For Christians, at least for this Christian, the ultimate juxtaposition of emotions happens during Passion Week. What other holiday or event has us focusing on the macabre progression and the devastating impact of a murder, and then just three days later has us rejoicing and celebrating victory and new life?
If we’re honest, that’s a quick turnaround. In our lives today when someone dies, however they die, it can take us months, a year, even years to even come to the point that we can have hope in things getting better. We go through stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, sadness, and eventually start to move on, although that order and time table varies for each person. And we tend to linger over the grief because somehow it keeps us tethered to whatever, whoever, we lost.
This last month, as Passion Week has drawn ever closer, one scripture passage has been turning over and over in my mind. (Emphasis mine)
“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 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.” Hebrews 12: 1 & 2
I believe that the words that I highlighted in these two verses are key to illustrating the attitude that we are to have toward our trials. And I want to primarily focus on the types of trials that come to us without warning, not the type that we walk into because of our own sin.
The author of Hebrews gives us such inspiration for how to approach struggle, and to continue joyfully through and past it in these verses.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith.
We are to run, not fearfully or grudgingly walk, through life. But energetically, enthusiastically, RUN. Think of little children—it’s almost like they’re unable to simply walk. Their bodies practically propel them to run. I think this is another way that Jesus would have us be like kids—He wants to see some spring in our step.
And we aren’t running in circles either. There is a course for each one of us. It was mapped, charted, outlined long ago. It has a beginning and an end, with water breaks and opportunities for rest along the way. It’s the best plan because it’s His plan. We may divert from the course, and if we do, we’ll certainly come up against some roadblocks and waste time. And it won’t be the perfect race that was designed for us by the Pioneer of our faith.
For me, the beauty of this part of the scripture is the word “perfector.” It carries the implication that when we run our race in faith, we are in a process of perfection. Little by little, as we close on the finish line, God is making us better, reforming us to look more like Jesus.
Let’s move from the “what” in these two verses to the “why.” Why did Jesus go to the cross willingly, and give us this strange event called Easter? Why do we bother to run our races with gusto?
For the joy.
Jesus knew there was joy before Him. He had confidence and hope despite horrific circumstances because He trusted in His Father’s good promises. He knew who He was. There was no shrinking back in those dark moments in the garden of Gethsemane. There was no hesitation. Jesus stepped forward into the arms of His arresters, stood silently before His accusers, and obediently endured torture and shame, grief and agony because He knew there were better things ahead.
And that is who I want to be. I know it may seem easy to say this when I’m sitting in my comfortable bed typing this on my laptop with no tragic upheaval in my life, no shocking news to digest. But I remember dark days in my past when I had experienced tragedy and pain, and I face an uncertain future, and I know that I want to live a life of gratitude and joy because of what Jesus has brought me through and what perfection lies ahead. I want to exercise a quick turnaround of faith, a speedy return to the race, not get stuck in the circumstantial obstacles.
Jesus did not sit down until His race was over, and every step of it He ran with passion and joy—for you, and for me. As we celebrate Easter this week, we must enter into the macabre—the sadness and the pain, because that’s part of the race. Sometimes it hurts to run. But we can’t stop there. At some point we must put it behind us and keep going. Remembering Christ’s resurrection should provoke a joyful celebration in us that pushes us forward and gives us hope, gives us the drive to keep going.
I used to attend a church that threw a huge party on Easter Sunday. I mean, the works: DJs with high-tech graphics going on during the baptisms, food afterward, lights. And I think they were on to something. We should be happy when we think about what we’ve won because of Jesus’ triumph over death. Because the truth is we’ve already won the prize through Him. We’re now called to finish the race and claim it.
So what’s your cross today? What’s your struggle? This Easter, though the pain may be real, don’t forget the joy that is set before you. Endure, run, and finish strong. For the joy of resting with Him.