(Please read Hebrews 12:1-3. I have used the NIV for my study.)
Jesus endured the cross because He knew JOY awaited Him on the other side of suffering.
In the verse immediately following our passage, Paul helped his readers put their suffering in perspective: In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (HBS 12:4, NIV) Wow! That’s some perspective.
In other words, “You think you’ve got it bad? What have you got to complain about?”
Let’s consider an historical perspective. From Illustrations Unlimited, “THE PRICE THEY PAID.”
“Have you ever wondered what happened to those fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
- Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.
- Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
- Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.
“They signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
- Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
- Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
- At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis, had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
- Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and she died within a few months.
- John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.
“Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’ They made these sacrifices to give us an independent America.”
<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-quotes-price-62259.asp on 2/19/16.>
Jesus gave His life on the cross to give us salvation. Are our love and obedience too much to ask in return?
- Jesus is our example of endurance.
Paul offers three reasons why we should take Jesus as our example.
First, our focus needs to shift: LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2). Life’s difficulties tend to seem or actually become worse the more attention we pay to ourselves. On the other hand, solutions present themselves, strength returns, and courage is renewed when we pay more attention to Jesus. We need to “fix” our eyes on Jesus so we can “fix” the problems we’re facing.
Second, we need to remember Jesus’ role. He is THE AUTHOR & PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH (v. 2). Jesus is the AUTHOR of our faith in the sense that our life of faith begins with Him. If He hadn’t loved us first and best, we’d have nothing of eternity in us.
However, Jesus doesn’t get us started and abandon us to our own devices. He is also the PERFECTER of our faith. That means He continues with us throughout the journey of life, working to perfect us, making us more like Himself.
Third, when we think about it, following Jesus makes the most sense; that’s why we must CONSIDER HIM (v. 3). CONSIDER is one of three Greek words that are found only in this passage. This is something special.
This whole passage is an athletic scene, so Jesus is our coach. We respond positively to our coach’s training and duplicate the things he has demonstrated for us. We follow his example.
Additionally, the best athletes do not rely on their physical talents alone. They also play smart, learning the game, accepting the coach’s training; they are strategizing their way to victory, using their mental as well as their physical assets.
One of the many noteworthy aspects of Jesus’ character is His joy. In this passage is juxtaposed next to the horrific suffering He endured before and during crucifixion. The phrase, FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, is key to our study. It seems incredible to think that JOY was enough of motive to endure all that pain & shame. Jesus did more than survive the cross; he triumphed over it. In Colossians 2:15 the Apostle Paul also wrote, HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS.
We’ve answered why Jesus endured the cross; JOY. But how did He do it? Paul offers two partial answers.
One, He ENDURED THE CROSS. Like an athlete who endures enormous pain and exertion, Jesus outlasted the cross. Willpower is power a power we can access through our human nature, augmented by the Holy Spirit. A purpose of the Gethsemane scenes in the Gospels is to show that He was determined to be obedient, to follow through and do the entire will of God. The temptation to quit is always strongest when we are at our weakest. But Jesus never quit on the Father’s plan. He “gutted it out.”
Two, He scorned ITS SHAME. An oft-quoted proverb says, “pride comes before a fall.” But pride can also cut short your effort and cause you to quit before you’re far enough in to fall. Pride and fear and keep a person from starting at all! I mention pride here because the cross was, in the culture of the Jews, the most disgraceful way to die. As if dying wasn’t bad enough, dying disgracefully is worse. But Jesus scorned all that. He didn’t care. Pride was swept away by the flood of obedience.
What source of JOY was so great that it motivated all this? Glory. Not in the usual sense of that term, nothing like receiving an “Oscar,” but in a far greater, more true and spiritual sense of glory as being the presence of God. The cross was the threshold that Jesus crossed for the JOY of being restored to heaven. It was reunion with the Father and the Spirit in relationship that had not fully existed since the moment of becoming enfleshed more than 33 years ago.
After the cross, Jesus got to sit down AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD (v. 2). The greatest sacrifice merited the greatest honor. (See Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul described the same thing.)
We’ve all experienced the kind of joy that comes when your hard work and sacrifice are appreciated and honored. That sensation of joyous satisfaction is a tiny scale sample of the JOY that motivated Jesus.
Another amazing thing is that Jesus shares His JOY with all of His people. We too will experience – in our much smaller scale – the suffering Jesus experienced. If we remain faithful as He was faithful, we will be glorified by eternal life in the presence of God. WOW! If that doesn’t motivate you to patiently endure suffering, trusting in God, then something’s wrong.
- Following His example enables us to endure.
JOY is not easily obtained or maintained. There are challenges we face that can rob us of our joy, or, if we overcome them, can become sources of joy. Jesus’ threshold to joy was the cross. Our crosses can be very typical experiences. Paul provides four examples.
The first is EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS (v. 1). This is the only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament; it refers to any kind of encumbrance that slows our progress in faith. I would say that HINDERS is a symbol of self-inflicted wounds:
– Distractions we allow when we should be praying.
– Worldly things that seem more interesting to read than the Bible.
– Placing ourselves in circumstances that tempt us to sin.
– Discouragements that come with false guilt.
– Clogging our schedule with over-commitment.
– Stuff we chose but don’t need and is detrimental.
The second is THE SIN THAT ENTANGLES (v. 1). This Greek word is also unique in the New Testament, which may indicate Paul is working hard to describe these truths. In this case, I picture a runner who’s got tangled up with a hurdle. That usually ends poorly!
The third is OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN (v. 3). We learn that bullies do not disappear the moment we outgrow the schoolyard. The truth is that there are just mean, evil people in the world. They may be motivated to oppose us out of spite or to persecute us for our faith. Whatever their motive, our response to all who declare themselves our enemy is to refuse to retaliate. We will have a more joyful life is we will strive to consider others our friends and treat them accordingly.
The fourth is growing WEARY and then losing HEART (v. 3). The word WEARY is another word picture in the Greek; it is the exhausted athlete who does not give up. The word for losing heart literally means the unstringing of a bow. There’s not much use for an unstrung bow, is there? It’s hard to be useful or even feel useful when you’ve given up.
But there are very good reasons to endure; Paul wrote about three.
One, WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES (v. 1). Suffering can be hard to endure at all; having to endure it alone is harder. Good news! You are not alone. Most importantly, God is with you. Secondly, your brothers and sisters are with you. Thirdly, our brothers and sisters who have preceded us in death witness to us by the examples they have set. Continuing the sports analogies in these verses, the CLOUD OF WITNESSES is like the cheering fans in the stands.
Two, we have Jesus’ example to follow (v. 2). We don’t have to make this stuff up. We have an example to follow, a template to use to guide us in living this life on God’s path.
Three, we have hope to strengthen our weary hearts (v. 3). When we are discouraged and feel disheartened, we should CONSIDER all Jesus endured to give us this life. It’s certain that whatever you and I face, it will not rise to the level of what Jesus overcame.
More importantly, hope motivates us to overcome. As we’ve seen, the substance of our hope is that we will we find glory on the other side of misery, just as Jesus did.
Finally, let’s note what we must do. Note the verbs:
We must THROW OFF hindrances and entanglements (v. 1). It may sound goofy, but one measure of a person’s character is what they throw away. Those are clearly the items they found they could live without. I’m talking to spiritual and physical hoarders here: If we haven’t used it for God’s Kingdom in the last three months, GET RID OF IT!
We must RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (v. 1). To RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE simply means we don’t stop running. Finish the race. Keep moving. Don’t worry about how far away the finish line is, just concern yourself with finishing the race. Perseverance and patience are some of the hardest things to learn in life because we can only learn them the hard way. Only by experience.
We’re all running in a RACE. We often describe life as a race, even a “rat race.” God did not use the metaphor of a RACE to discourage us, but to encourage us. How is thinking about life as a “race” encouraging?
– We have a crowd in the stands encouraging us, urging us on to the finish line.
– It’s not a competitive race. All those who finish get the ultimate prize.
– There is a finish line. Every problem we face, no matter how long we have to face it, is temporary. It will not join you on the other side of the finish line!
Obedience and holiness are running THE RACE MARKED OUT BEFORE US. In the ultimate sense, this is not our race. It is God’s. He is the one who MARKED it OUT. We follow His will, His path through life, not our own. That also means we run for His sake, not our own. Our life is not our own any more, it is His. These facts ought to motivate us to keep running.
We must FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2). This is like setting your sight on the horizon while driving. Your hands follow your eyes; it’s just human nature. There’s a spiritual corollary as well. Our heart follows where are eyes are fixed. We fix our eyes on what’s really important to us, and our heart follows.
We must CONSIDER the example He set for us (v. 3). In order to be able to follow Jesus’ example, we have to know what Jesus said and taught. The Bible is our source of information about Jesus, so we must study it.
Of course, studying the life of Jesus isn’t the complete thing. Knowledge alone isn’t enough. We must live the life of Jesus, being transformed into a reflection of Jesus Christ. We must be Jesus in word and deed.
“The story is told of a farmhand who had worked for a married couple for several years. As time went on, the couple grew older and older and they couldn’t do as much they had and the farm was beginning to look a little shabby. The paint on the barn was peeling. The fences had holes in them and slats were loose. The gravel road had potholes in it. Shingles on top of the farmhouse were beaten and weathered and needed replacing. But as the farmhand made his way to milk the cows each day, he thought: ‘What is that to me? It’s not my farm.’
“Then, one day the farmer and his wife asked him to come for dinner. They told him how much he had meant to them. They told him that they had no children to inherit the farm, so they wanted to give it to HIM when they died.
“The next day, the farmhand was walking to the nursing barn, he noticed the paint on the barn. In a few days he’d painted the barn and fixed the fence, and in the next few weeks he was putting a new roof on the farmhouse and putting new gravel on the road.
“Why would he do that? What made the difference in his attitude? He was now an heir. And as a Son he began to treat the old farm different than he ever had before.
“And so it is with us. We are heirs to the Kingdom of God. And because we are heirs we have the joy of knowing that what we do, we do because of the fabulous gift of salvation our Father has given us. (From a sermon by Jeff Strite, entitled, “Beyond Servanthood” 8/26/2012)