Looking to Jesus

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

This week we learned of the passing of Ravi Zacharias, a Christian teacher, apologist, and evangelist.

Ravi’s exposition of the Scriptures, as well as his pursuit of God through his intellect, had a profound effect on me during my college years when I was studying theology, and I know many thousands of people around the world were likewise affected by his teachings. Though our hearts mourn here on this side of eternity, we rejoice—as Ravi does now—that he is in the presence of Christ Jesus, seeing Him no longer “through a glass, darkly; but…face to face.” (1 Cor.13:12)

As I have thought about Ravi’s life and the effect his faith has had on so many people, I have been reminded of Hebrews 11-12. Hebrews 11 has been referred to by some as the “faith hall of fame” because of the many strong examples of faithful men and women from the Jewish tradition who stood out as good examples of lives whose faith was in the Lord.

The author of Hebrews will go on to liken these faithful men and women to runners who ran the race of faith before us. Therefore, reading Hebrews 11 with the analogy to runners and a race, the author of Hebrews skillfully weaves together a history of faith, pointing out some of the Hall of Famers in the race of faith, who ran it well before us.

Hebrews 11 begins with the familiar definition of faith, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” From here, the author begins the history of the faith and the runners in this race at the beginning of Genesis with the faiths of Abel, Enoch, and Noah. He continues to weave his history of faith through Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He names many others as well, both men and women, who were faithful to the Lord.

It is finally in the beginning of the next chapter that the author encourages us as believers to likewise join the race alongside these men and women:

“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

It’s important to note something here. Having made the analogy of a race and pointing out those who ran ahead of us in the race, he doesn’t encourage us to let our gaze stay on them but rather to look ahead to the One who both started the race and has already finished it—that is, to the Author and Finisher of our faith.

We do a disservice to this passage and to the great men and women of God who came before us if our gaze stays on them. While we celebrate their accomplishments and value their contributions to our lives and the kingdom, we honor them most when we look beyond them to see the Person of Jesus Christ. This is indeed how we honor their lives best. One of the key themes in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is better than everything we can imagine or compare Him to because He is the best.

The author of Hebrews does not belittle the faith of those described in the Old Testament, but the author wants us to see that these people, as great as they were, do not even compare to how great Jesus is. In fact, nestled in the middle of chapter 11, the author points out that “These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” showing that all of these men and women of God died in their races for faith, never having seen with their eyes the fulfillment of the promises of their faith, which is Jesus Christ.

So today as you take some time to remember Ravi Zacharias or perhaps other people who have had a profound effect on your Christian walk, remember that the highest praise we can give them is to see in them a faith that points us beyond themselves, a faith that points us to Jesus. Ravi Zacharias understood this and lived a life that pointed people beyond himself. I pray that my life and all of our lives likewise point people beyond ourselves to Jesus.

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