Seeing the Unseen

By David Feddes

The young man was attending Harvard University but decided to drop out. Why would he do that? Why drop out of such a prestigious institution? Was he getting bad grades? Did he hate classes? No, his grades were okay, and he liked school just fine. But he left because he saw something most of his classmates didn’t see. He saw something bigger and better than a Harvard diploma. He saw a future involving computers, and he saw an opportunity to provide the operating software. But he had to act right away. If he waited till after graduation, his chance might be gone. So Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, co-founded Microsoft, and became a gazillionaire, with more money than all his Harvard classmates combined. Bill Gates saw something that was unseen by most other people, and he reaped the rewards.

Now, when someone drops out of college to make piles of money, we might admire and even envy him. But what if someone has already graduated from the most elite school and has access to the wealth of an entire nation but then turns his back on it all and becomes a penniless nobody? If he says he did it because he saw the unseen, we might think his vision failed him. When someone like Bill Gates gets rich by seeing the unseen, we’re impressed. But if someone becomes poor after seeing the unseen, we might think he’s crazy. But that’s exactly what Moses did.

Moses had it all, or so it seemed. He had been adopted into the royal family of Egypt. As a member of Egypt’s elite, he had a superb education, he had the power to do anything he wanted, and the money to buy anything his heart desired. But he gave it all up. He refused to be known as a prince and instead identified himself with slaves. Why? Because he saw the unseen.

Moses and Bill Gates had something in common: both saw something others didn’t see, and both acted accordingly. But Gates and Moses were also different: Gates got rich; Moses became poor. Gates ran a giant corporation; Moses ran for his life. Gates built a palace overlooking the sea; Moses left his palace for a tent in a desert. In both cases, seeing the unseen was the key, but Moses saw more. He didn’t just see a way to get rich for the next few decades; he saw rewards that last forever. He didn’t just see a chance to get ahead in life; he saw the living God.

Envisioning the Future

Before we think more about seeing the unseen through faith, let’s not overlook the fact that seeing the unseen is important in many areas of life. In the world of business, a key to success is to see opportunities others may not see and to seize those opportunities before they get away, as Bill Gates did. The best businesses don’t just look at the way things are right now; they envision the future.

The same is true in sports. The best athletes are those who can anticipate things even before they happen. A superstar quarterback doesn’t throw the ball to the spot where a receiver is but to the spot where the receiver is going to be. A hockey wizard doesn’t just see where the players are; he senses where they’re going to be. Dominant athletes have a knack for seeing the unseen, for sensing what is about to happen and always being ahead of the game.

In science, too, seeing the unseen is vital. Maybe you picture science as people doing experiments and studying factual data and then, on the basis of what they see, coming up with an explanation. But some of the most important ideas in science have appeared in someone’s mind before there was concrete, confirming evidence. Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, wasn’t based on something Einstein actually saw. It rose out of Einstein’s brilliant imagination and calculation. Only later did actual observations confirm various aspects of the theory.

We sometimes think that the smartest, most successful people are those who stick to the facts at hand and don’t put much stock in anything they can’t see. But that is not so. In one area of life after another, the greatest successes are those who focus on things that aren’t yet visible. Religious faith isn’t the only area of life where seeing the unseen is essential.

However, faith is the most important and far-reaching form of seeing the unseen. When a great athlete anticipates a play even before it happens, he is seeing only a split second into the future. When Bill Gates envisions the future of computers, he’s looking only a few years ahead. But when Moses saw the reality of God and his own future with the people of God, he saw a future that goes on forever. And what Moses saw moved him to make a decision much more radical, with much more at stake, than a hockey player deciding where to send the puck or Bill Gates deciding to leave Harvard or Einstein deciding to break with older ways of thinking. If a hockey player makes a bad decision, he might lose a game, but that’s not exactly the end of the world. If Gates had turned out to be mistaken in leaving Harvard, he could have gone back later. If Einstein’s theory had flopped, he might have been disappointed, but he could still have carried on as a scientist. For Moses, however, everything was on the line. There was no going back. Once Moses rejected his position as prince of Egypt and identified with the Israelite slaves, his choice was final.

The only reason Moses made such a choice was that he saw the unseen, and what he saw made him sure that it was better to endure hardship and disgrace with God’s people than to enjoy luxury with God’s enemies. He saw that suffering lay ahead, but he also saw that beyond the suffering lay an everlasting reward. He saw that the king of Egypt would oppose him, but he also saw the unseen God, and he cared less about what the king of Egypt would do than about what the King of kings would do.

That’s what seeing the unseen is all about. You don’t just look at right now or a few years in the future; you look ahead to the final outcome, your eternal destiny. You don’t just look around at what other people might think of you or do to you; you look up to God Almighty and at what he thinks of you and at what he can do through you when you trust him and follow his orders.

If Moses had simply hung onto his position in Egypt’s royal family, he may have enjoyed himself for a few years and perhaps even ruled on the throne of Egypt, but he would have long since been forgotten, and he would have lost his soul forever. But because Moses acted by faith, his name lives on throughout the world, and he himself lives in glory with the Lord he served.

So, too, if your only goal in life is to protect your own position and to get as much power and comfort and enjoyment as you can for yourself, you won’t amount to all that much, and your final destiny will be miserable. But if you see the unseen and live by faith, you can be used by God to accomplish things you never dreamed possible. You may have to endure some hardship and disgrace now for the sake of Christ, but your long-term reward will far outweigh any troubles you go through for now.

Visionary Parents

Let’s look in the Bible at Hebrews chapter 11 and learn more about faith from the life of Moses. Hebrews 11 starts by saying, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). Hebrews 11 then describes various heroes of faith who saw the unseen and acted on what they saw. One of those heroes is Moses, but before Hebrews talks about Moses himself, it first speaks of the faith of Moses’ parents. Hebrews 11:23 says, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw that he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

Around the time Moses was born, the king of Egypt got nervous about the growing numbers of the Israelite people. He worried that they might take over the country. He didn’t want them to take over, but he didn’t want them to leave either. They were too productive and too important to Egypt’s economy. So Pharaoh the king came up with a two-part plan. First, he would weaken any potential political or military threat by depriving them of any education or clout and turning them all into slaves. Second, he would destroy the Israelites as a distinct people by killing all newborn baby boys. Eventually there would be no Israelite men but only women. The women’s bodies would belong to their Egyptian masters for work or sex. Any children they had would be slaves who had no sense of being part of a special people. “Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live'” (Exodus 1:22).

Moses’ parents knew the king’s decree, but when baby Moses was born, they decided to keep their little one alive, at great risk to themselves. Why? Because they saw the unseen. According to the Bible, they saw that Moses was no ordinary child. How did they see this? Not with their eyes, but by faith! It’s not just that baby Moses was cuter than other babies. Moses’ parents didn’t just see chubby cheeks or dimples or bright eyes. These visionary parents saw the unseen potential of their baby. They saw that their baby was not just a piece of trash to be thrown away so that they could stay out of trouble with the law. They lived by faith, not fear. They saw that he was no ordinary child and did everything possible to protect him and his future.

They kept the baby hidden for three months, and when he was too large and too loud to hide at home any longer, they took a huge step of faith and put him in a watertight basket and set it in the river. The baby’s older sister hid nearby to see what would happen. Along came Pharaoh’s own daughter to bathe. When Pharaoh’s daughter saw the baby crying, she felt sorry for him and decided to adopt him as her own. However, she needed someone to nurse the baby, and she ended up paying Moses’ mother to nurse him and care for him.

That’s how Moses was rescued from death as a baby. And don’t miss the key to it: Moses’ parents saw the unseen. By faith they saw their child in light of God’s plan for him, not in light of Pharaoh’s plan.

Here’s a challenge and encouragement for all of us who are parents. Do we see the unseen in our children? In a society that throws away millions of babies through abortion, we must see that every baby is special, that every newborn child is “no ordinary child,” that every child is extraordinary, a creation and gift of God. If we look only at what we can see—the cost of food and clothing, the challenges of child rearing, the propaganda of population control—then we will trash countless babies. But if we see the unseen image of God in each child and see by faith what God can make of the child, we will follow the lead of Moses’ parents and take every risk necessary to help our children survive and flourish. Our attitude toward our children will be determined by faith not fear.

Seeing the unseen moves parents to preserve our little ones’ lives, and it also controls our priorities in rearing them. It’s all too easy to focus on stuff we can see. It’s easy to see whether carpets are clean or dirty and whether rooms are tidy or messy. It’s not so easy to see a child’s soul. But if we parents live by faith and see the unseen, we’d rather let our children be children than try to maintain the perfect, spotless home. And we will care more about the unseen part of our children, their intellectual and spiritual development, than about the stuff we can see. It’s easy to see out-of-style clothes and rush out to buy something more fashionable. It not so easy to see that a child isn’t yet clothed in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see crooked teeth and rush out to buy braces. It’s not so easy to see a soul growing crooked. But parents of faith will see these unseen things and make it a priority to lead their children to join the Lord and his people.

That’s what Moses’ parents did, both in protecting him as a baby and also in nurturing him as a child. They so impressed on Moses the reality of God and the fact that he belonged to God’s people that he never forgot it. When baby Moses had grown to boyhood, Pharaoh’s daughter took him into the royal palace, but Moses always remembered who he really was.

Making The Choice

By the time Moses was a young man, he was in the royal family. He was smart and strong. The Bible says “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22). He had it made. All he had to do was go with the flow, and who knows? He might have ended up ruling Egypt. But Moses took a different path. Hebrews 11 says,

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

If Moses had only looked at visible things, he would have chosen life in the palace, not a life of trouble and oppression. But by faith he saw the invisible God, and by faith he saw other things that the eyes cannot see. He saw an invisible thing called sin, and he saw that it is better to suffer being sinned against than to prosper as the perpetrator of sin. If Egypt’s pleasures came at the expense of Israel’s suffering, Moses wanted no part of those pleasures. If Egypt’s treasures came from Israel’s poverty, then Moses wanted no part of those treasures.

By faith Moses saw how sinful it would be to prosper at the expense of others, and by faith he also saw something else. He saw that the good times of the wicked last only a short while, but the rewards of God’s people last forever. Yes, for the time being there were obvious, visible pleasures and treasures that could be his as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But by faith Moses saw the unseen: he saw sin’s pleasures turning to plagues; he saw Egypt’s treasures turning to trash. He also saw that God had a great, everlasting reward in store for those who would trust and obey him. He saw that the short-term pleasures of sin would mean long-term punishment from God, and that short-term mistreatment with God’s people would mean long-term benefits. He saw that disgrace in the company of the coming Christ was far better than honor in the company of the cruel Pharaoh. God was his pleasure; Christ was his treasure. So Moses left his position of power and stood with God’s oppressed people.

But that was then; this is now. What does an old story about Moses have to do with us? Simply this: we need to see the unseen and make every choice based on faith, as Moses did. How often do we do stupid, sinful things because we focus on short-term pleasures we can see instead of the unseen, long-term pain? How often are we concerned more about our own status and what other people think of us than about making the right choice?

You may be tempted to get into a sinful sexual relationship. You may be tempted by drugs and alcohol and the party life. You may be tempted to make as much money as possible, no matter what it takes, no matter who gets hurt. Or, like Moses, you may be tempted to settle into a life of clout and comfort without any concern for the poor and oppressed. But if you see the unseen, you know that sin’s pleasure last only a short time, while the pain lasts much longer. If you see the unseen, you know that any mistreatment or mockery you have to endure for doing right and standing with the Lord will be far outweighed by overflowing joy and eternal pleasures in glory.

In order for you to choose to do the right thing, it’s not enough to know a bunch of dos and don’ts. You need to see the unseen. Only if you see the unseen ugliness of sin and the unseen beauty of goodness, only if you see the unseen ruin that eventually comes from evil and the unseen reward that eventually comes from righteousness, will you realize that the right thing is also the smart thing. Only when you trust that God is able to satisfy all your needs and longings in the end will you have the power and incentive to live by faith even through hardship. Only when you see the wonder and power of the unseen God will you be able to live by courage instead of cowardice, by faith instead of fear.

Saved By the Blood

When Moses decided to identify with God’s people, it seemed at first like failure. The Bible says, “Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not” (Acts 7:25). Instead, they sneered at him, and Moses knew he couldn’t stay in Egypt any longer. The Israelites didn’t want him, and Pharaoh wanted him dead.

When Moses left Egypt, did he leave simply because he feared what Pharaoh would do to him? No, although he naturally was afraid, he left not from fear of the king’s anger, but because by faith he saw the unseen God. He revered God more than he feared Pharaoh, and he knew it was not yet God’s time to save Israel through him. God was calling the shots.

Moses spent forty years living in the desert as a lowly shepherd before God spoke to him and sent him back to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery. In plague after plague after plague, God punished the Egyptians for their cruelty and pushed Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. But Pharaoh refused until the tenth and most awful plague: the killing of the firstborn. God told Moses that he would destroy the firstborn child of every house in Egypt. The only way to escape death was to have the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of your home.

But why would a lamb’s blood prevent death from coming near? Can you see any sense in that? Maybe Moses couldn’t see much sense in it either. But he saw the unseen: he saw that God’s Word always comes true and that God’s way is the only path to life. As one author puts it, sometimes doing what God says goes against common sense–but who ever said God was common! So Moses and the Israelites trusted God, and they applied the blood of the lamb to their own homes. Hebrews 11:28 says, “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.”

What does the blood of the Passover lamb blood have to do with us today? We need the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, to protect us from death and eternal destruction. Even if we don’t understand exactly how Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross has the power to protect us and give us life, by faith we must see the unseen and believe that God’s Word is true and that God’s way is the only way to life. Jesus is our Passover lamb, our Savior. Only his blood can rescue us from sin and death.

Focus on Jesus

We must trust Jesus as our Savior, and we must also focus on him and follow him. He is our supreme model of doing God’s will, in seeing the unseen. After Hebrews tells of Moses and other heroes of faith, it says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Moses was in many ways a great model of faith, but a man greater than Moses has come. Jesus gave up far more than Moses. Jesus didn’t just leave the palace of Egypt; he left the throne room of heaven. He faced far greater suffering and shame than Moses. Jesus endured the torture of crucifixion and God’s wrath against all the sin of the whole world. But he saw the unseen. He saw his Father’s plan to save his people and glorify him in their salvation. Jesus saw a future triumph greater than that of Moses: Moses led one nation out of Egypt to their promised land; Jesus would rescue people of all nations from sin and hell and bring them to eternal joy in heaven. Jesus saw this unseen future, and it gave him such joy that he accepted the cross, enduring the suffering and scorning the shame. And sure enough, after the cross came his resurrection and ascension to heaven. Jesus returned to his rightful place with God, with the added joy of bringing countless people with him into God’s joy.

Faith has its own way of seeing. Faith sees not with the eye but with the heart. Faith sees not just what is happening now but how things will turn out in the end. Faith sees not just people around us but God above us. And faith bases its decisions and desires on what it sees.

Do you see with a heart of faith? Are you looking ahead to your reward? Do you see him who is invisible? Do you choose to be mistreated with God’s people, rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures for a short time? Do you, like Moses, regard disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than worldly treasures? Are you living by faith in Jesus? I pray that you can say with Scripture, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.