We have the witnesses, those who have gone before us as an example that this race can be won. We have our focus, our eyes fixed, focused on Jesus not to be taken off for anything this world offers. But we also have a joy awaiting us. We could say that Jesus plays the role of both Witness and Focus. Jesus is the ultimate example to us as to how to deal with adversity in life. The writer of Hebrews tells us to be “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame,” (Heb 12.2, HCSB). Here is the obstacle of all obstacles: the cross of Calvary–the burden of man’s sin and the wrath of God’s judgment upon Him. But Jesus was willing to endure. “But not as I will, but as You will,” (Matt 26.39, HCSB). Jesus endured a cross. The word used here in Greek is actually two words put together. It means to remain under. It comes with the idea that a great burden, a great weight is being put upon someone and they stay no matter what. No matter how heavy the weight becomes they remain under. As the Getty’s said in their great hymn, “Power of the Cross,” Jesus was “bearing the awesome weight of sin.” He chose to remain.
But what is even more striking is the very next phrase: “and despised the shame.” You won’t read this often, but I think the New Living Translation got this translation better than the others. When we hear the word despise we tend to think of a hatred toward something. But in reality it is not a simple hatred that Jesus had toward the shame, but as the NLT puts it Jesus was “disregarding the shame,” (Heb 12.2e, NLT). There would be a burden to bear and there would be shame brought onto him for bearing the burden. Not only was He a man stripped naked before every person walking by, hanging on the cross as a horrendous criminal. He was the Man claiming to be God incarnate, the author of life, killed by sinful man. The God of the universe reduced to this. The criminals mocking, “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us,” (Luke 23.39, HCSB)! The Jewish leaders laughing, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One,” (Luke 23.35, HCSB)! The soldiers gambling for his clothes as He hangs just above them, scoffing, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,” (Luke 23.37, HCSB). The Father forsaking Him! What shame he had to put up with. Yet, it didn’t keep Him from going to the cross. He disregarded the shame. He took no account of it. He endured the cross and disregarded the shame it would bring to Him.
He is our example. But why did He endure a cross and disregard the shame that came with it? “For the joy that lay before Him.” He was given something greater than the cross. He was given something stronger than crucifixion. What joy? The joy of God’s presence and reign. He “has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne,” (Heb 12.2f, HCSB). He knew the joy. Paul wrote something similar to the Philippians:
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross—For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, (Phil 2.8-11, HCSB).
Jesus died, and was given the name above every name: Lord! Yahweh! And every person and every thing bows the knee to Him. He reigns!
And that same joy is ours: to be in the presence of God and to reign with Christ on high! Jesus suffered and arose the victorious ruler. It is no difference for all who put the focus of their faith on Him. Jesus said to the church of Laodecia: “The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne,” (Rev 3.21, HCSB). John reiterates that; He tells us that we will reign with Him. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians that we reign with Him. Let us see the joy. We must. We must.
We must see with Paul who said to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8.18, HCSB). He wrote to the Corinthians: “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” (2 Cor 4.17-18, HCSB).
Sin will pull our eyes from Jesus. It will bring us to feelings of guilt and shame and depression. Difficulties with family and friends will pull our eyes from Jesus and will bring feelings of anger and bitterness, hurt and lostness. Job woes will pull our eyes from Jesus and bring feelings of despair, helplessness, and anxiety. Sickness and disease will pull our eyes from Jesus and bring with it a sense of worthlessness, powerlessness, and fret. The witnesses that we saw before were not immune to any of these examples. Yet they endured. They persevered. It can be done. Is it hard? Yes. Is it tiring? Yes. Are there times we want to give up? Without a doubt. But the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. Our momentary light affliction (and he calls it light in spite of how heavy it is, because the glory that is being produced by it is so much greater than it) is absolutely incomparable.
James wrote to the churches, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing,” (James 1.2-4, HCSB). There are those words again: joy and endurance—the exact same words put together as in Hebrews 12:1-2. We need to reconsider what we are going through. We need to dive deeper than the surface. The surface is all about the here and now. It is all about the pain. It’s all about the difficulty. Reconsider what the real issue is. The real issue is maturity. The real issue is completing the work or as the writer of Hebrews would say: completing the race. James went on to say: “A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised for those who love Him,” (James 1.12, HCSB). Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. He set aside present joy for present pain. But received on the other side, a joy unspeakable. We are called to refocus our eyes on Jesus, following Him, and so reconsider our circumstance as one that brings great joy.
So let us shed off the sin that tangles up our legs causing us to fall and let us shed the weights of the worldly cares that slow us down. Let us endure the hardships and the pain and the suffering. Let us remember the witnesses that have done it before us. Let us refocus on Jesus, and disregard any shame that comes due to living for Him and not for this world, because that shame cannot compare with the glory that awaits. And let us reconsider that what we see is not what we get. We get something so much greater than what we can see.