I admit that I may not understand the mind of a horse. I don’t know the thinking of the race horse when he’s brought into the starting gate. But from little I have seen, it appears that the thoroughbred race horse runs because he loves to run. There may be some competition in his heart to beat the horse nearest to him. But it appears that his primary interest is simply in stretching out and pushing his every muscle to run.
On the other hand, while there are similarities, I have heard that when the world-class sprinter gets ready for the hundred meter race, he stops thinking about what he must do in order to win. He has spent months training and thinking about what he must do, but that is put behind him now. In this race the sprinter focuses all his attention on the goal line. Perhaps some of his coach’s final instructions may replay in his mind for a moment, but what he will do in the next few seconds has already become second nature. And even though he may be in the spotlight, he doesn’t care if there are 4 people or 40,000. He doesn’t notice, any longer, if the race is in-doors or out-doors. It doesn’t matter if the wind is in his face or at his back, because it is true for the other racers as well. And it doesn’t matter if the others are good or have set personal bests and world records themselves. He isn’t running against them per se; he is running against himself and against the clock. All he thinks about as he puts his feet in the starting blocks is the goal line.
Paul wanted to encourage his readers as they continued down the course of their respective lives. So he used the illustration of a race and a proscribed race-track. The grandstand is filled with a great cloud of “witnesses.” And I remind you that the Greek word is “martoos” – which is sometimes translated “martyr.” Many of the people to whom Paul just referred in Hebrews 11 gave their lives for their faith. Some “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” With this kind of people behind us, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” and he says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” and slows us down. It’s time to take off the sweat-pants, the overcoat and the mukluks. Oh, and by the way, there is that extra 20 pounds of fat we’ve added through our worldly life-style – “every weight, AND the sin…”
Perhaps the image of a 100 meter sprint isn’t a good illustration, because the race of our lives is much more like a marathon. It may go for another 50 years if the Lord doesn’t blow the whistle or order the trumpet to call our lives to a halt. Paul exhorts us to – “run with PATIENCE (whatever) race (the Lord has) set before us.” “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Christ Jesus is our finish line – as well as our coach, our sponsor, our encouragement – our all.
As Paul concludes his illustration, he describes the credentials of our Great Coach. “He endured (His own race) – the cross – and is now set down at the right hand of the Father.” It is verse 2 to which I am drawn this morning. Immediately, this statement gives the Bible student an interesting choice of directions. Peter once said, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” Here in Hebrews – is Paul using Jesus as an example of cross-bearing and race-running? Are we being encouraged to run our race just as Jesus ran His? Are we to bear our cross just as the Lord Jesus bore His? Or is this a re-statement of Paul’s favorite subject, Christ Jesus’ vicarious sacrifice for my sins? Perhaps today we might look at this verse from one side and then next week from the other. But this morning I’d like us to consider the life of Christ from the sacrificial side.
First, lets think about WHAT the Lord Jesus did: Paul said that “He endured the cross.”
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to my records I have preached from Galatians 6:14 four times. That may not be nearly enough, but there are so many other worthy scriptures to consider. Do you remember that I have pointed out that the word “cross” doesn’t just speak of the wooden stake upon which Christ Jesus hung? When Paul used the word in Galatians 6, he was speaking about the entire crucifixion. He was thinking, not of the wooden skeletal framework, but completed cathedral built upon it. And the same is true as we use the word “cross” in this context. This is speaking about the nails ripping through Jesus’ hands and His feet. “Cross” talks of the crown of thorns stabbing His head more painfully than a bad case of shingles. This speaks of the priestly spittle on His face and the slander spit upon His heart. This word refers to His near nakedness while under the eyes of all those mocking strangers. This refers first to the scorching heat and then to the damp, cool darkness of that Spring afternoon. This is the spear in His side, the vinegar on the reed, and the desertion of His disciples. This is speaking about the flies crawling over His face and the crows in the trees screeching at Him. This is the overwhelming pain that racked His body, but which couldn’t touch His heart. This is the excruciating pain which devastated his heart, but had nothing to do with His body. When Paul speaks of the “cross” He speaks of the entire crucifixion, and I’m not sure that even he could grasp all that it contained. The word also included all that every Old Testament sacrifice prophesied. The “cross” was the holiest of all the altars of God. It was the Passover and the Atonement and the Red Heifer rolled into one. When Paul said “cross” that single syllable embodied the most important and glorious theme to ever pass through the mind of the Almighty God.
And for the Son of God that was no Olympic event with a hundred thousand tongues encouraging Him. Paul used here a little Greek word which is found throughout the New Testament. “Meno” is translated “endure,” but it is also rendered “abide,” “take patiently,” and even “suffer.” “If we SUFFER, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.” “Blessed is the man that ENDURETH temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” But here in Hebrews 12 we have the strengthened form of the word – “hupo-meno.” Humanly speaking, the Lord Jesus bore up courageously – extraordinarily – under His sufferings. He patiently, while painfully, endured the torment of the cross. Satan threw everything he had at the Saviour that day, but Christ more than endured it. What Satan did couldn’t compare to what the Heavenly Father laid upon His Son. In the sight and by the will of God, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” By the will of God Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
As I say, I have not preached from Galatians 6:14 often enough. This “cross” is something which we cannot afford to neglect.
But HOW did He do it; what were the means of Jesus’ great endurance?
Paul said that the Lord Jesus endured that cross by despising the shame that it entailed. The shame? What shame is there in helping the drunkard or the addict to escape from their enslavement? What shame is there in procuring a pardon for the criminal? What shame exists in rescuing souls from eternal destruction? What shame is there in providing those dead in trespasses and sins with eternal life? What shame could there be in shining a light into the inky blackness of hopelessness? Have we forgotten the hideousness of sin? There was a false shame laid upon the Saviour by many contributors that crucifixion day. The Roman soldiers mocked Him; the Jews cast His own words into His face. They quoted scriptures to Him; they twisted Christ’s own words, They laughed, they jeered, they ridiculed, they mocked. \pard fs22 The crowd did its best to make the Son of God feel as lowly and wretched as they could. But I don’t believe that what they did accomplished what they had hoped. Apparently Jesus’ own disciples were ashamed of Him, misunderstanding His mission in coming to earth. Have you ever been embarrassed on behalf of someone else? Perhaps that is what the disciples felt. But these things were not the shame to which Paul refers. And the Lord’s own word says that it is a shameful thing simply to hang any man. “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” – Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy. 21:23.
Was the most shameful aspect of the cross the Saviour’s relationship to the Father at that moment? When Christ limply hung upon the cross, the Father laid the sins of His elect across the back of His Son. The embarrassing sins of adultery and incest were assigned to the Saviour. Peter’s shameful lie before the servants of the high priest were placed upon the Saviour. Some of filthiest sins ever committed by men, Jesus took upon Himself. Jesus’ hands dripped with the murders committed by David and Saul of Tarsus. The stench of sin, coming off the body of Christ, filled the nostrils of the Most Holy God. The shame of that sin-burden was too much for the Holy One in Heaven, and He turned away. Can we apply some human words to that rejection? I’m not sure. Did the Father turn from the sin-bearer in “disgust?” Was God “embarrassed” to look upon His Son clothed and unclothed in this fashion? “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?“ cried the Saviour. Humanly speaking, what could have gone through the heart of the Father at that moment? Can we summarize that moment with the words, “the shame of the cross”?
But the Lord Jesus – the “Author and Finisher of our Faith” – despised that shame. The word “despised” doesn’t mean what you might first picture. It is not talking about merely hating something. When Paul said to Timothy “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” he wasn’t saying let no man hate your youth. Rather it was don’t let them “make fun of you, scorning your youthfulness.” Or in Matthew 18:10 – “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little one, for I say unto you that in Heaven their angels do always behold face of my Father.” Make sure that you don’t belittle or scorn these children and their needs. The word speaks of “thinking lightly of something.” Christ Jesus didn’t look lightly upon the shame of the cross. It was there; it was undeniable; it was even important. That shame was a part of program, the plan; it was a part of the decree of the God-head. The Saviour didn’t hate it or minimize it; He embraced it. And yet, it was nothing compared to the glory which was yet to come with the completion of His work. And it wasn’t to be compared to the glory that shall be received by each of the redeemed children of God. Christ was completing the purpose for His incarnation – this was the only way.
He kept in mind what was coming up. Today, “He is set down at the right hand of the Father’s throne.” “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above ever name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven ” There is no more honorable place than at right hand of the throne on high. That the Saviour is sitting there today indicates that He has done the work which He was sent to do. On the cross he said, “It is finished,” and the Father has agreed. And so the Son has been exalted.
But again, WHAT IMPELLED Jesus through the cross and into glory?
“It was the JOY that was set before him.” I was surprised to learn how some people look at the statement “FOR the joy that was set before Him.” John Gill for example surprised me. I probably read the comments of that 18th century Baptist, at least three days out of every week. Sometimes I am amazed at his insight into the Word of God; the man was a genius. But then he makes theological mistakes which a ten-year-old can recognize. And then again sometime his comments are simply bewildering, leaving me with questions. For example in this case Gill says that the word “for” means “in the room of” or “in stead of.” Without a doubt, it is a complicated little word. It can mean “because of,” “for” or “for that” – but Gill is also right, it can mean “instead of.” How we understand the context, determines how to use the word. Gill concluded that rejecting the joy of Heaven and His Heavenly Father, Jesus endured cross. But not many scholars agree, and if I was a scholar I’m not sure that I would agree either. It appears to me it was the PROSPECT of future joy which carried the Saviour through the ordeal of the cross.
What joy are we talking about? I can only make some possible suggestions. But there is the joy of doing the Lord’s will. How sad it is that many of today’s saints of God don’t know what I am talking about. But there is a joy in serving Jesus. And of course there is the joy of winning the Olympic gold in the 100 meter dash, or just finishing the extended marathon. Yes, the Lord Jesus did run with patience the race that was set before Him. And there is the joy of rescuing a soul, there is a joy in saving a dying man. There was a feel-good item on the news some time ago. A golden retriever that had fallen into the Clark Fork river, near Missoula, and was at the point of death. But a brave fireman, donned a special suit and dove into the river, eventually saving the dog. The news anchor was happy; the dog’s owner was happy; the fireman was happy. There is a joy is saving a life, even if it is only the life of a dog. I’m sure that there will be a divine variety of joy in the heart of the Son of God when His saints are all welcomed home. On the other hand, I am not sure that on this side of heaven, any of us can even imagine what the word “joy” means to the heart of the infinite God.
Nevertheless, what a glad reunion there is soon going, when the redeemed meet their Redeemer? The vivid colors and sounds of the Book of Revelation are intensified every so often with the sounds of great praise sung by those saved out of the Tribulation. How the Saviour must rejoice in the rejoicing of those whom He has saved. But that was still in prospect when he permitted the nails to pierce His hands. Yet, just because it was then unfulfilled, didn’t mean there was any doubt in what He was about to accomplish. He was like a sculptor with a nondescript piece of marble before Him. He knew exactly what it was going to look like upon completion of His great work.
I invite you to come and look by faith at what Christ has accomplished. Where there was once was rebellion and warfare, there can be peace with God. Where there had been hopelessness and nothing for which to live, there can be eternal life. Picture the hideous decaying body, exhumed from the grave, restored to perfectly healthy life. Make that your own the hideous, decaying soul. Spurgeon once asked, “What was the joy that was set before him?” He said, “Oh, it’s a thought that melts a rock. it makes a heart of iron move. The joy which was set before Jesus was principally the joy of saving sinners like you and me.”
There is a sense in which you may give Christ that joy this morning. Come to the cross and meet the Saviour. Repent before God, and put your faith in the Lord Jesus – the one who “endured the cross, despising the shame.” Today He is sitting at the right hand of the throne of God, receiving His saints unto Himself. Join those saints today by humbly putting your faith in Christ Jesus.