Looking Unto Jesus

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

Looking to Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2 ESV

In the chapter of Hebrews we have read we will focus, in a sermon by George Burder on these three words: Looking to Jesus.

This short sentence describes the principal business of the Christian life; for if we are Christians indeed, “the life which we now live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God,” and the proper exercise of faith is “looking to Jesus.”

The apostle Paul introduces these words to encourage the Hebrew believers in their Christian walk. Having, in the previous chapter, illustrated the effects of faith by many historical examples, he goes on to make a practical application of the whole. He would have them consider the example of godly people of old, who lived and died in faith, as a great cloud of witnesses, spectators of their efforts in the same race; and while engaged in pressing forwards towards the goal, to keep their eye upon Christ—looking to Jesus—looking away from from sin, and self, and the world; from everything that would hinder or dishearten them: he would have them keep their eye fixed on the suffering Savior, who is both “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Now the goal of this present sermon is to show that believers in Christ are to have a constant and uniform regard to him in the whole of their Christian walk; and that this is to their greatest and most solid advantage. To this effect we will consider that,

I. Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the principle object presented to us in the word of God.

II. A constant regard to him, as he is revealed in the Scriptures, is the first and chief business of the Christian.

III. We will then consider some of the rich advantages which the believer obtains by so doing.

I. Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the principle object presented to us in the word of God.

The whole Scripture, the Old as well as the New Testament, may be called “the word of Christ,” which is to “dwell in us richly.” Jesus Christ is the substance of the predictions, promises, and ordinances of the most ancient times. We are expressly told, that “Moses wrote of him;” that the law was “a shadow of good things to come;” and that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

The prophets, priests, and kings of old, were types or emblems of Christ, in his mediatorial offices. Their many sacrifices and offerings prefigured that one great sacrifice which he made of himself on the cross, by which he “put away sin,” and “brought in everlasting righteousness.” And the more enlightened of the Old Testament saints looked forward to the advent of Christ with faith and delight.

Abraham eagerly desired to see “his day; and he saw it! and was glad.” Moses prayed, “Please show me your glory,” and was gratified with a view of it. He had such knowledge of the expected Savior, that “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” Isaiah had “a vision of the Lord of Hosts” in the temple; and the New Testament assures us, that it was “the glory of Christ” which he saw. The Spirit of Christ, inspiring the prophets, “predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories;” and our Lord, when reasoning with two of his disciples after his resurrection, referred to their writings, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It is still more evident that Jesus Christ is the substance of the Gospel; for it is “the Gospel of Christ.” Preaching the Gospel was originally the same as “preaching Christ,” or “preaching the cross.” Jesus Christ was not the occasional subject of the ministry of early Christians (as is the practice in some denominations, two or three times a-year, at particular festivals) but “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” And one of these preachers declares his resolution to preach nothing else. “I am determined,” said he to the Corinthians, “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified;” as if he had said, “When I came to your great and cultured city, where many are fond of refined speculations, I was resolved not to change my usual method of preaching; I would appear to know, and apply myself in making known, nothing among you but Jesus, as the Messiah; even that crucified person, against whom so many scandals are propagated; for I know that though the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who perish, it is the power of God to those who are saved: I therefore preach and glory in nothing but the cross of Christ.”

As the apostles made Christ the subject of their discourses, so was he the substance of that knowledge by which the early Christians were distinguished. This is implied in Eph. 4. 20; where the apostle urges them to distinguish themselves from the unconverted Gentiles, by the holiness of their behavior, as they were so much distinguished from them by their evangelical knowledge. The heathen were sunk in sensuality and dissolution but, says he, “that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” This passage shows that Jesus Christ was both the author and the subject of their religious knowledge; the sum of their learning was “the truth as it is in Jesus:” their teacher was “Christ” himself, by his word and Spirit; and the genuine effect of such learning was that holiness of character which distinguished them from all those who were ignorant of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ is so eminently the grand object presented to us in the word, that the doctrine of justification by faith in him, is called, in Gal. 3. 1, the truth. The apostle Paul, reproving the Galatians for their instability, says, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (NKJV) False teachers, it appears, had perverted their minds as to that great doctrine, the justification of a sinner by Christ alone, and not by the works of the law; and this he calls “the truth,” because it is the leading, the fundamental truth of the Gospel; and he blames them for departing from it, because they had been properly instructed by the apostles; the Gospel had been faithfully preached to them; and what was it’?—“Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed” by the preaching of the Gospel; and that in so distinct and lively a manner, that it was like the exhibition of Christ “before their eyes.”

The Scripture proves our point; it proves that Christ crucified is the prominent object which the Gospel presents to our view. And if it is so, then it will naturally follow, in the next place, that

II. A constant regard to him, as he is revealed in the Scriptures, is the first and chief business of the Christian.

The doctrine of “the Gospel is now made known to all nations, for the obedience of faith.” This looking to Christ was described, even in the predictions of the Old Testament, by the same figurative expression as that in our text—a looking to Jesus. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,” said Jehovah by the prophet Isaiah, (Isa. 45. 22.) where Christ is plainly spoken of as “the Lord our righteousness.” And in chapter 65. 1, where the calling of the Gentiles is predicted, it is written, “I said, Here I am, here I am, to a nation that was not called by my name.” What is this but the genuine language of the Gospel, and which John, the forerunner of Christ, actually used, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

No doubt the faithful, among the Jews, looked further than to the altar, and the victim burning upon it; they, who “looked for redemption in Israel,” extended their believing views to the great propitiation of the Son of God. For this reason they were commanded, whenever they prayed, in whatever country their lot was cast, to direct their eyes towards the temple at Jerusalem; because that glorious building was the type of the infinitely more glorious Redeemer, the temple of the indwelling Deity, who is the advocate and intercessor of all his believing followers.

In a similar way, the obstinate prophet Jonah, who, having deserted from the appointed duty of going to Nineveh, was cast into the sea, and swallowed by a great fish, in the extremity of his distresses, uses these words—“Then I said, I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple” It was the Savior, of whom the temple was a type, to whom he directed the eyes of his faith: he looked, and he was delivered. And this is how all distressed sinners act. This is the only safe and certain way of obtaining relief. “I will look,” “I will look again, and again, toward your holy temple.”

With the encouragement offered by the Gospel, we may look into heaven itself; indeed, we may “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” Our Savior himself interprets the ordinance of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, to which the wounded Israelites look for healing as a type of himself; for, said he, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” In this way he declares himself to be the object presented by the Gospel, and faith in him as a looking upon that object; for he adds. “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3. 14, 16. Looking to Jesus, is the only cure for a wounded spirit.

This is one of the plainest and most encouraging illustrations of the nature and effect of faith. Faith, strictly speaking, is believing the divine testimony, believing the truth, believing the Gospel. The Gospel presents to our minds Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior. Faith believes the report of the Gospel concerning him: and as a consequence, turns away from every other object of trust and confidence and looks to Jesus, hoping for mercy, pardon, grace, and everlasting life, from him.

That looking to Jesus is the first, the chief business of a Christian, is evident from the scriptural representations of the Christian life. When the Jews asked Christ, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God,” or perform the most acceptable service to him, he replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The apostle John, speaking of that obedience which is pleasing in his sight, in 1 John 3. 22, 23, says, “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” Here he makes faith and love the sum of the Christian’s duty. The same idea is strongly supported by that expression of the apostle Paul, in his earnest prayers for the Ephesians, (ch. 3, 17.) “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” This denotes the most close and intimate friendship, union, and influence; and this is to be enjoyed in the exercise of faith.

Several of the descriptive names and characters which Christ, for our instruction and comfort, has assumed, confirm this proposition. For instance, he is the “sun of righteousness”—the “light of the world” —the “light of life;” all persons, then, except those who are sadly spiritually blind, prize and rejoice in his light. He is the “foundation” which God has laid in Zion; no man, taught of God, will presume to lay another; this is the tried stone, the sure corner-stone; and to those who believe it is precious; on this the believer rests, with confidence all the weight of his eternal concerns.

The same constant regard to him is implied in those places where he is represented as our food. He is the “bread of life;” the bread that came down from heaven; the bread that secures the everlasting life of him that partakes of it. On this sacred food the believer daily feeds; it is pleasant as the sweetest bread; and he is nourished by it for eternal life. This plain, instructive emblem the Savior has wisely chosen, and adopted it in the sacrament of his supper; the observance of this ordinance is one of the distinguishing badges of our belonging to him; and, while the world continues, will remain a demonstration of that truth for which we plead—that a constant regard to Jesus Christ is the principal duty of the Christian life. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

This might be further proved by observing that such was the regard which the early believers had to a crucified Redeemer, that one of them says of themselves, in 2 Cor. 4. 10, that they are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” They carried it about in their memories, in their meditations, in their conversations, and in their conformity to it under their persecutions, We also should constantly recollect the death of Jesus; his wonderful love in dying for us; the wonderful blessings we derive from his death; and, among others, a death to sin and the world by virtue of it. And this may lead us, in the last place,

III. To point out some of the rich advantages which believers obtain by looking to Jesus.

The first of these is peace—peace with God, and peace in the conscience.

True peace comes from God the Father, through the blood of Jesus; and can only be enjoyed by looking to him. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those mistaken persons, who, being alarmed on account of their sins, have recourse to their own religious duties, their prayers, their fastings, their charity, and amendment of life; and hope by these to avert the wrath of God and procure his favor, must be told, that this is not “the way of peace.”

It is true, that duties and reformation are necessary, but not as the means or cause of peace with God; peace with him is first to be sought as purchased by Christ, as proclaimed by the Gospel, and as the free gift of heaven to all who truly believe it; the duties of religion will follow after, as the effect follows the cause. Nothing but the blood of Christ can “purge the conscience” from guilt, and this can effectually do it; for such is its divine efficacy, that it “cleanses from all sin;” and the person who is enabled to put his trust in it may say, with the holy boldness of the apostle Paul, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died.”

Humiliation is another advantage derived from looking to Jesus.

The heart of man is naturally proud; and will never be effectually humbled, except by a believing contemplation of the greatest example of humility that ever appeared in the world. A representation of the stupendous majesty of the Almighty God humbled the heart of Job, and led him to say, “Behold, I am insignificant.” A view of the starry heavens induced the Psalmist to cry, “Lord, what is man!” But a sight, by faith, of the Son of God, laying aside his glory, stooping to earth, wearing a human body, submitting to poverty, to disgrace, and to death for us, will be the most sovereign remedy against sinful pride. That humiliation, especially, which suits us as rebellious creatures, will be best promoted by looking at a suffering Savior, bending under the load of our guilt in the garden and on the cross.

Who can make light of sin, who considers the awful severity of God in punishing it in the person of his innocent Son in our place? Who can be proud when he sees the Lord of all not having even a place where to lay his head; enduring poverty and shame, and pouring contempt on all the enjoyments of the world, voluntarily resigned for our sakes?

This also provides us with the best lesson of patience;

and for this purpose, particularly, we are exhorted in the text to look to Jesus; for, it is added, “he endured the cross, despising the shame.” Never did the world behold such an example of patience as the Lamb of God, who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten,” but on the contrary, prayed for his murderers. If we would be Christians indeed, we must “arm ourselves with the same way of thinking;” and, according to his direction, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

Again, Love is the fulfilling of the Law, and the most powerful principle of Gospel holiness.

But how shall this be obtained? We answer, By looking to Jesus. “We love because he first loved us.” “He loved us, and gave himself up for us.” “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends;” but the love of Christ was far greater, for, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Now when this love of God our Savior is “poured out in the heart,” when we have reason to conclude that “Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us,” it cannot but kindle a flame of grateful affection towards him. So greatly important in true religion is the exercise of love to Christ, that the apostle Paul pronounces the man to be “accursed,” who is destitute of it. (1 Cor 16. 22.) For the same reason, our Lord three times repeated to his servant Peter the touching question — “Do you love me?” Happy the man who can answer as he did: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” This was the generous principle that motivated the first disciples in their extensive labors, and supported them under their heavy trials—“the love of Christ controlled them.” As far as our Christianity is genuine, it will resemble theirs; and induce us to yield ourselves to the Lord; and to act as no longer our own, but his; bought with a price, and under the strongest obligations, “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

The love of our brother is closely connected with the love of God; the former can never exist without the latter, and always accompanies it. Our gracious Lord gave this injunction to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” His love, when experienced by his followers, would be imitated in their affection for each other; and for this purpose he condescended to wash their feet on the evening before his passion. In like manner, we are exhorted to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us.” Looking to Jesus, the friend of sinners, who came to seek and to save the lost, who went about doing good, and who laid down his life for his enemies, is the most effectual means in the world of curing the selfishness of our hearts, of softening the harshness of our tempers, and of exciting compassion and benevolence in our souls, towards all our fellow-men.

Looking to Jesus is the best way of destroying our inordinate attachment to this present world.

Christ was dead to it, and separate from it; and he says of his followers, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” The vanities of earth never attracted the heart of Jesus, nor will they make much impression on us, while we are enabled to keep our eyes on him. The apostle Paul declares, that “by the cross of Christ, he was crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him.” The more glory we discern in our Lord, the less will we see in the world: It is by looking to him, that it becomes, in our esteem, a dead and worthless thing, unfit for our portion, and insufficient for our happiness. A glance of his glory, and a sense of interest in his favor, will make us indifferent alike to its smiles and its frowns; and all the glittering objects that men pursue with such extreme avidity will appear as unworthy of our affections as the painted toys of little children.

There is one more advantage to be expected from looking to Jesus; an advantage so great, that we may challenge the universe to equal it, and that is, the ability to meet death with calmness and joy.

Here is a triumph peculiar to the Gospel; a triumph far superior to those of kings and conquerors; a triumph over the king of terrors; for “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” —Dreadful and burdensome beyond description is the terror felt by many, in the anticipation of the fatal hour: and where will we find a sufficient antidote to the fear of death, but in looking to Jesus? It formed a part of his gracious plan in taking flesh and blood, that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Looking to Jesus, who has borne the whole of the punishment due to our sins, we are no longer to consider it as penal; this is the sting of death, which he has extracted; he has rendered this fearful serpent harmless; he has “abolished death;” it is become no longer loss, but gain; no longer an enemy, but a friend; and in this way, thousands of believers, in every age of the Church, have met death with a calm smile, and looking to Jesus, have longed to depart to be with him.

And so we have surveyed what we conceive to be the principal business of the Christian life—a constant regard to Jesus, as the chief object presented to us in the holy word. Such we are persuaded is the religion of the New Testament, the religion of Christ.

It cannot be improper then for each one to ask himself — “Is this my religion?” In my religion is Jesus “the alpha and omega, the first and the last?” Is he my teacher, my sacrifice, my Lord? Do I esteem him very highly for his own sake, for his love’s sake, for his work’s sake? Is he the rock on which I build; the refuge to which I fly; the food on which I live; the fountain in which I wash? And do I, by looking to him, obtain peace within? Does a view of him humble my soul; make me patient; excite my love; open my heart; crucify the world to me; conquer the fear of death!—These are vitally important questions! They relate to nothing less than my eternal safety and welfare. Happy the man who can say, “Thus do I look to Jesus—and these are the blessed effects.”

But a little knowledge of that loose and vague profession of religion which prevails among very many, leads us to fear, that “looking to Jesus” forms little or no part of their Christianity; and what is Christianity without Christ? A false candor, or, rather, an infidel indifference, leads many persons to say, that neither any particular sentiments nor observances in religion are of any consequence as to future salvation; and that every person is equally right and acceptable to God, who is sincere, who leads a good life, and is useful in society.

In answer to this it must be said, that the Scripture teaches a very different system; and the Scripture must be our rule, unless we are disposed to renounce Christianity. This is not to devalue morality and virtue (would that we had more of them!) but, to make true religion consist in these, is to subvert altogether the foundation which God has laid.

To be a Christian indeed, we must learn and feel our need of Christ as a Savior, for “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” we must be made aware of the entire depravity of our fallen nature, and be humbled for it; we must see the necessity of a perfect righteousness, equal to the demands of God's righteous law, and be glad to say, “Only in the Lord (Jesus)... are righteousness and strength.” Keenly aware of our total inability to save ourselves in whole, or in part, we must renounce every pretension to merit; looking to Jesus for wisdom, for righteousness, for holiness, for happiness, and for eternal life; in a word, in the religion of the Gospel “Christ is all in all!”

Sadly! Tragically! how many live, as the apostle Paul expresses it, “without Christ”—he is not in all their thoughts. Can they be Christians, who never think of him? or they who blaspheme his name? or they who refuse to hear his voice, to read his word, to call upon his name? Can they be Christians, who cherish and practise those very sins, from which he came to deliver his people? Can they be Christians, who know nothing of that chief business of Christianity—looking to Jesus? It is most evident, it is most certain they are not, they cannot be, Christians.

May divine grace convince them how dangerously they are mistaken, and enable them this moment to turn their eyes towards him, who, as yet, waits to be gracious, and rejects none who go to him for help. Should this be neglected, how will they bear to behold him, when he appears in the glorious dignity of the universal Judge, amidst the awful grandeur of a blazing world. Then “every eye shall see him.” ‘Then they who pierced him, and they who despised and rejected him, will vainly wish that rocks and mountains might crush them to atoms, and avert the dreadful interview.

Is any one yet outside? Consider well that if you want, on that great day, to behold the glorious Judge with serenity, you must now behold the gracious Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. “Turn to him and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” Look and live.

And fellow Christians, you have ever need to pray, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.” Looking to Jesus will preserve your inward peace, and regulate your outward walk. And so persevering to the end, death will not separate you from his love; but you will see him for yourselves, and dwell in his presence for evermore.