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Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Joy Alignment

Some thoughts from Hebrews.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:1-3)
What "cloud of witnesses"? That's from the previous chapter ... the "faith chapter". That "cloud of witnesses" is made up of people like Noah and Abraham and Moses. The text says of these people that "the world was not worthy" (Heb 11:38). That cloud.

Because of that cloud, we ought to "lay aside every encumbrance and sin" so we can "run with endurance" with our eyes fixed on Jesus. What does that get us in this race we run? I mean, how does looking to Jesus help us run this race?

Well, look what Jesus endured. It started before His earthly life, back when He "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8) Imagine that! We're not particularly pleased when we're asked to surrender some comfort or some constitutional rights, but Christ cloaked His deity and literally humbled Himself to death. And what a death! He sweat drops of blood in the garden (Luke 22:44). He was betrayed by one of His inner circle. He faced an illegal and degrading all-night trial at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His followers deserted Him. Tormented by Herod's soldiers and whipped and insulted by Pilate's goons, He was forced to bear His own cross beyond His own endurance. On Golgotha He was nailed to that cross and displayed naked in front of everyone as a criminal ... while being innocent of every accusation. Paul says there in Philippians that it was out of obedience.

Run that race. Look at Jesus who is the captain and perfecter of the faith and do that.

Perhaps, to me, the most interesting phrase in the entire text is the part that tells Jesus's motivation. Why did He do it? Why did He endure the hostility of everyone around Him and that cross and that shame and even the rejection of His Father? Get this: "for the joy set before Him". Can you beat that? Without diminishing what was the worst torment anyone could endure, Jesus saw joy at the other end. What motivated His obedience? What motivated His endurance? Why go through it all? Joy.

I'll tell you a secret. If we could do that, we'd be unbeatable. We'd be unstoppable. No one could gainsay our faith or argue that Christians are evil. I remember reading about a time in the Roman Empire when a Caesar decided to start hanging Christians. He had to stop because Christians started coming out of the woodwork with their own ropes in hand asking to be hanged. Endure suffering? No problem. Who wouldn't "for the joy"?

So why don't we? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that we don't understand that joy. We've got our joy set somewhere else. Of all places, it looks as if we expect to find our greatest joy here on this temporary assignment we call Earth. We expect to find it by being able to not issue licenses to gay mirages or to be allowed to pray on the field or to not have to bake cakes in celebration of the farce or things like that. I mean, we don't want to give in. That's fine. But suffer for it? That is not joy to us. Strange. Because it was joy to Christ to suffer more than we'll ever imagine and die for the sake of God's glory so that He could be placed at God's right hand. Maybe we need a new joy alignment or something.

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