As I prepared the Sunday School lesson for the Adult Sunday School class this week, something struck me that has greatly encouraged me, and I thought I'd share it with you. It comes from Hebrews 12:2. Most of you will probably recognize this verse when you read it.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The phrase that struck me is italicized. Notice carefully the wording. It says that Christ Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame for the hope of a future joy. In other words, it was the simple anticipation of a future joy, and not the presence of that joy, that gave Christ the strength to endure. The thought of this joy was so great that the thought itself brought strength to endure.
The importance of this is critical at this point in my life. This anticipated joy of our Lord is given as our example for perserverance. This has changed my thinking in a significant way of late, and it has brought tremendous encouragement.
The thing that struck me first is that I have often heard it said that it was love that kept Christ on the cross. In other words, the thought that sustained Him in His agony was the love of Christ for His Father and for His people. Do not misunderstand me here; I believe that to be true. But hear me out and listen to the text; strictly speaking, only joy is mentioned in this verse, and that nuance makes all the difference for me.
What was the joy that was set before Jesus Christ? What was so wonderful that the mere anticipation of it made Him scorn the shame of the cross and endure the mocking of a sinful people? What made Him pray for His Father to forgive His tormenters? What stayed His hand when He could have struck down the whole of the Roman army with one righteous move? It was a vision of a proud Father, and the thought of escorting a perfect, spotless bride to her throne. It was the thought of a trembling centurion clothed in glory, and of a demon-possessed slave girl being perfectly clean, and the granduer of a countless multitude of angels marveling over the grace of God towards sinners. Is this love? Is this joy? I'm not certain what it is, but when I think on it this morning I can taste it.
I must be honest with you here, and this is the cause of my problems in ministry and life, I simply do not love as Christ loved. I do not love the Father as He loved Him, and I certainly do not love people like He loved them. Even the saints aggravate me...perhaps the saints especially. Often they do not listen, they are slothful and worldly and just...people. But I'm no better than they are! I don't even like myself most of the time. I get aggrevated with me as much as with them, and that's the honest truth. My own sinfulness is enough to make me despair. But we are the church, and one day we will be a glorious spotless body enveloped in the radiance of God's glory; it isn't who we are now that excites me and keeps me going in ministry; it is who we will be if we persevere. Was this not the hope of Paul when he wrote, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" (1 Thess. 2:9).
For now, my love is fickle, my walk is often a crawl, and my best efforts are corrupted by an innate selfishness I cannot shake. But I have a hope, a real, life changing hope that one day I'll be right, and not only me but also the Church. That's the hope of joy, and that's what keeps me running the race that is set before me this Monday morning.
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