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. (Hebrews 12:1b-2)
The night before his crucifixion Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup before him might be taken. Matthew records his words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Three times Jesus prayed this prayer. Troubled in his spirit, Jesus prayed so intensely that he began to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Luke describes Jesus’ condition as that of agony.
Why this anguish? What was the reason for his earnest and persistent plea?
Our Savior knew full well what was to come. The scourging, the mocking, the spitting. The crown of thorns, the nakedness, the nails. Being pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sin. He saw it all before him. But more than even that, he knew the cup he was to drink was that of the Father’s wrath.
On the cross, the wrath of God reserved for sinners was to be fully poured out on him. This was the source of his agony. He was to become the object of the holy and righteous wrath of God stored up for the sins of mankind. As our substitute, he would experience the torments and afflictions of hell that we so justly deserve.
Jesus knew this wrath was coming. He knew he would experience complete separation from the Father- that not one ounce of the Father’s goodness or love would be upon him. On the cross, he would be utterly stricken, smitten, and afflicted. The Father’s face would be turned from him.
Why we may ask, would he do this? Why would Jesus take upon himself the absolute and deliberate wrath of God? Why would he become the representative of wretches like us? After all, Jesus made it very clear in John 10:18 that nobody takes his life from him: that he lays it down on his own accord. What could possibly compel him to do this?
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross. What then was this joy?
For the joy of obeying the Father. For all eternity past, the Son enjoyed perfect union and love with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet, Jesus proclaimed his purpose for his time on earth was that of submission: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). John also recorded this statement from Jesus concerning his purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). While in human flesh, the eternal Son of God submitted to the will of his Father; to carry out the plan of salvation that had existed before the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
While on Earth, Jesus spent his life in perfect obedience to the Father. He overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness and he perfectly fulfilled the Law. In obedience, Jesus finished the course of suffering before him by his death on the cross. Though his agony was greater than comprehension, his desire to obey and please his Father was greater still.
For the joy of bringing glory to himself and the Father. Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17 details the great desire our Savior had for his Father’s glory as well as his own. The glory that could only be had on the other side of suffering (1 Peter 1:10-11). In the garden before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you….I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1, 4-5).
Through his obedient death on the cross, glory would be given to God for bringing about the salvation of the elect; and glory would be given to Christ for accomplishing the work given him by the Father (John 17:2-3). With joy, Jesus looked forward to being restored to the glory he previously experienced; though now he would be glorified in heaven as the God-man, not as the preincarnate eternal Son (Cara, 2020, Tabletalk Magazine).
For the joy of his reward, being the Savior for his people. In John 6:39 we learn that the will of the Father was this: that Jesus would lose none given to him by the Father and that he would raise them up on the last day. Given to him by the Father. This amazing phrase means that those chosen from the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons and daughters through Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5) are given to him as a gift– as a reward for his obedience to even death on a cross. The elect are given to the Son by the Father, and the Son gives eternal life to all who believe in his name.
Yet, Jesus knew the inheritance of a people for his own possession could only be accomplished through his death. And so, by his own blood, he secured for himself a radiant bride composed of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 5:9). This bride is the church (Ephesians 5:27, Acts 20:28). And if we are among those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, this includes us. By the riches of God’s grace, we are part of the Father’s gift to the Son. Truly, for the joy of being our Savior and so that we may see his glory (John 17:24) Jesus endured the wrath of God.
The unimaginable agony endured by Christ on the cross was sustained by the hope of the joy set before him. For the joy of obeying his Father and for the joy of bringing glory to them both, he absorbed the wrath and horror of the cross. But oh follower of Christ, may we never forget how he delights in being our Savior. For his joy included ransoming his bride, that he may present her to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 4:27). In love and with joy, he has made wretches his treasure.