“…for the joy that was set before Him…”
It’s Good Friday. America in general overlooks this day, but Christians dare not do the same. This was the most important weekend in history. God has a way of showing us something new every holiday if we look for it. Recently God has been showing me something new about the d.e.a.t.h of Jesus. I pray that this is helpful and encouraging.
Have you ever wondered how Jesus actually endured the cross? Some would say, “Of course He could endure it; He was God after all!” What many people overlook is that Jesus was not just fully God; He was also fully man. In His full humanity, He had to endure the most torturous d.e.a.t.h in Roman culture. Not only that, but He absorbed into Himself the fullness of the wrath of God. He did it all in His full humanity. It is hugely important that He was also fully God, since He never could’ve atoned for our sin if this wasn’t the case. However, I think we overestimate the humanity of Jesus. Although He was God, Jesus endured the same struggles and the same pain that we endure every day in His humanness. In light of this, would you not expect that the crucifixion would break Him? Yet we know that it didn’t. What was His secret? Answer: joy.
Enter Hebrews 12:2. It says, “…[Jesus,] for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” Notice a few things. First, Jesus didn’t realize this “joy” as He endured the cross. He did it “for the joy that was set before Him.” Apparently, this joy had nothing to do with His circumstances. Notice secondly that Jesus “[despised] the shame” of the cross. He didn’t like what was happening to Him. He didn’t force Himself to smile through the pain. With these thoughts in mind, we can understand better what Jesus means when He prays that His joy might be fulfilled in us (John 17:13).
In light of the text in Hebrews, Jesus cannot be referring to the superficial happiness that many people today use as a cover-up for what they are truly feeling inside. He doesn’t condone “plastic smiles.” That’s pretty clear from the text. However, He does want us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). How can we give thanks in the midst of unspeakable pain? Jesus did it “for the joy that was set before Him.” Jesus had in mind that His suffering “[was] not worth comparing with the glory that [would] be revealed to [Him] (Romans 8:18). Jesus was filled with joy knowing that He would soon be restored to perfect unity with His Father. In spite of the circumstances that Jesus had to endure, He had joy because of what awaited Him in heaven. Jesus wants us to have that same joy.
Jesus knows that we will suffer (John 16:33). He’s not afraid to tell us that this life will not be easy. He’s not afraid to tell us that pain will often come to us because we’re believers, not even though we’re believers. He went to the cross so that we could know the nature of His joy. His joy was rooted in the glory that awaited Him in heaven. He counted eternity with His Father so much better than His present sufferings that He willingly endured the pain of betrayal and false accusations and the cross.
Take heart, brothers and sisters. Jesus has prayed for us, that we would know His joy (John 17:9, 13). Those who are in Him will know the kind of joy that endures through the hardest of trials. And because Jesus d.i.e.d in our place, those who believe on Him alone will someday live forever with Him.