This summer my church did a special series of sermons from Hebrews 11 — the “hall of faith” chapter — then ended with a message from Hebrews 12:1-2 which was the perfect introduction to the next series: a study of the book of Mark. Christ’s life, in other words.
Hebrews 12:1-2 may be a familiar passage:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
As an aside, the word translated in the New American version above as “witnesses” is μάρτυς, transliterated as martys. While it does mean “witnesses,” there’s a specific meaning that would seem to apply here:
c) in an ethical sense
1) those who after his example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death
In fact on three occasions, the word is translated in the King James Version as martyr.
The best sense of these verses in the context of Hebrews 11 and 12, then, is that we are to do what the writer is about to counsel because of the lives and testimonies of all those he has just chronicled (not because those faithful people are hovering over us from heaven, watching what we’re doing — which is what some people apparently think).
The real point of this article, though, is the counsel the writer gives: fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
One way to fix our eyes on Jesus is to do exactly what my church is doing: look intently at the life of Christ recorded in the gospels (in our case, in the one gospel our pastors have chosen).
There’s another. We can read the rest of the Bible searching for Jesus and what it reveals about Him.
In the Old Testament, we’ll find Messianic passages in the prophets, but we’ll also find types of Christ throughout — examples, if you will, that were not apparent to the people of that day but are remarkably clear as sign posts to Jesus once you’ve read His story.
In the New Testament, the writers open up the books, so to speak, and tell us the things that were hidden in past ages and generations. We get the equivalent of Jesus pulling the disciples aside and explaining the parables. In fact, Scripture tells us that in the days after His resurrection, Jesus explained the Law and the Prophets, showing His disciples where and how He fit into the picture (Luke 24:27). They, in turn, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, passed on the information to us.
Paul, who wasn’t a disciple when Jesus was on earth, gets a lot of flack for “making up Christianity” because his letters comprise a good portion of the New Testament. However, the book of Acts — the history of the early church — makes it clear that the others were in agreement with Paul. In other words, he wasn’t off teaching something radically different from Peter and James and Phillip.
In the end, of course, the Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Bible: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13a).
So what kinds of things do we find about Christ in the non-gospels sections of the New Testament? That would make a great study, I think — reading Acts through Revelation asking the question, what does this passage teach me about Christ.
I’ve already seen some great things in the book of Colossians. In chapter one, Paul has a section I think of as the “He is” section:
- He is the image of the invisible God
- He is the firstborn of all creation
- He is in the beginning
- He is before all things
- He is the head of the body, the church
Then in chapter two he has what I think of as the “in Him” section:
- In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
- In Him all the fullness of deity dwells
- In Him I have been made complete
- In Him I was “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (OK, I didn’t say all these were easy! ;-) )
Lists don’t tell the whole story, of course. The key is to search out what Paul means by each of those things. But these verses from Colossians 3 seem to encapsulate the idea of fixing our eyes on Jesus:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (vv. 1-4 – emphasis mine)