SESSION 6: SEEING JESUS AND CLAIMING JESUS’ MISSION
Matthew 14:22-33; 28:16-2; Luke 4:26-30
Below is the Individual Study Guide for Session 6 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
We have previously identified the powerful truth that when Peter really sees Jesus and remains focused on him, he is able to join Jesus in walking on water. In other words, seeing Jesus allows Peter to share Jesus’ life, participate in his mission, and live in his power. Matthew 14 provides the first glimpses of this, as Peter and the other disciples join Jesus in feeding the multitude and then Peter joins Jesus in walking on the water.
By the early chapters of Acts, Peter is preaching with a boldness that gives him away as a companion of Jesus; he is healing the sick just as Jesus did. Early in Acts, we see that Peter is seeing Jesus more steadfastly and experiencing more and more transformation. Seeing Jesus intently transforms us from the inside out. Paul describes this transformation in 2 Corinthians 5, when he testifies that when “anyone is joined to Christ there is a new creation.”
In that same passage, he says that this new creation means that we no longer see Christ or others from a human point of view. We no longer see from our own limited, myopic perspective. Our vision is no longer constrained by our surroundings, our instincts, our brokenness or our sin. But instead, our vision is redeemed so that we see Christ, ourselves, others and the world as Jesus sees. Seeing as Jesus sees should lead us to act more as Jesus acts.
Seeing Jesus draws us into Jesus’ mission in the world. Those of us who grew up Baptist (particularly in the southern U.S.) naturally first think of texts like Matthew 28:16-20 when we consider Jesus’ mission. After all, in those verses we receive a “great commission,” namely to go and make disciples among all nations, baptizing in the name of the Trinity, teaching people to observe all of Jesus’ commandments. In that commission, the Church receives a mandate to share the Good News, to invite people to follow Jesus, to equip people to grow as disciples of Jesus.
That Great Commission is absolutely the foundation for Christian evangelism. To hear that commission is to know that we cannot opt out of sharing the Good News or inviting people to join us in following Jesus. But there is more going on in this text than we might first think. British Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes points out that the phrase “baptize in the name” of the Trinity can just as well be rendered “baptize into the name” of the Trinity.
In baptism we are not just identified with the Triune God. We are drawn into the very life and mission as we find ourselves “participating in God.” (That’s actually the title of the book in which Fiddes sets forth his Trinitarian theology.) To participate
in God is to share the life of God, just as Peter shares the life of God in Jesus Christ as he walks on the choppy waters and even more as, in Acts, we see him healing the sick. When we are baptized, we are drawn into the life and mission of God.
When we follow the Great Commission, we invite others into that same life. What is the substance of that life? What is the character of that mission? Into what are we plunged when we offer ourselves to Christ? Luke 4 records that Jesus makes a clear and unmistakable announcement of what his mission is. He announces, using a text from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus’ mission is clearly about the transformation of human lives. We see Jesus across his ministry bringing good news to the poor, releasing captives, freeing the oppressed and announcing God’s favor through his words and deeds. Jesus is deeply invested in forgiving sin, healing disease, and drawing people out of isolation into community. Watching Jesus at work, it is clear that he is particularly interested in those who are living in poverty and those who are most excluded from the larger culture of his time.
He is notoriously unwilling to give up on people whom others detest. (Think about the repeated charge that he spends too much time with “tax collectors and sinners.”) He even announces at one point that “the first will be last and the last shall be first.” Mary gives us some anticipation of the physical, embodied, transformational nature of Jesus’ mission when she sings ahead of his birth that “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
We already are being pushed beyond a false conflict that sometimes emerges in discussions of Christian mission. Too often, debates break out between proponents of evangelism and proponents of what some call social ministry. Is our calling to invite people to faith in Jesus Christ and equip people to be disciples or is it to participate in the transformation of the world by meeting human need and lifting up the oppressed? The answer to both is yes. We are called to invite people to follow Jesus and equip people to live as disciples. But we are also called to join Jesus in his transformation of the world. That transformation is physical and concrete, not just spiritual and internal. Faithfully and clearly understood, there is no conflict between evangelism and acts of transformation. There is also no choice. We cannot refuse the one or the other and be faithful to Jesus.
Inviting, equipping and transforming are all integral to Jesus’ mission in the world, because all of them are present in his life and ministry. Furthermore, we cannot invite people to follow Jesus if we are not doing so ourselves by participating in the mission he named for himself and for which he set the Church into existence. An evangelism worthy of the name of Jesus must come from a place of growth in Christ and participation in Christ’s mission. The most compelling invitations rise from people being transformed into the likeness of Christ and who are being used by Christ to transform the world.
The Christian mission necessarily leads to transformation. It absolutely leads to actual engagement with people who are living in poverty, who are experiencing oppression, who are being pushed aside by powers and principalities. We should not be surprised that the Christian mission involves actual, physical transformation because in Jesus Christ, God became human, lived a fully human life, experienced the suffering of the world, and got close enough to us to know us and our struggles. The Gospel is not that God remained at a safe distance or became disconnected, but rather that God entered our space fully in the person of Jesus.
The Gospel begins when God takes bodily form and it ends with the announcement that the broken, battered and destroyed body of Jesus has been raised from the dead. The incarnation and the resurrection tell us that physical experience matters to God, that the redemption of our bodies and our existences is part of the redemption God is seeking in the world. We cannot take that Gospel seriously and ignore the physical needs of those around us.
Our communities today are like the communities in which Jesus lived. There is hunger and poverty. We are all at least physically close to people who are held captive by racial and economic injustice. There are powerful elemental spirits in our universe, and even deficient theologies, that are being used to keep people in poverty and oppression.
Jesus has given the Church the mission of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor in this moment. Sometimes that calling seems impossible for the likes of you and me. After all, the challenges are overwhelming, and it is easy for the Church (especially in this moment) to feel inadequate. But Matthew 14:22-33 reminds us that when we really see Jesus, he gives us the power and the capacity to join his life even when it is otherwise unimaginable that we could ever walk on water or persevere in the face of adverse winds.
There are other voices in our world that immediately protest that the kind of mission Jesus gives us amounts to politics. Sometimes folks will even say: “Stop talking politics and start preaching the gospel.” But Mary’s song before Christ’s birth and Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4, combined with the lived example of Jesus’ ministry, all make it clear that this work of actual transformation is the Gospel. And, while politics at its best will have to play a role in lifting people out of poverty and injustice, this mission belonged to the Church long before any political party existed, or even before the nation existed.
There are many examples in history as well as in the present, of congregations and communities of believers leading the way toward the transformation of communities in ways that embody the Lord’s Prayer that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, as we see Jesus more clearly, we come to see our surroundings more clearly. We find ourselves being drawn
more and more into the mission Jesus named in Luke 4. In reflecting on this truth, I find myself remembering a moment at a CBF General Assembly more than a decade ago. One of the preachers in that particular year was the South African Methodist Trevor Hudson. In his sermon, he took issue with the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Hudson held up the concern that this song could lead to a misreading of the Gospel, a conclusion that real closeness to Jesus would cause us to pay no attention to the things of earth. So, he proposed an alternative wording: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely clear in the light of his glory and grace.” When we really see Jesus, we see our communities and the world as he does.
We see poverty and injustice as he does. We see isolation and alienation as he does. We see brokenness as he does. We see ourselves and one another as he does. We see clearly. And we are called to act. So as people who are coming to see Jesus more clearly, we will ask ourselves: Where in our communities do we see poverty? Where do we see racial or economic oppression or injustice? Where do we see people languishing in isolation?
Where do we see suffering? Where do we see people who have been given up on by everyone else? Then, when we see, we will not be able to keep from helping, as individuals or congregations, but compelled to act as Jesus calls. Peter reminds us: If the winds are blowing, the waves are billowing, the elemental spirits are festering, if we but focus on Jesus, he will give us the power to walk into the midst of his mission and participate in God’s transformation of all things!
Questions for Reflection
By Harrison Litzell
- What are your memories of hearing the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) taught? As you think about this passage, what thoughts or feelings are brought up for you?
- Reflect on the words of Jesus from Luke 4:26-30. How does this declaration of Jesus’ mission relate to the way you see Christianity lived and discussed today?
- What do you think of Trevor Hudson’s proposed wording for the song? Does it deepen your relationship to Jesus or distract you from Jesus?
- Choose one question from the end of Paul’s devotion. Answer it as specifically and locally as you can. Think about the community of which you are a part and both the challenges and gifts found there.
Invitation to Prayer
This week, we invite you to offer your deeds as prayer. Reading through the texts for the week, or reflecting on the questions of this session, be an answer to prayer for someone. Reach out and be a voice of comfort. Give (in time or money) to a cause that brings good news to the poor. Allow your offering to God to be one of action and care for those in your community.
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
- Missing Jesus—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 1)
- Jesus is Lord—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 2)
- Really Seeing—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 3)
- The Danger of Distraction—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 4)
- A Community to Check Our Vision—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 5)