I have spent the past three weeks in England. Ten of those days were participating in the C.S. Lewis Foundation's Summer Institutes, Oxbridge 2014: Reclaiming the Virtues. If you have ever spent anytime at Oxford or Cambridge, you will know that July is a time when the streets are buzzing with crowds of people who are taking in the historical sites, enrolled in summer classes and programs, or enjoying the numerous plays and concerts offered here. The narrow sidewalks are filled with representatives of all the nations of the earth.
There are also bicycles galore. My initial worry, as a North American, was that I might get run over on the side of a street by a passing automobile since I tend to look in the wrong direction. However, I learned quickly that you usually hear a car coming. It is the myriad of cyclists who you are more apt to cross if you are careless. There are many. They are fast. They don't always make a sound.
So, at least for the first while, you find yourself mentally muttering to yourself "Look to the right. Look to the right." In fact, mercifully, in Oxford and Cambridge, almost every street corner and crosswalk have clearly painted on the pavement or the cobble stone curb, "Look Right." No doubt, necessity is the mother of invention. I can clearly imagine that there have been plenty of crashes and calamities from a momentary lapse of looking left.
It was a few days into my new routine of safety self-talk, "Look to the right. Look to the right", that I was struck by how spiritually helpful it was to have this message painted on every corner. This was an extremely useful spiritual metaphor. In England, and Oxford in particular, everywhere you look you (not just to the right), you see the reminders of kings and priests, royalty and religion. Right now, I am staying at Christchurch College established by the wife-executing Henry the Eighth. Henry's life size painting stares down at us as we eat in the Great Hall. There are markers and monuments to great men who were burnt at the stake for their commitment to the gospel. Here, it is clear. Earthly kings and priests were broken men like you and me. So, it was throughout biblical history.
Yet, in the Scriptures, we are pointed to the One man who has forever been appointed by God to be both our Priest and King. He now sits at the right hand of God the Father and He is ruling and interceding on behalf of all the citizens of His kingdom who have placed their faith and confidence in Him.
In a conference in which we were spending an extended time considering the call to be a godly and virtuous people in a world that has largely forsaken the virtues, it was easy to feel the weight of the challenge before us. Where is the standard of virtue most clearly displayed? How do we resist the spirit of the age as it aggressively presses us for compromise? How do we weak and weary saints reclaim the virtues in our own lives, in the church, and in the world? Who is sufficient for these things?
One thought kept coming to my mind: Look to the right. Look to the right. Look to the right hand of God in heaven. In the Scriptures, one of the chief messages to the Christian struggling to reclaim the virtues in his or her life, or seeking to endure the challenges of brokenness or worldly enticements, or dealing with the speeding vehicles of guilt, shame, fear, and inadequacy, is to do what the cobbled streets of England declare: "Look to the right." The great unshakeable hope and help for every Christian making the pilgrimage to glory is the one triumphant reality: At the right hand of our heavenly Father sits our reigning risen Saviour and King. In Narnia, the characters of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles had one constant hope: Aslan. Aslan was alive and he was on the move. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us: Look to the Right. Look to the Right. Our Aslan is the Lord Jesus Christ who reigns at the right hand of God over all in heaven and on earth.
Without pretending to exhaust the riches of this extremely helpful maxim, let me share with you some of the reasons why the Bible tells us to look to the right hand of our heavenly Father where Jesus is seated. Consider even momentarily the marvel of having Jesus as both our King and our Priest. We ought to look to the right when we are:
1. Dealing with condemnation: Look to the right. The King is interceding in love for you. We have an effectual advocate with God on our behalf when we are confronted with our past sins and failings. The accusation against the church is constantly that it is filled with sin and hypocrisy. The declaration of Christ for all sinners who truly trust in Him is that God is satisfied fully and completely with the finished work of His Son on the cross on our behalf. Jesus ever lives to guarantee our forgiveness fully and finally. The way to deal with our guilt is to look to the right and see Christ Jesus seated because God is satisfied with His sacrifice.Romans 8:32-39 "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
2. Facing cultural hostility and opposition: Look to the right. The King is ruling with power for you. We have the undefeatable power of the resurrected and reigning Christ who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He has been given to His church as the guarantee of the triumph of the church in attaining the glory of God. We must not lose heart when we hear the sabre rattling of an age that tolerates everything but godliness and love for Christ and His Word. When it looks dark and dim, look to the right and remember that Christ has defeated sin and death and He holds final sway over all kings and peoples. Satan is defeated and Christ will perfect His people, filling us with the beauty of God's great perfections.
Ephesians 1:18-23 "having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."
3. Battling selfishness, instant gratification, and momentary sinful pleasures: Look to the right. The King is reserving glory for you. Sometimes, it seems impossible to think that the choice to live for God, for our neighbours, and for eternity is sustainable under the continual barrage of enticements to grab all you can now while you can. However, we have someone who has blazed the trail, triumphed over sin and self, and has secured a place for us in God's everlasting kingdom. His kingdom values love and righteousness, truth and justice, peace and mercy over exploitation, manipulation, and material and sensual indulgence. When we feel weak and weary in the struggle for His kingdom to come and will to be done on earth, we are to set our minds on things above and realize that there, seated at the right hand of God is the Guarantee that this struggle is not in vain and cannot fail. One day, we will share in the joy of the glory of His kingdom where we and all around will be filled with the beauty of His perfections.
Colossians 3:1-17 "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on 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 one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts 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."
4. Feeling weak and broken and weary and worn: Look to the right. The King is responding with sympathy to you. Perseverance is no easy task. Growing faint and discouraged is common simply because we are by nature weak and God designs to produce true growth in the refining fires of trouble and trials. Strength and courage comes not by being more confident in our abilities. Instead, God supplies new grace only through our conscious, deliberate dependence upon our sympathetic and sufficient High Priest who hears and responds to our cries for help. Look to God's right hand and you will find One who has been tempted just as us, yet without sin. That very same One has been appointed to be your Helper and He looks on you and me as a loving elder brother. Don't carry the burdens of life alone. Look to the right and there find sympathy and strength!
Hebrews 1:1-3 "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high..."
Hebrews 2:9-18 "But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, ... Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Hebrews 3:14-16 "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
The history of men fails to produce kings or priests who hold together the comfort that this King brings: A King who cares; who uses power effectually and only for the good of those who look to Him; who is eager to share all that He has and all that He is; and who has died and risen purposefully to defeat the tyranny of evil once and for all.
O that every corner in the world were like the street corners of Oxford in England, urging us to "Look to the right! Look to the right." If only we would see Jesus Christ seated, reigning, sympathizing, interceding, and strengthening us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The world could not discourage us. The devil could not condemn us. The past could not hold us. The flesh could not have dominion over us. He is our certainty. This is our destiny.
The path to virtue is clear. Just "Look to the right. Look to the right!"