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Fix Your Eyes upon Jesus

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Basis for the series: One of the more famous phrases in the New Testament involves “fixing our eyes upon Jesus.” The idea comes from a pair of passages in Hebrews.

  • “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2).
  • “… fix your thoughts upon Jesus.” (Heb. 3:1)

In Hebrews 3:1, the phrase used is the same used of the day when Jonah watched for the destruction of Nineveh. After all he’d been through, Jonah was completely convinced of a coming disaster. Though that destruction never came, Jonah was glued to the scene the way America was fixed upon the images of Sept. 11, 2001.

In Hebrews 12:1, the phrase is the same used of spies who would search out a target in a foreign land, and find it. Think of the reality of that. Every physical sense would have been on edge. They could have heard the slightest noise, smelled every scent, seen the slightest movement, and lived on the edge of the next adrenalin rush. That’s an intense focus, and the Bible says we’re to have that kind of focus on the Lord.

Illustration: Did you know the United States once had an emperor? Believe it or not, it’s true – at least, it was in the rather confused mind of Joshua A. Norton.

Norton lived in San Francisco during the gold-rush days of the 1800’s. He was a colorful character, to say the least. When speculation in the rice market brought him to financial ruin, something happened to Norton’s mind. He declared himself “Emperor of These United States.” It might have been a practical joke, or it might have been the result of a clouded mind. Whatever the initial reason, Norton’s pretending soon grew into a delusion. In 1859 he published a proclamation that he was emperor according to an act of the California legislature. He found a sword, stuck a plume in his hat, found a cape, and marched the streets in colorful costume.

The citizens of San Francisco were amused by this ploy and so played the game with him. They gave him recognition with free tickets to special events. He was invited to gala opening nights. In fact, they allowed him to collect a small tax and issue his own currency. It was all done in the spirit of fun. But to Norton it was serious business. In fact, he expanded his authority to "Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico.

When he died in 1880, more than ten thousand curious people attended Norton’s funeral service – one of the largest funerals ever to take place in California. He lived and died in his own delusion of grandeur. He didn't hurt anyone; in fact, he brought a bit of a smile and a chuckle to people who came across his path.
But make no mistake about it. Joshua A. Norton was never really the emperor. Had he really insisted on a confrontation with the United States government, he would have been disposed of rather quickly. More than likely, he would have been confined to an insane asylum for the rest of his life.

Imagine the poor soul who enters eternity convinced that life was all about him, that she was the focus of the universe. What a shock to find that the Bible’s title for Jesus is accurate. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and no pretend emperor will ever take his place.

There was a day when Jesus looked something like an earthly king. The crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with practices reserved only for royalty. They spread their cloaks on the ground, and waved politically-charged palm branches in the air. They sang songs of praise to Jesus as he majestically entered the city, and they had full expectations that political and military change was only a miracle away.

Illustration: We might not recognize the palm branch as a political symbol, but the Middle East certainly does. Today, modern Israeli currency posts a palm branch on …

Scripture: Matthew 21:6-16

The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them.
They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them.
A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road.
Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!Hosanna in the highest heaven!
When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds kept saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!”
Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves.
And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer.But you are making it a den of thieves!”
The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple complex, and He healed them.
When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that He did and the children in the temple complex cheering, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant
and said to Him, “Do You hear what these [children]are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus told them. “Have you never read: You have prepared praise from the mouths of children and nursing infants?”
Matt 21:6-16 (HCSB)

1. Fix your eyes upon the King of Kings, and not on yourself.

Illustration: Steve Brown tells the frustrating story of some British social scientists. Following the end of British rule in India in the 1940's, a group of researchers wanted to  study the impact of the end of British rule on the life of the nation. After six months, the British social scientists gave up, and went home. Though the British had been present in India since the 1600’s, many people in the villages of the country were not aware that the British had ever been there! Could it be that God himself has visited the world and people have lived and died without ever being aware of the event?We live in a world where the King has come but millions are totally unaware that He is present. (Brown is Professor of Preaching at Reformed Seminary, Orlando, FL)

The people singing Hosannas to Jesus knew they had their man. They welcomed Jesus like a rising military or political figure, and offered him their adoration. But when people were asked who Jesus was, they missed the mark. “He is a prophet from Nazareth,” they said.

They were literally walking with the Son of God who had come to save the world, but they weren’t even aware of it.

Illustration: If George W. Bush comes to your community in the next few weeks, and you get a chance to introduce him, don’t introduce him as a former baseball team owner. Don’t stop with the introduction after you’ve mentioned his college days at Yale. If you somehow forget that your speaker is President of the United States, you’ll never introduce another person as long as you live. Your own mother would scold you for forgetting the most important information. But if President Bush comes to town, there won’t be any mistaking that he’s arrived. With all the security, and with the news media coverage, it would be incredibly difficult to forget the main point during your introduction.

The Son of God arrived for the climactic event of all history, and people got the introduction all wrong. Why? They had their eyes fixed on themselves, and not on Jesus. Some were tired of being ruled by the Romans, and Jesus appeared to be their ticket out of the occupation. Some were tired of a disability, or a disease. They saw Jesus as a miracle-working machine who would make life easier. Some were hungry, and they’d heard that Jesus could stretch food to miraculous proportions.

Very few of the people coming down the mountain that day had any idea that God was working His greatest act of love right in front of their eyes.

Amazingly, it’s still possible to miss Jesus. If people wait until a crisis to “find religion,” it rarely sticks. People in prison, or headed to incarceration, might see Jesus as their way of miraculous release. People surprised by serious illness might look to Jesus as the miraculous cure. People on the verge of a relationship crisis might see Jesus as the ultimate psychologist.

Make no mistake about it. Millions of people alive right now who’ve followed Jesus have reported many miraculous events. Jesus is still in the miracle-working, disease-healing, relationship-mending business. But if that’s all Jesus is seen for, we’ve missed it. When the crisis is over, Jesus won’t be needed. He can be discarded as quickly as the crowd around Jerusalem discarded him in the days following Palm Sunday.

Jesus entered Jerusalem with a fixed purpose, and an amazing plan. Despite the fact that the crowd didn’t understand that plan, he stayed true to course, and never wavered from his goal. His eyes never left his target.

Illustration: The Purpose Driven Life has sold millions of copies, and transformed millions of people and churches across the world. Instinctively, most people want to know: What is my purpose? How can I be more fulfilled? What a shock to open this best-selling book and read the first sentence: “It’s not about you!” And it’s not about you. Though Jesus is intently interested in you, and loves you more than can be described, he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and is worthy of our worship. We have been created to worship him, not the other way around.

2. The King of Kings wants you to be in his royal circle!

Illustration: There’s an old story of the boy who stood on a sidewalk, waiting on a bus. A man walking by spotted the boy, and gave him some gentle instruction. “Son,” he said, “if you’re waiting on the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That’s where the bus stops for passengers.” “It’s OK,” said the boy. “I’ll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me.” The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, “Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!”

When you’ve got a family relationship with the bus driver, you don’t need a bus stop. If your mother is a US Senator, you won’t need an appointment to slip into her office. If you’ve given your heart to the King of Kings, you’re in a royal family of unspeakable proportions.

The purpose of this triumphal arrival for Jesus was to provide salvation for sinners. As King of Kings, Jesus was sharply focused on enlarging his royal family. In fact, you and I were the target of this purpose!

The one thing keeping us away from this incredible family relationship, however, was sin. After all, all of us have sinned, and fallen far short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) If not for a rescuer, we would be without hope, for the result of our sinful choices leads to death. (Romans 6:23)

Jesus came as that rescuer, as a savior, and he wasted no time in communicating that message. When he cleansed the Temple – a beautiful building that represented the presence of God – Jesus made room for some people who hadn’t been allowed near the building for years.

Nothing is wasted in the Bible. The Temple, even, is a perfect example of how sin had separated us from God. From one perspective, the Temple was a succession of fences, and a fierce line of “Do not enter” signs.

Inside the heart of the Temple was the Holy of Holies. Only one man could enter that room, and he could only do so on one day of the year. The people who couldn’t enter there included every man, woman, boy and girl in the world, and all but one of the priests.

In the Holy Place, the nearest room to the center place, only the chosen priests could enter. Again, anyone not in the priesthood would never think of being allowed in that place, easily one of the most beautiful places in the world.

For the rest of the Temple, Jewish men were welcome, but Jewish women were confined to an area of observation. All other races and nationalities were forbidden inside the Temple, and there were no children there, either.

The large courtyard outside the Temple building was for Jewish people only, but no one “unclean” could be there – thereby ruling out any appearance of people with diseases or disabilities. Non-Jewish people could come near the courtyard, but no further than the dividing fence. They could see the business of religion from a distance, but they couldn’t be a part of the process. Children, too, were excluded from the courtyard.

For the person who ventured near the Temple area, only to be restricted from further entry, there would be no peace and quiet. The merchants were trading fast and furious at the closest possible point. They made deals with people needing a sacrifice for worship. They made a quick profit from the currency exchange rates. The animals they held nearby made noises, and created an unpleasant odor.

The entire business created a din of noise and an atmosphere quite contrary to worship. The area near the merchants was certainly no place of prayer.

When Jesus arrived on Palm Sunday, all that changed for a day. He expelled the moneychangers and sellers of animals, and suddenly, things were quieter. The sound of animals – and the smell of the animals – was gone. As Jesus healed those who came looking for miracles, the children came, too. Songs broke out, and people praised the God who had healed them, and they praised the man who had invited them to the Temple for worship.

Ironically, while children and adults sang the best songs of praise the Temple had heard in years, the religious leaders protested the arrival of those who sang the songs, and especially, the focus of those songs.

The point Jesus made should be very important to all of us. If you’ve ever felt left out of something as lofty as the presence of God, feel that way no more. If you’ve ever felt too unworthy to join the worshippers, join them now. For Jesus went after the lowest, the least, and the defenseless, and put them right in the middle of the very place they knew to be off limits. And there, healing happened. The miracles came. The very work of God was on display in the very place God was to be worshipped, and it happened all day long.

It was one of the simplest, yet most profound illustrations Jesus would ever give to communicate the truth: He loves you, and has fixed his eyes on making sure you know that truth.

3. Since Jesus is the King of Kings, he deserves your ultimate attention and devotion.

Illustration: A few years ago, my family climbed aboard a rubber raft for a ride down the rapids of the Rio Grand River. We had never been on such an adventure, but all of us were experienced swimmers, and the river seemed to be fairly shallow. It seemed to be a harmless proposition. Our guide was a young woman from California, sun-tanned and lean, and a good communicator. She told us how to maneuver the raft, and spent several minutes teaching us to work together as a unit, paddling and rowing and listening for her voice. In time, she pushed away from the quiet area where we’d practiced, and we raced over the first series of rapids. It was an exhilarating experience, and we enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we apparently forgot all the instructions, and followed none of our guide’s commands. When we came to the next quiet area, our guide pulled us over to the river bank and looked us squarely in the eye. “Look,” she said. “You’ve got to listen for my voice, and follow instructions. People die out here. People get hurt out here. Your life is at risk, and so is mine. We can’t go on if you don’t listen to my voice and follow instructions.” To say the least, she had our attention. We all gave it another shot, and performed much better on the next set of rapids. By the end of the experience, we understood why our guide had been so impassioned. The rapids increased in fury, and had we not been accustomed to listening for instructions, and following instructions, we would have been in big trouble.

There are a lot of rapids in life, but the biggest test is yet to come. At the end of life, when we meet the God who created us, what kind of answer shall we give to the way we listened for God’s voice, and whether or not we followed instructions?

Hebrews 2:1-3 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

The truth is, we shall not escape, if we ignore so great a salvation. What more could God have done to show us the way? The cross was not hidden from sight. It was in plain view of those who passed by the very week of the Triumphal Entry, and it still remains in plain view of people today. There will be no excuses from those who have heard the message, and yet ignored it. There will be no excuses from those who had a chance to consider the truth, and yet found other things to do.

Deciding what to do with the cross, the Bible says, is the ultimate issue in life. As such, it requires ultimate attention.

Conclusion:

Illustration: Some time back, a retired missionary dropped by our church. She had served faithfully in Africa, and one day, she happened upon a small baptismal service. A fellow missionary took three new converts to the center of a shallow river, and dug a hole in the sand so there would be enough water for the baptism. Even then, the new believers were forced to sit in the sand so there would be enough water to cover them for the important ceremony.

The missionary telling the story saw what she’d expected. A few friends and family members gathered to watch, and the missionary in the river raised his hand, repeating familiar scriptures before baptizing the converts. When the first convert came up out of the water, he began an excited and joyful time of shouting. The quiet service was silent no more! The second convert did the same. The final convert also came up from the shallow water shouting for joy.

Afterwards, the missionary watching the process asked about the unusual tradition. Why all the shouting? “I haven’t been able to completely communicate in this tribe’s language,” said the younger missionary. “They heard the scripture I gave them, but they didn’t understand the symbolic nature of it. When I told them that they would be  “buried with him through baptism into death … and raised to walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4) they actually thought baptism would kill them!
We chuckled as we heard the story, until the missionary froze us with her gaze. “Let me ask you a question,” she said. “If you thought baptism would kill you, would you be willing to get in the river?”

Following Jesus means we recognize the royal nature of the one we serve. Yes, he has saved us. Yes, he loves us and wants us in his royal family. But yes, he is King of Kings, and we owe him our very lives. There is no other appropriate response.


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