THE JOY SET BEFORE US
“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, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
// Hebrews 12:1-3
Weights and sins have this profound ability to beat us down, to drag on our hearts and minds and run our conscious through the mud. They can feel like a wagging finger, constantly in our faces, pointing out all our flaws. And if we stay stuck in the mire of our past, the muddiness of what Paul termed our “old man,” we can find it near to impossible to arise and run with endurance toward Christlikeness.
But God, right? But God. That phrase becomes a deliverance in itself, for as the writer of Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” such that we remind ourselves of who our inspiration is. When we look to Jesus and we keep looking to Jesus – that, friends, is perseverance. As we keep looking to Jesus, we keep building an internal image of who we are becoming, of the One to whom we run in this race of faith. We endure because of who He is and who we are becoming. We endure because of who we get to be because of who Christ is to us. He endured the cross (what the writer calls “from sinners such hostility”) in order to embrace the selfsame sinners that nailed Him to it!
How could Christ do that? How might we emulate His endurance? Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured…” is the verse’s profound assertion. Jesus endured for and by the joy He held in His heart, the image within Him that drove Him to endure. And that image was you and I. He saw us. He saw the joy of new life that would spring up into our faces from hearts re-made by the events of His own Cross, and because He held that image before the eyes of His heart, He endured.
We endure the same way: the image we hold of Christ must become stronger than the one we get from our circumstances, our failures or our situations. We must build an internal picture of Christlikeness that becomes stronger to the eyes of our heart than what our external eyes can see. The more we look to Jesus, the more we build that image of Christlikeness. And endurance, simply, is keeping our focus on the Christlike image of who we are becoming and not breaking our focus on that internal reality for anything. That is how we rid ourselves of weights; that is how we dispense with clinging sins; that is how we endure the race set before us.
We let the image of Christlikeness get stronger in us than any other image we bear, and we keep building that image by maintaining a steadfast focus on Christ Himself, at all times. And the more we clutch to the image of Christ in us, the more empowered we are to dispense with old images of ourselves (the ones to which sin clings and weights attach). The more we see Him, the more we will endure hardship because we will be more free to enjoy Him, for He will increasingly become the joy set before us.
// Samuel Nicolosi