Looking to Jesus
“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, 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).
The Hebrews writer was concerned about these Christians turning their backs on Jesus and returning to their former ways. These Christians were facing persecution because they were following Christ, and the threat of wavering because of that suffering lingered. They needed reminding that what they have with Christ is far greater than what they had before, even with the persecutions and suffering. This was a matter of perspective that they needed to keep in front of them. That perspective was wrapped up in Christ.
How can Christians persevere when things get tough? How can we endure when it seems that life goes beyond endurance? The answer lies in the point made in Hebrews 12: look to Jesus. Other translations say something akin to “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (NASB) or “keeping our eyes on Jesus” (CSB). The idea is not just that we look in the direction of Christ or glance at Him now and then. Rather, the idea is to “direct one’s attention without distraction” (BDAG). We are purposefully turning away from other things that keep us distracted and focusing on Jesus.
Runners know that turning their heads away from the goal leads to distractions, and distractions contribute to losing the race. The Hebrews writer is not talking so much about a sprint, but more of the long distance race which requires putting away the things that are distracting (sin which easily entangles) and running with endurance and patience. In this race, distractions can be most deadly, so they needed to focus on Jesus. Other passages tell us something similar. For example:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, setting our minds on things above where Christ is, and pressing on toward the prize are all ways of telling us essentially the same thing. We have a goal, a purpose, a mindset, and a way by which to get there. That way is Jesus. When we look to Jesus, then, what are we seeing? Hebrews tells us that when we see Jesus, we are seeing the One who went to the cross (despising its shame) and endured through the suffering because there was something so desirable about the outcome.
When we look to Jesus, we are looking to the divine Son of God (Hebrews 1). We are also looking to the messianic Son of Man (Hebrews 2). He was manifested in the flesh in order to die for our sins, and this was anything but easy. After quoting from Psalm 8, the writer says, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9). Notice the terminology: “we see Him…” When we focus on Jesus, we see Him who died for us, who went through the suffering and death for us. He endured the cross on our behalf; we can endure the trials of this world on His behalf. But we cannot do it alone. We need Jesus, which also means we need to stay focused on Him as the Captain of our salvation.
The whole of the book of Hebrews is about looking to Jesus. The author points time and again to our Lord, showing us that we have in Christ is better than anything else to which we might devote ourselves. The Hebrews might have gone back to the Law, but instead they were encouraged to understand the “better hope” they had in Christ, “through which we draw near to God,” and the “better covenant” for which Jesus died (Hebrews 7:19, 22). When we understand what we are looking at and why we need to maintain our focus, it becomes more likely to stay tough when life gets hard.
Going through difficult times should not be a surprise for the Christian. The Scriptures tell us time and again that this will be the case. How do we get through it? We fix our eyes on Jesus as our great example. We see something far greater, and in the end we know that our labor will not have been in vain (1 Cor 15:58).