Looking to Jesus
An address given at the Plumstead Conference, 2014
“But we see Jesus, who was made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; so that by the grace of God he should taste death for every thing. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make perfect the leader of their salvation through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:9-10)
It is on my heart to speak a little about the Lord Jesus; not to give an introductory lecture on this epistle to the Hebrews which might forestall many things that might be said in the readings, but to concentrate on that Person who in Hebrews, as in no other New Testament epistle, is presented to us in a very special way. There is no other epistle in which we find the thought of our seeing the Lord Jesus so frequently. It occurs four times in this epistle. Not only is the Lord presented as the sole Person worthy of our adoration, but we are called upon to look at Him. Here in the first of these four occasions it is not an appeal, but the statement of fact, “we see Jesus”. To understand this better we must enter into the character of this epistle to the Hebrews.
These Hebrews were believing Jews of the nation of Israel. The whole assembly at the beginning of Christianity consisted solely of Jews, starting at Jerusalem, widening out to Judea, then Samaria, and only when it spread to Antioch in Acts 11, Gentiles were added to the assembly (if we exclude individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch). In the beginning they were all Jews, and they had many persecutions to endure, which they could not understand. Before believing in Messiah, the Lord Jesus, they were of the people of God, Israel, though in a very weak condition, but by believing their persecutions only increased. Before they were only under the suppression of the Romans, but now they were persecuted also by their fellow countrymen. Some of these believers started to waver, to doubt, and some even thought of turning back to Judaism. This is the background of the epistle.
One thing that I would like to emphasise is that the Jews were the only people in this world who knew God before the Lord Jesus came. There were no other people in the world before the Lord Jesus told His disciples to spread the gospel all over the world, who knew God, who had a relationship with God as Israel had by the law. In Psalm 147 it is said, “He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt thus with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them.” This gives the epistle a very special character, because the situation these believing Jews, now Christians, were in, will never occur for any other Christian in this world, because no other can say that they go back to what God has given before the Lord Jesus came. And to go back was wrong, as the epistle shows in the beginning. God had in manifold ways spoken to the fathers, the Israelites, through the prophets, and now at the end of the days He had spoken to them in the Son. He had spoken to them before, and so the situation in which these believing Jews were cannot be compared to any other situation of any other believers in this world, and yet does this mean that the epistle has no voice for us? It certainly has. Because if these believing Jews were in danger of returning to their own religion, for us today the danger is that we return into the world, which is worse. That is why the writer of this epistle, whose name is not mentioned, because he wants to present the Lord Jesus and nobody else, not only shows them the character, the greatness and the glories of the Lord Jesus – chapters 1 and 2 His Person as Son of God and Son of Man, chapters 3 to 7 His priestly character, chapters 8 and 9 His ministry as Priest and Sacrifice, and from the middle of chapter 10 the practical consequences of this – but the main theme is the Person of the Lord Jesus. There is no other epistle (except perhaps Colossians) which tells us so intensely to meditate on the Person of Lord Jesus.
How can we look at Him? We cannot see Him with our natural eyes. The last who saw Him thus were the eleven disciples at His ascension. We do however have a verse in Ephesians that explains this seeming difficulty, “being enlightened in the eyes of your heart, so that ye should know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (1:18). We have not only our natural eyes; the Holy Spirit says our hearts have eyes, too. Imagination is our inward eye which can see so many kinds of things, but it does not speak of imagination here, it says “we see Jesus”. Do we see Him? That is the question. The epistle presents the Lord Jesus in His glories as the eternal Son of God who became Man, and His glories as Son of Man, born into this world, although eternally God, and now it says “We see Jesus”.
What do we see? There are so many things we can see today – too many things I would say. We must admit this and bow before God because of that, and humble ourselves, because we see too many things to the detriment of the eyes of our hearts. Consequently we do not find the time to see Jesus. This is a very real problem today. We think we have to see all kinds of things, but really we do not have to. Our judgment is marred and deteriorating, we cannot distinguish between good and evil any more, because these images criss-cross our minds, and we are drawn away from the Lord Jesus. The Hebrews did not have these problems, but we do. It would be a lie to say that we do not like these images, and not only the young ones. Children, what a danger it is to be all the time occupied with these big and little screens. Young people, it is the same for you and the older ones.
It is not an exhortation here, it is a statement, “we see Jesus”. Do we see Him? Do we find the time and the energy to put all these things aside and to be occupied with the Lord Jesus, the One who in the eyes of the Hebrews had lost His place because of persecution and other outward dangers? It may not be persecution for us today, but these outward influences, these images, are the ruses of Satan, by which he tries to draw us away from the Lord. Therefore how important this word is for us, “we see Jesus”. Every one of us must ask himself or herself the question, ‘Do I really see Him? Do I find the time to see the Lord Jesus, my Saviour?’
What is said about Him here? He “was made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death”. That is our Saviour, the Son of God who came down from heaven into this evil world. The world was not less evil than it is today, when He came. Why? For love of us. That was the reason. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal” (John 3:16). That was the grace and love of God. That was the love of the Son who is one with the Father, who came down in love to accomplish all the council of love, and did not only come down to this world but to the cross. There we see the clashing of two systems as it were, on the one hand the most extreme forms of sin by man who judged the Lord Jesus, the innocent One, as an evil-doer, and on the other hand the love of God who so loved this evil world, and men whom He had created, that He gave His Son for them. That is the cross of Calvary; and happy are we when we can say we believe in Him. But it is one thing to believe in Him and be saved; it is another thing to live with Him after our conversion. This is the problem here. The Jews were in danger of getting at a distance from the Lord Jesus, and are we at less danger? I think not.
He was made inferior to the angels for the sufferings of death. Angels in creation are in a higher place than men are in; they are heavenly beings, immortal, not bodily but spiritual beings (although they can take human bodies), and so they are higher. But when the Lord came down into this world, He came to die. As Man in this world He was still higher than the angels, for all through His life angels served Him, but when He died He was made lower than the angels – who do not die.
It was an infinite thing as we see in Philippians 2:5 for Him to go down as He did from the highest place. “For let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God; but emptied himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross.”
Imagine what it was for the Lord Jesus, being God, to empty Himself of the form of God. He did not empty Himself of Godhead, but of the form of God, for He never ceased to be God. He emptied Himself of this outward form of God, and took a bondsman’s form. The Lord Jesus came down from the highest existing place, God, above all things, into His own creation and took the place of one of His creatures, but not becoming a creature. He did not become the emperor of Rome, but He took the lowest place as man, born and placed in a manger in Bethlehem. Then as man, and not as the emperor of Rome who could command and everything would be done at His command, He became obedient unto death. This is more explicit than what we find in Hebrews 2, that He was “made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death”. In Philippians it is not His atoning death that is put before us, but the pathway from the highest height to the lowest depth. It is the obedience of the Lord, but here it is His love for us, His pathway that led Him to the cross as we see in verse 10, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make perfect the leader of their salvation through sufferings.”
Do we see Jesus as the One who went down into these sufferings for our sins, for my sins? Do I see Him crowned with glory and honour as a result of this work? Or do I see Him as the One who died for my sins and think nothing else about Him? That is one of the points in Hebrews, that all of the glories of the Lord are presented to show us that there is no other Person in this world worthy of our faith and adoration, and that our eyes should be turned away from all the other influences by which we are surrounded, so that we can say “We see Jesus”. And that not only on a Lord’s Day morning. Even then we are often in difficulties to be so occupied for one hour. Do we really see the Lord Jesus?
The writer presents Jesus to the Hebrews as crowned with glory and honour. Hebrews is also the epistle that speaks of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God. There is no other epistle which makes so many mentions of this glorious place. What does this mean? In Psalm 110 David says, “Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put thine enemies as footstool of thy feet.” Then already it was said of the Lord Jesus that as Man, not as God, He would be at the right hand of God. How can the One God sit at the right hand of the One God? That is impossible. As Man who was placed lower than the angels, He has now by the glory of God as a recompense for this wonderful work, been lifted up high above every other place and as man crowned with glory and honour and placed at the right hand of the almighty God. There our Lord who suffered for us has been given the place of greatest glory and the greatest honour. God Himself said, “Sit at my right hand”. He honoured His Son by this offer. Let us never forget that. That is where our Saviour is, the place of the greatest honour, glory and power. May we give Him this glory and honour in our worship.
He is in the place of greatest power in this world. Do we see Him there? How often do we feel feeble and weak and unable to cope with all the surrounding difficulties? Look up to the Lord. He is in the place of might and power. We do not have to be fearful or anxious. If we look to Him everything will be all right. How often are we only occupied with ourselves, only filled with pity with ourselves? That is not a Christian attitude. Is jealousy a Christian attitude? No. Self-pity? No. We see Jesus! That is the source of all power and joy and strength, even if things do not run the way we should like them to. There is nobody who can say ‘I have had everything in my life as I have wanted it so far’; and even if he could, tomorrow it might all change. The Lord does not say that He will always give us everything we desire; by no means. But one thing we do know is that we see Jesus at the right hand of God crowned with glory and honour.
“So that by the grace of God he should taste death for every thing”, is a consequence in thought only, not a logical consequence. It is an additional thought that tells us that this was the mind of God, that He should die for all sin and for sinners, that He should taste death for everything and for everyone. We cannot sound the depth of His sufferings on account of sin. We will be unable to do so even in eternity. But He desires that we should be occupied with these things. We see Jesus. We see Him not only on the cross, that is not the thought here, we see Him at the right hand of God, we see Him as the One who did all these things, the things that God will never forget because He will display Him eternally as the Lamb slain for us. We see Him as the living, raised Lamb in the midst of the throne of God, but it is the Lamb as it had been slain. This is an eternal remembrance of what the Lord did for us. We see Him on the throne as the One who was on the cross. That is God’s grace for us, that He should taste death for everything.
I do not know everybody here, maybe there is someone who cannot say ‘The Lord Jesus died for me.’ It is very simple. If you think you do not need a Saviour then it is very bad for you, because you will have to do with God as a sinner. When you will appear before God as a sinner you will be speechless. You could have known Him in the Bible, but you did not like the Bible, did not read it; you are wilfully ignorant and must be judged. There are different kinds of ignorance. A little baby has an innocent ignorance, but a grown person who says, ‘I do not want to have anything to do with the Bible or with Jesus’, is in a state of wilful ignorance. For such a state there is no pardon. Do not forget that. God is a God of grace, but He is also a holy God. You cannot mock God, and that is what people do who refuse to read the Bible but who want to speak to God. You cannot mock God.
When the Lord Jesus is presented to us by God’s grace as suffering for all things or for all people, you are called to accept and believe in the gospel. But all the others present I hope can say, ‘I will have a new look on the Lord Jesus. I will look at Him more often with prayer and with reading God’s word.’
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, who is faithful to him that has constituted him, as Moses also in all his house.” (Hebrews 3:1-2)
This is another passage which speaks of seeing the Lord Jesus. In the first passage we had the Lord Jesus presented to us as our Saviour, now at the place of highest honour and power, the object of our spiritual gaze with the eyes of our hearts. But here it is said that the Lord Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. For the Jews this had a clear connotation, for they knew him who was their apostle in the Old Testament, the one sent by God to redeem and deliver them from Egypt. It was Moses, who was faithful in the House of God, the Tabernacle. Jesus is also the High Priest, and as High Priest He had already been mentioned in chapter 2:17, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people”. The type of this was Aaron. Moses and Aaron were the apostle and high priest of the Jewish profession. They were very much venerated, Moses the great prophet and Aaron the high priest. Now the Word of God says the Old Testament covenant was set aside and the Lord has shed the blood of the new covenant. Now we have all in one Person.
People like to look at persons. Consider the political or sporting world; everybody likes to admire, to adore and even to worship famous people. That is the human fleshly mind, to always look at persons it can adore. But the Word of God says we do not have any persons and we do not need any persons of this kind on earth. Even in Christianity, look at all the believers who think that the Pope is their mediator between them and God. But there is only one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. That is why the writer says, “Consider”, look at him, scrutinise Him, consider this Lord Jesus who is at the same time both our Apostle, the One who has been sent by God to deliver us, and our High Priest, our Mediator. We need a Mediator, for we cannot speak to God on our own, but a merely human mediator as some think, will not do. We have a Mediator who is presented to us here, as 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “God is one, and the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus”. So if we want to look at a person, there is only one Person, no brother or sister in this world. There is only one, the Lord Jesus; consider Him. Seeing Him is good, but considering Him is better. If you were asked to explain the Lord Jesus, to tell someone what you knew of Him, what would you say? The first thing to say is that He loves us, and in our feeble way we love Him too. That is the most important thing to say. But in our lives we can and in eternity we will see depths and different characters of the Lord Jesus which God gave to Him and which He has in Himself. Should we not be interested in knowing these things, these different sides of the Lord Jesus? Consider Him.
It says further in verse 2 that He is “faithful to him that has constituted him, as Moses also in all his house.” The house in which Moses was faithful was not his own house or family, but was the House of God as we can see from Numbers 12, in which chapter Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses, being jealous of him because of his Cushite wife. God came down and spoke to Aaron and Miriam and said, “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I Jehovah will make myself known to him in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream. Not so my servant Moses: he is faithful in all my house. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him openly, and not in riddles”. This is the explanation of Moses’ being faithful in all His House. He was faithful in the Tabernacle. God had revealed to Moses all the structure of the Tabernacle. Moses had passed this on to Aholiab and Bezaleel and they had constructed it. Moses was the one who, guided by the Holy Spirit, regulated all the details of the Tabernacle, and he did not forget a single one of them. This is a very important and searching principle. Consider the end of Exodus where God says to Moses ‘Look that you do everything exactly as I have commanded.’ There is no liberty for any fantasy in the things of God, the assembly of God in the New Testament, or God’s House in the Old. We are to do all things according to the Word of God, not deviating to the right or the left. Moses was faithful in all God’s House.
Now of the Lord Jesus it is said in verse 4, “For every house is built by some one; but he who has built all things is God; and Moses indeed was faithful in all his house, as a ministering servant, for a testimony of the things to be spoken after; but Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we, if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end.” Moses was only a servant in the House of God, Christ is Son over His House. Nevertheless Moses was faithful. This is very important. Could we be called “faithful” in the House of God today? The measure is the Word of God. Do we cling to the Word of God today? If we do we are faithful, if we do not we are not. It is that simple. Moses was faithful. Aaron and Miriam in this incident were not faithful because they accused the servant of God, and God took sides with His servant. The Lord Jesus is not a servant in the House of God, He is the Son over the House, and called faithful. He is faithful with a view to God and with regard to the assembly, He is the only faithful witness according to Revelation 3:14. He is the One whom we should look at if we would learn to be faithful in the assembly, “whose house we are”. We are the House of God, the assembly. We look to the Lord Jesus to learn how to behave in the House of God, the assembly; there is no other measure which we can follow, only the Lord Jesus.
“Let us also therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, laying aside every weight, and sin which so easily entangles us, run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking steadfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith: who, in view of the joy lying before him, endured the cross, having despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself, that ye be not weary, fainting in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
These are the last two occasions where the Lord Jesus is presented as the Object of our seeing Him. Firstly, “looking steadfastly” (v. 2), this is, according to the note in the J.N.D. Translation, “Looking to somebody and at the same time turning your sight away from every other thing.” This reminds us of what we said at the start. We are to take our eyes away from everything else which can only turn our eyes and our minds away from Christ, and look steadfastly to Him. This is a very graphic expression. Look away from everything else, look only to the Lord Jesus.
Then the last of these four different expressions in the Greek is “consider well” in verse 3. “Considering well” is an even stronger expression that the “consider” in chapter 3. The Holy Spirit takes great pains to encourage us and to call us to look, to direct our eyes towards the Lord. The first two times are in the initial doctrinal part of the epistle, where we see the Lord Jesus in His Person, now we are in the final, practical part of the epistle. In chapter 11 the writer had presented before the spiritual eyes of the Hebrews all the heroes of faith in the Old Testament, the very well-known chapter that contains the words “By faith . . . by faith . . . by faith” so many times. In the beginning of chapter 12 he speaks of these as “a cloud of witnesses”. The witnesses are compared to a cloud which surrounds us, which we can look at, but he does not say, ‘Look there’, but rather, “having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, . . . run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking steadfastly on Jesus”.
The next part of this sentence deals with the hindrances which can hinder us to run the race with steadfastness. We have spoken already of two hindrances, which we are reminded of here. The one is the weight and the other is the sin. Very often the first thing we say is, ‘I take this burden. I know it is heavy, but I love it and so I put it on my shoulder and walk on with it. It is heavy but I love it so much I cannot lose it.’ But this weight will sooner or later become sin, because although it does not say so here, there is not a weight in this world which will not become sin. These are not loads which the Lord places on our hearts and souls by suffering. This is not what is meant. These are loads which we can throw away; which we must throw away. These are loads which we put on our shoulders ourselves. They may be hobbies, which give us pleasure, but in the pathway of faith they are loads, burdens, weights, which will hinder us in following the Lord Jesus.
Sin is even more dangerous, it entangles. Imagine a runner with a load on his back, and with something which entangles his legs, wanting to run a race! We would laugh at him and say, ‘How stupid for a man with a load on his back and with things entangling his legs to run a race!’ But as believers we think we can do that, forgetting that we are in, not a race, but the race.
How many burdens we think we can carry along with us without losing faith in the Lord Jesus! If we do so, we will not run the race, we will stumble. We will get tired and the rest of the runners will pass us. We can only run the race looking at the goal, the Lord Jesus. That is why we need to get rid of these large or small burdens that we think we take along. We have to deliver ourselves by confession from the sin that entangles us and makes us fall. There is no more racing when we have fallen. We will then need to be restored. How many Christians today are in such a situation where they have broken down under the loads which they deliberately took on their backs thinking they could go along with them, and how many Christians have broken down by the sin that entangles them which they saw and thought they could go along with. Suddenly they lie there — and what then? The Lord is there and He says, “I will help you.” It is not a theory but a fact that the Lord never rebukes or reproaches us (Jas 1:5), but He always gives us His hand to help us up if only we are willing to confess our failure.
Now in order to be kept from such a fall it is said, “Look steadfastly on Jesus.” That is the only way to be kept from falling into these snares of sin that so easily entangle and hinder us, to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking steadfastly on Jesus, the leader and completer of faith”. He is not only the aim as we see in Philippians 3, but He is also our Example. He has run the race from the cradle to the cross, in steadfastness and faith in His Father. He is our Example. He is now in the glory, the One who can give us power and strength if we need it, He has gone through all the things we go through, except sin. All our weaknesses He knows, so we can go to Him and ask Him to help us to run the race.
Why do I say the race? For one reason. Because the Word of God says so. It does not say “Let us run a race”, it does not say “Let us run our races”, there is only one race. There are many evangelists who say ‘Come to the Lord Jesus, confess your sins, and He will forgive you, and then look for a church of your liking and follow the Lord.’ That is not running the race. There is only one race. There are not many race tracks for Christians, there are not many aims. How many streets will there be in the New Jerusalem in heaven, where everybody can walk? There is only one street. And here the race on earth is only one race, there is only one track for us to run on. How many problems are caused by the fact that we do not run on the only God-given track, that we want to run on other tracks. In God’s eyes there is only one way and that way is Christ. This way is shown us in the Bible, this one way on which the race is run.
Then the expression in verse 3, “For consider well”, is the strongest expression of all. We consider “him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself, that ye be not weary, fainting in your minds”. Towards the end of the epistle, for the fourth time, the writer speaks with great compassion. ‘If you are feeling weak, do not continue in weakness, look on the Lord Jesus.’ Consider well the Lord Jesus. Sometimes we have difficulties, not only contradiction from sinners, perhaps even contradiction from believers, or at work or in our family, or other things that contradict, difficulties that we think we cannot cope with. But there is One who went through all these things, and that is a wonderful aspect of our High Priest. The Lord Jesus is High Priest not in His character of God, although He is God, but He is our High Priest in His character of glorified Man. What does that mean? It means that the Lord Jesus in heaven, who is now our High Priest, is the same Man who went through this world. It is said in Hebrews 4:14-15, “Having therefore a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast the confession. For we have not a high priest not able to sympathise with our infirmities, but tempted in all things in like manner, sin apart”. Here we find that the Lord Jesus went through this world of sin with all its contradiction and suffering which this entailed for Him, trusting in His God. Now as the High Priest in heaven He sympathises with us when we feel weak. Is not this a wonderful thing? Therefore He says “Consider well”. How little we think of the fact that the Lord Jesus knows all kinds of temptations – sin apart, sin from the inside. From the outside He felt it more than any one of us feels it, but He endured it all and He has compassion with us who go through these difficulties now.
So we may well consider Him in these four passages from the Hebrew epistle which presents the Lord from beginning to end. These four verses show us what we should do regarding this glorious Lord, seeing Him, considering Him, looking away from everything and everybody else towards Him, and considering Him well. May the Lord in His grace grant us that during these days of conference the subject of our prayers and meditation tonight might be continued and fulfilled until the end. It is the Lord Jesus in all His different glories and aspects who is presented to us, but may it not only be so that we get to know more about Him, but that we see Him better and that we follow Him more closely. May He grant this in His grace.