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He endured the cross

April 2005 | by Peter Golding

Jesus endured the cross. The word really means ‘patiently endured’. In the Garden of Gethsemane he had prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was asking if there was another way; if he could be spared his Father’s wrath and the hiding of his face. But he added, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will’.

It was God’s will that he should drink that cup to its last bitter dregs – ‘it was the Lord’s will to crush him, and cause him to suffer’ (Isaiah 53:10). So he gladly acquiesced. He ‘became obedient to death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8).

Clearly, endurance here means much more than tightlipped stoicism. Rather, he says, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God’ (Psalm 40:8, AV). Jesus was never just submissive. Still less was he obeying grudgingly, out of necessity.

On the contrary, he obeyed the will of God cheerfully from the heart, even though it broke his heart to do so. And in all this he never wavered or faltered, not for a second. From the very outset, he had set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. There was no turning back. He endured the cross. Consider it, and consider it well!

Object of ridicule

But Christ not only endured the cross. We are also told that in so doing he was ‘scorning its shame’. When you scorn something, you belittle or despise it. You consider it beneath serious notice – unworthy of serious attention.

Amazingly, this is precisely how the Lord Jesus Christ viewed the shame and disgrace that were his lot. He utterly disregarded all the reproach and obloquy that was heaped upon him. He never allowed it to deflect him for a moment from the course he had set himself.

It does not mean he never feltthe shame. He did, and in a way that we will never know. It cut deep into him – but it never moved him a hair’s breadth from his objective.

There is not much from which we shrink as we do from shame. To be exposed to the utter contempt of one’s peers – to be an object of ridicule – can be unbearable torture, a ‘fate worse than death’. Some have taken their own lives rather than suffer it.

Others may say, ‘I care for nobody and nobody cares for me’. To such folk, what people think of them is a matter of complete indifference, or so they claim! But the Lord was not indifferent to his shame. This was an especially bitter cup.

Jesus crucified for me

Our Lord was deeply sensitive to the needs of others and concerned for their eternal welfare. So when his love was treated with such contempt it must have been like a dagger-thrust. It added sorrow upon sorrow to his already burdened heart. To be rejected by ‘his own’ (John 1:11) – spat upon and crucified by those he came to save – was torture indeed!

But he never let it deter him. He scorned the shame as if it were a triviality. What a wonder this all is! William Walsham How expressed it in a hymn:

I sometimes think about the cross
And shut my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails, and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.

And yet, the most vivid imagination, the most sanctified mind, can only begin to appreciate and understand these ‘infinities and immensities’, as the hymn goes on to point out:

But even could I see him die,
I could but see a little part
Of that great love which, like a fire,
Is always burning in his heart.

The Lord’s motivation

What mighty motivation gave him strength? We find it in verse two: ‘for the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’. These words are highly significant.

Some Christians consider it spiritual to say that they do not serve God to gain a reward, because that would be an unworthy, selfish motive. But they are claiming higher motives than our blessed Lord himself!

The incentive of gaining glory and escaping hell – of desiring joy in heaven – is a perfectly valid and scriptural motivation. It is not the only motive, but it is a powerful one, and it is acceptable to God.

Glorious prospect

What was this joy to which the Lord looked forward, and which enabled him to ‘keep on keeping on’, even to the death of the cross? It was the joy of saving his beloved people with an eternal salvation!

Christ’s terrible cry of dereliction was followed by an even louder cry of triumph: ‘It is finished!’ It was a shout of victory, because nothing remained to be done. In Gethsemane, in all the agony and bloody sweat, it was the joy set before him that saw him through.

As he staggered up Golgotha, and hung there as a spectacle, it was the reward to come that filled his vision. This was all prophesied centuries earlier by Isaiah: ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:11, AV) – satisfied by bringing many sons to glory!

Our Lord had this great objective firmly in view all along. This was the glorious prospect that sustained him and urged him on – the delightful anticipation of what was to come. This was the joy for which he so willingly became man; the joy for which he bore the antagonism of sinners and for which he was ready even to be ‘made sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

By it, he won through, conquering his enemies and ours, and completing his redeeming work. He then ‘sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’. We sit down when our work for the day is completed; it is something we look forward to. So it was with him, as Francis Havergal wrote:

All his work is ended,
Joyfully we sing;
Jesus hath ascended!
Glory to our King!

No one understands

The personal significance of all this is clear. We also must endure – for the joy that is set before us. Is the Christian race becoming too arduous? Are you tempted to drop out? What is the answer? Here it is, simple yet profound. Consider him!

Maybe we find it hard to reconcile our trials with the gospel – the providence of God seems at cross-purposes with the promises of God. If so, we have not really grasped the meaning of the gospel, for it bids us follow Christ.

If he suffered, why should we be surprised if we, who are called to follow in his steps, also suffer? Let us not lose heart, but rather ‘consider him who endured…’

We often commiserate with ourselves, feeling that no one has to go through what we are called to endure, and that no one understands. The only one way to get rid of such self-centred thinking is to become absorbed with someone else, namely Jesus Christ! Then self-pity will fade into the background.

The wondrous cross

Consider him! Are you doing so? Are you reminding yourself of this amazing love of Christ – who to save us from our sin and failure endured the cross and its shame?

‘Ah’, we complain, ‘the same old problems week after week’. If that is our attitude it is no wonder we become weary in the Christian life. True, the unremitting grind of ‘the daily round, the common task’ sometimes tempts us to think in that way. But to regard the race God has set before us as a dreary task is an insult to God and to his dear Son.

Here is the remedy. Consider him! Think of him who laid aside the everlasting glory and was born as a babe for us. Above all, survey the wondrous cross ‘on which the Prince of glory died’.

And keep on considering until your consideration, like that of Paul Gerhardt, turns to ‘wonder, love, and praise’:

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine for ever
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to thee!

Adapted from Why does being a Christian have to be so hard?Evangelical Press £6.95, 144 pages, ISBN 0-85234-578-X