There is no crown without a cross.
Text: Hebrews 12:1-15
The cross was an object of shame and ridicule. It was meant for the worst and vilest criminals in the then Roman empire. The cross did not just involve physical pain and torture, but also mental and emotional pain and anguish which were thrust by vile and sinful men on the Lord Jesus Christ- a man who knew no sin. Despite all the ugly connotations that went with the cross, the Lord Jesus willingly endured the cross, and put aside its shame and ridicule. As Matthew Henry’s commentary beautifully puts it, “he was infinitely about them (the reproaches that were thrown at him); he knew his own innocence and excellency, and despised the ignorance and malice of his despisers”. The Lord Jesus went the full ordeal of the cross because He was propelled and motivated by the vision of the joy that would follow- the redemption of the whole human race from the power of sin and bondage to the devil. It is this motivation and drive that should be an example for all who follow Him. He not only taught us but also gave us an exemplary path to follow.
What many of us consider to be distractions for not actively serving the Lord are our crosses which we need to endure and be propelled by a godly vision. For such a vision to be perpetually relevant to us, our circumstances and community, we must have our eyes permanently fixed on the Lord Jesus, and be motivated by His promises to us who endure to the end. It is so crucial in our time to have our eyes fixed on the Lord because of the many things competing for our attention and time. The competition is fierce, but God’s grace is sufficient for all those who set their hearts to be fixed on the Lord Jesus. It is worth having this godly vision because there is joy and glory of unquantifiable measure ahead. Every time we are reminded of the reward of faithful service, a renewed momentum overwhelms our hearts for greater service. It is hoped that this will be your experience as you go through this study.
The objectives of this study are:
- To identify some of the joys set before every faithful believer.
- To know some of the “crosses” that the believer has to bear here on earth.
- To draw lessons from the lives of brethren who successfully ran the race.
- To know that the “joy set before us” is worth dying for.
Q1. EXPLAIN THE FOLLOWING FUTURE GLORY THAT AWAITS THE FAITHFUL BELIEVER IN CHRIST.
- To be with Christ and behold His glory. John 14:3, 17:24, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Revelations 22:4
Throughout the ministry of Christ on earth, it was never in doubt that He specifically loved those the Father had called and made His own (disciples). He desired that these ones would be with Him always and share in His glory. Of primary importance to Christ, as recorded in the prayer of our Lord, was that the disciples would share of His glory: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
To our Lord, while the believer remains here on earth, he is not a part of the world system that is driven by greed, self and all devices of the devil, but he has a divine mission to fulfill, awaiting when he will be called home to be with his Lord eternally.
The light of Christ beams forth from the heart of every believer. It is a glorious light. It is a light that reveals to our world that we are partakers of the divine nature of Christ that we love God, and that we live to honor Him. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glorious light of the believer gives him an unmistaken identity of being a child of God.
A. Reigning and being glorified with Christ. 2 Timothy 2:12, Romans 8:17-28, Matthew 25:20-23, Revelations 20:6
The triumph of God over all His enemies who are being deceived by the devil is inevitable. All who belong to the Lord share in this triumph and will reign with Him. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). As we identify with Christ, we presently reign with Him over principalities and powers and when He returns in glory to rule over the earth, we shall also reign with Him. Being in Christ is always a win-win situation, whether in this present age or in that to come.
B. To inherit all things and shine as the stars. Revelation 21:7, Acts 26:18, Daniel 12:13
There are numerous passages of scripture which point to a glorious inheritance awaiting those who keep their faith to the end. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). Although we are yet to receive the full inheritance, our spirits have already caught it, and that provides the continued momentum to press on with the Lord.
C. To have all tears wiped from our eyes. Revelations 21:4-5
The current travails that earth is passing through affects everyone in one way or the other. The believer is not spared of some of them, except that he is helped by the Holy Spirit to cope with them. However, there is coming a day of restoration when every tear will be wiped away. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). At that time, the last enemy of man, which is death, shall be done away with. There shall no more be the mention of the loss of a loved and dear one. It shall certainly be most comforting.
D. A glorious coronation. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12
Physical death, which presents itself as an enemy to all humanity, is in fact a door to a glorious coronation ceremony for the believer. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul faced death with joy because he knew that something glorious awaited him. At an occasion when he wrote to the believers in Philippi, Paul was torn in between continuing in the flesh which is profitable for the believers and departing from the flesh to be in the presence of Christ. He resolved his conflict by stating “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We can have this attitude if we know the Lord and are fully involved in doing His will.
Q2. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DISTRACTIONS THAT PREVENT CHRISTIANS FROM BEING FOCUSED ON THE “JOY SET BEFORE THEM”?
The legitimate demands of the life of Christians are enormous. These demands are not abating any bit, rather they are increasing in form and magnitude with each passing day. They tend to weigh heavily on the minds of the believer when they are not put in care of the Lord. Most of the identifiable distractions constitute the obstacles that prevent most Christians from being focused on the “Joy set before us”. No believer is excluded from some of these pressures of life.
A. Pursuit of Money.
This is one distraction which makes fellowships not to be as exciting as the out to be, they tend to make us rush over everything having to do with the Lord so as to have more time to pursue after money with which, rightly so, to cater for our families. The point here is to consider that as Christians, we lose out completely on God’s favor to make honest money when we put Him behind any other items on our priority list and at the same time our changes of realizing the “joy set before us” is jeopardized.
B. Career pursuits
The quest for business, academic and job excellence can become spiritually counterproductive when given undue emphasis and attention. Some Christians have been known to do this to their own hurt, and external consequences. The place of the Christian’s career in God’s scheme of things is undeniably certain, as it is God’s expectation for His children to make Him known even through such pursuits. However, when the work of the Holy Spirit becomes obscured in the believer’s life through deliberate neglect and mundane pursuits, it can only imply a loss of focus on the “Joy set before him”.
C. Marital Pursuit
The Bible says marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled… Hebrews 13:4. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:2. As truly as these scriptures may reflect the mind of God to His children in matters of marriage, they do not give license to usurp the prime position of God in any one’s heart. A positional shift in heart can only mean a shift in focus, for God’s command still remains. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” Exodus 20.3.
Children are a blessing from God to any marriage. Sometimes, there could be delay in their coming and to further make matters bad, tongues could already be wagging by keen watchers. Most times, in order to contain such seeming engrossments, some couples have had to momentarily relegate God to the background in doing the bidding of “helpers” who draw away their attention from the “joy set before the believers”.
Legitimate as these pursuits may seem, however, it is to be emphasized that for the believer, they ought to fit into our Christian commitments and not the other way around.
Q3. WHAT LESSONS CAN WE DRAW FROM THE LIFE OF PAUL?
As already alluded, Paul was not immune from the troubles of this life. There is no form of persecution that Paul escaped- “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). One would expect a man who had experienced so much trouble in life to be an emotional wreck and filled with bitterness. It was not so with him. In fact, he was a source of encouragement to many of his brethren who had not experienced persecutions comparable to his. The reason for this was because he knew the troubles were temporary and had been overcome by his Savior. Paul preferred to put his confidence on the Lord rather than being distracted by the persecutions that came his way. There was constant strengthening of Paul by the Holy Spirit that prompted him to say “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Every believer would need to adopt this attitude if he is to successfully run the race. Excuses like “life is tough; it is just not easy to do clean business; it’s difficult making ends meet”, do not help. We must be prepared to face the challenges head-on, trusting God for His grace to see us through. Because Paul ran the race successfully by the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I can be assured that we can run a successful race whatever the circumstances, by the same power.
Q4. HOW ARE WE MOTIVATED BY THE “JOY THAT IS SET BEFORE US”?
We never can underestimate the power of motivation. Unmotivated individuals are non-achievers because there is no drive and inner propelling force. On the other hand. Motivated Christians draw inner propulsion from the Holy Spirit as they fix their hearts on divinely set goals. What many will consider to be obstacles become stepping stones to motivated Christians to climb higher heights. Difficult circumstances to many others are considered challenges by motivated Christians, which by the power of the Holy Spirit, have to be overcome in order to attain the desired goals. The devil thought that the cross would spell the last and most devastating blow to Christ, His followership, and His entire ministry, but he failed to realize that would provide an opportunity for Christ to wrest from him the keys of authority with which he has kept all offspring of Adam as captives (Matthew 28:18). The Lord Jesus, knowing the divinely-set goal of defeating Satan, despised the shame and ridicule of the cross and rode steadfastly with the motivation of the joy that was set before Him. Every believer would need to be highly motivated about the things of God. When we consider how enthusiastic unbelieving folks are these days about the things that pertain to the devil, we realize that Christians have been lukewarm. Let us have a strong drive within, with which to honor and serve our God. Let us be motivated by the joy that is set before us. Let us view obstacles as challenges and draw strength from the Lord to overcome them. Let our zeal be read by the world to mean that we are convinced and fully persuaded by that which we believe. Our brethren who have gone before were fully motivated by the joy set before them that they willingly accepted persecution to the point of being killed (Acts 7:54-59, 16:23-24, Revelation 1:9). Because there was that inner drive, death became a gateway to being coronated. Contemporary Christians need to shake off their lethargy and rise with a new zeal for greater service to Christ.
Daily Living Application:
The zeal to serve the Lord and give a witness to our faith is waning because we are being distracted by the pressures of life. To some believers, the pressures of “trying to make ends meet” have preoccupied their minds to the extent that fellowship and Christian service now occupy an insignificant place in their lives. To others, many years of being told over and over that the Lord Jesus is coming soon have made for those words to have little or no meaning.
It is sincerely hoped that this lesson has rekindled and reawakened in our hearts a new zeal for the Lord. We need to be highly motivated in the Lord to view the pressures of life as challenges that can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is a glorious reward ahead which we must press on-to, irrespective of the distractions that are all about us. It is a reward for those who run the race to the very end. It is not for those who quit or relapse along the way. It is for determined and well-motivated believers who know that they must suffer for the sake of the gospel for them to be crowned at the end.
“For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds”.