Looking Unto Jesus

September 16, 2018 Series: Hebrews Scripture: Hebrews 12:2-4 by Chris Strevel

As our Lord passed through the cities and countryside of Judea and Galilee, “Come and see him” echoed through the land. Multitudes came, looked upon him, and were healed, helped, encouraged, saved. If only it were that simple, these Hebrews must have thought. Perhaps we think the same thing. If we had more time and less things to do, then we would be able to give proper attention to spiritual things. We find ourselves, however, incredibly busy and stressed – an army of frantic, scurrying Martha’s, with Mary and her choice for the better things becoming increasingly rare. But it ought to encourage us that “looking unto Jesus” was not the apostle’s announced theme for a weekend retreat. It was his directive to those facing persecution. Whatever other practical advice is needed and helpful in such times, “looking unto Jesus” was the great need and duty of that hour. And this means that whatever extremity in which we find ourselves, even if pressed by persecution beyond all hope of endurance, wracked with pain, and our very lifeblood draining upon the ground, we must look unto Jesus – and continue looking unto him.

The Way We Look unto Jesus (v. 2)

Thoughts and Affections upon Him

If we take for an example of “looking unto Jesus” the woman whom Jesus healed from the bloody flow that had crippled and isolated her for a dozen years, the main thing we learn is that faith thinks upon Jesus, plans its way to come to him, and will not rest until it possesses him. Faith sets its heart upon Jesus – to know and love him, to be loved by him, finally to be with him. It desires to live unto him (Phil. 3:8). Thus, looking unto Jesus means that we set our thoughts upon him (Col. 3:1) – who he is as the Son of God and as the Son of man, our Mediator, our Savior, Priest, Prophet, and King, all that he is toward us as loving Shepherd, Guide, Comforter, who is meek and lowly in heart himself, and whose yoke is easy and burden light. The yokes and burdens we sometimes put upon ourselves supposedly in the name of Jesus can be very heavy and unbearable. The burdens that God legitimately calls us to bear he will always give grace to carry and joy in carrying as we look to him and depend upon his strength. 

Our Savior’s yoke – of walking with him in childlike faith, casting our burdens upon him, his carrying us as we carry our cross, obeying our Father’s will, even suffering for his sake – is light. This is not because the specific burden itself, say enduring persecution or a ravaging disease, is easy, else they would not be called “many tribulations” and would not require patience (John 16:31; Acts 14:22). They are light because they draw us to Jesus, to come to him, so that our thoughts and affections are strained to please him in every difficulty.  They are light because in the midst of the most difficult part of our pilgrimage, he is with us and encourages us. If this be not true, either the Christian faith in Jesus is misguided, or we do not have it. The Spirit of truth would never have urged us to look unto Jesus as a remedy and strength if real and satisfying help were not forthcoming. Jesus will turn and look at us with his tender heart and powerful hand, when like the cripple, blind, and lame, our one desire is to have him, to lay hold upon the hem of his garment by faith, to tell him all our cares, and then to rest upon his promise of help.

Consider His Endurance of the Cross for Us

Looking unto Jesus has specific, objective content. It is not looking at our feelings about Jesus or even considering the experiences of others about him. His faithfulness to other believers encourages us, but each one of us is directed to consider specifically his willingness to help us because he has already run this same race. Even saying this is insufficient, for what we must in fact say is that he has endured more than anyone else – more temptations and the most powerful temptations; more insinuations against him; more palpable fear as he contemplated being struck down by the sword of God’s justice; more pain, tears, and hardship of every description. Our Savior endured the most violent opposition, even the direct and unmitigated violence of the devil, the most insulting blasphemies, and then finally in shame he was nailed to the cross. We are told here to look unto the Jesus who endured the cross and despised the pain. The joy offered to him was higher and more satisfying than the pain of his suffering was deep and disturbing. He endured. He went before us as the Captain of our salvation to endure all this for us. He endured all this to save us as our sinless, worthy substitute; he endured all this to help us. 

Depend upon his Present Power to Help Us

If we take these words to heart, what we are told to do in every season of life and especially in the worst, most painful circumstances, is to take hold of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is more than believing a form of doctrine or observing worship practices or being in line with a distinct religious tradition. It is holding to a living, reigning person, Jesus Christ. It is to be his follower, so that “as he was, so are we in the world” (1 John 4:17). This is all our boldness as Christians and a sure indication that the Spirit of holiness is working a holy conformity to Jesus Christ in us – that we endure as he did. How can we? The Jesus to whom we look is not an idea or an ideal – he is the living Savior, who having endured the cross, he is now set down in power at the right hand of the throne of God. This means that he is the power in this universe, in our world, in our individual circumstances and trials and pains. To look unto him means that we call upon him – out loud, as the risen Christ, as members of his mystical body, as those in union with him, as those who seek his help and fellowship. It cannot be said that we are looking unto Jesus unless we are trusting his promise to help us, calling upon him in prayer, and considering his example as normative and inspiring and worthy of our adoring imitation. This is what makes a disciple and follower of Christ: when we are savingly quickened to believe upon his name and lovingly drawn to follow him wherever he leads, to imitate his zeal for his Father’s house, and patiently to endure hardship for his sake, because we love him and consider suffering for him our highest honor.

The Imperative of Looking unto Jesus (v. 3)

Look, Keep Looking, Look Carefully

Looking unto Jesus is not a one-time formula for improved circumstances and carefree living. The verb is present tense, and for those who take Scripture’s inspiration seriously, the implications are profound. We must look at him, at his person and work, we must keep looking, and we must study carefully. Not surprisingly, thinking upon Christ leads us to call upon him, for he reveals himself to us and the Father so that we come unto him (Matt. 11:28-30). This looking then becomes part of the “renewing of our mind,” which is necessary if we are to offer ourselves a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus said that if we “continue in his word, we are his disciples indeed” (John 8:31-32), that abiding in his word leads to “much fruit” (John 15:1-8). And the present tense is also imperative – a command. We are to look unto Jesus always – every season, each trial, calling upon him to help us, depending upon his promise, and keeping faith fixed upon him as its author and finisher. In other words, Jesus Christ is real to the disciple of Christ, and it is no burden or spiritualistic fervor that keeps the disciple looking unto his Master. It is love, desire, faith, and hope, as well as need, weakness, and promise, all rolled into one personal dynamic of union and communion with our Savior.

Consider the Opposition He Endured

That these particular believers required this command shows that they were not looking unto him, so this is something we need continual reminding to do. It is so true of us that our circumstances, which should lead us to consider Christ, often make us forget him. We are so weak, but he is meek and lowly in heart, so he will always receive us back, forgive our sins, and quicken our cold hearts unto holiness. It is not uncommon for us to go through seasons of such duration and intensity of persecution, labors, bodily pain, or even falling into the power of sin for a time, that our tie to our Lord is stretched to the breaking point and our affection for him tested. This should encourage believers going through lesser trials, as well as those going through the worst imaginable. Consider the hostility, the opposition, that our Lord encountered – the blasphemies, the way the Jews said he was possessed by evil spirits, resisted his word at every step, tried to trap him in his words. Ours is not a sunny morning faith. Jesus is our Savior and help when the world seems to be crashing down upon us, the children require constant attention, or we are drowning in our sins. None knows better than Jesus the strength of the world’s hatred, the force of temptation, and the sheer weariness of seeking to do God’s will against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

We must take this seriously. The Spirit is telling us that there is no way we can endure to the end and hold fast to Christ, to his grace and his gospel, unless we are carefully considering him, especially the opposition he faced. We are not to think that the religion of Jesus is for the good and shiny times, when we have time to read the Bible and pray as we would like, or engage in church ministries, or otherwise devote ourselves to spiritual pursuits. He is telling us something far higher, more personally challenging – that the religion of Jesus must dominate us at all times – not as something we do but as a person to whom we look, upon whom we depend, whose sacrifice is continually before us, and whose power we trust to bring us across the finish line of faith. Considering Christ is the dynamo of saving faith. He enables us to persevere. He carries us when we want to give up. And we must consider him to be just this Savior to us – the One who endured to the end (John 13:1) so that he might redeem us from our sins and give us strength to carry the cross and endure hardship patiently.

Why Believers Grow Weary and Weak

And this is the very reason that believers can grow weary and discouraged in our very souls. Should not Christians be the most buoyant and cheerful of people? Christians as a group can be some of the most miserable, complaining and negative people you will ever meet. Why is this? We have no strength to be or remain Christians, no strength to be good and joyful Christians, unless we are looking unto Jesus, unless he is the center of our faith. And if he is, we shall call upon him, even if the prayer is a hoarse whisper because our strength is failing. We shall think about his word and promises, even if we truly have no time to sit down and open a Bible. This is because we love Jesus Christ and feel with Bartimaeus, that unless the Son of David has mercy upon us, it is all over. Unless I can touch the hem of his garment, I will bleed forever. Unless he says the word and heals my daughter, she will die. Faith looks and says, “Unless Jesus the enthroned Prince helps me, delivers me from this temptation, encourages my drooping spirits, and lifts me out of the pit of unbelief, I shall surely perish. I must look to him. I must keep looking to him.” To look away is death – or for the true believer, it is to perpetuate misery. Better to come before him this instant, confess a cold heart and a discouraged spirit, all because we have not looked unto him on the race of faith. Unless we consider him, we shall faint dead away under the weight of our trials; if we consider him, we can move forward through his energy (Col. 1:29).

The Struggle of Looking unto Jesus (v. 4)

In the Middle of a Fight

None of wants to be told, “You have not done enough, yet.” Or after doing a great deal, we do not like to be shown how we could have done it better. This is exactly, however, what the Holy Spirit said to these Hebrew believers. You have undergone some suffering, but you have not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding your blood for Christ. Before considering these provoking details about our race and warfare, notice the rather impolitic exhortation – you have not yet resisted. There is more to be done. You are in the middle of a fight and are not permitted to decide when “enough is enough.” He says to them in effect, “God, not you, defines the limits of the race, the sacrifices required, the distance yet to complete.” Now, this may have been one of the hardest pills to swallow in a letter filled with challenging directives, but we always need to have our pride humbled and encouraged to go higher up, farther in, to attempt more and greater in the cause of Christ. There is too much settling for mediocrity, too much self-pampering and even victimization among professing believers. It is like a pudgy, middle-aged man who is still living on the glory days of sinking the winning shot as a junior in high school. That was a great shot, but it happened 40 years ago. Have you done nothing else? Are you living on past laurels as justification for present indulgence?

Many of us do the same. There was that time twenty years ago when we shared our faith, and we tell the story with relish as if we shared our faith daily. Some have endured some serious trials for the sake of Christ, but then they claim exemption from further service. Or more practically, older parents may say, “Well, I have raised my children, so I am not going to lift a finger to help you with yours. I did it, now you do it.” There are many ways in which we tell the Lord, “No more. I will go no further.” Our selfishness even in serving him is sometimes very shocking. It is a good thing he did not say to us, “I will go no further. I will not go the cross for you.” But he endured to the end; he went as far as his Father called him to go (John 13:1). And this is the exact point being made here. You have suffered, but you have not resisted to blood. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves, giving way to fear, thinking of doing the unthinkable – leaving Christ for the supposed safety of a now-outdated and impotent Judaism. We must walk with Jesus all the way, for he walked all the way for us – all the way into the bowels of hell in order to satisfy the claims of God’s justice, endured our judgment, and obtained our redemption and peace. Would we tell him, this is all I will give you, Lord? The thought is sickening and traitorous, but sadly, many of us tell him this daily in small ways. It all adds up to low consecration, easy discipleship, and eventual fainting under testing that is sure to come.

Severe Resistance Required

But unto blood? Of course we in the West have grown too fat and presumptuous to think that the Lord will require us to seal his truth with our blood. He may not, but this is not the point. Since Christ endured the cross, in confessing him, we commit to give our blood for his sake, should he require us to do so. And if we have faith and love swell our hearts with desire to give our utmost for him, what of daily life and our service to him? We should think more of this the next time we willingly sin for the thousandth time, or tolerate a cold heart toward our Savior, or complain because we suffer little annoyances and difficulties? Why, our Lord suffered the pains of death and hell so that we should we blessed forever, and will we offer to him little service and fickle hearts? If we are unwilling to deny ourselves and take up the cross in the smaller things, would it ever be possible for us to lay down our lives for Jesus Christ? Looking unto Jesus requires severe, serious resistance, unto blood if necessary, but always against sin in every form. The battle does not always rage at the highest intensity, but we are always on the battlefield and should never want to tell our Lord, “Hey, I am kind of busy with my own life right now. I cannot speak for you to this person, or serve others again, or forgive this offense, or obey in this area.”

Struggle against Sin Intense

But what is our life without devotion to Jesus Christ? We are of all men the most miserable, haunted by a faith to which we do not fully yield. This is the reason that Christians really are often the unhappiest of people. They know the truth but do not give themselves wholly to it. They believe in Christ, but almost any little thing throws us off track, and if some serious conflict arises, it is like we have no love for him at all. But notice – we are to fight against sin intensely. We are to resist it. We must either leave our sins or God. The choice is that simple but that challenging. And the metaphor shifts slightly from running to fighting or boxing (1 Cor. 9:26) to make the point that it is an all-out contest – all our energy, all our love, all by looking unto Jesus. Resistance is required. God has called us to a fight, and the fight is unto the death. Many of us fail at this very point. We think of the Christian faith and life as a set of propositions to believe and defend, or a tradition and liturgy to practice, or a history in which to be a part. It is all these things, but higher yet, it is a looking unto Jesus as we fight against sin and seek the honor of Jesus. Looking unto him commits us to fight and resist sin and endure to the end. Our Savior did. He shed his blood because this was required for our redemption, for the chastisement of our peace, the satisfaction of divine justice, and the vanquishing of the devil.

 To follow him is to walk as he walked (1 John 3:6). The form of the battle changes over time and space. Some believers are called to give up their blood for the gospel. Others must fight, but Satan’s fiery darts do not light the martyr’s pyre as much as they test the disciple’s integrity and convictions. Or, if we would rather go out in a blaze of glory, God simply calls us for our brief sixty or seventy years to love our family, hold fast to his truth, and love those around us. Many think this is not enough, but if you look around at our broken nation, imagine how different it would be if men and women did simply these things contentedly and endured in obedience in the basic duties without having to be entertained, noticed, or admired. Christian, Jesus is saying to you, “Endure! Strive to the end! Resist Sin!” How, Lord? “By looking at me, at my cross, at my love for you which endured to the end (John 13:1). Nothing has changed about being my disciple. Look at me. Do you love me? Have you lost zeal to be like me, to walk as I walked? Do my cross and throne no longer inspired you to resist your sins, your pride, and your selfishness?? Perish the thought. We sing “May I never outlive my love to thee,” and perhaps it is time we mean it. It was time for these Hebrew believers to return to their first love, and we must heed our Lord’s call with no less zeal and love, and also with a humble and contrite heart. The Lord will not reject these. He restored Peter, and he will restore us.