For the Joy Set Before Us

A couple weeks ago I read a verse that has stuck in my mind ever since. It wasn’t a new one – actually, it’s probably one of the most well-known verses in the Bible and has been one of my favorites for several years. It was Hebrews 12:2,

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Just as the title suggests, the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians living in the post-Jesus (AD) era. It’s one of the 27 books in the New Testament but differs slightly from the Gospels and Epistles in that its main focus is to show how everything in the Old Testament (the sacrificial system, tabernacle, prominent leaders, prophecies, etc.) points to Jesus.

  • The sacrifice of spotless animals points to Jesus’ perfect and final sacrifice on the cross. (Hebrews 8)

  • The tabernacle points to our future, heavenly home when God’s people will, for the first time since Adam and Eve, be in the unfiltered, presence of God while Jesus is seated at His right hand and given all authority. (Hebrews 9)

  • Melchizedek, the first High Priest, points to Jesus’ eternal priesthood. (Hebrews 7)

  • Moses, the intercessor and rescuer of the Jewish nation, points to Jesus’ continual intercession and rescuing of His people. (Hebrews 3)

I could go on and on! It shows how everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus’ birth, life, and resurrection even down to the tiniest details. And this verse in Hebrews is no different.

As a conclusion to all that has come before, this verse in the 12th chapter pushes us to fix our gaze toward Jesus, just like the Old Testament does. It encourages us to keep our eyes on Him so that we can achieve the goal for which we were created – to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7). Otherwise, how else would we be able to do it?

When I was learning how to play basketball as a 10-year-old, I remember my coach constantly telling me to look at the hoop when I shot. If I looked at my arm or the ball itself, I would shoot it too short. If I looked past the goal I would overshoot. If I looked to the right or to the left even a little bit, it would completely change the direction the ball would go in, no matter how badly I wanted it to go in the hoop. But, if I kept my gaze focused on the hoop, my body would naturally square up to the goal and my arm would somehow more accurately create the arc I needed to get the ball in the hoop. More times than not I would get it in. All this had to do with what my eyes were set on.

So yes, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will naturally begin to achieve our goal of glorifying God because we will fall right in love with His Son!

But the verse doesn’t stop here. In fact, the beginning isn’t even what caught my attention. It was in the second part of the verse that I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, “This is what you need to hear.”

“who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”

It might have initially caught my attention because several weeks ago I chose the word “joy” to define this year. But, it also stuck out to me that just as Jesus kept his eyes on the Father to know where to go and what to do, He was able to kept his eyes fixed because He knew of the joy that was to come and it outweighed anything else that tried to distract or entangle Him along the way.

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus endures and resists the attractive temptations of Satan. All throughout the Gospels we see Jesus endure public criticism from Pharisees and religious leaders alike. Then finally, Jesus’ life culminates with his endurance of the most excruciating form of death at the time even after He was found innocent. And these are only a few examples.

He endured for the joy set before Him.

There was no joy to be found in Satan’s temptations, nor in the gossip and criticism from His own people, and certainly not in the beatings he was forced to endure before being nailed to the wood of a splintery tree. So what kind of joy would compel Him to endure all that? Psalm 16:11 gives us a big hint,

“You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Jesus was able to endure because He knew that no earthly temptation nor pain could compare to the joy of being back in the Father’s presence, being exalted at His right hand, and sharing His glory with a people who were once distant but would now be reconciled to God through Him! The key to His unwavering steadiness and confidence came directly from knowing the joy offered by the Father and the joy of those who would one day come to put their trust in Him.

John Piper says it like this:

“In saying this, the writer means to give Jesus as another example, along with the saints of Hebrews 11, of those who are so eager for and confident in the joy God offers that they reject the ‘fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25) and choose ill-treatment in order to be aligned with God’s will. It is not unbiblical, therefore, to say that at least part of what sustained Christ in the dark hours of Gethsemane was the hope of joy beyond the cross. This does not diminish the reality and greatness of his love for us, because the joy in which he hoped was the joy of leading many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). His joy is in our redemption, which redounds to God’s glory. We share the joy with Jesus and God gets the glory.”

So, what does this mean for us?

1. We can have joy because Jesus bought it for us on the cross.

Because of Jesus, we can trust that one day we will see Love unveiled and talk face-to-face with our God (Revelation 22:4). One day, our God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and fill every one of our inconceivable longings (Isaiah 25:8; Psalm 63:5). One day our King Jesus will return to us on a white horse, defeat our enemy once and for all (Revelation 19:11-21) and take us back to His kingdom (John 14:1-3) where He will exchange our rags for His robes (Isaiah 61:10) and share His glory with us, his undeserving servants. Then we will no longer need the light of the moon and the sun because He will be our light (Revelation 21:23).

2. Just as Jesus endured hardships because He knew unspeakable joy lay ahead, we too can endure because the joy He looked forward to is now ours.

Through Jesus’ power we can endure anything (Phil 4:13)! We can endure any sickness, any loss, any failure, any depression, any waiting, any disappointment, any addiction, any fear, any unknown because we know that God has purposefully planned every situation, hardship, and circumstance in our lives for our redemption and His glory (Romans 8:28)! If we are passing through one of these seasons today, we can trust that our God wastes no suffering. In fact, many times God chooses to use our sufferings to bring about something extraordinary in our lives and in the lives of those around us. He is always working for His glory which means He is always working for our good. In this truth we can find true joy, even when our circumstances feel anything but joyful.

So, what is your ultimate goal? What are your eyes fixed on?

If it’s anything other than Jesus, you’re running towards the wrong thing. Only if our eyes are fixed on Jesus can we reach the goal that each one of us was created for – to glorify God through knowing, loving, and enjoying Jesus. Only through Jesus can we endure the hardships of this life. Only through Jesus can we experience the true, immutable joy of the Father. And only through repentance and the acceptance of the One who paid it all can we freely exchange everything that we lack for the fullness of His joy.

-Maggie Addison, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Maggie as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!