The Power of the Cross: 39th Edition, July 8, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,
Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 

Just one announcement this week: we have made a new course live at Setting Captives Free called “Faith Building Studies” which are short (20 minutes) studies on the Book of Joshua. These studies are open to anyone.

This week’s teaching is the third lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. At the suggestion of one of our members, we have made each lesson contain 7 questions; now you can do the study answering just 1 question per day.

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 3: Change Comes by Fixing our Eyes on Jesus

Have you ever noticed how the recurring problems and issues we have can begin to dominate our thinking? For instance, if we have financial troubles, we can begin to obsess about money; we read books about it, watch videos from professionals and seek advice from experts. Our financial concerns begin to dominate our conversations with family and friends. We might even get to the point that our sleep is disrupted or our health adversely affected. The same is true regardless of the issue. Whatever it is, it begins to overtake our lives. It can even dominate our very existence if we start to define ourselves by our struggles.

And the world with its self-centered philosophy, our world that is “under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), encourages this type of thinking, teaching us to focus squarely on our problems, even going so far as to tell us to find our identity in that problem or in our temptation.

Think about it. If we have problems with drinking alcohol the world says that we should find our identity as an alcoholic. We can see this in statements we are told to repeat like this one: “Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m an alcoholic.” Or the “Christian” version of this: “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m a child of God and I struggle with alcoholism.”

If we have temptations toward abusing drugs, the world labels us a drug addict. If we struggle with anger, then we are tagged as a “hot head” or labeled as having an “Explosive Personality Disorder”.  If struggling with our weight we are “fluffy”, a “Foodie”, or told we have an “eating disorder”, and on and on the labels go encouraging us to find our identity in our temptations and our problems.

These labels make their mark and make us think change is not possible. We can start to believe that our struggle is who we are, who we have always been, and who we will always be.

But notice this passage of Scripture:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV) Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, we see a powerful change happen in the lives of the people.

Question 1. How would experiencing a change like this remove worldly labels and identities?

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 points out what the Corinthians were, what they used to be, the labels they previously wore. But verse 11 shows that a powerful change had happened. It says, “such were some of you”. They used to be those things, they used to wear those labels, they used to have those identities, but they were cleansed, they were changed, they were set free! This happened “by Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God” (verse 11).

As it did with the Corinthians, so the gospel changes us at the very core of who we are, enabling us to live apart from sinful labels, to leave behind the world’s identities, and instead to find our identity in the work of Jesus on the cross and the work of the Spirit in our hearts and lives.

Today’s lesson aims at correcting an erroneous pattern of focusing on our sins and failures, which causes us to accept worldly labels and identities. It will show that there is a way out of captivity, a way to experience freedom and joy, a way to be changed in our hearts and have our weakness turned into strength. All these things can happen to you, no matter what you are going through, no matter how long you’ve been at it. God has done this for uncountable numbers of people (see Revelation 7:9) through the ages; He can do it for you too!

Please read the following passage and answer the question below:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Question 2. According to Hebrews 12:1-3, what should we be looking at (focusing on), and what results will it produce to have the proper focus in life?

This passages tells us that we should “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). The words “fix our eyes” have to do with a focused stare, a purposeful preoccupation. We are to look at Jesus Christ and to focus on Him. This may seem very odd at first, considering that the world has drilled into us that we are to focus on our problems, but this new godly focus is actually the key to freedom.

When driving a car think about where you are supposed to focus - straight ahead at the road on which you are driving. But imagine that you’re driving to work one cold day and the heater in your car suddenly stops working, so you begin to focus on the problem. You bend down to look at the heater, you begin turning the knobs, adjusting the heater fan, turning the heater on and off trying to fix the problem. I think you would agree it would be catastrophic to focus on the problem while driving, most likely it would lead to a crash. We’re supposed to keep our eyes on the road, to look straight ahead.

Likewise, focusing on our sin problems is a sure-fire recipe for a spiritual crash in our lives. For this reason, we are taught in Hebrews 12:1-3 that we are to look at Jesus who has gone ahead of us and focus on Him. We are specifically not to look down or inward at our problems and sin-struggles, but rather to “fix our eyes on Jesus”. As we learn how to become purposefully preoccupied with Jesus we will find that this new focus is very freeing! Our “car” is driving forward safely, staying in the lines and taking us to our destination without harm or injury.

Question 3. Please consider what the focus of your life has been up to this point. Have you seen a necessary correction from Hebrews 12:1-3? Please share your thoughts here, remembering to be thorough with your answer.

Sharing with you personally for a moment, learning how to fix my eyes on Jesus has changed my heart and my life significantly. It has set me free from specific areas of bondage, has been the thing that was missing in my life and has made such a transformation in me that I don’t even recognize who I used to be. My wife, Jody, would tell you the same thing. Of course I still have flesh that trips me up, and am still subject to the temptations of Satan. I’m just saying I’m not in bondage, not a captive anymore. We’ll talk about how this happens over the upcoming lessons.

Today, we want to see what it is, specifically, about Jesus Christ that we are to focus on for the purpose of running more adeptly the “race marked out for us.” Notice verse 2: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Question 4. Do you remember the two parts of the gospel that we learned about in previous lessons? If so, please state them here:

Let’s review:

Gospel - Part 1: Jesus died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.

Gospel - Part 2: Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

This is what Hebrews 12:1-3 is telling us to focus on when considering Jesus. The text says “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross.” This is the first part of the gospel, that Christ died for our sins. And what was the joy set before Him? It seems like if someone is facing death by crucifixion there is no joy in their entire world, they are going to suffer intensely, experience tremendous shame and then die. Where’s the joy?

Jesus knew that through His death as an atoning sacrifice He would save everyone who believes (John 3:16-17). He would save us from God’s hatred of sin (1 Thessalonians 1:10), rescue us from darkness (Colossians 1:13), free us from condemnation (Hebrews 2:14), and through His death He would give us eternal life as a gift (2 Timothy 1:10). This brought Him joy as He faced the cross with its accompanying shame. In other words, in thinking of saving and rescuing you through HIs death, Jesus had joy!

The text continues telling us that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God.” This is the second part of the gospel, that Christ rose from the dead on the third day. After He rose from the dead He ascended into the presence of His Father and sat down at God’s right hand. The work was finished, Jesus sat down.

And this, right here, is what we are specifically to focus on regarding Jesus Christ. We are to “fix our eyes on Jesus”, considering how He died to set us free and give us life, considering His powerful resurrection from the dead, thinking about and finding a “preoccupation” with this good news.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God.” This is how we begin to “drive straight ahead” by focusing on Jesus and His gospel. And as we do this, the Spirit of God becomes involved and begins to bring the power of the gospel to us which inevitably sets us free.

Focusing on Jesus and seeing the gospel will literally change everything! Remember, the gospel is “the power of God”! It is “explosive dynamite” to work powerfully in your heart, powerfully change your affections and desires, powerfully set you free from issues you may have had for years! You will discover that these changes actually remove our previous worldly labels, changing our very identity. We no longer have to say “it’s just who I am, have always been this way and always will be.” No, “that is what some of you were!” (1 Corinthians 6:11).  

Have you already seen the outcome of focusing on your problem or issues in life? I sure have. It’s devastating, isn’t it? I remember being tremendously tired from working like crazy to make changes in my life, but feeling like I was on a hamster wheel getting nowhere and only exhausting myself in the process. Worldly counselors were also telling me to focus on ‘me and my problems’. Christian 12-step groups continually reminded me that “I struggle with ______” (fill in the blank). And the depression and discouragement I felt through it all was too intense to even put into words, my life seemed enveloped in darkness!

Well, we know the results of a wrong focus; now let’s consider what are some results of focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, the passage tells us:

Hebrews 12:3 (NIV) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Notice that this passage has told us to focus on the gospel, to “fix our eyes on Jesus”, and now to “consider Him”, that is, to think carefully about Him, to contemplate Him deeply. All words describing a purposeful preoccupation with Jesus and the gospel.

Have you noticed that you were made to be preoccupied with something? This preoccupation tendency is put in us by our Creator God, it’s just that we’ve turned it inward, or to our problems, or to other things or people, etc.

Question 5. What specifically does Hebrews 12:3 tell us to consider about Jesus?

Again we see the importance of the cross. We are to consider Him “who endured such opposition from sinners”. In other words, look at the cross! See Jesus suffering at the hands of sinners for you, see how they mocked Him, see the opposition He experienced on your behalf, see the wounds He received and the death He died, all for you! Consider it. Think about it.

And notice the results from considering the cross, as stated in Hebrews 12:3! Ah, the very problems we experienced when we were all wrapped up in our problems and focused on our sin issues will disappear. The weariness, the discouragement, the feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness will all begin to leave!

And now, by looking at the cross, and focusing on the gospel you will not be wearied from all your effort at trying to fix the problem, you will not lose heart, or be overwhelmingly discouraged and want to give up. What good news!

Question 6. Please consider what your life would be like without the weariness and exhaustion, without the hopelessness and despair. What are your thoughts?

Friend, coming to the cross of Jesus Christ is where something very supernatural happens. When we look at the cross of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit gets involved -  coming to us with power, strengthening us supernaturally, making the love of Jesus very real and very personal to us. This has the effect of keeping us from growing weary, preventing us from excessive discouragement and losing heart.

So far in this lesson, we have discovered the absolute necessity of changing our focus from our problems to a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are taught here to focus on the gospel, and promised that if we do we will not become weary or lose heart. This is because the Holy Spirit is active at the cross and will provide supernatural power to us there. That’s why the focus of our lives is so very important.

Do you struggle with drunkenness, drug abuse, sexual impurity or overeating? Let’s begin to look to the cross of Jesus Christ together in these lessons. Do you struggle with hidden sins of the heart like envy, bitterness, rage or malice? Let’s turn to Jesus and fix our eyes on Him, and watch the changes occur. Do you have a life-dominating struggle? Let’s consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful people, let’s really look at all that He went through for us. For when you turn to the cross, you will see Jesus taking each and every one of your sins on Himself and dying with them, thereby removing them from you and setting you free.

God’s Word promises that if you focus on Christ and His cross you will not grow weary and lose heart as you navigate your life. You will not be exhausted nor overly discouraged. You will have the power of the Holy Spirit working in you. Your identity changes completely, no longer will you identify with your sin struggles, or with your temptations; rather your whole identity will be wrapped up in Christ. He will literally become your life! “Christ is your life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory” (Colossians 3:4).Now that is the way to face problems and struggles, right?

In the next lesson we are going to see an illustration of the importance of focusing on the cross, and we’ll see the effects of it just as we’ve discussed so far. A picture is worth a thousand words, and we will look together at that picture in lesson 4.

Lesson 3 Testimony: Ken

Ken writes, "My addiction was to the tv to a large extent and the iPad to lesser extent. I’ve spent all of my life looking for satisfaction, pleasure, fulfillment, release by watching tv. There were times when I found those things but they were always fleeting. What I never bargained for was the baggage that came with vegging out in from of a tv for hours. Failing eye health, poor physical health, loss of esteem and tragic waste of time and ability.

I am today 49, and very aware of the talents God has given me. The same talents I have buried to go watch tv. Today, in Jesus, I have found hope, through a resurgent faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, taught to me at Setting Captives Free. I still watch tv, but not as much, I’m no longer engrossed in it.

More importantly the Lord has made a way for me to start recovering those talents and putting them to great use. He’s blessing me not only in freeing me from my struggle with media, but also in all areas of my life. I’ve made such a mess of things but He’s given me hope that through focusing on the cross I can live life to the full.

To God Be the glory.--Ken"

Question 7. Please share your thoughts on the above testimony here:


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free