CHRIST-THE EXAMPLE IN THE RACE
"Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls." (Hebrews 12: 2, 3.)
All depends on how one looks at life. He who would live aright, must see aright. He who would live aright as a Christian, must look upon Christ. "If you wish to be disappointed, look upon others. If you wish to be downhearted, look at yourself. But if you wish to be encouraged and to experience victory, look upon Jesus Christ." He, Jesus alone, is the source of power for all who run in the arena of faith and who would reach the goal of their calling.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews shows us in chapter 12 a magnificent picture of the Crucified One. Christ endured the cross. Without this central event in the history of revelation there would be no salvation. For this purpose the message of Christ and His sacrificial death, in connexion with the triumph of His resurrection, must occupy the central place in the foreground of all true and Scriptural and effective preaching of the gospel.
In the arena of faith:
"Let us look unto Jesus!" He endured the cross:
1. As the steadfast Hero with an unflinching will to attain unto victory.
What outwardly appeared to be weakness was in fact inward power and strength. How easy it would have been for Him to have come down from the cross and freed Himself. Without any difficulty He could have prayed the Father for "twelve legions of angels," which surely would have been granted Him (Matt. 26:53). We can hardly imagine what that would have meant. When God in the days of Hezekiah saved Jerusalem which was attacked and much oppressed by the Assyrians, He sent only one angel out against this strong military might of the Assyrians, and this one angel destroyed one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers and officers in one night (II Kings 19, 35). Now Jesus declares that, had He only wished it, whole legions of angels would have come to His aid to destroy His enemies. The word "legion" is taken from Roman military use. The Roman legion, on a war footing, consisted of 6,000 soldiers. So this would mean, if we express ourselves in modern military terms, that heavenly armies to the order of brigades and divisions would have come to His aid. And only a single member of these ten thousands of heavenly warriors could have destroyed in one single night hundreds of thousands of His enemies!
If only Christ had wished it! But He did not wish it. He knew that the vicarious redemptive sacrifice could be offered only by holding firmly on His way of suffering and so bringing redemption to the world. And therefore He remained on the way of suffering. Therefore He held out until the goal was reached and until in the hour of death on Golgotha He could cry victoriously, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).
The Hebrews letter most strongly emphasizes this steadfastness and unflinching will to conquer on the part of Jesus. This amazing situation on Golgotha is described in three steps:
He, the Lord of the Universe, endured "contradiction" of earth-born creatures, indeed "great" contradiction, yes, even "so" great contradiction.
He, the King of Glory, allowed Himself to be despised and put to shame, and then, in the midst of all this shame, in true kingly dignity, He "despised the shame." And finally:
He, the Perfect and Holy One, endured all this at the hands of "sinners." Sinners treated Him thus. Sin is in reality the dishonouring of the creature. That means that creatures who had lost their own honour through sin robbed Him, the holy King of glory, of His honour. They even expelled Him from human society by executing Him as a criminal, as they regarded Him.
To bear all this without being compelled to do so; to make no use of all the power which could have helped; to allow oneself to be conquered when one is in reality vastly superior to one's enemies, and all this only in order to reach a high goal-this is indeed unflinching will to conquer, unequalled steadfastness, this is real genuine heroism of indescribable, unrivalled greatness. Of a truth, Christ, the greatest of all endurers, was the greatest hero-warrior just in this, His enduring.
In the arena of faith:
"Let us look unto Jesus!" He endured the cross:
2. As Leader and perfect Exponent of the faith.
Christ is the "Author and Perfecter of faith." Scripture does not speak here only of "our" faith in the sense that Christ is the creative basis of our personal faith through His sacrificial death, His resurrection, and the preaching of the gospel through the Holy Ghost, or in the sense that He keeps us in the faith, perfects our faith and brings His own people to the goal. The Scripture here speaks of faith in general. The same word (Gk. archegos), which is translated in Hebrews 12 by the English word "author," occurs in Hebrews 2:10, where it is translated "captain," i.e., leader of an army of faith. The Object of our faith had Himself practised faith. This, in the sense of "trusting," He did even before His incarnation, indeed, before the creation of the world, in an eternal Divine manner. For there can never have been a moment when the Son did not trust the Father. Thus He originated the principle of faith (trust) in God, "and He perfected the development and display of faith by surrendering His original glory, by stepping down to the state of manhood, by walking on earth as a dependent being and above all by surrendering Himself unto the death of the cross" (G. H. Lang). "Inasmuch as the Son must have from eternity trusted the Father, He was the first to have exercised faith, and so is its Author. On the cross He brought faith to its highest conceivable development, and so became its Perfecter."
Thus He, as pioneer of faith, goes before His own, showing them the way by Himself believing, and thus His, faith becomes the most perfect example of faith. The true Son of God and of man showed in Himself how faith may be raised to the highest degree of perfection. Jesus showed perfect faith. In this way He is at once Author, Pioneer, Forerunner, full Exponent and Perfecter of faith.
This is most wonderfully shown in His cry of victory: "It is finished! " If this cry had been uttered on the resurrection morning or after the ascension to the throne of God's glory, one would perhaps have understood it-we say this in all reverence. But Christ uttered this cry at Golgotha, at the very moment of apparent defeat, when the sun had been darkened, when bodily and spiritual sufferings were at the worst, when His enemies mocked Him and triumphed over Him, when the dark moment of death was approaching ever nearer, then He cried: "It is finished!" In the darkest hour of the history of the whole world He gave utterance to the most radiant cry of victory ever heard in earthly or supernatural history. If in fact faith is, according to the testimony of the Hebrews letter, the "substance" (realization) of things "hoped for," the "evidence" (conviction) of things "not seen" (Heb. 11:1), then the faith described here as exercised by Jesus-is of the most perfect order. Never has anyone so exercised faith as Jesus on Golgotha. Faith was brought here to a state of absolute perfection. For this very reason Christ is the One, who, enduring the cross, became not only the Pioneer and Captain of faith, but in the deepest meaning of the word the Perfecter of faith. In Him we see for the first time what true faith actually is.
At the same time the perfect humanity of the incarnate Son of God shines before our eyes (John 1:14).
It is our habit, and rightly so, to regard the deity of the Redeemer and His eternal relationship as Son of God as the central point in our spiritual thinking. Of a truth, Jesus of Nazareth, who made His pilgrim way through this world and then was crucified for our sakes on the cross, was "God manifested in flesh" (I Tim. 3:16), "God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5). But we should never forget that He was God revealed "in flesh," that is, truly as a man in life and nature. Or as one of the early church fathers expressed himself: "He remained what He was. He became what we are." "He was at once in His own world and nature as equally in our own world and nature." To try to clear up this mystery would be foolishness. The mystery of His incarnation is for ever unfathomable. Christ did not only work miracles, He was himself a miracle, He is the miracle of all miracles, the original archetypical miracle. We must recognize the truth of His humanity and the truth of His deity. In Christ we have a man on this earth who perfectly carried out the will of God. In Him it became clear what God meant when He said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Christ's life on earth is the perfect explanation of the meaning of the creation of man.
How encouraging and refreshing it is to know that this perfect Man has given us the proof that it is possible to live in faith here on earth, in our present circumstances, in such a way as perfectly to glorify God. When we look at His heavenly priesthood from this point of view, how effective and vital it becomes. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
For this reason meditation on the humanity of the Incarnate One is not a speculative problem of Christian theological philosophy, but a subject for serious contemplative thought for the believing heart, so that it may be encouraged to go on in the way of practical sanctification. Our Lord's example is given to form and educate us. The picture of Jesus given us in the Gospels should not be used exclusively for evangelistic purposes, that is, chiefly for those who are "without" in order to win their souls; it should be used just as much for ourselves to teach us practical faith in life and sanctification. This applies both for the regular devotional Scripture readings of the individual and for public ministry in the church.
The true humanity of the Redeemer and His life of faith on earth give us the reason why the author of the letter to the Hebrews does not introduce Him in our verse by His title as "Christ"; he does not say, "Let us look unto Christ," but he names Him by His name "Jesus" to emphasize His humanity and does not even add the word "Christ," or any title belonging to His deity, such as "Kyrios" (= "Lord"). He says quite simply: "Let us look unto Jesus." This is done purposely, just as in other parts of the New Testament the two names "Jesus" and "Christ" are carefully distinguished.
"Jesus" is the name which was given to the Son at His incarnation (Matt. 1:21). This name is therefore connected in a special manner with the period of His life on earth, His true humanity and His humiliation. It is the name which He has in common with other men (e.g., Jesus Sirach, Jesus Justus: Col. 4:11).
"Christ" is His title as Messiah, into the full meaning of which He entered later by His ascension and exaltation. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
Thus the reason is clear why the Gospels speak mostly of "Jesus" while the Epistles use mostly the title" Christ." For the Gospels treat mostly of the time of His humiliation, while the Epistles testify of Him as the raised and exalted One. It is only in the places in the Epistles where the past humiliation of the Incarnate One is emphasized that the name "Jesus" appears alone (II Con 4:10; Phil. 2:10; I Thess. 4:14; Heb. 2:9; 13:12). The passage which we are now considering also treats of the time of humiliation of the true Son of Man, and thus the use of the name "Jesus" here shows again how perfect and exact is the inspired Word of God.
In the arena of faith:
"Let us look unto Jesus! He endured the cross:
3. As triumphal Victor in unwavering hope.
"For the joy that was set before him" He took upon Himself the suffering. What was this joy? Not the glory of the Logos which He had as the everlasting "Word" before His incarnation; not the joy in the world, which the Tempter would have given Him if He had only taken all the glory of the kingdoms of this world out of his hand, instead of going the way of the cross (Matt. 4:8-10); not even the simple joy in mere freedom from earthly human sufferings in general which He could have had, had He only avoided the cross; but the future joy is meant which Christ beheld ever before Him: the completed redemption, the Ekklesia which one day should be won, the glorifying of the Father, His own personal position as Victor in the glory after a completed work-in fact just the joy which He would have if He held out steadfastly right on to the end.
In the statement, "He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him," the Greek word anti, just as its English equivalent "for," could indeed also mean "instead of," so as to mean that Christ had the choice between the enjoyment of heavenly or earthly blessings on the one hand and humiliation unto the death of the cross on the other hand, and that he endured the cross "instead" of this joy. But in our connexion the word must have its other meaning "in order to"-"in order to" bring in something valuable for which one must do or endure something, "in order to" gain or attain it; Christ endured the cross "in order to attain the joy which lay before Him." The word anti is used here with the same meaning as in Hebrews 12:16, where it says that Esau sold his birthright in order to attain the pottage. The decisive factor, however, that anti means here "in order to" is the context, which in the symbol of the race speaks of the athlete keeping the eye set wholly on the reward, and at the same time places the word "set before Him" (Gk. prokeimenos) in connexion with the word "joy." One must also remark that this Greek word prokeimenos for "set before" is often used with respect to public gifts intended to honour a person. These gifts were used as prizes in the Greek races and were publicly exhibited, i.e., "set before" the eyes of all onlookers. Professor A. Tholuck, the well-known German theologian, calls this word prokeimenos even the "technical term" for such rewards when these were exhibited as prizes before the races to those who took part in them.
So Jesus in His "race" looked steadfastly upon the coming joy. He did not allow Himself to be turned aside from the future to anything connected with the present. His suffering took place in the anticipation of joy. His faith as He was adorned with the crown of thorns was at the same time a sure hope of the kingly crown of heavenly glory.
And God gave His approval to this attitude of faith and hope in the Crucified One. Therefore we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour for the very reason that He suffered unto death. The words in Hebrews 2:9, "for the suffering of death" refer to "crowned" and not to "made a little lower." The text here does not mean that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels in order to be able to die, as the King James Version takes it, but that He was exalted "because" He had been willing to die, as the Revised Version rightly translates: "crowned because of the suffering of death." The text does not speak of the incarnation but of the ascension. The thought is the same as that behind Phil. 2:9," Wherefore [because of His obedience unto the death of the cross] God also has highly exalted Him." Christ's way went through humiliation to glorification, through rejection to recognition, from cross to crown. His self-humbling is the reason why He is now "in the midst of the throne," in the glory as the "Lamb as it had been slain," bearing the marks of the wounds of His love (Rev. 5:6). And for this same reason the "new song" is sung there: "Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof [the book of the consummation of God's ways of redemption with mankind and the earth], for thou wast slain and hast redeemed unto God by thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation; and madest them unto our God a kingdom and priests: and they shall reign upon the earth" (Rev 5:9-10) Jesus as the Lamb of God is by the glory of the Father, the highly exalted and triumphant Perfecter of the world.
When Paul speaks of this exaltation of the One Who was formerly humiliated, he feels that it is almost impossible to find a word which expresses the full measure of this exaltation and glorification. As is so often the case, he is confronted here with the fact that the otherwise so rich and manifold Greek language does not possess a word adequate to express that which must be expressed here. The fact is that the language of men does not possess a suitable word simply because human experience does not rise to the matter to be expressed. So Paul invents a new word and says that God did not simply "exalt" or "highly exalt" Jesus, but that He "super-exalted" Him (Gk. hyperhypsosen). All other exaltation is nothing compared to His exaltation. All mountains are but plains compared with the summit of this high mountain range to which God has "hyperexalted" Jesus. Compared to His greatness all other greatness is a sheer nothing. This is the answer of God to the unflinching faith and hope of the Crucified One.
But all these words are found in the Scriptures in order to serve a practical end. When we are exhorted to look unto Jesus, and when He is presented to our eyes in this connexion in His heroic steadfastness, His perfect faith, and His purposeful hope, all this is written in God's Word to encourage us to genuine, actual discipleship in life and practice.
Christ endured the cross:
4. As the Example that should encourage and empower His followers.
The purpose of the exhortation "Let us look unto Jesus!" is, in the context of the letter to the Hebrews: Let us, looking unto Jesus, gain courage to follow after Him in the arena of faith. The look unto the Crucified One gives us new courage in every situation. Even suffering is brought by the cross into its right perspective. In order to weigh up our own difficulties aright we must consider what Jesus suffered and think over what a contradiction of sinners He endured. That is the encouragement which arises out of looking unto Jesus. The exact meaning of the Greek word for "consider" (analogizesthai) is "to reckon, count the cost, to check a calculation, to calculate carefully." It occurs e.g., III Macc. 7:7; I Clem. 38:3. So we have to "calculate" what Jesus suffered, and just as He was unflinching we also would be unflinching. He exercised faith, therefore let us also live in faith. He hoped while suffering and looked onward to the crown; so let us also keep our eyes fixed, on the goal. Christ, the Crucified One, is not only our Saviour but also our Example. We are not intended merely to cast a glance after Him but to follow after Him. We are not only to meditate upon Him, but we must respond to Him; not only to admire Him, but to obey and in practice to respect Him. Let us not forget: The cross brings not only redemption but also obligation, it not only frees us but binds us, it not only looses us from our former sins but takes possession of us in order to make possible a new, holy life. One cannot in truth believe on the Crucified One without at the same time making His experience on the cross the principle of one's own life and behaviour. "For to this end Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living" (Rom. 14: 9). To forsake all (Luke 14:33), to take up one's cross (Matt. 16:24), to love Jesus more than the dearest on earth (Matt. 10:37), to serve Him alone (Luke 16:13), to hate oneself (Luke 14:26), to lose one's life so as to gain it for ever (John 12:25)-this is the attitude of mind which the Crucified One demands of His own. Only this attitude brings the real fellowship of the cross with Him. Only thus is it also possible to live a happy life of fellowship with Him as the Risen One (Rom. 6:1-14).
During my travels I have often visited places well known through the life of Martin Luther. In fact, I have visited most of them: Eisleben, where he was born and died; Eisenach, where he went to school and studied the classics; Erfurt, where he visited the university and then later in the monastery cell sought a merciful God with many a sigh and a tear; Wittenberg, where he was Professor and where he nailed up his Theses and burnt the Bull of his excommunication by the Pope; Wartburg, where he translated the New Testament; Worms, where he confessed his good confession before the Emperor and the Imperial Diet; Marburg, Coburg, and Halle. In most of these places one sees the so-called "Luther-Rose" on the doors and walls of these houses or in the collections of the letters and documents of the great Reformer.
This rose represents Luther's coat of arms and was designed himself. By means of this rose Luther wished to express the principles of his own faith and of his personal experience of salvation. It is the "symbol of my theology," he once said. In the centre is a black cross in the midst of a red heart, and the whole surrounded by a white rose on a blue background, surrounded by a golden ring. With this form of seal Luther wished to express symbolically in form and colour what he once wrote in a letter to Lazarus Spengler, the clerk of the city of Nuremberg. It was written on the 8th of July, 1530, during his stay in the castle of Coburg, at the time of the Augsburg Diet: "The first must be a cross, black in the heart, so that I remind myself that faith in the Crucified One saves me. For if we believe in our hearts, we are justified. Even though it is a black cross and mortifies and hurts, yet it leaves the heart in its natural colour (red). It does not destroy our natural personality. It does not kill, but it rather allows us to live. For the just lives by faith. This heart must be set in the midst of a white, gay rose, in order to show that faith produces happiness, comfort, and peace, and not as the world gives. For this reason the rose must be white and not red. For white is the colour of the spirits and all angels. This rose is set in the centre of an azure background in order to show that this joy is the beginning of a future heavenly joy. And this background is set in a golden ring in order to show that this blessedness in heaven is everlasting and will never end, and is more precious than all joy and earthly possessions, just as gold is the most precious of all metals." On another occasion Luther expressed himself on the same subject as follows:
On roses walks the Christian heart,
E'en though the cross be here its part.
Holy joy, heavenly nature, and everlasting glory is our blessed lot where faith in the Crucified One is the true possession of our heart and the centre of our life. The cross is not a symbol of destruction but of life. It is inextricably connected in Scripture with the resurrection. For Christ's death is at once the death of our death and therefore life and eternal bliss. "Let us look unto Jesus." In the cross is our salvation.
But if Jesus is to be your example, He, the Crucified One, must first have become your Saviour. Before the cross can be our sanctification we must have experienced it as our justification. Before the "new" can begin the "old" must disappear.
Some years ago an artist painted a remarkable, highly symbolical picture. It showed a spitting mouth, a flaming eye, a clenched fist, and-nothing else: No representation of Christ's person-not even any other fully represented human figure. Under this picture are the words: "Prophesy unto us, 0 Christ, who it was that struck thee?"
The meaning of this picture is plain. It says to us: All you who regard Me, fill in the parts of this picture which are lacking with yourself. You are the one who struck Christ. This spitting mouth is your mouth. This flaming eye is your eye. This clenched fist is your fist. You are the one who brought Christ into this, His deep suffering. Do not look around yourself, but look into yourself. Strike your own breast, and confess in humility and shame:
0 sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine:
Thy grief and Thy compassion
Were all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century A.D.
(translated by I. W. Alexander).
How marvellous and all-inclusive is the redemptive power of the Crucified One! Our sins were innumerable. How unfathomable our guilt! How absolutely impossible it is to make our crooked life-story straight before God by our own unaided strength.
In a very impressive manner this was made clear to the disciples by the Lord in His parable of the wicked servant. He spoke of a king one of whose slaves owed him ten thousand talents, and he forgave him the whole debt (Matt. 18:23-24). Ten thousand talents would have a value of about three million pounds sterling in gold. The buying power would be, however, much greater, needing to be multiplied many times.
We must compare these values with the monetary and wage values of those times in order to understand the great force of this parable. One talent consisted of 6,000 denarii. This means that 10,000 talents were equal to 6o million denarii. Two chapters further on, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard we, that the daily wage for a worker in the harvest amounted to one denarius, i.e., not quite a shilling (Matt. 20: 2-10,13). This means that the servant concerned, had he had to earn his money in the harvest-field as a labourer, would have had to work 60 million days solely to work off the capital amount which he owed his king and lord. Or shall we put it even more plainly: He would have had to work 164,000 years without holidays, without any Sundays or other furlough. And even then he would have worked off only the capital amount without having paid the interest, simple or compound interest, which of course would have to be reckoned up and added. Even if the rate of interest had been very small it would have cost much more than the few denarii which the debtor would have been able to earn. So that the more he worked to decrease his debt, the more his debt would have been increased from day to day. Thus it becomes clear why the Lord used this tremendous, almost alarming comparison.* *(Cf. similar figures of speech used by the Lord when He speaks of the "beam" in the eye of the hypocrite (Matt. 7: 3), of the "eye of the needle," through which a camel should pass (Matt. 19: 24), or of the "plucking out" of the right eye and of the "cutting off" of the right hand, which would be better than to sin (Matt. 5:29, 30). He purposely names such a huge figure. He wants to make it clear to us that our guilt before God is so immensely great! It is impossible to pay it off by our own efforts.; Self-redemption is absolutely insufficient and out of the question. On the other hand, God's mercy is so wonderful that it exceeds all earthly relationships and comparisons. Jesus paid the ransom price for our huge guilt of sins of omission and commission. He did it on Golgotha. What a redemption! What a Saviour!
But then we must remember what duties this brings with it, even to serve Him in love and to show the same attitude of mind which corresponds to God's nature and God's forgiving goodness.
Therefore, if you have not yet taken Him as your personal Saviour, do not hesitate any longer. Do it now. He does not want to rob you of anything. He only wishes to give you something. He does not wish to impoverish you but to enrich you. Faith does not make poor, but rich.
There is life in a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee!
Let us look unto Jesus!
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