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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf

12. Looking Unto Jesus

In traveling from the Red Sea toward Edom, the Israelites on one occasion were troubled by poisonous snakes (see Num. 21:4-9). The snakes bit many of the people, and many died. In their predicament the people cried to Moses for help. Moses talked to God, and God told him to make a brazen serpent and set it on a pole in the midst of the camp. Then He told Moses to instruct the people who had been bitten by the snakes to look at the serpent of brass. As they looked they would be healed.

Moses conveyed God’s bidding to the people, and as the snakebitten victims looked at the brazen serpent, they were indeed healed. Those who refused to look perished in their disbelief and refusal to follow God’s direction.

All of us have been bitten by the old serpent (see Rev. 12:9; 20:2). We are infected with a poison that will result in eternal death unless we look to Jesus to be healed. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14, 15), Jesus told Nicodemus during their nocturnal visit. The apostle says: "Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end" (Heb. 12:2, TEV).

As Christians we choose to focus our gaze on Jesus, just as the believing snakebitten Israelites focused on the brazen serpent. It would have done the Israelites no good to took at themselves to see how well they were doing in resisting the effects of the poison. So it will do you and me no good to look at ourselves to see how well we are doing in resisting and overcoming temptation to sin. Apart from ultimately reaping eternal death, followers of Jesus who took at themselves rather than at their Saviour will face two possible consequences: either they will become pharisaical and self-righteous, or they will be constantly discouraged as they notice how far short they fall from resembling their Master.

The Pharisees in the days of Jesus knew they were morally respectable. They conceitedly believed their ethical respectability would save them. In this connection it might be well to remember that the unique ailment of the Laodicean church is also self-deception. The members think they are rich, and "need nothing; not knowing that" [they] "are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked," the faithful and true Witness says (Rev. 3:17).

At the Temple the Pharisee’s eyes were fixed on self; the publican’s on God (see Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee looked upon heaven as a corporation where his good, respectable life had earned him considerable dividends. He was waiting to collect what he had earned. The publican, on the other hand, saw God as He actually is—"a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29) to sin and sinners. He knew that only God’s grace could forgive and purify him and fit him to live with God, who is "everlasting burnings" (Isa. 33:14). In this way the publican "went down to his house justified rather than the other" (Luke 18:14).

Those who look constantly at self will lose their Christian hope and end up renouncing their faith. There are many professing Christians who fear that they will never be saved. Some of these are in our own church. Ellen G. White says: "Many who are sincerely seeking for holiness of heart and purity of life seem perplexed and discouraged. They are constantly looking to themselves, and lamenting their lack of faith; and because they have no faith, they feel that they cannot claim the blessing of God. They look above the simplicity of true faith, and thus bring great darkness upon their souls. They should turn the mind from self, and dwell upon the mercy and goodness of God and recount His promises, and then simply believe that He will fulfill His word."1

Anyone who thinks that he must earn his acceptance with God by his flawless behavior will constantly fix his eyes and thoughts on self. But continuous introspection will cause deep discouragement to every honest soul, since he will notice constant shortcomings. To be freed from this trap he must focus his eyes on Jesus and grasp the glorious truth of justification and salvation by faith.

When a person looks at himself to discover a title to heaven, he is absolutely correct when he concludes that heaven will never be his. We have all broken the law of God, and hence we merit only death. But since we have committed our lives to Jesus, and remain in that commitment, "we are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute."2

Still, Jesus is our pattern, and although "we cannot equal the pattern; . . . we shall not be approved of God if we do not copy it and, according to the ability which God has given, resemble it."3 Jesus is the model for every committed Christian, as He gladly did only what pleased His Father. So also will His friends and followers of today choose to do. But even more important than being my Pattern, He is and will always remain my Saviour.

Jesus removed the burden of sin from you and me. He will do that for everyone who comes to Him as a repentant sinner and acclaims Him as his Saviour. Some of you recall what happened when Christian, in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, came to the cross. There the burdens rolled from Christian’s shoulders. Your burdens and mine also should fall from our shoulders when we meet Jesus at Calvary, provided we accept Him as our Saviour from sin and as our Substitute. You and I need no longer carry the burdens of sin and guilt. Jesus took them all and nailed them to His cross. You and I may be free!

Without the cross of Jesus there would never have been any hope of salvation for anyone. "Without the cross, man could have no union with the Father. On it depends our every hope. From it shines the light of the Saviour’s love, and when at the foot of the cross the sinner looks up to the One who died to save him, he may rejoice with fullness of joy, for his sins are pardoned."4

"Our faith must be an intelligent faith, looking unto Jesus in perfect confidence, in full and entire faith in the atoning Sacrifice. This is essential that the soul may not be enshrouded in darkness."5

With an intelligent faith we will constantly rest our hope of salvation on Christ. If we do not, we will be enveloped in darkness and utter despair. To avoid this we will accept the atonement Jesus wrought for us at Calvary. But if we persist in basing our salvation on our own attainments, the day of accounting will reveal that our hope is based on shifting sand and not on the solid Rock. Even if it were possible to live flawlessly from this moment on, we still have the problem of our sin in our past. That alone will cause our damnation for eternity. About this we are utterly helpless to do anything. Only Jesus can take care of that sin. This He did on the cross. As Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, you and I are also delivered from the burdens of sin and guilt at the cross. This deliverance is ours if we are willing to hand over our sin and guilt to Jesus.

I love the sea. I love water and big oceangoing ships. So one day I go down to a pier in New York Harbor. I walk very close to the edge of the pier, and as I do, I stumble and fall into the water. I am not a very good swimmer to start with, and because I am fully dressed, my fight to stay afloat is not succeeding. I am going to go under. Then a man on the pier sees my predicament; he jumps into the water and rescues me.

Three weeks later I happen to be at the same pier, looking at the ships. And there I just happen to meet the man who rescued me from drowning. What do you think I say when I meet him? Do you think I go up to him and say, "I am certainly glad that today I have been able to stay out of the water; look at my well-pressed suit"? Do you think that is what I say to him? How preposterous! When I discover the man who saved me from drowning, I have no thought at all of my good appearance and well-pressed suit. I can think only that he saved me from drowning! My eyes and thoughts are not on self. They are fixed on the man who saved me; he rescued me from drowning. If it had not been for him, I would have been dead.

As a sinner justified and saved by faith, I will have the same relationship with Jesus as with my hypothetical rescuer. My thoughts will not be on how well I am doing in living a God-pleasing life. My mind will be continuously filled with thankfulness to Jesus. He saved me. For the person who realizes he has been saved from eternal death by Jesus, "One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other-Christ our righteousness."6

With our eyes and thoughts focused on Jesus, by God’s grace we may live victoriously and even be saved from sinking into sinning. We may do the impossible. Peter did. He walked on water as long as his eyes were glued on Jesus. But his attention turned to self; proudly he looked back to his friends stilt in the boat and thought, Look what I am doing. I am walking on water while you are still in the boat. You can’t do what I am doing. As these self-congratulatory thoughts rolled through his mind, he began to sink.

The same will be true about you and me. When we take our eyes off Jesus and focus them on self, we will inevitably sink into sin. But with our eyes on Jesus, we may, like Peter, achieve the impossible—we may be kept from falling into sin.

"God can and will, if we permit Him, keep us from falling into sin, just as anyone of us can keep a pencil standing on its sharpened tip, by holding on to its top. The pencil verily stands, but not by itself. God does not expect you and me to stand by our own strength or power. But He is willing and eager to hold us by His sustaining grace and keep us from falling. A person who stands through God’s grace will do no boasting of sinlessness. He will take no glory or credit to himself, but will constantly praise God for His grace and goodness."7

The apostle Jude assures us that Jesus, through His Spirit, aims to keep us from falling, provided we are willing to be held by Him. He will keep us standing just as anyone of us can keep a pencil standing on its tip. These are the apostle’s reassuring words: "Now to the One who can keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory, jubilant and above reproach" (Jude 24, NEB).

He who holds us will also change us. Some of you remember Hawthorne’s story "The Great Stone Face," inspired perhaps by the natural rock formation, at Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. The story tells us that late one summer afternoon a mother and her boy, Ernest, were sitting by their cottage in the valley, looking at the Great Stone Face. Ernest’s mother said that one day—according to a prophecy the White settlers had inherited from the Indians in the area—a man would come who would reflect both the facial features and the kind, noble character that the valley people read into the Great Stone Face.

From that moment on Ernest’s thoughts were constantly on the great and good man represented by the mountain’s craggy features. With the valley people Ernest looked longingly for this man to appear. In the meantime Ernest became a youth, grew to manhood, and finally reached old age, still looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy told to him by his mother. One day Ernest was told that he was the man represented by the Great Stone Face. His facial features and his noble and kind character had come to resemble those of the Great Stone Face.

The point of Hawthorne’s story is that a person will inevitably grow to resemble whatever is the center of his thoughts. Nothing can outweigh the character-molding influence of one’s thoughts and affections. As Ernest was changed—transformed—so you and I shall be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, provided He is the center of our thoughts and affection. This is God’s unbreakable promise to you and me: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18, KJV).

The prophet Isaiah foretells that God’s glory—that is, His character—shall be reflected in His people (see Isa. 60:1). This will never be so long as we have our eyes focused on self. It will take place only when we forget ourselves and focus our eyes upon Jesus and become absorbed by His loveliness. Then "if the eye is kept fixed on Christ, the work of the Spirit ceases not until the soul is conformed to His image."8

While we focus our attention on Jesus we shall be no more aware of self and our possible attainments than was Moses when he came down from the mountain after he had been with God. But the people noticed that he had been changed. His face was shining with heavenly glory, although he himself was completely unaware of it (see Ex. 34:29-35). Like John the Baptist, who "looked upon the King in His beauty, and self was forgotten,"9 so shall we wonder at the incomprehensible love of Jesus. We shall continuously adore Him who died for us all on the cross that we might be saved from the poison of sin and eternal death.


1 White, Messages to Young People, p. 111. E. White also states, ‘The sin that is most nearly hopeless and incurable is pride of opinion, self-conceit. This stands in the way of all growth" (Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 199, 200). [back]

2 _________, Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 32, 33. [back]

3 _________, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 549. [back]

4 _________, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 209, 210. [back]

5_________, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 256. [back]

6 _________, in Review and Herald, Dec. 23, 1890. [back]

7 Arnold V. Wallenkampf, New by the Spirit (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1978), pp. 104, 105. [back]

8 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 302. (Italics supplied.) [back]

9 Ibid., p. 103. [back]

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