Looking upon You (6)
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus… Hebrews 3.1
Looking to Jesus
The writer of Hebrews believed that the key to holding fast “the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb. 3.5), to running “with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12.1), and to fulfilling our calling to bring the rule of King Jesus to expression throughout creation (Heb. 2.5-9), is to see Jesus, to look on Jesus, and to consider Jesus in all His many facets, features, functions, and forms.
This is what we are attempting in this series, as we look to find that revelation of Jesus which can help us in focusing the eyes of our heart on Him. We are asking God the Father to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that He might open the windows of our soul and let the light of Jesus shine fully and brightly into our heart, mind, and conscience.
The exercise of seeing Jesus – what has often been referred to as the “beatific vision” – may seem strange or new to many of us; however, as Hans Boersma showed in his book, Seeing God, striving and straining to see, look upon, and consider Jesus has been a focal point of interest in every age of Christian history. Boersma’s careful reading and clear explanations of texts is both demanding and exciting, as he traces the development of Christian thinking about the beatific vision, shows its importance for the life of faith, and brings together the teaching of great thinkers from Gregory of Nyssa to Augustine, Palamas, Nicholas of Cusa, Aquinas, Calvin, the Puritans, Kuyper, and Edwards.
For our purposes, we simply want to consider Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews says, so that, when we come to Him in prayer, and as we go forth each day seeking His Kingdom and righteousness, the vision that we see will keep us on the path of following Jesus in everything we do.
The word translated “consider” in English versions of the Bible actually takes two different forms in the book of Hebrews, each, as we might imagine, with its own nuances and senses. In this and our next installment, we’ll consider each of these in turn, and how they might help us in seeing Jesus, and setting the Lord always before us (Ps. 16.8).
The verb that is translated “consider” in Hebrews 3.1 is κατανοέω (katanoeo). In their lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Louw and Nida note the following meanings of this verb: “to discover something through direct observation, with the implication of also thinking about it”; “to notice, to discover to give very careful consideration to some matter – to think about very carefully”; “to consider closely, more involved than mere seeing”; and “to come to a clear and definite understanding of something – to understand completely, to perceive clearly.” Note the emphasis on such words as “direct observation”, “very careful consideration”, “think about very carefully”, and “perceive clearly.” We don’t satisfy the demands of those actions without some considerable and determined effort.
But when the object of our consideration is Jesus, one of the most important things we should seek would be to consider and perceive clearly His beauty in all its forms (Ps. 27.4).
My sense of this verb is that it calls us to something very much like aesthetic attention, that is, lending both the mind and heart to the effort, so that we not only see (“more involved than mere seeing”) but feel and engage and participate in Jesus, like we would a great piece of music or an enthralling work of art. I think it’s quite possible that our vision of Jesus could be greatly enhanced, made more permanent and expansive, and be more likely to fill us with joy and lead us to worship if we engage that vision as it is expressed in great works of art in the Christian heritage.
And there’s no shortage of resources to turn to in this regard to help us in seeing Jesus.
Some works to consider
Think, for example of Luther’s hymn, “A Might Fortress is Our God,” and what it celebrates as the greatness, majesty, and power of the Word of God – Jesus. The hymn which had its beginning with Bernard of Clairvaux – “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” – lets us enter the sorrow and agony of Christ, and see Him looking upon us as He was lifted up for our salvation. Isaac Watt’s great hymn, “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!” can move us to consider the implications and effects of the incarnation of the Lord. And Eliza E. Hewitt’s “More about Jesus” gives us a prayer to take us into the throne room and school room of the Lord, where, as Paul says, we may “learn Jesus” in prayerful song (Eph. 4.17-24).
A poem like John Milton’s “Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” can bring us into the cosmic and spiritual significance of the incarnation at new depths of insight and understanding. Meditating on Psalms such as Psalm 2, 22, 45, 47, 93, and 110, and letting the images recorded in these psalms become imprinted on our soul, can also stretch and colorize our vision of Christ.
Great works of Christian art can also help us in considering Jesus. The glorious peace and resolve of the image of Christ enthroned in the Book of Kells; and Him exalted as the center of the cosmos on the 9th century Cross of Muiredach help us in seeing how Celtic Christians envisioned the Lord. Jesus’ face, radiant in glory as He taught His disciples, is Rembrandt’s effort to interpret in paint something of the vision of John in Revelation 1. Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut, “The Last Supper”, shows us both the glory of Christ and His shepherding care for His disciples.
Observing and contemplating these images, praying these psalms slowly and contemplatively, and singing these and many other glorious hymns robustly and often can bring to the work of considering Jesus a measure of insight, delight, and permanence that can help you in seeing Jesus, holding firm to your confession of Him, and running the race He has appointed for you with strength and joy.
To consider Jesus according to the criteria suggested by the verb κατανοέω we can turn to such aids as I have mentioned – and thousands more – as part of our daily meditation in the Lord and the disciplines we use to keep Jesus always before us. Seeing Jesus can be an aesthetic delight, as the Spirit of God uses the works of composers, poets, artists, and psalmists to open the eyes of our hearts so that we might see Jesus.
1. Why do we say that considering Jesus must be more than just an intellectual activity?
2. Do you have a favorite hymn that puts the vision of Jesus squarely before your mind? Explain.
3. How can beautiful works of art, music, and poetry help us in considering Jesus?
Next steps – Transformation: Choose a hymn that focuses on some aspect of Jesus or His work. Sing it in your time of prayer. Take it with you to sing over and over throughout the day.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.