the joy that lay before him

Hebrews 12:2 is one of those passages that we in the holiness world love to talk about. I mean, together with its immediate predecessor, you have the phenomenal exhortation to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares [and] run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfector of our faith…” Get rid of sin. Jesus perfects our faith. This is the bread and butter of the holiness preacher! But then we see how Jesus got to be the source and perfector: he went to the cross “for the joy that lay before him.”

First of all, the notion that someone would go to the cross for joy is, at least on the surface, absurd. The cross was quite possibly the single most brutal form of execution mankind has ever devised. A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing to preach out of 1 Peter 2, I was astonished to discover the allusions the apostle included to the gruesome specter of Jesus’ crucifixion. (If you have an hour or so, and you want to understand a little of what Jesus endured that night, you might want to read Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament on the last bit of 1 Peter 2. Beware, though, you may cry.) The author to the Hebrews says that Jesus did all that for joy.

Obviously, the author is not speaking of a happy joy. Jesus would have been indisputably insane to feel happiness as he went to the cross.

So, this is the joy that comes from knowing there is something better coming. As we move down the chapter, we get a better idea of what it was that Jesus had his eye on that could bring him joy even as he suffered tremendously. In Hebrews 12:5, the reader is urged, “Do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.”

Now, that’s all well and good, except for the part that (a) we don’t like discipline and (b) Jesus had no reason to be disciplined.

Let’s address these two issues in order.

In this day, our culture has bought into the notion that we should be able to do whatever we want and suffer no consequence or ramifications. In fact, if someone tries to discipline us, we file a grievance with the union. If someone tries to discipline our kids, we sue them. We don’t like the notion of discipline. But the fact remains that we need it. Discipline establishes crucial boundaries between good and bad. If a child is not disciplined, he will never learn the difference between right and wrong. She will never know what she’s supposed to do or not do.

Even so, Jesus had done nothing wrong. He did not deserve to be disciplined. And we have all seen, on occasion, people who were, for all intents and purposes, good people who nonetheless suffered terrible things. How can discipline be a good thing? Well, discipline is not just grounding or sending to the room. In fact, a literal translation of the word rendered here in Hebrews as “discipline” would be “tutorage, education, or training.” Discipline can also take the form of a particular regimen, like when my dad disciplined me to get out of bed on time and do my work by showing me and expecting me to follow suit. Through this sort of discipline, he taught me what was important and right. And that’s the kind of discipline the author is talking about in verse 7: “Endure [suffering] as discipline.” I must think of suffering, warranted or not, as God’s way of refocusing me on the stuff that I’m supposed to be doing as a believer and drawing me away from the stuff I’m supposed to be avoiding.

So suffering is designed to refine me. So that I can lay aside  those weights and sins and truly pursue holiness, which, as the author reminds us, is essential to one day seeing God.

In other words, my suffering now enables me to enter into His presence later.

I guess I can be joyful about that.

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