For the joy set before him he endured the cross…

Hebrews 12:2

 

A joyful person behind a cascade of autumn leaves.Yesterday, I shared honestly about the painful irony of my family experiencing so much hardship and heartache over Thanksgiving week. How did Jesus have so much joy amidst his own tremendous suffering? First of all, we see that he didn’t find this joy by choosing to circumvent that suffering. He could have called an army of angels to free him from the suffering and agony of the cross if he wanted to escape pain and achieve victory by force. He could have avoided the cross altogether—and perhaps he considered it when he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). No, Jesus chose to literally take up the cross and be nailed to it. Jesus shows me that the Messiah himself still found joy without removing or avoiding pain. How can I find joy amidst the reality of the presence of pain?

I choose to believe that the writer of Hebrews was hinting at Jesus’s bigger vision of the cross. Yes, the cross was real pain and suffering, but it was also real redemption and hope. By taking on the cross, Jesus removed the necessity for us to endure it. Though we deserved to suffer for our sins, Jesus chose to take on suffering in our place and grant us a heavenly inheritance of eternal life beginning right now. So then Jesus’s joy is not wrapped up into some kind of masochistic pleasure in pain, nor is joy merely a philosophical idea. It is real joy because he finds ultimate joy in seeing his people escape the death that sin was condemning us to. It is real joy because he knows that he will not leave us alone but will send his very Spirit to be with us, empower us, and carry on his work through us, even amidst the pain of this world.

Is it too presumptuous to think that Jesus was actually thinking of me as he hung on that cross, filled with joy in knowing that I would one day cry out to him and forever become part of his kingdom family? Is it too presumptuous of me to see the goodness of God even if I don’t get the answers to the prayers the way I want them?

I certainly do not hesitate to pray for the removal of the pains I’m experiencing: a miraculous healing for family members who are sick, generous donations that materialize to keep ministry going, and new leadership to fill the void of a departing staff member. I will still look for miracle answers, but I am choosing joy and gratitude because I’m presuming God to be a good God who is true to his word. God will take care of my sick family members—believers whose ultimate hope is in him. The ministry I lead will have exactly what it needs to accomplish the works God intends. God will provide for our departing staff member and provide for us in his absence. I’m choosing joy because I presume God to be good, not because my circumstances are going to be filled with less pain. On this resurrection Sunday, I pray you will see the glory of the cross and the possibility of joy amidst the pain of this world.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Do you think it’s presumptuous to think that Jesus had us on his mind when he was on the cross? What do you think brought him joy as he endured the cross?

Does your church encourage those who seem to have unanswered prayers? How can you help someone who is finding it hard to experience joy amidst some painful season in their life? What would help you see God’s goodness in a difficult season?

PRAYER:

Father, thank you for sending your son, Jesus, to take the cross in our place. May our worship today be filled with an awareness of the great love you have for us personally and for your Church as a whole. Help us to realize that your Spirit continues to pray for us with “groans that words cannot express,” thus encouraging us to endure the difficult seasons and to experience real supernatural joy in the midst of pain. Lead us into Advent with great hope in Immanuel, God with us! Amen.

 

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