Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
I recently taught on the book of Hebrews, and was reminded again of why I so love the opening of chapter 12. The book of Hebrews encouraged its original audience to persevere through their trials by "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” (Heb 12:2). In our suffering, grief, and pain, Jesus is indeed the one we should focus on. The last thing we need to focus on is the “why” of our suffering or the “who” of it. Jesus alone can help us overcome and conquer the worst that life and Satan can throw at us.
"Keep your eyes on Jesus." It's great advice, to be sure. But what exactly do we mean when we say it? I found myself pondering that the other day. How exactly does Jesus help us in our trials? Why focus on him? Let me suggest these reasons:
1. Jesus moved suffering into another column
Throughout the Old Testament, suffering is most always associated with sin. Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden because of their sin. In the covenant blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God made clear that Israel's rebellion would bring suffering. Job's three friends were convinced that the patriarch's suffering was because of his sin.
But beginning with Job, we start to see a shift on this point. Granted, even in Jesus' day, his followers associated suffering with sin (John 9:1-3). But with Jesus' unjust death, he proved that sometimes the worst things happen to the best people. He taught his followers that the rain falls on people scattered throughout the moral spectrum. By the time we come to Paul, he encourages the Thessalonians to see their suffering as proof of God's approval, not his disapproval (2 Thess 1:4-5).
In our suffering, we keep our eyes on Jesus to remind ourselves that our suffering is not necessarily about our sin, but something greater and more beautiful. Sometimes, God uses suffering to spread the gospel, or to inspire someone else, or to demonstrate his power, or to simply glorify himself.
2. Jesus' sacrifice paved the way for the Spirit's intercession
Only because we are in Christ, and therefore under no condemnation (Rom. 8:1), does the Spirit indwell our lives (Rom. 8:9-11). One of the benefit’s of the Spirit's indwelling, according to Paul, is that he intercedes for us in our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27).
When we suffer and endure hardship, we naturally have prayer requests for God. But we don’t always know specifically what to ask for. When a loved one languishes in ICU and the doctors offer no real hope of recovery, and we know that our loved one is in a lot of pain, do we pray for God’s healing? For God to take them home? For God to help them endure the pain and live a little longer?
Paul reminds us that the Spirit knows the mind and will of God and intercedes for us with utterances too deep for words. How comforting it is to know that, because of Jesus and the Spirit, I don’t have to get my prayers “just right” like finding correct change or straightening out a waded dollar bill for the vending machine.
When we suffer, Jesus empathizes with us (Heb 4:14) and the Spirit intercedes for us. That brings me a lot of comfort, to know that God cares as much about what I’m dealing with as he does “big stuff” like genocide and war and terrorism.
3. Jesus promised to avenge those who make us miserable
Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who cause us trouble (Matt 5:45-44). In a sense, Jesus came to destroy categories. Before Jesus, there were neighbors and enemies, and you loved one but not the other. But Jesus destroyed those categories, making everyone our neighbor. So it's wrong to wish for vengeance on those who cause us to suffer, right?
Wrong. Nowhere in Scripture to my knowledge are we taught not to wish for justice or vengeance. Rather, we are told that vengeance belongs to God (Rom 12:19-21). In this light, Paul offered to the Thessalonians the valid hope that Jesus would punish those who caused them trouble when he returned in his glory (2 Thess. 1:6-8). It is unChrist-like to seek revenge. It is unChrist-like to refuse to forgive. But it is Christ-glorifying to expect Jesus to punish the enemies of his people on the final day.
When we hurt, there is a part of us that wants something to be done about it. Jesus has sworn to do just that.
4. Jesus introduced a brand new value system to the world
While on earth, our Lord modeled for us the best way to live. Jesus was able to bear up under his suffering because he believed there is nothing greater in life than bringing glory to God and enjoying unbroken fellowship with the Father.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. ¬— John 17:3-4
Life is not about finding and protecting the most comfortable, convenient set of circumstances possible. But that's what a lot of people believe. In America, we too easily define success as the denial of nothing, the possession of everything, and the admiration of everyone. But such a way of life, such a value system, is exhausting. You have to deny yourself some things, there's always "one more thing" to obtain, and no one can please everyone, not even God!
Keeping our eyes on Jesus in our suffering reminds us that life is about glorifying God in whatever circumstances we are in (cf. Phil 4:11-13) and enjoying fellowship with the Father, something Satan and suffering can never take away unless we let them. Fixing our eyes on Jesus reminds us that death, the last enemy, isn't the end, but a passage to the presence of the throne room of the Almighty...where we will know him and praise him and love him in ways impossible in this life.
Keep your eyes on Jesus...
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