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Looking Unto Jesus
By David A. DePra
By faith…..(Heb. 12:4)
Hebrews 11 lists what might be called "the hall of fame" as it pertains to faith. The writer uses the historical figures of the OT and points to their faith as an example for us. The underlying Truth God is revealing in chapters 11 and 12 of Hebrews is summarized best by Hebrews 11:13-16:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:13-16)
The teaching here is that this life in Jesus Christ is but a journey through a "foreign land." We do not belong here in this "land" – in this life. But this life is important because our journey through this life is intended by God to prepare us for the next life, in the eternal ages. Those mentioned in this "hall of fame of faith" recognized that. They did not receive the fullness of the promises of God. They saw them "afar off" – yet embraced them. They knew they were going to a "better country."
Likewise, Christians do not receive the fullness of the promises here. Rather, we receive a "down payment" of that fullness by virtue of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul writes, "You were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13-14)
Now, all of that sets the stage for Hebrews 12. Having rehearsed to us the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, and having told us that they are examples for us, the writer of Hebrews goes on to be more specific. Chapter 12 begins by saying, "Whereforeseeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…." This is telling us that we have a tremendous testimony to the Truth from these people. Therefore, we ought to move forward into the purposes of God – in same faith they exhibited. Chapter 12 is going to tell us HOW.
Witnesses and Spectators
Hebrews 12 uses the metaphor of an athletic contest. A race is probably the best contest to point to for the spiritual teaching intended by the writer. In those days, most of the people were familiar with the Greek games. These are used as a metaphor of our Christian journey through this life, as it prepares us for the next. We are being prepared to live forever with God.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds…..Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:1-3, 12-13)
As mentioned, the "great cloud of witnesses" speaks of the heroes of Hebrews 11. They are, however, not merely "spectators" of our journey through life. They are more. They are WITNESSES for our benefit. They have gone before us. They lived what we are now living. And we dare not ignore them.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (I Cor. 10:11)A witness can benefit us in two ways: By their success story, or by their failure. In the OT we have both. Included in the list of people in Hebrews 11 we have heroes of faith, yes, but also fallible human beings. Thus, we are not only to learn from their faith, but also from their unbelief.
The story of the Bible is one where God wins His victory despite us. We deserve no credit or merit for anything. Even our triumph in faith is meaningless without an object for our faith. The heroes of chapter 11 trusted God, and He was faithful. This is the point we must remember: God is faithful. The heroes of chapter 11 are witnesses to that fact, in spite of their many failings.
So these "witnesses" give us a clear testimony to the faithfulness of God. We are "compassed about" by them – as if we are enveloped in a great cloud. In effect, the witness is so great that we cannot deny that they are there. We need only open our hearts, eyes, and ears. We cannot miss the Truth to which they testify.
But Hebrews 12 is likening the Christian life to an athletic contest. Thus, while those "who died in faith" are a witness unto us of the faithfulness of God, they can also be considered spectators of OUR contest or race through this life. The picture is one of a great body of people, all of whom are FOR us, cheering us on, as we run the race set before us.
Paul writes, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31) Have we really understood and believed that God Himself is FOR US in every way possible? Do we really understand what that means? It means that it is NOT possible for us to want to walk in victory and finish the race more than HE wants us to! Thus – and this is a wonderful Truth – if we stand in faith we cannot fail. There isn’t a chance. Why? Because He can’t fail.
Why does it sometimes seem as if God isn’t FOR us? In fact, there are those times when it almost seems like He is against us. Why?
The answer is that God always works on His terms for His eternal purposes – which is for our good. That is all God can do and still be FOR us. Would we like God to do as we please, with our limited knowledge and perspective? Nonsense. God is doing what is FOR us in every way. The reason it sometimes seems like He is not, is that we are often not working with Him. We sometimes work against Him – trying to get what we think is best. This creates conflict and confusion.
Jesus is standing at the end of the race before us. It is a race clearly marked out before us. We may think that there is another way of getting to the end. We may even try another way. But Jesus isn’t moving. It is up to us to keep our eyes on Him.
This is the message of Hebrews 12. God is for us – as is the testimony of this great cloud of witness which has gone before us. We cannot fail if we believe and surrender to His will. Therefore, let us press on. Despite many battles, the final victory is ALREADY won.
If we consider some other teachings about this Christian life, it helps us to better define the type of athletic game we need to envision when reading this passage. First of all, we are not "running a race" against other Christians. Paul writes, "For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (II Cor. 10:12) This Christian life is never a competition between Christians. Such a thing is foreign to the mind of Christ for His church.
So what is being pictured here, if not a race among fellow believers? Just this: A race run entirely BY faith, which has as it’s sole purpose, to FINISH in faith. To reach our goal – Jesus Christ – in faith. Therefore, if we have an opponent in this race, it is our own unbelief. It is anything which would hinder us, or divert us, or get our eyes off of Jesus Christ.
Actually, one might say that rather than run this race AGAINST other believers, we are really running it WITH THEM. We are all helping each other IF – and that is a big two-letter word – IF we are all running in the same direction, with all of our eyes UPON JESUS.
This picture of the Christian life as a race is one which occurs a number of times in the Bible:
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (II Tim. 4:7-8)
Here Paul likens himself to one who has finished his race – faith in tact. THAT, Paul says, entitles him to "a crown of righteousness." This is a metaphor of the fact that athletes received a crown of leaves. Finish your course fully in faith, Paul says, and this is the reward.
There are many possible hindrances to our faith in this Christian walk. The Galatian church was one which had taken their eyes off of Jesus:
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that called you. (Gal. 5:5-8)
Paul laments to the Galatians that they have forsaken the simplicity of the Truth, "the hope of righteousness by faith" and fallen into legalism. Instead of keeping their eyes on Jesus, they had their eyes on their own works. Paul says this is NOT OF GOD. They had, at one time, "run well." But now they aren’t even in the contest at all! They are living on a completely wrong basis.
So what we see is that FAITH is the victory. It is the dynamic under which we run the race set before us. We might say that faith is our stamina, our energy, our endurance. It is what propels us down the track towards the mark. We walk by faith, and we run by faith. And if we are running by faith, at the end of that contest, we will be "in good shape." Fully exercised.
Revelation of Jesus
This is quite a unique contest or race we have before us. The goal is to run the race IN FAITH, so that we might finish WITH FAITH. Along the way there will be many hindrances and
weights that will try to derail us, slow us down, and get us off the track. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, and not on the hindrances, we will finish the race in HIS victory. THAT is the key, and the heart of the teaching. None of this works unless we are, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."
Now, once we are told that Jesus is the "author and finisher of our faith," things really take on a new meaning. Have you ever thought about what this verse is saying? It is saying that even the faith you have in Jesus is caused by Jesus. He is the Author of it. And if you stay the course, He will finish it – that is – bring your faith into a mature perfection.
But how does Jesus do this? How does He create or author our faith? Or perfect it? Well, go back to the most dynamic phrase of the passage: Looking unto Jesus. Jesus creates our faith by revealing Himself to us. He matures it by asking us to run a race under the vision and dynamic of that revelation – so that BY running it – we might grow IN faith.
There is no possibility that you and I will have any faith in Jesus Christ unless Jesus reveals Himself to us. We might believe in doctrines and teachings, and give intellectual assent to them, but that isn’t the same thing as placing my faith in the Person. The new birth carries with it a revelation of who Jesus is, what He has done for me, and my embracing, by faith, of Him. Without that there is no race to run, no Jesus upon which we might fix our eyes. Without that, there is no object of our faith.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:14-17)
But once we see Jesus, and embrace Him by faith, the race has only begun. It is by running this race that our faith is made strong – in the same way that a runner develops endurance. James writes, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works endurance. But let endurance have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:3-4)
Yet we might ask: Endurance for what? Well, for the next race. But then what? I mean, where is it all going? What does any of this have to do with the next life?
We are being prepared to live with God forever. What we call FAITH is an eternal capacity which is being developed in us for communion and fellowship with God. As we grow in faith, we grow in communion with God. The END of the race is that communion with Christ throughout all the eternities. But the race itself isn’t THAT. The race in this life is getting us adjusted and fit FOR THAT. It is preparing us for HIM.
Actually, we might take this picture of a race and break it up a bit. We might say that our life consists of many races, one right after another, each of which develops our faith for the next. At the end of each race, we know more about Jesus. We have a greater fellowship and knowledge of Him. We do grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. But the end of it all is eternal fellowship, not possible here in it’s fullness, but which will be realized there in the next age.
If our contest is one of faith, then obviously, our chief opponent is unbelief. If faith is "looking unto Jesus, then unbelief is certainly, "taking our eyes off of Jesus." The outward manifestations of unbelief are sin, giving up, and stopping the race because we have become interested in something else along the way.
God has not left us to fend for ourselves in this. In fact, He says, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" – that is – let us run the race which is "clearly marked out" before us. Imagine a tack with the running lanes marked. God is saying, "I have clearly marked the path. Stay between the lines."
We cannot expect to finish the race in faith if we get off the track of faith. In that case, we aren’t even IN the race, let alone running it. Run the race along the lines God has laid out. We are to live on His terms, not ours.
"Staying between the lines" speaks also of the obedience and works which always come from faith. We cannot hope to end up in the will of God if we are choosing to get out of the will of God! This should be obvious. Yet there are Christians everywhere who continually choose to disobey God, and then blame Him because they end up out of His will. YOU chose that. God didn’t. The solution is to repent and get back IN the race.
The way to "stay between the lines" is to keep your eyes on Jesus. He is there, at the end of the lane. Trust and obey. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.
In Hebrews 12, God tells us that there will be quite a struggle against running the race by faith – despite the fact that the victory is already won. He tells us that He will chastise us and guide us as a Father does a son or daughter, to help us keep "between the lines" through this race. But then, He says, "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed."
God is, in effect, saying, "Can’t you see that the victory is assured? It is already won. Will you please believe that, and stop whining and complaining? Will you please stop acting as if you are tired, weary, and just about to give up?"
This exhortation sounds like a familiar passage from the OT:
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Is. 40:31)
When God says to "lay aside every weight," He is telling us to refuse to carry every burden which God has not put upon us. When He tells us to "make straight paths for our feet," He is saying to make the course clear for ourselves, so that there need be no stumbling. He does not want us to sprain our ankle, or "turn out of the way" our back – so that we need an adjustment to get it back into place. Yet despite all of these exhortations, God does say, "Run with endurance the race set before us." So there IS endurance necessary. What makes that necessary?
Life does. We live in a fallen creation, and we continue to live in a body of flesh. That is something which will give us plenty to overcome. But there is more. There is ONE BURDEN which we must carry as we run this race. It is one weight we must not lay aside, indeed, one which we must pick up. It is OUR CROSS. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)
Now, instead of thinking of the Cross as something which strengthens us as we carry it, think of it the other way around. The Cross never makes us strong! Indeed, the Cross weakens us. It is an instrument of death. But only to our flesh – to every other hindrance. Thus, as we run the race with a big Cross on our back, we are pressed more and more to fix our eyes on Jesus and to trust Him. We learn that we have nothing of ourselves to get us through this race.
Endurance, or patience, in the New Testament Greek, means "to abide or tarry under." It speaks of being under a weight or pressure, but functioning in the will of God anyways. The Cross – in whatever form it happens to take presently in my life – is the thing IN THE WILL OF GOD -- which I must abide under as I run the race. Thus, Hebrews says, "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."
We must get this: The Cross is the will of God. It is the one weight we must pick up, rather than lay aside. And if we do pick it up, we will build our faith and endurance as we run the race. Yet not in the sense that we become stronger in ourselves. Rather, we come more and more to lean upon Him. We fix our eyes upon Jesus.
The Christian life is one specifically geared to making us weaker in ourselves, so that we might lean more and more upon HIM. That is what happens during this contest – this race. But this is not bad news. It is good news. It is our return back to the original relationship which God intended for us – and one which will be projected throughout all eternity. *
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