“…keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Think for a minute about the last time you had to do something you really didn’t want to do. How was that experience for you? Enjoyable? Boring? Unbearably awful? How did it leave you feeling afterwards? Were you glad you did it? Were you grateful it was over? Did you regret you had to give any of your precious time to it? Sometimes in life we have to do things that aren’t our first choice. Occasionally they are our last choice. And then there are times we face the prospect of doing that and God is the one leading us to do it. Not wanting to do something God has called us to do may bring guilt – especially in light of what we see in this verse – but let’s take a look at it this morning because there’s something here we don’t want to miss.
Hebrews is one of the more fascinating letters in the New Testament. It offers some of the greatest theological depth you will encounter as you read. It’s concern to place Christ and the new covenant we have in Him in the seat of glory over the old covenant is second to none. But while it begins with an intensely theological tone, it turns toward the end and addresses rather directly and pastorally the challenges of living out of the new covenant. The author did this under God’s direction for our benefit, but it was also because the original audience needed to hear it. They were mostly Jewish-background Christians who were struggling to cling to their faith in the face of a culture that was structured to make that difficult in every way imaginable.
With this in mind, toward the end of the letter, the author offers them two specific encouragements to keep pressing forward in their faith in spite of the difficulties they are facing. The first was to help them set their story of faith in the context of the larger story of faith that God has been writing through the lives of the faithful over the centuries of human history. There is something powerful about knowing we are not alone in our quest. Even if we happen to feel very isolated in our current circumstances, knowing that we are part of a much larger journey with many different participants over the years can give us the courage to keep moving forward even when things get tough.
This takes the form of Hall of Faith Heroes of Hebrews 11. The author tells one story after another of men and women who set aside their own challenges to pursue the vision of the future God had given them. The author closes the chapter with a powerful observation: “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”
In other words, these folks didn’t receive what God promised in their lifetimes. God was preparing this thing for us so that their journey is made complete when we pursue faithfulness in our own lives. The author may have written that to a people far removed from us, but the words are just as true for us today. We are part of a grand story whose writing is still ongoing, and our chapter is critical to its telling.
In chapter 12, the author goes on to draw some conclusions before encouraging the audience with the observation that the hard times they are facing are really an opportunity from God to grow in their faith. By these times, He is shaping them to more fully reflect His character. This call to press forward, though, is rooted itself in two things. The first is the fact that we are part of this larger story of faithfulness over the centuries. This is Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…”
The second thing this call to press forward is rooted in is Jesus Himself. Many ancient religions featured calls for the faithful to press on in obedience to one god or another, but in a very real way, these calls were empty. The gods to whom we were supposed to be faithful never sacrificed anything. Their lives were not hard. They didn’t even really care about us. We did all of these things simply to get on their good side in hopes that they would extend to us a little bit of their power to make our lives easier. Christianity offered the world something infinitely better than this. We boasted of a God who suffered and died along with us. He may have called us to a path of suffering, but it was a path He not only was willing to walk with us, but in fact had walked with us.
Because of this, we could run with endurance the race that lied before us all while “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus was calling us to a costly obedience, yes, but He was the one who walked this path first. He paved the way. We were merely following the path He had already blazed. This particular path took Him to the cross.
Can we be honest about something? Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He didn’t want to go to the cross because He was sane. No one wants to experience something like that. Okay, but why does the author of Hebrews here say that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, for the joy that lay before Him? If it wasn’t the cross, what was the source of His joy in doing this? Jesus’ joy was not in the cross because it was in something higher than that. His joy was in obedience. Jesus’ joy was in obeying the commands of His Father, knowing that the outcome would be the greatest possible outcome for all who were covered by those commands.
Here’s the connection in this for us. Sometimes God calls us to walk paths that are ferociously difficult to tread. They are fearsome in the extreme. Everything in us wants to turn and run the other way when we lay eyes on them. There is nothing redeeming about them from the first glance to the last. They will cause us pain and suffering and monumental inconvenience. There is not joy in those kinds of things. Instead, our joy is in giving our obedience faithfully to the God we have come to trust is good. His plans are for good for us and for anyone else who happens to be impacted by them. That is where our joy lies. It is in the obedience and its outcome.
Today, there is a fair chance you are going to be faced with the opportunity to follow Jesus into some places you don’t want to go. They may be hard. They may be scary. They may simply be inconvenient. But if you will follow Him anyway, you will find joy in your obedience. You will find such joy because He is worthy of your obedience, and He honors it. He honors it with life. So, for the joy that is set before you, if there is a cross to be endured, endure it with grace and gladness because God’s kingdom will be expanded by your endurance, and that’s what God has called you to do. You’ll be glad you did.