Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our 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 endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3
Today is an appropriate day to look away from all distractions and focus our attention on Jesus. Around the world Christians are remembering the death of Jesus. Although this Good Friday and Easter will be unlike any other we have celebrated, the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection is still as powerful and accessible to us as it has been for countless others over the last 2,000 years. Perhaps as we take time in the solitude and simplicity of our homes to “look unto Jesus and consider Him”, we might enter into a new appreciation and experience of these events.
Each of the gospel writers give these same brief words regarding the manner of Jesus’ death, “they crucified Him”. One might think greater details would be given of the act of crucifixion. However, to those who first read the Gospels, no description was needed for everyone in the Roman Empire was all too familiar with this form of public execution. Historians tell us up to 30,000 people were crucified around Jerusalem at the time of Christ. Crucifixion had been around for 500 years. The Romans didn’t invent it but they perfected it as a means of torture. They used it as a form of state sponsored terrorism to control the people over whom they ruled. To get a sense of the physical torment crucifixion brought, you can watch the movie, The Passion. (Parents be cautioned, this movie is not appropriate for children). Jesus suffered greatly physically, yet it’s not the physical suffering Jesus endured that makes His death unique. It was how Jesus faced his death and what it accomplished that is completely unique and so important for us.
The verse above says “Jesus …for the joy set before Him endured the cross”. The words “joy” and “cross” don’t belong in the same sentence, unless we’re considering Jesus. He endured the cross because of the joy set before him. What was that joy? The prospect of sinners being restored to the Father. Jesus knew of the joy in heaven among the angles over one sinner who repents. He looked forward with joyful anticipation to the multitudes of people returning to the Father’s house, knowing and being known by Him.
This joy enabled Jesus not only to endure the cross, but also to despise the shame associated with crucifixion. This form of execution was only for the basest and most despised of criminals. Romans citizens were exempt from crucifixion. Not only was there great shame in being crucified itself, but many heaped scorn and ridicule on Jesus as He suffered. All the gospels include details of this hatred expressed towards Jesus. Matthew writes:
"(The Roman soldiers) stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him… (during the crucifixion) the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:28-31; 41-44)."