What does it mean to look to Jesus?
Today is the third and final sermon in a series on the three disciplines of Christian discipleship that form and transform the lives of followers of Jesus. Two Sundays ago, we considered the discipline of faithful remembering and how the biblical story of faith is the story of God faithfully remembering God’s promises. We considered how we faithfully remember God’s faithful remembrance of us through praise and worship of God. Last Sunday we considered the discipline of faithful equipping and how disciples of Jesus are formed as they speak the truth of God’s love by loving God and by loving neighbor.
Today, we consider the discipline of faithful encouraging as we recall the importance of looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith in Hebrews 12:1-3.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
Faithful Encouraging – those faith defining moments when we realize we do not face the challenges of life alone as we look to Jesus. Throughout the Bible, the consistent message of faith is that life is lived fully when life is empowered by God. Followers of Jesus believe God’s Holy Spirit empowers fullness of life through Jesus. It is this encouraging message that offers hope when we encounter the reality of the crucified and risen Christ. In turn, we share the encouraging message of the crucified and risen Christ as we witness to the fullness of God’s presence.
Hebrews was written to encourage persons within the congregation of the Hebrews to remain faithful through Jesus. Many of them were in danger of losing hope and, as a result, their community of faith was in danger of losing hope. This is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged the Hebrews to look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of their faith as they encountered challenges to their faith and their lives. To help us understand what it means to look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, I invite us to consider what the Gospel of Matthew has to say about looking to Jesus. Written primarily to Jewish believers in Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew could easily be called the “Looking Gospel” as it tells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Divided into three sections (chapters 1-3, 4-20, and 21-28) that are defined by the act of looking, the intent of the Gospel of Matthew is to provide evidence that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah of Israel.
The Gospel of Matthew may easily be called the “Looking Gospel” as it tells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Divided into three sections (chapters 1-3, 4-20, and 21-28) defined by faith that looks to Jesus, the intent of the Gospel of Matthew is to provide evidence that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah of Israel who was the fulfillment of the Jewish religious Law (the Torah) and the message of the Jewish prophets.
The first section of Matthew provides this evidence based on the genealogy of Jesus as traced back to Abraham and the birth of Jesus is described through the words of the prophet Isaiah recorded in Matthew 1:23: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
This section concludes with Matthew 3:16-17 as God faithfully encourages Jesus for his public ministry as “the heavens were opened to” Jesus “and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Chapters 4-20 form the second section of the Gospel of Matthew and define Jesus’ ministry by what Jesus saw and whom Jesus saw through the course of his ministry.
Matthew 4:1-11 – following his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he saw all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor
Matthew 4:18-22 – Jesus sees Peter, Andrew, James, and John before he calls them to follow him
Matthew 5:1 – “Jesus saw the crowds” before he preached the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 8:14-17 – Jesus saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever and healed her and later cured all who were possessed or sick to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
Matthew 8:18-26 – Jesus “saw great crowds around him,” sets out in a boat, and later stills the storm
Matthew 9:9 – Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the booth and calls him to follow
Matthew 9:36-37 – When Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”
Matthew 14:14-21 – Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them” as he cured their sick and fed about 5,000 men besides women and children
Matthew 19:26 – Jesus looked at his disciples and stated that “for God all things are possible”
The second section of the Gospel of Matthew reaches its conclusion in Matthew 20:29-34 with Jesus touching the eyes of two blind men whom Matthew reports “immediately” regain their sight and follow Jesus.
The third section of the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 21-28) begins with the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday of Holy Week. Offering further proof that Jesus was the Messiah, Matthew 21:4-5 tells of how “this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
This third section continues beyond the story of Palm Sunday as Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is witnessed through the cross and the empty tomb. Matthew 21:18-22 tells of Jesus cursing the unfruitful fig tree on Monday of Holy Week as a sign that God’s salvation will not be revealed through the shouts of “Hosanna” for Jesus on Palm Sunday but rather through the shouts of crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. To understand the significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree in Matthew, it is important to realize that the fig tree was a symbol for Israel in the book of the prophet Joel. Jesus’ cursing of the fruitless fig tree provides evidence that Jesus’ impending crucifixion and resurrection will be the fruitful fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Through Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, the whole emphasis of the “Gospel of Matthew” transitions from Jesus seeing as the Messiah to Jesus being seen as the Messiah. This happens through the culminating events of Holy Week.
Continuing beyond the shouts of Palm Sunday, the third section of Matthew allows us to see Jesus revealed as the crucified and risen Savior:
On Monday following Palm Sunday with the cursing of the fruitless fig tree
Matthew 21:18-22 – “In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
On Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Matthew 27:54 – the centurion and those who were keeping watch over the crucifixion of Jesus, see the earthquake and what took place at Jesus’ crucifixion and say, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Matthew 27:55 – many women, who had followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and who had provided for him, were also there at Jesus’ crucifixion looking on from a distance.
On Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Matthew 28:10 – the risen Jesus tells the women on Easter Day, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On Ascension Day as the Gospel of Matthew concludes with the risen Christ offering faithful encouragement as he commissions his disciples to witness to his crucifixion and resurrection with the promise that he will be with us always
Matthew 28:16-20 – “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.’”
May God bless us with the fruit of faithful encouragement as we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Looking to Jesus: Faithful Encouraging
by Pastor Marc Brown
October 23, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Hebrews 12:1-3, Matthew 4:18-22
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for October 23, 2022
Scripture Lesson Hebrews 12:1-3, Matthew 4:18-22
The Good News “Looking to Jesus: Faithful Encouraging”
Music “Jesus, Strong and Kind” by CityAlight
Closing Music “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” arr. Janet Vogt