1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV
Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so close. How?
Let us run. To where?
With endurance. For how long?
Looking to Jesus. Why?
After providing us with a long list of the faithful from history past, the author of Hebrews gives us the application: We are to do as they did.
We are to live as they lived. Each of their lives are witness to the faith life to which we have been called. It is not easy, but is filled with moments of apprehension and periods of doubt. We are told to have an assurance of things hoped for and a strong conviction in things we can’t even see. We are encouraged to take God at His word and rest in the promises He has given us, even when they seem doubtful and their fulfillment is so far out in the distance as to make them seemingly out of reach.
The two verses above are beautifully composed and provide a wonderful summary of the previous chapter, but do we believe them? Better yet, do we heed the counsel they provide? The four simple questions found at the beginning of this blog are legitimate and beg for answers. I will attempt to answer them but in reverse order.
First, why should we look to Jesus, and, better yet, what does that even mean? The New English Bible translates it as “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” The New International Version says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” The English Standard Version has “looking to Jesus.”
The Greek word is aphoraō and it means “to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something” (Greek Lexicon :: G872 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible). This definition provides us with invaluable insight into what it means for us to look to Jesus. This word does not refer to a casual glance or one-time look but to an ongoing focus bordering on fixation. We are to look to Jesus and not take our eyes off of Him and, in doing so, we inevitably have to take our eyes off of other things.
But first things first. What does it mean to look to Jesus? How are we supposed to pull that off when we can’t even see Him? The Scriptures provide us with some insight. Jesus Himself told the Jewish religious leaders, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69 ESV). Stephen, just moments before he was stoned to death, received a vision of Jesus.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” – Acts 7:55-56 ESV
Paul provided the believers in Rome with insight into the location or whereabouts of Jesus. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). On another occasion, Paul told the Ephesian believers that the Father of glory “raised him [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:16-21 ESV).
So where is Jesus? He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. So when the author of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus, to fix our eyes on Jesus, he is not simply telling us to rely on Him. He is encouraging us to remember where He is and what He is doing at this moment. Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV).
Jesus is in heaven, and it is from there that He intercedes for us. It is from there that He will one day return for us. And it is to there that He will take us.
Just prior to His death, Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). Heaven is our destination. Eternal life with God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son is the objective. We must never forget where Jesus is because that is where we are going. That is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God. Our salvation culminates with our glorification.
When will our glorification take place? We don’t know. Which is why we need endurance. Jesus didn’t tell us when He would return. He didn’t tell us how long we would have to wait. But that is where faith comes in. It is the assurance of things hoped for. But do we hope for His return? Do we long for His coming? Do we prefer heaven over earth and our future life to our current one?
Like Abraham, are we “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV)? We must remain fixated on where Jesus is because that is where we belong and where we are going. And we are to run in that direction. That must be the primary aim and objective of our lives. To do so effectively, we must lay aside every weight and sin which clings so close. The things of this earth can only inhibit our progress toward heaven, not enhance it. Earthly things can become distractions and weigh us down from the pursuit of our heavenly calling. That is why the apostle John reminded us:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT
Jesus is to be our model for life. When He lived on this earth, He had a clear focus and calling. He knew why He had come and what He was to do. He also knew where He was going. The author of Hebrews tells us this concerning Jesus:
…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2 ESV
Jesus endured. He had a future-focused faith. He ran the race with endurance, looking forward to His return to heaven and His reunion with His Heavenly Father. He knew His time on this earth was temporary. His suffering would be intense but impermanent. His humiliation would result in His resurrection. His death would end in life. His agony would result in glory.
We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. To do so, we have to take our eyes off the things of this world. We can’t live as if this is our home. We can’t afford to act as if this is our final destination. Focusing on where Jesus is will help us remember that heaven is where we belong. Our true home will be with Him and God the Father. Paul summed it up well when he wrote. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 ESV).
And there are countless millions of faithful “witnesses” who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence and whose lives bear witness to the truth of God’s word and the reality of His promises. They cheer us on from their vantage point in heaven, shouting out their words of encouragement to keep the faith and run the race with endurance. They have achieved their eternal reward and eagerly and enthusiastically challenge us to fix our eyes on Jesus and our hope fixated on the finish line of faith.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.