Letters to the Prison - Week 62

Hello!  We’re so glad for the chance to consider God’s word with you.  If you are encouraged by these letters, be sure to thank the people who make them available to you.  We’re studying the Gospel of John, but we’re going to take a brief detour because there is something profoundly encouraging that we stumbled across last week that we want to look at a little more closely.
Last week, we claimed that you are the joy for whom Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We can’t say such a thing and just let it pass by.  We need to sit with this profound truth for a little while because it is so beautifully encouraging for us –even during the toughest days.  And it gives us an excellent motivation to love others the way God wants us to.  So, let’s take a look.
Here’s what Hebrews has to say:
•Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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.-Hebrews 12:1-2
Like many other places in Scripture, we could consider these words for a long time and not exhaust everything they have to offer us.  For one thing, Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith.  That’s profound enough as it is!  Spend some time considering the implications of that given what we’ve been seeing in our study of John.  Wow!  For another thing, the encouragement we find in the first verse to consider “the great cloud of witnesses” --those who have gone before us (read about the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11)-- and to follow their example by putting down our sins in order to better endure the race that “is set before us” helps to motivate us during times of suffering.  Especially when we see that Jesus too endured a terrible trial for the “joy that was set before him.”  But it’s that last part that is so very important to consider this week:  The joy set before Jesus.  What is it?  Or, as we will see, a better question is:  Who is it?
To begin, let’s go all the way to the other end of the Bible… to Genesis 18:22-33.  You can look it up yourselves to read the whole thing (if you need a Bible, ask for one!).  But the basic idea is that Abraham is questioning God about his mercy…  and he’s kind of “pushing God’s buttons” a little bit by pressing the issue of whether or not God will show mercy for the sake of many people… or only a few.  What we see here is that God is willing to be merciful for the sake of a handful of people…  maybe even only one person.  
To be clear, the events we read about in Genesis 18-19 aren’t just about God’s mercy.  They are also clear and vital warnings about God’s wrath against sin.  So, if you decide to read those chapters, you’ll see a stark reminder of why God’s mercy is so important in the face of overwhelming sin.  So, God shows a singular mercy even during his terrible wrath against sin.  The idea that God would go to great lengths to show mercy to even only one person is about to get really important.
To see why, let’s take a closer look at the “joy” set before Jesus in Hebrews 12:2.  For one thing, this is a joy set before Jesus.  In other words, it is a joy he has not experienced yet.  That’s amazing enough considering our understanding that Jesus is God.  What sort of joy could Jesus possibly need to wait to experience?  It’s not the joy of eternal fellowship with God the Father.  Jesus has always had that and will always have that (John 1:1).  Nor is it the joy of eternal life.  Jesus had that before he came to earth and he has it now (Ephesians 1:15-23).
So, it is a timely joy…  one that happens only at a particular time.
It’s also a profound joy.  A joy like no other.  Why can we say that?  Because, if Jesus is God, and he’s already experiencing the joy of eternal life and fellowship with the Father, what sort of joy would make it worthwhile for him to come to earth as a lowly human like us, endure rejection, terrible pain and suffering and even death on a cross?  Not only that, Jesus endured the punishment for all of our sins –when he alone was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  The only truly and completely righteous person ever to walk the face of the earth was unjustly punished for our sins.  Why?  What sort of joy could possibly be worth all the suffering and humiliation Jesus went through?
The short, simple answer is this:  Jesus is willing to endure all that suffering for the joy of accomplishing the will of God (John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38).  And what is the will of God?
•For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”-John 6:38-40
Brothers, friends…  The Joy set before Jesus –for which he endured the cross--  is you.  You specifically.  That’s the Joy Jesus has to wait for… when you say, “Yes, Jesus.  You are who you say you are.  I believe you.  You are Lord of all and Lord of my life.”  If you’ve said that from your heart and meant it, know this:  Jesus has been waiting for all eternity to hear you say those words…  and he endured humiliation, suffering, and death for the sake of hearing you say them…  and you have brought him a Joy like no other… a Joy that is as unique and different and special as you are.  And he rejoices over you --you alone-- and the unique, specific relationship he can only have with you.  Two more things to consider.  If you’re a believer, know this:  
1)Jesus endured the cross for the Joy of fellowship with you, certainly.  But you’re not the only one.  That other believer you know… the one maybe you have a hard time getting along with…  that person also is the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.
2)That person (or people) you know who don’t believe… yet…  God might be drawing them.  And he might be doing so through you… through your behavior and your example –and they, too, are the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.
We pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you would take such thoughts to heart and let them transform how you choose to interact with those around you… at all times… regardless of who they are.  Pray for us, also, and in earnest, that we would do the same.  We pray that you find great encouragement in these thoughts.  We’ll resume our study of John 6 next week.  We love you!

Dean A.



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