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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Look to the Ascended Jesus
Text:Hebrews 12:2 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Christ's Kingship
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-05-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 40:3,4                                                                                           

Ps 24:4,5  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Hebrews 11:32 – 12:11

Ps 110:1,2,3,5

Sermon – Hebrews 12:2

Hy 43:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 41:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, they say that the eyes are a window to the soul. Because if you look carefully into a person’s eyes, you may get a hint about what’s happening on the inside. By the eyes, you might tell if someone is angry, or sad, or lying, or at peace. But the eyes are revealing in another way, too, for they can reveal our priorities and our securities. Beloved, what do we often look at? Where we choose to focus our attention says a lot about what’s important to us.

Perhaps you often look at the nice car in your garage. Maybe you feast your eyes on your bank balance, or all your “likes” on social media. Perhaps you admire all the work you’ve done, or you admire your body, or the bodies of others. Whatever it is, the things we love to look at speak volumes about what’s going on in our hearts—and maybe tell us what our idols are.

This is why Scripture exhorts us to “look unto Jesus.” We’re called to fill our vision with Christ, admiring his glorious person and his amazing works. Because if we’re looking to him, then our life begins to take on a new direction.

It’s like what everyone learns in driver’s training: that if you let your eyes stick on something—like if you’re driving and you see some wildlife in the field, and you watch them for a bit—pretty quickly the car is veering that way too, and you’re wandering off the road. That kind of change in direction isn’t good when you’re driving, but it is good for the journey of faith! Keep looking to Jesus, because then you’ll start to desert your idols and have less of a pull toward sin. Keep looking to Christ, and you’ll draw near to him!

And so we hear an exhortation from Hebrews 12:2 to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

Look to Jesus, seated at God’s right hand. He is:

  1. our faith’s Author and Finisher
  2. our suffering and joy-filled Saviour
  3. our victorious and almighty King

 

1) Jesus is our faith’s Author and Finisher: In the chapter just before our text, the writer has taken us on a beautiful tour of the Old Testament. He’s reminded us of the many dozens of saints who lived by humble faith in God. Noah and Abraham and Moses and all the rest of God’s people fixed their eyes on things “not seen.”

Chapter 11 was meant to encourage the first readers of this letter, and it’s meant to encourage us, who share the same faith. In 12:1 we hear this encouragement, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.”

It’s as if all those Old Testament saints are a throng of spectators who are ready to cheer us on. Maybe you’ve had the experience of performing better because you knew that someone special was watching you. You put in a big effort on the soccer field, or you played your instrument better than you ever have before, because your grandparents were in attendance, or some young man or woman was there whom you wanted to impress. In a similar way as we run “the race that is set before us” (12:1) we’re under the gaze of all those heroes of the faith, that “great cloud of witnesses.” They all lived and died in the faith, which is an encouragement to face our own journey with endurance.

For that’s our identity, according to Scripture. In this world we’re not tourists, we’re pilgrims. We’re not supposed to be sauntering along, pausing at anything cool that catches our interest, but we’ve got a definite goal. This is why we need to be rid of anything that hinders our journey, like the sin and temptation which daily burden us.

And this is also why we need to keep our eyes fixed on where we’re going. Like when you run a race, you have to keep your eyes fixed on what’s ahead. If you do a 100 meter dash, or even a half-marathon, and you spend any time at all looking behind you—instead of ahead to where you’re going—then you’re bound to struggle, to slow down, even to trip and fall.

In this life of faith, we need to keep our eyes locked on the goal: We look unto Jesus! The wonderful cloud of Old Testament saints definitely inspire us, but we’ve got an even greater encouragement and a better example in the person of Jesus Christ.

That, by the way, is one of the key themes throughout this letter to the Hebrews—in short, Jesus is better. Jesus is better than the angels, He is better than Joshua, He is better than Aaron the high priest, and the tabernacle, and all of its sacrifices. And so Jesus is also a better example than all the heroes of the faith, because Jesus never failed or wavered, but He lived in perfect trust and obedience to his Father. We look to him as the model of faithfulness.

And even more important than Jesus as our example is Jesus as Saviour. This is what is put first in Hebrews 12. We look unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (v 2). Now, when we speak about the author of something, we mean the person who wrote a book, or the source of a good idea, or the cause of an important event.

But the Greek word behind “author” is more colourful. It’s sometimes translated as “captain,” like the leader of a military division. Or it’s translated as “pioneer,” a person who goes to the forefront, blazing a trail through an uncertain land, showing the way for others to follow. In this way, Christ has gone ahead and prepared the way for us.

The same word is used in Hebrews 2:10, where it says that God “made the captain of [our] salvation perfect through suffering.” That verse pictures Jesus’ life as a long and difficult road, a road of struggle, but He pressed forward all the same. For Jesus is our brave captain, our fearless leader, guiding his people into a safe place, even the presence of God.

We’ll say more about this in the second point, but reflect for a moment on how Jesus had to walk such a challenging path. He had to be deeply humbled in coming to earth as a man, even though He was the holy Son of God. Then He suffered throughout his entire life, enduring the faults and limitations and adversities of being human. And then especially at the end, an unspeakable burden was laid on him, the horrible weight of all our sins.

Yet Jesus lived by faith, resolutely trusting God. At times we know that He agonized over his task, yet in the end He submitted to God’s will and held onto him. And so by this great work He achieved our deliverance. He was the captain who did not flinch in the face of battle. He was the pioneer who did not turn back to live in a place that was easier. Jesus went on ahead of us to bring to life our faith and our salvation.

Because Christ was so faithful, He’s a Saviour worthy of faith. And because God is so loving, He even gives the faith that we need to connect to Christ! Jesus is the object of our faith; and by his Spirit and Word, He is the giver of faith. By his power and grace we are able to “have confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1).

We look to Jesus, “the author and the finisher of our faith” (v 2). For He also completes his saving work among us. And how we need this finishing! We all know that it’s one thing to have a good idea, to make a start, to sketch out a plan—but it’s quite another thing to bring it to a successful completion. Just think about how so many of our projects and plans end up on the unfinished pile. And even if we do finish, there’s always an imperfection, always a weakness.  

But Jesus is the great finisher. Literally, He is the “perfecter” of our faith, bringing us to flawless completion. Look to your Saviour because He’ll be faithful to the end. Like it says in Philippians 1:6, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it in the day of Christ.”

For as long as we’re here, our faith is going to struggle with fresh anxieties and old doubts and many shortcomings like pride and self-reliance. Like the twelve disciples, we’ll always be a people of “little faith.” But the good news is that God doesn’t save us based on the strength of our faith. The good news is that for the sake of Christ, God perfects all who are joined to him by faith. By believing in Jesus, we are in fact considered righteous in the sight of God—perfect, holy, cleansed, truly and permanently. He brings faith to its certain goal.

This is all through Christ. Because his saving work was done so well, the ascended Christ can usher us into the glorious presence of his Father. There we stand as those made whole! Remember Hebrews 7:25, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him.”

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, the source and the goal, the pioneer and perfecter. So keep looking to him! In an amazing way, Christ is both the destination of our journey and also our daily companion. The one on whom we fix our eyes is the one with whom we’re travelling every day.

Before moving on, let’s pause to consider how we can “look unto Jesus.” Sounds good in a sermon, but how do you actually put that into practice? If Jesus is ascended into heaven, how on earth can we gaze on him?

Recall how our eyes are a window to the soul. Recall too, how Jesus creates faith in us through his Word. So if we’ll look to Christ, Christ’s Word must be open to our eyes. And like anything we look at, that’s a deliberate act. Giving attention to something always takes a choice. We don’t just “happen” to spend time with the Word. To look at Christ, we must set his Word before us. By learning his promises, and studying his commands, and knowing his stories, we’ll come to know Christ better, and He’ll shape our life and grow our faith.

 

2) Jesus is our suffering and joy-filled Saviour: Have you ever done something that you called “a labour of love?” It was probably a hard task, unenjoyable in the moment—maybe putting together an especially elaborate birthday cake, spending hours on it, but then having the pleasure of seeing the person’s happy face, and the pleasure of eating it! A labour of love.

This was the kind of work our Saviour did on earth. Because He, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross” (v 2). Jesus had a tough assignment. For anyone else, it would’ve been impossible. But He looked past it to the joy that He could have in saving his people!

What was it that gave joy to Christ? In the first place, Jesus loves to do his Father’s will. Earlier in Hebrews, the author puts Psalm 40 onto Jesus’ lips: “I have come to do your will, O God” (10:9). This was Jesus’ great delight: to obey his Father, even when it was hard. Out of a deep love for God, He persevered.

In the second place, Jesus loves his people. He knew that by his pain He would satisfy the justice of God, make lasting peace between God and sinners, and open the way of eternal salvation. This made his work not a grudging duty, but a true joy—to think of all the good that would come of his labours: salvation, life, renewal, peace, blessedness!

And so He was willing to “endure the cross” (v 2). Underline how it says endured. The cross was totally humiliating for Jesus, immensely difficult—He endured it, He did not enjoy it. Hanging on the cross, Jesus suffered so much abuse and torment from wicked people, and there He also suffered the full measure of God’s wrath.

He endured it, “despising the shame” (v 2). That reminds us how being crucified was the deepest disgrace. We tend to associate the cross today with honour and glory and fine appearance. The cross is something that we cast in gold or silver and wear about our necks, or we engrave in stone for our tombs, or we even use it to decorate our homes.

But the cross was unspeakably degrading. As a form of execution, it was so shameful that it wasn’t allowed to be used on Roman citizens, but on criminals from the lowest classes. It had all the ugliness—and more—of a person being hung on the gallows, or being beheaded, or facing a firing squad. This is how you get rid of the dregs of society. And enduring the cross meant public shame: Jesus was an innocent man, so why should He have to do this? Yet He accepted it.

And more than this, being crucified meant He was condemned by God himself. The Old Testament said that “everyone who hangs on a tree” is cursed by God (Deut 21:23). Jesus was given over to the just penalty, abandoned by the LORD himself.

But all this shame Jesus despised. If you despise something, you scorn it, you loathe it, you don’t even want to talk about it. That’s how Jesus regarded his suffering: it was barely worth mentioning—not because it was easy, but compared to the joy of peace, and forgiveness for sinners, and victory over Satan, the pain of the cross was nothing.

In the face of extreme anguish, Jesus kept his eyes on the goal. For by bearing the cross and despising its shame, Jesus brings many sons and daughters to glory. This was the goal, the end-game, the beautiful culmination of his labour of love. Jesus looked to his reward: being the eternal Saviour of his people, and being given authority over all things in heaven and earth.

Jesus is our suffering and joy-filled Saviour. Look to him, and think about his person and work. Consider how much He loves you, that He was willing to endure all the terrors of the cross. For this has always been his joy, to rescue us, to redeem us. Give attention to his great love, and know that in him you are forever secure.

And another aspect of “looking unto Jesus” is how He sets an example for us. Just read the following verse, “For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (v 3).

Christians will suffer—that’s the hard reality. But consider Jesus. His sufferings exceeded ours by far, yet He was still patient, and He trusted God, and He kept blessing others. Beloved, consider the example of Christ when you are troubled. When you have pain, when you face hostility or rejection, when there’s a burden to carry, look unto Jesus. Don’t become weary and discouraged, for your Captain is with you in the suffering. Your Pioneer has gone ahead of you and He has already opened the pathway to glory. He gave everything for you, so He won’t let you go.

 

3) Jesus is our victorious and almighty King: Jesus was faithful in doing God’s will. By his work—enduring the cross and despising the shame—He became the author and finisher of our faith. And now that He’s ascended, and He gets to enjoy the fruit of his labour. For now, says the Spirit, Jesus “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (v 2).

When Jesus ascended, He went to the place which God promised him in Psalm 110:1, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’” Whenever Scripture speaks about sitting at the right hand, it means a place of privilege and power. Because in Bible times, if you were at the right hand of a king on his throne, he’d be looking at you when he wanted something done. The person at his right hand put his decisions into effect.

When Jesus came into the heavenly places after his earthly work, God gave him this position of honour: “Sit at my right hand! My Son, you’ve done all things well, so sit down beside my throne,” the Father said to Jesus, “to rule and be the instrument of my will on earth. Rule over every president and every king. Have dominion over every enemy. Be king over all the angels, chief over every nation, and Lord of all creation. For I give you all authority in heaven and on earth.” So today Christ is seated in heaven where He is victorious and almighty.

He’s at God’s right hand, and He’s been given a clear mandate for his reign. Ephesians 1 tells us how it is: “God put all things under Christ’s feet, and He gave him to be head over all things for the church” (vv 22-23). Our Lord doesn’t have a hidden agenda, but it’s actually very simple. He has ascended to be “head over all things” for his people, for the church. He governs with both eyes constantly on us! At God’s right hand He governs anything and everything that might impact on us, the citizens of his kingdom.

That’s of course an amazing truth for us personally. Beloved, to know that even at his moment, the ascended Jesus is governing our troubles and anxieties and blessings and joys, that He is mightier than our toughest temptations, and stronger than our darkest fears. At God’s right hand, He’s directing it all.

It’s also an amazing truth for us as church, to confess and trust that Jesus is Lord in heaven. As our great Saviour, Jesus is mightier than every godless opponent, and He can outlast anyone who challenges him. Even in a time of crisis, we as church can rest in the fact that Christ is on his throne, ruling from a position of strength. Everything in creation bends to his will. None of it surprises him, and none of it leaves him without answers.

And none of it can separate us from his love. Just remember, He is the author and also the finisher of our faith. Ruling all things from heaven, Christ will complete in us the good work that He started. At the cross, Jesus gave too much to let us go, but He’ll preserve us always, even until we’re perfect.

Beloved, the things we give attention to day after day have a way of shaping us, for good or for evil. You become what you behold. So also if we keep looking to Jesus at God’s right hand, our vision for this life changes. We don’t need to obsess over what is earthly, or run after worldly pleasures. We know that Christ has a far bigger purpose for us than just acquiring more stuff, or achieving earthly success, or simply surviving the troubles of life.

This is what the Spirit says in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Right now we’re still busy with things below, but we get to have a different purpose. Now we want to submit to the rule of Christ in all daily living.

For each and every part of our earthly life, we need to zoom out from what is pressing and immediate so that we can give attention to the big picture: What am I here for, really? What should I be looking at? And what does my heavenly King want me to do? So we keep looking unto Jesus, and we fix our eyes on him!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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