speaks to me in the pages of Scripture, challenges me in the devastating injustices of this world and opens me to a life that really is life.
Because you and I have said that Jesus is Lord, it means that we are committed to living life with our eyes and our hearts focused on him. These texts from Matthew’s Gospel come to us as a gift and a challenge in the midst of changing, challenging, difficult times. They call us back to the foundation of our faith, not only to Peter’s primal confession but to the one each of us made.
They require us to consider the full meaning of the confession that Jesus is Lord. They ask us to renew not only our baptismal promise, but the very core of our faith. They call us away from lesser pursuits and destructive allegiances. In these definitive days, they force us to reckon with the questions: To whom am I paying attention? For whom am I living my life? Do my life, my words and my deeds, live out the promise I made when I gave my life to follow Jesus?
They give us these questions individually; but these texts also force us to wrestle with them congregationally. What would it mean for your congregation to live out of an overwhelming commitment to Jesus and a sustained focus on him? What other authorities would that force you to resist? From which temptations would you need to seek deliverance? What institutional concerns would be reframed? What would be possible that is otherwise impossible?
As we ask those questions, we might consider singing the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated Lord to Thee” as a renewal of our confession.
And we might take even more seriously the call we read in Hebrews 12, written in its own season of anxiety and persecution. “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and run with perseverance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Instead of missing Jesus, or taking our discipleship for granted, what might it mean to live as people whose eyes are fixed on Jesus? How do we maintain such focus? What powerful change might that mean for us, our congregations, our communities and the world? To those questions we will give our attention as this series continues.
Questions for Reflection
By Harrison Litzell
- In 100 words or less, state who Jesus is to you. Do the same in 50 words, then in 20 and then in.
- Reflect on your baptism experience. Who baptized you? When? Where? What was the meaning of that experience for you at the time? Has that meaning changed
- What does it look like on an average day for Jesus to be Lord of your life? What are the different areas of your life into which you can invite Jesus as Lord? How can intentional attention to Jesus affect your routine life?
- How does the Lordship of Jesus impact your political outlook and participation?
Invitation to Prayer
This week, we invite you to explore different positions of prayer. Reflect on your words about who Jesus is and imagine how you might bodily approach Jesus. Try praying standing with arms outstretched, or lying prostrate on the floor. Assume a position that most easily helps you connect with the Divine.
In your prayer, bring the different areas of your life before Jesus. Allow yourself to imagine what those areas look like with Jesus as Lord.
Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus is a new resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that calls us back to the central focus of our Christian faith—the Risen and Living Jesus!
Access this free 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource at https://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus