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  • Jonathan Parnell

What Does It Mean to Look to Jesus? (Hebrews 12:2)

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 12:2

It was the infamous 6:30. Six minutes and thirty seconds. In order to play baseball at my high school you had to run a mile in under six minutes and thirty seconds. Our head coach was an old-time skipper. He knew how to win and was well respected, and since he had set the 6:30 rule early in his career it had become something of an adage in our community. All winter long we would train for “the 6:30.”

But I never really liked running, especially not around a track. The hard part for me was the four (seemingly meaningless) circles. At least in baseball there is a home and once you hit a base you don’t go back. Not so on the track. It was one, then two, then—when is this going to end? I figured out that the best way to get it done was to imagine the destination. I had to envision crossing the finish line on lap four. And it was this picture—this goal—that fueled me forward. And it’s the same way in the Christian life.

The writer to the Hebrews has encouraged us to run the race of faith with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). And in verse 2 he tells us how: looking to Jesus. We run the race of faith looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. But what does that mean? What does it mean for us to look to Jesus?

What It Means to Look to Jesus

1. Looking means leaning.

Looking to Jesus means relying on him. The word translated “looking” has the idea of zeroing our gaze on something with confidence. The NIV captures it: “fixing our eyes.”

Jesus is our encouragement in this race, both as our example and as our help. As an example, Jesus is the forerunner who has gone before us. He has lived faithfully in this world, trusting the Father and yielding to his will. He has left us an example that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

As our help, Jesus is the one from whom we draw power. He is the one who has given us life (John 5:21) and has sent the Helper to be with us forever (John 14:16). We run this race only because of his word and only by the power of his Spirit. So we look to him. We lean on him.

2. Looking means not looking.

Another aspect embedded in this idea of looking is that we look without distractions. Bible scholar Peter O’Brien notes that the prefix to this Greek verb translated “looking” actually carries the meaning of “looking away from all others toward one” (O’Brien, PNTC, 453). This makes absolute sense. When we look to Jesus it means we are not looking at anything else. Looking to him means we turn our backs on all the other stuff. Forget the approval of man. Forget the consuming aim to leave a “spiritual legacy.” Of all the good things we could look to and draw energy from, Jesus demands our exclusive gaze.

Looking to anything else will eventually be exposed as the hollow pursuit it is.

Looking to Jesus means looking to him alone. That’s what it means to be God—he doesn’t share his seat.

3. Looking means loving.

Looking to Jesus means he is our reward. There is a parallel in this passage between where we look in our running and where Jesus looked in his. The text says of Jesus’s own forerunning: “for the joy set before him.”

Jesus ran for a joy. A reward. We see a few clauses later that this reward was his being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This was where he fixed his gaze. It was the vision of this finish line that carried him through the suffering and shame. It was his goal.

So what about ours?

It is Jesus himself. Jesus is our goal. To look to him means to love him, to yearn to be with him, to see him as he his, to live in fellowship with him forever. One day we will see him, you know. We will see him with our eyes. Think about that. We will see the Lord Jesus with our eyes. We will see him and hear him and touch him. And for that, we run.



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