Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

Hebrews: Persevere

I’ll be honest, some days I just want to quit. Quit school. Quit writing. Quit trying. Life is full of some precious – but heavy – responsibilities right now. Everything revolves around my granddaughter and her needs right now. I don’t have much time for me and what I need to do. I stay up late doing schoolwork. I get up very early to write. I try to snatch 30 minutes here and there to prepare a Sunday School lesson. I’m tired. But I can’t quit. Not school, writing, or teaching, and certainly not being a grandmother. And so I press on.

The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were endure and persevere. Both of these words share the same root meaning: “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end.” But they each have another word attached that makes all the difference: endure includes the word hypo meaning “under”; while persevere attaches the word epi, which means –“on” or “over.” The writer of Hebrews said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb 10:16).  He is exhorting his readers to overcome the pull to walk away from Jesus in an environment that was hostile to Christians. Not unlike ours is becoming.

His statement begs a question: “What, exactly, is the ‘will of God’?” Jesus spelled it out plainly: “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). To believe and keep on believing until you receive the eternal life that Jesus promised. Believing – faith – is not a one and done in the Christian life. It’s not some decision you make one day when you walk the aisle and get baptized. It is an every day, moment-by-moment decision you make and continue to make to take one more step with Him and one more and one more.

I am a busy person, but school and teaching and writing and even being a Nana are not God’s will. All the things I’m doing are God’s call on my life, but His will for me is to believe in His Son till He brings me home. And never give up. I know a lot of you are busy like me. Just make sure, Beloved, in all the things you do to serve Him, that you are in His will all the way to the end.

Hebrews: When You are Tempted

One of the foundations of recovery programs is the helpful presence of those who have “been-there-done-that. The former addict can uniquely connect with and help the one struggling to break free from drugs. The same applies to recovering from alcohol, pornography, and all manner of bondage.  I have a dear friend who turned the shame of abortion into a powerful post-abortion ministry – she could offer another woman her hand and tell her, “been there, done that, let me tell you how God set me free.”

The author of Hebrews pointed to another reason that God sent His one and only Son to earth – “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This verse is important because it also highlights the humanity of Jesus, that He was made as we were, and suffered just as we do.  Therefore He is in a unique position to help us when we suffer, especially when we face temptation.

What does it mean that Jesus “suffered” when He was tempted? The word used means “to experience or endure” often with a negative experience. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t  “suffer” with temptation. We don’t “endure” through it. Most of us give in to it without much of a struggle. Jesus faced temptation from the devil, but He did not give in (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). He also faced temptation in the garden before His arrest and crucifixion, but He did not give up (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

It is important to note that while Jesus suffered with temptation, He never sinned. If He had He could not have been our high priest and Savior. Peter said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).  He experienced the full onslaught of temptation such as you and I will never face, and He overcame it. How? Love for His Father who sent Him and love for those He came to save. Indeed, He is able to help in our time of temptation.  If we will allow Him to. An old devout saint was once asked, what is your secret to living a godly life? He answered, “Every time I am tempted I look to God and say, ‘Your property is in danger.’”  Beloved, the next time you are in danger from temptation, reach out to Jesus. He understands and He will help you.

Look Up!

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War. Poverty. Unrest. Disease. Hate. Violence. Shutdowns. Layoffs. Recession. Politics. Confusion. Facemasks. Distance. Disorder. Death. Sadness. Fear. Anger. And that’s just the first half of the year. It’s no wonder we are weary. I want so much to encourage you Beloved. There’s only one thing I know that will.

Jesus is coming again!

We’re not the only generation who needed encouragement. As the church took root and grew, the Roman government and the Jews began to persecute Christians. They oppressed, tormented, tortured, and put them to death.

How did they endure? With the promise of Christ’s return.

Listen to Paul: “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary and oppressed Christians.

How will you and I persevere?  The same way they did.  By reminding ourselves of Christ’s promised return.  Paul closed his passionate message by saying, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 1:18).

What words? Jesus is coming again!

The prophets of old foretold it, Jesus Himself proclaimed it, and for two thousand plus years, God’s people have kept their eye on the eastern sky, watching for His glorious return. I pray that the promise of His return fills you with hope and Joy and strength to persevere in life – and in this crazy year.

Beloved, Jesus is coming again!

Don’t Give Up!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Giving up is the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to forget.
I’ve played “what if/if only” far too many times. You know that little game I’m sure. The one that runs an endless loop; “What if I had kept going? If only I had stuck it out. Oh why did I give up?” History is littered with men and women who decided that, for whatever reason, they were not up to the task or challenge before them. Do you remember any of their names? No? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.
The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were persevere and endure. Both of these words share the same root meaning: “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end.” But they each have another word attached that makes all the difference: endure includes the word hypo meaning “under”; while persevere attaches the word epi, which means –“on” or “over.” They are often used interchangeably, and you may recognize them from medical terminology. I believe these two words hold an important key for us, because they represent two vastly different mindsets. The difference is whether we will endure under or persevere over.
Let’s be honest – sometimes our circumstances seem to bury us – we’ve all felt buried under mounds of bills, or the heavy cloak of sorrow. We’ve all felt the weight of responsibilities that seem to crush the life out of us. The burden we bear at times is truly oppressive. Those are the times we endure our struggles by crying out to God and, follow Peter’s words to – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (2 Pet. 4:7). We look to God for comfort that only He can give. We trust that He will carry us when the weight becomes “far beyond our ability to endure” (2 Cor. 1:8). Jesus understands the burdens we bear. We can trust Him to carry our suffering – and carry us through.
Then there are times when we must look at our difficulties from a different angle, not from under, but from above, and we must determine that we will persevere over our struggles. What situation or challenge has God placed before you? How will you approach it? What will keep you strong till the end? This is when we choose to persevere. Listen to what Scripture tells us we will gain when we persevere:
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36)
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The crown of life is the reward for persevering and overcoming our struggles and challenges. But wait! There’s more! Hear Jesus’ own words from Revelation 2:19: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance…” What a testimony that will be when our Savior, our example for persevering, commends us!
How do we gain this ability to persevere? Hebrews 12:1 is the prescription for perseverance: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Who is your great cloud of witnesses? You and I have great witnesses in the men and women who have gone through struggles and trials and challenges – and persevered till they received their reward. Look to the saints of Scripture, those who believed enough to hang on to their faith and their God. My best friend finds great strength in the lives of the martyrs of the faith. Perhaps you can look back to a parent or grandparent who stood strong in the face of adversity and won the crown of life. You might even want to surround yourself with godly friends who will serve as a great cloud of encouragement for you.
What are you allowing to slow you down? In the earliest days of the Greek races, the runners would alter their clothing, or tuck their garments into a belt to keep from getting tangled up in the fabric around their legs. This is the picture the writer was projecting. Don’t allow anything to hinder your progress. Not sin, nor doubt, not fear and not the inevitable stumble. Shut out every voice but the ones that are cheering you on. Learn to listen for God’s voice, for He is surely your truest fan!
Run your race. God has not called me to run the same race He has laid out for you, and vice versa. Don’t look at the other runners and compare yourself, either good or bad. He will enable you to do what He has called you to do, not what He has called the runner in the next lane to.
Then consider, where is your focus? On yourself, your circumstances, or on God? Do you know that God is all-powerful? Do you trust in His love for you? Do you believe that He is sovereign and in control of your life? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus? Do you know how Jesus persevered as He suffered on the cross? By fixing His eyes “on the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2b). What was that joy? The vision of you and me, kneeling and casting before Him our crown of life.
The choice to persevere or give up is one you and I will face every day. Sometimes the consequences seem insignificant, but you will never know the joy of overcoming if you give in to fear and doubt. Let’s commit today to see this thing through, to go the distance, to run the race with our ears attuned to the Father and our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Then you and I can kneel down together and cast our crown at the feet of Christ.
Holy, gracious Father, fill me with the power of Your Holy Spirit, the hope of eternity and Your joy to give me strength. I am committed to run the race, because You are committed to see me through. Amen.