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Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus – Hebrews 12:2

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Sermon 2 of 4 from the New Year’s Day Messages series

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January 2001“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

 

At the beginning of each new year, we announce a theme for the year along with a theme verse. I usually start thinking and praying about it in August or early September. This time as I pondered the spiritual condition of our congregation, the conviction came to me that in 2001 we should intentionally focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. When we started this tradition in 1991, our first theme was “The Year of Our Lord.” It seemed right somehow that a decade later we should return to a Christ-centered theme. Therefore, our theme this year is “Lift Him Up!” and our key verse is Hebrews 12:2. I was drawn to that verse because the imperative in the first phrase: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” That speaks of united action-"Let us.” It speaks of a definite action-"fix our eyes.” And it speaks of a single aim-"on Jesus.”

And so in the weeks to come we will focus our worship around the Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer is that we as a congregation will come to know him better than ever, to love him more and more, to serve him with renewed enthusiasm, and to declare His Name with increasing vigor. To help us to learn more about Christ, next Sunday we will begin a new sermon series called Conversations with Jesus: Christ speaks to Modern Problems. Each week we will talk about someone who met Jesus face to face. Each one of these “conversations with Jesus” reveals how relevant the words of Christ are today. These sermons build bridges from ancient stories to very modern problems. We want to show that Christ not only speaks today but that he is the answer to our deepest needs. The first installment is called “The Woman at the Well: Christ Speaks to the Problem of a Guilty Past.”

The Prayer of Jabez

Since this is the first Sunday of the new year, I’d like to mention a book that I hope every family in our church will read. About six months ago a friend gave me a copy of The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, founder of Walk Through the Bible Ministries. This little book is all about a forgotten man of the Bible named Jabez and his amazing prayer. In a very few pages Bruce Wilkinson explains how to pray this prayer and unleash the power of God’s blessing in your life. I can testify that no book I’ve read in recent years has been so helpful in my own prayer life. I believe every person in our congregation would benefit by reading it.

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I also believe that God has important things for us to do in the days ahead. As I have sought the Lord on behalf of our church, I have felt impressed that we should expand our ministry in five key areas. First, we have a wonderful opportunity to minister to thousands of international students who come to Chicago from every corner of the globe. Ministering to these students is like missions in reverse. As they come to us, we can befriend them, help them feel at home, and perhaps have an opportunity to share Christ with them. Second, I believe we should move forward in our partnership with Prison Fellowship to distribute Christian literature free of charge to prisoners across America. In the last two years God has helped us give away 8-10,000 copies of What a Christian Believes and Keep Believing. We have a six-foot tall stack of letters from prisoners asking for books. A few months ago Prison Fellowship and other ministries launched an outreach called “Operation Starting Line” to share the gospel with every prisoner by 2004. I believe it would honor God if we would raise the money to donate 250,000 copies of An Anchor for the Soul to this worthy effort. Third, we need 100 additional men, women and children to volunteer to be Prayer Warriors. As our ministry expands, we must enlarge the prayer foundation of the church. We need 100 new people to take the challenge of praying daily for the church and its ministries. Fourth, we are living in the Internet generation. Each week we broadcast our 11:30 a.m. worship service live on the Internet. The potential audience is in the hundreds of millions. The opportunities for outreach are enormous and we must seize them now. Fifth, I believe God is calling us to take part in a new move toward Christian unity and racial reconciliation in the body of Christ. Each year our ministry area becomes more and more diverse. Our challenge is to maintain our doctrinal integrity while at the same time building bridges to other churches and ministries from widely different backgrounds. There is much work to be done in this area but it will not come without a cost.

Finally, I am glad to note that the new banners in the front of the sanctuary feature the cross. And the chorus written by Becky Hedgepeth (winner of the Calvary songwriting contest last fall) is called “Run to the Cross.” How appropriate. The cross must be at the center of all we do. In 2001 we must lift up Jesus Christ, fix our eyes on him, and proclaim the message of the cross. “Run to the Cross” is more than just a slogan; it’s also a way of life and our supreme calling.

With that as background, let’s now consider our theme verse for the new year—Hebrews 12:2.

I. Our Focus

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a). The word “fix” comes from a Greek word that has the idea of concentrating your gaze. It means to look away from other things so that you can focus all your attention on one object. It is the picture of a lost child walking alone down a carnival midway, enthralled by the lights and sounds and smells. Her eyes flit this way and that. She doesn’t even realize that she is danger. Suddenly through the din she hears her mother’s voice. Looking up, she sees her mother calling for her to come. With her eyes now fixed on her mother, she walks straight ahead, ignoring everything else. Soon she is safe by her mother’s side. In the same way a coach will tell his runners, “When the gun sounds, start running as hard as you can. Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Keep your eyes on the finish line and keep on running.”

To fix our eyes on Jesus requires a holy habit of soul. It demands a continuous and sustained action, like a mariner in rough seas watching his compass to make sure he stays on course. This touches all that we do and asks us to consider how we use our time. What fills your gaze? Is it Jesus? How could it be anything else?

Many years ago a man hired an experienced guide to lead him on a hike into the Swiss Alps. After many hours they came to a high and remote mountain pass. To the man’s dismay, he saw that that path had almost been washed out. What could he do? To the left was a sheer rock cliff, to his right a precipice that dropped nearly 1000 feet. Looking down, the man felt his head growing faint and his knees beginning to buckle. At that moment his guide shouted, “Do not look down or you are a dead man. Keep your eyes on me, and where I put my feet, put yours there as well.” The man did as he was instructed and soon he passed from danger to safety. This is good advice for the beginning of a new year. No one knows what lies ahead for any of us. We all have our plans and dreams but the times and seasons of life are in God’s hands. Sooner or later we will all come to a dangerous pass where the way ahead seems to be washed out. At that moment we can panic and fall into terrible trouble. Or we can fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and mark carefully his steps before us. If we will follow him, we will find at the end of this year that we have been kept safe by his amazing grace.

Our text gives us wonderful motivation when it says that Christ is the “author and perfecter of our faith.” This means at least three things. First, he laid the foundation for our faith by his death and resurrection. He made our salvation possible. Second, he provided the perfect example to follow in that he trusted God perfectly. Even when he was sorely tempted in the wilderness, he did not give in. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, he yielded up his human will to the perfect will of his Heavenly Father. No one was ever tested like Jesus and no one ever passed the test like he did. Third, he gives us the faith we need when we feel like quitting. All true faith comes from him because faith itself is a gift from God. In Christ we find everything we need, always.

II. Our Example

“Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2b). Mark two words in this phrase: “joy” and “cross.” Those two words don’t seem to go together. The cross speaks of pain, suffering, shame, ridicule, rejection, and ultimate public humiliation. Crucifixion meant a slow, agonizing death that often lasted for several days. There was nothing beautiful or humane about death on a cross. It was the worst kind of torture, reserved for the very worst criminals. Where is the joy in that kind of death? The answer is that there is no joy in death by crucifixion, but Jesus went to the cross and endured the pain and despised the shame that he might obtain the joy that would be his afterward.

Did Jesus enjoy the cross? No, but he endured it for what would come later. Did Jesus enjoy the shame? No, but he scorned it for what would come from it. In this phrase there is a reference to the joy of obedience to his Father’s will and the joy of completing the work of redemption and the joy of bringing great glory to his Father and the joy of triumphing over death and hell. These joys were his but they came at the cost of a cruel Roman cross.

There is in this phrase the principle of delayed gratification. We can see this principle at work in our own lives on two different levels. Level 1 is giving up the good to obtain the best. In the early days of the new year, we know that our sincere resolutions depend on this principle. We give up food that we might lose weight. Students give up a night out to study for final exams. A young couple gives up dinner and a movie because they are saving to buy a new car. There is sacrifice involved but both sides of the equation involve genuine human pleasure. One is forfeited that a higher one might be achieved.

There is a higher level of delayed gratification that involves enduring pain to receive a reward. This is why high school athletes lift weights at 6:00 a.m. when their friends are still in bed. They give up sleep in order to win the championship next year. And this is why aspiring pianists practice for hours when they might be watching TV or playing video games. They put in the hours in the hope that some day they may play for thousands. And in a different way this is why cancer patients endure the rigors of chemotherapy. They take the potent chemicals into their body hoping that one day the cancer will be gone. And this is why our young people keep themselves pure. They want to enter marriage someday with joy and with no regrets. And in yet another realm, this is why families leave their loved ones and travel to the ends of the earth. They want the joy of seeing the nations come to Christ. In all these things there is pain involved, but it is pain endured for the sake of the joy that comes when the goal is finally reached.

Jesus said, “Follow me” and he went to the cross. Are you willing to follow him even to the cross? Are you willing to endure pain and difficulty in order to know the joy of fulfilling God’s will for your life?

If we take this phrase and put it in words that Jesus might have said, it looks something like this: “I want the joy of seeing my Father’s house in heaven filled with his redeemed children. Therefore, I am willing to suffer the pain and shame of a brutal death on a cross.”

No pain, no gain.

No suffering, no glory.

No cross, no crown.

No tears, no joy.

Keep your eye on the prize. We all like the empty tomb. But you have to die before you can rise again.

As I was preparing this sermon, the words of an old hymn came to my mind. It was written by Henry Francis Lyte in1824.

Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee.

Destitute, despised, forsaken, thou from hence my all shall be.

Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.

Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still mine own.

Haste then on from grace to glory, armed by faith, and winged by prayer,

Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;

Hope soon change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

III. Our Hope

“And sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2c). Jesus sat down because his work was finished. In the Old Testament the priests on duty could never sit down because their work of offering sacrifices for sin was never done. But once Christ had offered himself as the final sacrifice for sin, no other offering could be made and no other offering would be accepted. That’s why theologians speak of the “finished work” of Jesus Christ. It means that the work of redemption is now complete.

He sat down at God’s right hand, the place of supreme honor in the universe. There was no higher place or position for the Lord Jesus Christ in all the universe. Therefore, to him belongs all praise and majesty. He must have the preeminence in our lives because God has given him a name that is above every name. And when we pray to him, we are praying to One who has been exalted to the highest place of honor, which means that we have a Friend in high places who can help us in our time of need.

Ephesians 2:6 adds a tantalizing thought when it says that by grace we have been saved, raised, and even seated with Christ in heaven. It doesn’t say we will someday be seated, it says we are seated with Christ right now. Because we are joined with him by faith in a living union, where Christ is right now, we are there with him. And because of the imputation of his righteousness, we have a share in the victory he won through his death and resurrection. This truth, wonderful as it is, is hard to comprehend, especially when most of us are slogging through the mud of daily reality. We do not now “feel” seated in the heavenly places. In our minds we are in a battle every single day. But from God’s point of view, the battle is over and the victory is already ours. And someday when we see Christ, all that is his will become ours because we are “joint-heirs” with Jesus. Our great hope in the race set before us is that one day soon we will cross the finish line and will be seated with our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, our work over, the victory finally won.

I am reminded of the way Jack Wyrtzen always signed his letters: “On the victory side.” And when I stood by his grave in Schroon Lake, New York, I saw those words engraved on his tombstone. Jack lived “on the victory side” even on the earth and that is where he now dwells with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Running the Race

Let’s stand back for a moment and ask how this great text can help us in the coming year. Three simple thoughts come to mind:

1) The only way to win the race is to keep your eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to run with patience the race that is set before us. We have everything we need to help us along the way. We have the testimony of the saints who have gone before us, we have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have the promise of coming glory when we finish our earthly course. So keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t be turned aside or distracted by the things of the world. Keep running. Don’t look back. Fix your eyes on Jesus and run with all your might for the finish line.

2) When hard times come, don’t start with your circumstances and try to find Jesus. Start with Jesus and then go back to your circumstances. This is a profoundly important principle. Hard times often trip us up because we can’t understand how or why God would allow certain things to happen to us. But you will never find Jesus by rummaging around in your tattered circumstances. If you start with your problems, it will be nearly impossible to find the Lord. Start with Jesus. Go back to the Bible. Review what you know about our Lord—his mercy, his grace, his kindness, his power, and his wisdom. Once you have laid the foundation from the Word of God, then you can find your way back to your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you will understand all that happens to you but it does mean that your starting point is all-important. Start with Jesus, not your problems.

3) When you feel like giving up, remember that in God’s eyes you are already a winner. Recall that even now you are seated with Christ in heaven. In God’s eyes the outcome has already been determined. Even though the score may seem stacked against you, if you know Jesus, his victory is yours. And one day you will openly share in his triumph. Let those who name the name of the Lord rejoice in him. Remember who you are and whose you are. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love and power and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). Let that truth of God give you strength when you feel like you cannot go on.

“Is your faith strong?”

This week I ran across the words of T. E. Marsh on the fullness that is in Christ Jesus. Here is a paraphrase of what he wrote:

In Christ there is full acceptance, therefore do not doubt him.

In Christ there is peace, therefore trust him.

In Christ there is life, therefore abide in him.

In Christ there is blessing, therefore delight in him.

In Christ there is light, therefore follow him.

In Christ there is power, therefore wait on him.

In Christ there is all truth, therefore learn from him.

In Christ there is grace, therefore receive from him.

In Christ there is joy, therefore rejoice in him.

In Christ there is unlimited wealth, therefore depend on him.

In Christ there is strength, therefore lean on him.

“Is your faith strong,” a Christian man was asked a few hours before his death. “No, but my Jesus is.” It does not matter whether your faith is strong or weak today. During the year to come your faith will rise and fall according to the varying seasons and tides of life. But do not worry if your faith does not seem strong. We are not saved by faith in Christ but by Christ who saves by faith. Even faith like a mustard seed is honored by God.

Here is good cheer for the new year: Everything we need we will find in Christ. He has all the hope, all the love, all the grace, all the power, all the strength, all the wisdom, all the patience, all the guidance, all the encouragement, all the joy, all the endurance, all the gentleness, all the forgiveness, all the determination, all the submission, all the boldness, and all the meekness that we need. Every virtue is in him. Every good thing we need he has. And what he has, he willingly gives to us. Let no one falter in the race that is set before us. Let no one drop out because of discouragement, fear, doubt, despair, anger, or bitterness. The Lord Jesus has already run the race. He is the Captain of our Salvation and the Savior of his own body. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus in 2001 and all will be well. Amen.

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