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.
Joy is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think about Good Friday.
However, from Hebrews 12:2 we see that Jesus’ thoughts were on joy in the days leading up to his crucifixion, through it and beyond.
While reading this week about the physiological processes a typical crucified victim underwent, based on historical documentation of crucifixion procedures used during that time period, joy is not what my imagination conjured up, but rather, a brutal murder, the depth of Christ’s pain and the true extent of God’s love for us.
It’s not unreasonable to ask- what was this joy that Jesus focused on, to help Him endure the horror of his death on the cross?
To understand this better, we must note that the athletic metaphors used by the author of Hebrews, like run and race are relevant throughout the ages, motivating both first century Christians as well as us today. They paint a picture of the Christian life as a marathon–a long distance race that we experience with Jesus as the forerunner.
This is evident at the start of Hebrews 12 as well, where we are told to run with perseverance the race set before us, setting Jesus as our goal, just as Jesus set joy as his goal.
Jesus ran a 33 year long race. He ran it and finished it, “for the joy set before him”
Which brings me back to my earlier question- ‘What was this joy that he set as his goal?’ It was the joy of being exalted to the right hand of the throne of God, in the assembly of a redeemed people. You and I make up that redeemed people. Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, he is the only means of reaching the Father. In John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It was the joy of our salvation that caused Jesus to sacrifice his life, so that sin would no longer separate us and we would be with him for all eternity. He set us as his joy, not seeing our weaknesses and failures but what we will be, because He can see what we will be in the end from the beginning. He chose us and made us the joy worth dying for!
As we continue reading Hebrews 12:2, it says ‘He endured the cross’: Death on the cross was a criminal’s death. It was a public condemnation laden with humiliation and shame. This was the death Jesus died on our behalf- willingly and on false charges. Isaiah 53 tells us:
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, but rather He laid it down in obedience to the will of the Father, all for you and I – the joy set before him.
He endured the cross, despised the shame – If one despises a thing, one normally has nothing to do with it. Crucifixion was such a shameful form of execution that it was forbidden to be inflicted on Roman citizens; in addition, the Jews believed that “everyone who is hanged on a tree” is cursed by God. This is reflected in Galatians 3:13 – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree”—but Jesus despised its shame, thinking so little of the pain and humiliation involved, that he refused to avoid it; instead, he endured it. Then, having completed his work of redemption, he, ‘sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’.
Our loving Jesus was willing to face the shame of being crucified on a cross, all for you and I – the joy set before him.
At the beginning of verse 2, the author of Hebrews encouraged us to stare obsessively at Jesus as we too run our own race. He says – “Looking to Jesus”.
The word – looking is in the present progressive tense. A continuing action, something going on now that is unfinished.
We stare obsessively at Him because he is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Everything Jesus told us to do, He did first. In life’s race too, Jesus, went ahead of us, experiencing what we experience as humans, thus understanding how limited we are, how difficult our lives can be, how desperate we are when we lack something we need, and how hopeless we are apart from God.
Jesus leads the list of heroes of the faith from the Bible, becoming our ultimate ‘witness’ or ‘cheerleader’ as we too, run our race, setting joy before us.
Just as he set joy before him- the joy of you and I, we too, set Jesus as the joy before us. Let us run our race with no eyes for any one or anything except Jesus. He is the one toward whom we run with undivided attention. He is our goal, our final destination.
Our Joy will be fulfilled when we are with him through all eternity.