2015 SYNOD LECTURE

A Lecture delivered by the Rt Revd Segun Fagbamiye (the Bishop of Trinity Missionary Diocese) at the 1st Session of the 6th Synod of the Diocese of Lagos West On Saturday, 16 May 2015
Synod Lecture: Looking Unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2)

Preamble:
We bring you greetings from the Missionary Diocese of the Trinity MDT. My wife, Mama MDT Abike Fagbamiye, and two of our Archdeacons, The Ven. Dr. Dokun Adewunmi and The Ven. Olukayode Adebogun, Archdeacons of the Missionary Archdeaconry of the Mid Atlantic and Canada respectively are accompanying me to this Synod. We sincerely appreciate the invitation to this Synod and the great honour extended to us by The Rt. Revd Dr. Olusola & Mrs. Lydia Odedeji, Lord Bishop and Mama Lagos West, to deliver this synod lecture. To all dignitaries and synod delegates, we greet you all and pray for God s continued blessings upon you and wish you a successful synod. Amen! Diocese of Lagos West is a role model for MDT and while we are ever grateful for your moral, financial and prayer support, please pray for us and that your heavy investments in MDT will bear fruits in due course in Jesus name. Amen!

Text: The text is, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, (Hebrew 12:2)

Prayer:
Let s sing just the refrain of the hymn, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961).
1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

2. Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are!...Refrain

3. His Word shall not fail you. He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!....Refrain

Lord help us to discover in this lecture a more profound knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and His overall authority, power and supremacy over the whole earth and heaven. Take us to a deeper understanding of our faith journey through life and that whatever we may experience we would, like the cloud of witnesses make it triumphantly to heaven in Jesus name. Amen!

Introduction:
Generally speaking we know that the message of the Book of Hebrews (written around AD 70), attempts to establish and impress on its readers the overall supremacy, sufficiency and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Book was directed primarily to those Jewish converts who were wavering in their faith due to persecutions they were facing. Establishing the sovereignty, absolute power and authority of Jesus, the Book teaches and infuses essentially in the faithful and obedient Jewish converts to endure hardship and persevere the persecutions like the notable past heroes and heroines of faith who are called cloud of witnesses. Hebrews says, there are adverse consequences for the faithful and obedient converts to do otherwise, (Hebrews 12:14-28).

The past heroes and heroines of faith are called witnesses (not just spectators, or hearers, or listeners, or bystanders) because they were testifiers to the power of faith in Christ Jesus; they had true-life (not made up) testimonies to share, they had marks of suffering to show. They neither dropped off nor dropped out of the journey, and whether life was long or short for them, they remained in the marathon to the finish line. The cloud of witnesses, are the members of the church triumphant, the saints, the martyrs who not only watch but cheer, inspire and encourage members of the church militant and all who are currently and actively in the marathon. Those who make it to the very end will sit down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12: 2). Looking unto Jesus, is necessary and it is the one and only sufficient condition to run to expected end and receive the reward. We need to know the rules and necessary preparations to run the marathon in addition to Looking unto Jesus.

The Race: Preparation and Reward
Once converted and baptized into the Christian faith, the believer joins in the marathon. It is important to know the nature of this Christian race or faith journey for all believers in Christ. The answer comes from the word of Jesus Christ, I am the way, the truth and the life,(John 14: 6). This can be interpreted to mean that the Christian race is Jesus and Jesus is the Christian race because race is a way, a course or a system. The Christian faith journey through this earth becomes the race; the race is marathon because all believers run in it together and are expected to be heading in the same direction. The marathon in this context is the lifestyle of believer; it is Christian living, and Paul says, All who desire to live godly in Jesus would result in persecution, (2 Timothy 3:12). For further learning, (Ephesians 5:1-33) gives a comprehensive teaching on Christian living and life, as being in the marathon.

It is a common experience for most people that the first reaction to fear and discomfort is to close their eyes; we close our eyes in anguish and pain. We open our eyes to see and get direction or process what things are going on around us. Looking unto Jesus in the marathon is to say that rather than closing our eyes in the anguish of persecution, pain and suffering, our eyes must remain open and focusing on Jesus.

We are likely to run better and faster if we are Looking unto Jesus, and get rid of any excess luggage or carry-on by laying aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensares us, (Hebrew 12:1). This means throwing off anything and everything possible that could hinder our movement, and whatever that could slow us down or trip
us including all forms of sins and willfully sinning against the knowledge of God. Apostle Paul gives us an insights into the preparation and being o

In course in the marathon in (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 2:3-5). Steven J. Cole, once a pastor of Lake Gregory Community Church in Crestline California suggests five points to be aware of in the marathon as we are looking unto Jesus who endured the cross and received the reward:
1. The Christian life is a difficult marathon but must be run: Finishing well is everything and it is ultimate goal. In this race, believers are not competing with other believers but against the enemies of Christ, those who are opposed to God s kingdom, the anti-Christ, and all those who work hard against the believer to drop out of the race.
2. To run the Christian marathon, the believer must get into shape and stay in shape and the primary requirement is self-discipline motivated by the goal of finishing well.
3. To run the Christian marathon, the believer must run with endurance because God sets the course, and the believer must do the running with endurance.
4. The encouragement to keep running comes from those who have run before us, but primarily from Jesus Himself:
 The great cloud of witnesses encourages us to keep the running
 Jesus himself is the main motivation to keep running
5. We run with endurance by looking unto Jesus.
 Looking unto Jesus requires taking our eyes off of ourselves
 Looking unto Jesus requires trusting that is for us
 Looking unto Jesus means trusting that Jesus is always there for us and He is sufficient for us when the world is rough and hurts us.
 Looking unto Jesus is the key to not to grow weary and lose heart.

The earthly journey of faith is a marathon which requires running and not walking because it is not a pleasurable activity that could cause diversion and distractions; not crawling because it is not for the indolent and lazy person; not jumping because it is not necessarily a bodily exercise for fitness for a short or long time terminal event; not swimming because the race is not taking place in the water but on land where human beings are meant to live and dwell; not flying because it is not taking place in the air / sky for the reason that human beings are not birds. The art of running engages most of the muscles of the whole body principally the legs, which must do the running and the eyes that, must see the path and guide the legs to the finish point.

And because the Lord Jesus Christ ran the race set before Him to the expected end when He pronounced on the cross, It is finished, (John 19:30), He received duly His reward described in (Philippians 2:8-11) . The promises of eternal life, of being in the eternal place of rest of God and being before His throne , await every believer looking unto Jesus, to the finish point.

Looking unto Jesus:
Clearly Hebrews puts the faith journey of the Christian in the context of running a race , and we need to understand why the author of Hebrews was encouraging Jewish
converts who were wavering, unsteady and trembling in their faith, and why the faithful and devoted ones in faith need to be looking unto Jesus? It is because Jesus is the pioneer runner, the true and unwavering coach and trainer for all who desire to run the race of the faith journey; the greatest of the heroes of faith, the exemplary human character and supreme being that endured and persevered the severest persecution and punishment in the hands of the most wicked and unjust human beings in history just to fulfill God s will for the salvation and redemption of mankind. A brief examination of the life of Jesus would affirm that Jesus is the role model for all believers:
a. Jesus relationship with people: Jesus taught and lived true to his teaching, as He wanted his followers to break the cycle of violence and not perpetuate it (Matt 5:38-41 and Act 8:32) .
b. The behavior of Jesus in the Garden (Gethsemane) in (Matthew 26:36-45), His comportment and rather gentleness before Pilate (Matthew 27:11-28), His care and compassion and feelings towards His mother while on the cross (John 19:25-27) etc. in spite of His agony and pain and suffering and dying hours on the cross after all the human injustice and brutality reflect to a great extent His endurance and perseverance and how Jesus sees and relates to the generality human beings.
c. What was important to Jesus in the faith journey was God s will , no matter what.

Looking unto Jesus in our context
There could not be a better and more appropriate time than now that Christians must necessarily be, looking unto Jesus because of the increasing growth in physical and numerical strength of the enemies of Christ, that is, the anti-Christ movements in and outside the church including the Islamic extremists and radicals, as well as the enemies of God s kingdom who are continuing to persecute and kill Christians and burn or destroy the Church of Christ. Indeed From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,[a] and the violent take it by force, (Matthew 11:12)

It s important to understand the social, historical and political reasons why Christians are being persecuted. Understanding them more fully might be able to help us prepare ourselves to looking unto Jesus. The real enemy is Satan. In his book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, John Allen cites the work of a German scholar and evangelical Christian human rights activist Thomas Schirrmacher. Allen argues that that there are some significant socio-political reasons why Christians are so disproportionately persecuted and suffer.

1. Christianity Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal is growing dramatically in what is often called the Global South. Such growth is only possible because Christians actively evangelize, sharing the gospel of salvation with others. This missionary zeal is seen as a threat and directs the world s attention against Christians.
2. Christianity is growing rapidly in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, particularly in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and even in the Middle East. In these volatile areas, any disruption of the fragile status quo is potentially disastrous and Christians are suffering because of the rapid growth and spread.
3. Christianity is often seen as a form of Western imperialism and identified with the West. This makes Christians a natural target for many nationalist movements. Nationalism invariably seeks to unify the nation by excluding minorities. They create unity through hate, and Christians, who live for another kingdom, are often the target of this nationalist hatred. An example of this is extreme Hindu nationalism, which targets Christians as anti-Indian, radical nuisances Islamists including the Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East, the Boko Haram in Nigeria etc.
4. Christians are often at the forefront of promoting human rights and democracy as well as opposing violence, corruption, and exploitation of the poor. As such, they are often targeted by the powerful, whether governments or mob groups, who don,t hesitate to use violence or other forces of coercion to get what they want. For example, the Latin American drug lords who murder Catholic priests and other Christian leaders because they are the only ones defending the rights of the poor.
5. Christians have their ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God which is not of this world. As such, they are viewed with suspicion by totalitarian governments who, as their name suggests, want total control over the bodies and souls of the people. This is the reason behind much of the persecution in places like China and even more so in North Korea.
6. Christians, on the whole, reject violence and retribution. Persecution is invariably the strong oppressing the weak or in the case of Christianity, the meek simply because they can.
7. Christians are persecuted because Christ was and is persecuted. Satan knows that his time is short and so, unable to get to Christ or His Mother (Revelation 12:12), he makes war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. (Revelation 12:17) This is the hidden reality behind all persecutions. The world and the devil continue to persecute Christ through His people (cf. Acts 9:4-5) just as Christ said they would: If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. (John 15: 20).

Attractions for Wavering Christians
Christian believers opined that given the recent world threatening situations including the growing acts of terrorism, and unspeakable violence, insecurity and injustice and increasing persecution of Christians within and outside the Church; there are evidently signs that we are in the end time. As such the heat of the persecution and hostility against Christian believers coupled with our world of secularism and materialism is constantly and increasingly producing wavering or double-minded Christians like wavering Jewish converts to whom the Book of Hebrews addressed. These wavering or double minded Christians can be described as people having one leg in the world and other one leg in the church and of this one leg in the church only half or less than half is being used to run their marathon. Obviously by all reasoning they cannot make it and divine intervention can never be available for them. Here is my summary description of our world that gives rise to wavering beleivers:  Those who are caught stealing small amount of money or property are almost hanged by the society while the same society not only makes ways of escape from justice but also celebrate the corrupt and big time billionaire / millionaire thieves, and the same society foolishly also elects big time thieves to govern them or put them in power.what a great injustice, what a shame? Christian believers join the society to say, if `you cannot beat them, join them.
 The poor continue to go down the drain and becoming poorer that fasting and prayer for the hungry have become a necessity and a consolation in order to replace food on the table; the rich and corrupt ones especially in power get richer and wealthier to the extent that they acquire items and materials that they have no need of. For example they buy iPads, iPods and Laptops, Tablets etc. which they do not know how to use but merely display them as part of their home and office furniture, and some have acquired excessive fleet of cars just as part of decorations in their mansions but the masses park themselves in commercial vehicles, keke maruwa, okada etc.
 In the same community of faith where there are the homeless, so there are people who make one time full payment to buy houses overseas especially in UK, USA, Dubai etc. that they rarely live in them except on vacation and occasional weekend visits.
 It is known in Nigeria and many countries especially in Africa that a minister or commissioner or top government official in the health department goes overseas for all medical services and treatments, including headache, indigestion and stomach upset while their counterpart in the education department have their children go to study overseas as international students (no scholarship) not just in universities or colleges but in elementary and daycare.
 The Church of God is becoming more and more secularized and entangled in materialism rather than preaching and teaching and practicing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is now becoming a common practice for pastors and church leaders to dine and dance around and fraternize extraordinarily with corrupt political leaders and those in powers for public recognition and positions and for material benefits. Some pastors and church leaders are said and known to be stingingly rich and even richer than the church they pastor and there are overseers and bishops as well who are richer than their respective ecclesiastical jurisdiction or dioceses. It is funny to know and see that people still keep patronizing and celebrating such materialistic pastors and church leaders; their congregation is enlarging astronomically.
 Closely related to the above is the teaching and preaching of many churches and pastors of the social and prosperity gospel and less of the truth and of the gospel of salvation in Christ, through Christ and by Christ alone. Jesus said, Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather, (Matthew 24:28).
 With increasing challenges and crimes escalating in our generation, pastors who ordinarily should show by their teaching and practice the transforming power of the gospel, are the fastly becoming the very ones that generally do no longer conduct themselves worthy of the gospel of Christ, (Philippians 1:27)
 The high rate of sexual immoral life from the mode of dressing, pornography among young men and women to general misconduct and ungodly behavior especially in the Western world (and seriously pervading the global South too) is ruining the human culture of decency and creating culture crisis and confusion in the underprivileged and deprived communities and nations especially in Africa.

Drawing from (Hebrews 12: 1-2), this lecture reminds and presents to us the heroes and heroines of faith of our past and encourages us in spite of the temptations of materialism, suffering and persecution and the injustice and deprivation we may experience as we stand firm for the faith, we look unto Jesus to be able to finish well. The picture is that of assembling all true believers of the past and all readers of the Hebrews are gathered in a stadium for a great marathon. The huge crowd of heroes and heroines of faith mentioned in chapter eleven of Hebrews occupy the tiers of seats of the stadium and they are there not only to watch the race but also to inspire and encourage those who are running to run well by attesting to worthiness, authority and validity of the contest and also reminding them of the examples set by the Lord Jesus Christ as pioneer and other predecessors.

How to look unto Jesus
If you're weary in the race, maybe you need to cast off some encumbrances or entangling sins. Someone has pointed out that gold is just as heavy a weight as lead. If you're trying to carry the world s treasures while you run the race of faith, you're going to get tired. Throw off whatever hinders your growth in godliness.

Perhaps you're grumbling about the course that God has set for you. You look at others who are putting foreign armies to flight and receiving back their dead by resurrection, but you're wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (11:34-35, 38). You think, It s not fair! You need to submit to the sovereign hand of God, who sets different courses for His children according to His purpose. Perhaps you need to refocus on Jesus and the joy of receiving the crown of righteousness that He has promised to all who finish the course (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).

You can't run the race if you've never entered it. If you've never put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you aren't even in the race. If you don't enter the race and run with endurance, you won't get the prize.

It is my conviction that if we run our faith journey Looking unto Jesus,(LUJ) in all times and circumstances and situations God would shed His glory upon us, empower us, strengthen us, and grant us the grace to persevere and endure to make heaven; looking unto Jesus is the recipe to completing the race successfully and entering the eternal rest with God. Go from this lecture and this place:

 Looking unto Jesus in all times of troubles and storms of life whether small or big
 Looking unto Jesus in times of challenges in marriage and all forms of estranged relationship
 Looking unto Jesus in the events of betrayal, denial, treachery and disappointments, and when you are despised, humiliated, and rejected.
 Looking unto Jesus in the face of persecutions, oppression, deprivation and human injustice
 Looking unto Jesus when it seems the world is crashing and grumbling on you and you suffer adversely and with colossal loses.

Conclusion
Remember but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31)
So that we can say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing, (2 Tim 4:7-8).
The appeal from Apostle Paul to the Church in Colosse is relevant to us: As God s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17).
1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

2. Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion.
For more than conquerors we are!....Refrain

3. His Word shall not fail you.He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!....Refrain

Thank you for listening.

The Rt. Revd Amos Fagbamiye, B. Sc (Hons), M. Sc, M. Div. fss, mss
Diocesan Bishop
Missionary Diocese of the Trinity MDT

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