Proper 15 • Hebrews 11:17–31 (32–40); 12:1–3 • August 18, 2013
By Kyle Castens
“What are you looking at?”
Hey, someone’s staring at you. Well, what are you to do? Some stares are seen as a compliment. Some are offensive. Some make the recipient quite uncomfortable. Well, what’s one to do? You could dismiss it. You could move on. One way or the other you should handle it with great tact and understanding. Well, first, how do you interpret this stare? You determine that this stare offends you. You file through your mental lists of reactions and out pops the most civilized response you can find, “Hey, what are you looking at?” It may lack a little sophistication, but it is simple, and you are certain that it will work. Now you wait to see its effect. The stare is indeed broken but with these final words from the offender, “I don’t know, you tell me.”
“What are you looking at?” Take a look into the text for today, and you tell me. What are they looking at? What are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looking at? How about Moses? What is he looking at? What is Rahab looking at? Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets? What are they looking at? There is one simple, truthful answer: “things hoped for, things not seen.” This is the very definition of the faith God has given them so that they can see that which is greater than that which is in the world. Walking through torment and testing and wars and affliction and mistreatment and captivity and torture, these by faith endured. By faith they believed God was able. As the word speaks of Moses, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27). By faith the Lord led them, gave them strength and the victory.
“What are you looking at?” Well, you might say, “the heroes of the faith.” You might say “great role models who I can follow this week.” You might say “inspiration.” You might be missing the point! These same “heroes” also showed their imperfection and their lack of trust. They showed their sin. The same Moses who led God’s people out of Egypt also doubted his usefulness as God’s servant. David, the Lord’s mighty king, was also an adulterer. The list goes on. Oh, how often their eyes were on things other than, “that which is hoped for and that which is unseen.” How their eyes were on satisfying their own desires, running from their own fears, and needing extra proof from God that he would do what he had promised! Now, this description may sound more like you than a “hero of the faith,” but that shows how much you and they have in common. In the face of the things in the midst of your life, “things hoped for . . . things unseen” does not always seem to be a reality. Sometimes God does not seem as “real” as you want him to be. Sometimes you try to take things into your own hands. Sometimes you do not take God at his word. Sometimes you love to live by sight and not by faith.
So what is the point? What are we looking at? Well, we are looking at Jesus. Let’s take a step back into the chapter before our text. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of the faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed clean with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:19–23). He who promised is faithful to his promise. He has seen it to fulfillment. He has shed his blood. We have confidence to enter the holy places and to stand in the presence of God. We, by faith, hold fast with full assurance knowing that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. We stand in this full assurance in the midst of all things, fair and foul. That is what the faith talk is all about: holding on to Jesus.
However, there is a difference between these “by faith people” in chapter 11 and the “by faith people” in chapter 10. There is a difference between these “by faith people” in chapter 11 and the “by faith” you. They, by faith, believed God’s promise but never received it. You have. The promise? Once again: Jesus. Who is he? The founder and perfecter of your faith. What was He looking at? You. Your salvation. Your life. The joy set before him. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Heb 12:2). In the midst of suffering and pain, he kept looking at the joy set before him. What a victory. His and yours.
So, what are you looking at? Jesus (Heb 12:2). How does that change things? You can lay aside every weight. He took that to the cross. You can lay aside the sin that clings so closely. He took that to the cross. You can run this race through the midst of all things, free and forgiven, looking to Jesus. Oh, and you are not running alone. Look around you. Look around here. Look around all time and all places. What do you see? It’s a great cloud of witnesses looking by faith to the One who is seated at the right hand of God.