The Incarnate Lord (6)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12.1, 2
The glory in His face
As believers, we are called to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” for strength and guidance and joy in all we do. This is the life of abundant righteousness and peace; this is the life that brings glory to God.
But this life requires resolution and endurance, like that which Jesus Himself showed during His earthly sojourn.
Concerning the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus, John Owen wrote, “the beauty of it is presented unto us only in his face or person. We see it not, we know it not, but as God shines into our hearts to give us the knowledge of it therein: 2 Cor. iv. 6.” He continued, “The enjoyment of heaven is usually called the beatifical vision; that is, such an intellectual[ly] present view, apprehension, and sight of God and his glory, especially as manifested in Christ, as will make us blessed unto eternity.”
We do not see the glory in Jesus’ face with our physical eyes; we see Him with the eyes of the heart, as the Lord opens the aperture into our soul and impresses the light of His glory on our heart, mind, and conscience, in powerful and compelling glimpses of Himself. As the Spirit exposes us to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we are transformed, little by little, into that same likeness, so that Jesus increases in us (2 Cor. 3.12-18; Jn. 3.30). Thus, as Owen continued, “Wherefore, in the contemplation of this mystery doth a great part of our blessedness consist; and farther our thoughts cannot attain.”
The “contemplation of this mystery” – considering Jesus with our entire soul – includes thinking about Him and meditating on Him as He was during the course of His earthly ministry, what it would have been like to see Him welcoming children and disciples, exerting divine strength against spiritual powers, healing people with compassion, teaching poetically, and showing patience and grace with His disciples. Each of these conditions suggests a look on Jesus’ face corresponding to the situation in which we see Him. And, as John Owen reminded us in Christologia, we all have some image of Jesus in our minds; the goal of considering Jesus is to improve that image, so that we increase in love for Jesus, and grow to become more like Him.
Like those ancient Greeks, we would see Jesus, because we know that seeing Him, fixing our mind on Him and the things that are above, setting Him always before us, is the way to increase in full and abundant life in Jesus.
The end from the beginning
Luke comments at one point in Jesus’ earthly sojourn that He “steadfastly set His face” to go to Jerusalem and finish His own earthly course (Lk. 9.51). People could see His determination, that resolute look on His face, so that they refused to receive Him in one village because they could tell He would not stay with them (Lk. 9.53). His focus was elsewhere.
Jesus’ face may have been set on Jerusalem, but only because Jerusalem was the staging-ground for the fulfillment of His ministry. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had His face fixed on the coming of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 4.17). He knew this was the great promise of Scripture (cf. Gen. 49.8-11; Is. 9.6, 7; etc.), and that His work was the key to inaugurating this great heavenly dispensation on earth. From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus could see the Kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. He preached and taught about; instructed us to pray for its coming; and commanded us to seek the Kingdom as the first and defining priority of our lives (Matt. 6.10, 33). Not the devil’s wiles, the opposition of the powerful, nor the slowness to learn of His disciples could deter Him from resolutely seeking the promised Kingdom of God.
Whatever Jesus was doing during His earthly sojourn, to whatever situation or need or person His face was turned, He always had one eye fixed on the far horizon, where, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, He would bestow His hard-earned Kingdom on His disciples, and they would proceed to turn the world rightside-up for Him (Dan. 7.13-18; Acts 2; Acts 17.1-6).
In His mind’s eye, Jesus always saw the Kingdom. He saw portents of it in everyday objects and situations; He taught people about its value, ethics, and certainty; and He fixed the eyes of His heart so firmly on the coming of the Kingdom, that He was able to endure the cross and despise the shame of it, because He knew that this was the way of the Kingdom’s coming. Thus His was a countenance of hope, confidence, and resolution, regardless of what He had to suffer.
The joy set down before Him
On the cross, as every believer knows, Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22.1, to express His desolation at the Father’s turning away from Him as He bore our sins in His own body. That cry would have cued up other aspects of Psalm 22 for those who were standing by: His hands and feet pierced (v. 16), the mocking crowds (vv. 7, 12, 13), the soldiers gambling for His garments (v. 18). This is what Jesus wanted the people to see; but it was the second part of Psalm 22 that Jesus was seeing, and that He had set His face so resolutely to achieve: the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Psalm 22.21 ends with the suffering Servant saying, “You have answered Me.” In the midst of desolation and horror, Jesus knew God had answered His longing: The Kingdom of God was coming, and even as He hung on the cross, Jesus saw resolutely forward to triumph and glorious expectations.
What did He see? The people of God assembled to praise and glorify Him (vv. 22, 23). He saw God turning His face with favor – as He Himself had done – on those who were afflicted and suffering to relieve their pain and distress (v. 24). He saw the poor being cared for (v. 25) and people from the ends of the earth seeking the Lord and praising Him (vv. 25, 27, 28). He saw the rule of God – unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18) – being exerted in and over the nations of the world (v. 28). He saw the rich and the poor joining together in worship (v. 29); the people of the earth serving Him with their wealth and strength (v. 30); the salvation of the Lord reaching to generations (v. 31); and all the good and perfect plan and work brought to glorious conclusion (v. 31).
Jesus saw none of this with His eye, but only with the eyes of His heart, trusting in and meditating on the promises of Scripture. And this vision gave Him endurance and strength to fulfill His calling. As we see Him, seeing the Kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, let us ask the Lord for greater resolution, confidence, hope, and faithfulness – more of Jesus, by seeing Jesus more clearly.
1. What is your understanding of the Kingdom of God? What is it? When should we expect it?
2. As you understand it, what does it mean to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God first?
3. When you pray, “Thy Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven,” what should you see with the eyes of your heart?
Next steps – Transformation: How will you seek the Kingdom today? In each situation and with every person you meet?
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.