SESSION 3: REALLY SEEING
Matt. 14:22-33, John 15:1-11, Gal. 2:19-20
Below is the Individual Study Guide for Session 3 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
Being a Christian is about more than making the declaration that Jesus is Lord once on the way to baptism. And it is even more than a daily renewal of that confession in word and deed. At the heart of our faith is the experience of really seeing Jesus and growing in that vision. Really seeing Jesus is the beginning of a whole new life and witness.
Notice a different aspect of Peter’s experience on the choppy waters described in Matthew 14. Like all the other disciples, at first, he doesn’t even recognize Jesus walking toward him. Being unable to recognize Jesus essentially means that Jesus is missing from his sight even though he is actually present. But then, when Jesus speaks to the disciple community, Peter sees him for the first time. He makes a request: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Many scholars and preachers have suggested that Peter is out of place in making this request of Jesus. They suggest it is another example of Peter’s impulsive nature, perhaps even a desire to be at the center of attention. But I disagree. Peter does not step out of the boat on his own. Instead, he asks for permission. He does not step into the wind or waves in his own initiative or by his own power. Just as earlier beside the same sea, when Jesus said “Come, follow me,” and he began to follow Jesus, so now Peter awaits Jesus’ command before beginning to move. When Jesus speaks, he steps forward.
Similarly, Peter has just lived through an experience of sharing in the feeding of thousands of people. In Matthew’s narrative, Peter and the other disciples are not spectators to this miracle, but participate in it actively. Is it any surprise now that Peter, beginning to see Jesus, wants to join him in a miracle again? That he believes such is possible?
Finally, the first responsibility of any disciple is to be “with Jesus.” In Mark’s account of the call of the disciples, being present with Jesus is the first descriptor of the essence of discipleship. Peter doesn’t ask to walk by himself on the water, or go off in his own direction. Instead, he asks permission to come to Jesus, to be with Jesus, to be in the place disciples are supposed to be. Once Jesus is in the boat, later in the text, the place for a disciple is undeniably with Jesus on that boat. But until then, when Jesus is on the stormy seas, discipleship requires a desire to be with Jesus in the storm.
If Peter’s request is not impulsive. could it be that it is a first sign of the way that really seeing Jesus causes us to think differently? To live in a different definition of what is possible? Is it possible that we resist this understanding of Peter’s actions because we prefer to live in the status quo of a faith that leaves us in safety? That allows us to stay in the boat? That doesn’t have to consider that following Jesus might one day require us to speak in new ways, see in different ways, step out in bold ways, and find ourselves right in the midst of what Jesus is doing in the world, even in the midst of a storm?
Peter’s journey does not end in the moment he steps on the water. Briefly he finds himself walking on the water just as Jesus is stepping on the same waves. The text tells us that as long as Peter has his eyes fixed on Jesus, he is able to keep walking without falling. Put in a different way, the moment Peter becomes distracted by the wind and the wavs and no longer has his eyes fixed on Jesus, then he falls and begins to sink.
So, in this text we begin to discover the real power of actually seeing Jesus. Seeing Jesus causes us to see everything else differently. Seeing Jesus gives us a different definition of what is possible for us in his power. Seeing Jesus encourages us to step out in times in which we would otherwise retreat or cling to safety.
Why is that true? What is it about the experience of seeing Jesus that causes us to see and act differently? Seeing Jesus is about more than physical perception. Instead, it is a deep and transforming observation. When we really see Jesus, when we focus our attention on him, when we open ourselves to his life and power, he begins to change us. This is a truth Jesus anticipates when he teaches that “the eye is the lamp of the body, so if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Jesus knew that the things we really see, the people to whom we really pay attention, the ultimate commitments around which we orient our lives, transform us from the inside out. Really seeing Jesus changes us deep within.
Paul established a very similar perspective when he wrote to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” When we truly join our lives to Christ, when we see him deeply, he begins to live in us. This means as we grow more and more in him, we come to see more as he sees. As we see as he sees, as our vision is transformed and our inner beings are renewed, we are different.
For all these reasons, I have come to believe that when Peter really saw Jesus walking on the choppy waters of the Sea of Galilee, when his eyes were first really fixed on Christ, when he saw him with greater depth and clarity, he saw his own past and present differently. He found himself asking questions he would not have otherwise imagined and taking steps that would have otherwise seemed either reckless or impossible.
But what about Peter’s “failure?” Isn’t it true that after walking a few steps on the water, Peter began to sink? Didn’t Jesus have to rescue him? Those things are absolutely true. But I don’t believe they are a sign that Peter should have never left the boat. Instead, I believe they prove that truly seeing Jesus requires sustained growth in faith, and even the support of a community.
We cannot go from the life that was only possible in our own power and a life that is uniquely possible in Jesus in an instant. It takes practice. It requires the grace of Jesus. There will be moments when we need Christ to lift us out of the water so that we might have our vision restored even more so that we can walk further. The Gospel in this is that when we are distracted, and when we slip and fall, Jesus is present with us and restores us.
In that grace, Peter’s journey continued. There were more painful days to come. But on the other side of Good Friday and Easter, a day came when Peter stood on a different kind of choppy waters, in the presence of all of the rulers and powers of first century Jerusalem and declared his faith with boldness. (That’s actually the word that Acts uses to describe the ministry of Peter, John and the other disciples after Christ’s resurrection.) Luke can’t resist pointing out that when the authorities see that boldness in Peter, they know he is a companion of Jesus.
Don’t you see, the same boldness Peter first showed briefly on the waters of the stormy Galilean sea is present in full measure as revealed in the early chapters of Acts. As Peter’s vision of Jesus has become clearer, he is being transformed in compelling ways so that he sees, thinks, speaks and acts differently. What we see on the stormy see is a first step, an initial rehearsal. Over time, there is growth and unmistakable transformation.
For all these reasons we shouldn’t be surprised that the Gospel of John tells us that on the very last night of Jesus’ life, he invited Peter and the other disciples to “abide in me as I abide in you,” and went on to add “those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, but apart from me you can do nothing.” Abiding means remaining in Jesus, living with Jesus, knowing Jesus more personally. The word invites us not to a momentary encounter but to a lifelong journey. Like Peter, we all need time, space and grace in moments of failure as we come to see Jesus more powerfully and know him more completely.
Just as Peter didn’t reach that point in a moment, neither did Paul. From his dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road until the time he could write Galatians and offer the testimony that Christ lived in him, there was much life and experience. Really seeing Jesus until Jesus changes us is the journey of a lifetime, not merely the experience of a moment.
I am still learning what it really means to see Jesus and be remade, held in the power and grace of his sight and presence. So far along the way, I have discovered that I come to see Jesus more clearly in worship, both through the experience of hearing sermons and by the holy privilege of preparing and delivering them. Long before I was called to preach or ever had the chance to live into that calling, I encountered Christ in music in worship and came to see him in much more powerful ways. Along my journey of faith, I have come to see Jesus more clearly in the midst of participating in his mission, serving in the communities where I lived and in other parts of the world. In challenging and difficult times, I have known the power of being lifted out of the storm by Jesus through the hands and love of holy friends who refused to let me fall, and in whose words and deeds I came to see Jesus more clearly. I have learned (and am still learning) that really seeing Jesus requires thinking, feeling, praying, acting, serving and living. It requires a willingness to step out before I feel ready. It requires a willingness to stand and act in the face of challenge and opposition. Really seeing Jesus and being remade by him are the catalysts for bold faithfulness.
This is true for each of us in our personal journeys with Christ. It is also true for congregations. Aren’t our congregations called to be the kinds of communities that help people see Jesus more clearly, that make space for us to take the holy risks required to grow in Christ, that offer grace when we fall, and that encourage us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing that when we really see him everything changes?
As followers of Jesus, we are not just called to declare our faith as a confession. We are called to really see him until he changes us. That is an incredible adventure of grace.
Questions for Reflection
By Harrison Litzell
- Do you think Peter was too bold in stepping out on the water?
- Reflecting on your life, how has your way of living and your outlook changed as you have seen Jesus more clearly?
- Remember a time when you stumbled in following Jesus. What happened? How did that impact your journey forward?
- What are some times and places when you feel you see Jesus most clearly? How often are you able to be in those circumstances?
- When do you sense your view of Jesus blurring or fading? What brings you to that place? How can you find your way out?
Invitation to Prayer
This week’s questions involve a lot of reflection on your life and journey. It may have brought up difficult or troubling memories. We invite you to spend time journaling today about your reflections and what emotions they have brought up in this process. Write out your memories of these experiences and bring them to God as a remembrance in your journey together.
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