Let us fix our eyes on Jesus … who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men’ (Hebrews -12:2-3).
What stands out on the very surface of this great letter is the author’s deep concern about the people to whom he wrote. The reason for his disquiet is not difficult to discern — these Hebrew Christians could not understand why their faith in Christ had not removed the trials and problems from their lives.
According to Hebrews, there is nothing quite as perilous to the soul as wondering if you have ‘done the right thing’ by becoming a Christian. Jesus Christ is God’s last and final word to this world. The whole of divine revelation comes to full fruition in him. Therefore to go back from him is to go back from God!
In his solicitude for his readers, the writer sets out to encourage them and explain the meaning and purpose of these troubles — the rationale behind God’s dealings with his children.
Hebrews 6 and 10 contain some of the most solemn warnings in the entire Bible. But, as we see from the postscript in 13:22, the predominant theme throughout the letter is one of encouragement: ‘Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation’. Perhaps the best rendering is that of the Good News Bible: ‘I beg you brothers, listen patiently to this message of encouragement’.
And encouragement was what these early believers needed, as we all do, especially during times of trial. The writer realised they were weary and had lost heart, so he administers the sovereign remedy for that condition.
This remedy is to ‘Consider him’ — to fix our gaze on Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Ultimately, this is the only way to deal with a depressed state of mind. The solution of this common problem is not to refuse to think but to stir ourselves up to think more!
Prayer and thought
How well the Scripture knows us! Most of our troubles in the Christian life are caused by a failure to think — hence the urgent exhortation here to consider the Lord Jesus Christ.
Consideration implies thought. It involves reflection and study. And since the subject matter is this wonderful person, we should not begrudge the effort this requires.
Some well-meaning Christians offering counsel to those passing through deep waters have a standard piece of advice: ‘Pray about it’! But in seeking to help people in their trials, we should advise them not only to pray but also to ‘consider Christ’.
Of course we should pray about everything, and in every situation. But simply to say ‘pray about it’ can be very glib and simplistic. It is not the New Testament method of dealing with trial and affliction, which never makes prayer a substitute for thought.
If all we need to do in time of trouble is to pray, much of the pastoral instruction in the New Testament letters need never have been written. Prayer can be a mechanism to avoid thinking, and can be undertaken more in a state of panic than of faith.
That is how the unbeliever reacts to trouble. In blind fear he will blurt out a prayer for help, but with no real idea of to whom he is praying.
I have vivid memories of one of the most terrible nights of the Blitz during the Second World War. I was about seven at the time and, along with my mother and a number of neighbours, I spent the night in an Air Raid shelter, while the Luftwaffe were raining bombs and incendiaries on London.
I shall never forget how some of those people — who never had any time for God before (or after, to my knowledge) — desperately frightened, began to pray out aloud. No shyness or embarrassment then about calling on God in prayer! But was it believing prayer?
Surely true prayer is not panic-stricken, as if turning to God as a last resort. What an insult to God to use him in this way!
Although we should always ‘pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17), our praying should never be an excuse for not thinking. The problem with the Hebrews lay in their failure to keep in mind the teaching they had received and apply it to their own situation.
So the writer does not just exhort them to pray; he reminds them of the doctrine on which their prayer should be based — and in particular the doctrine of Christ.
Focusing on Christ
‘Considering’ Christ means much more than giving him a passing glance. To consider him means to focus your thoughts on him, to concentrate on his person and the truth concerning him. This involves an active mind.
The Greek word translated ‘consider’ is interesting. It really means, ‘consider by way of comparison’ or ‘by way of analogy’. Indeed, our English word ‘analogy’ comes directly from the Greek word in question.
So when we are tempted to give up because of our tribulations, we should remember how greatly the Lord suffered by comparison with the relatively minor troubles that we encounter.
However, the writer to the Hebrews does not exhort us to consider the Saviour and then hurry on to the next point. He goes into detail, and we must follow him as he does so.
Verse 2 says: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who endured the cross, scorning its shame’. What a wealth of meaning these few words contain! Think for a moment of the physical sufferings involved. Cicero, the famous Roman senator, described crucifixion as ‘that most brutal and horrifying torture’. In those days any death was considered preferable to death by crucifixion.
So come with me in spirit to Calvary. What do we see?
Jesus had already had his back cut to ribbons by the flogging he received in Pilate’s hall. But now the cross itself looms large. Jesus is flung on the rough timber and iron spikes are hammered through his hands and feet.
Worse is to come, for as that cross is raised and dropped into its socket, the victim’s joints are dislocated by the fearful, shuddering jerk. But all the authorities are agreed that the worst aspects of crucifixion were the raging thirst and the excruciating cramps that racked the victim till he died.
But do not allow your thought process to stop there because our Lord’s bodily sufferings, horrific as they were, are nothing compared to the indescribable sufferings of soul he endured.
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the shame involved — even at the human level, nothing more disgraceful and ignominious could happen to any man than to suffer such a public execution.
It was a fate reserved for the lowest of criminals and social outcasts, a death so degrading that no Roman citizen could be subjected to it. There was no lower depth of indignity and humiliation.
Our Lord had endured opposition from sinful men throughout his earthly ministry. But that implacable hostility reached its climax on the cross, where he became the butt of the world’s derision and contempt.
They scoff and jeer, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save!’ The scorn and ridicule he endured is almost too awful to contemplate, and yet we are urged to do so. To be mocked by evil men is a fearful trial, but it was the shame of the cross that caused him such intensity of suffering.
Other men have endured the scoffing of the crowd who have come to see them executed — but our Lord alone has endured the shame of being punished for human sin, in all its depravity and foulness. The Lord Jesus Christ was ‘made sin for us, [he] who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There, Christ was counted guilty in our place. In him, the full demands of the holy law of God were met, both actively and passively. On Calvary’s hill, God the Father spared him nothing that was due as punishment for our sin.
We will never know how much he suffered. To be separated from all sense of the love and comfort of his Father, in whose fellowship he delighted, is far beyond even our redeemed comprehension.
All he was conscious of was the wrath of God. That awful cry of dereliction wrung from his heart gives us only a hint: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He was ‘despised and rejected by men’, but terrible thought though it is, he was despised and rejected by God too! Mrs C. F. Alexander was right when she wrote:
We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains he had to bear.
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
Let us consider him who loved us and gave himself for us.