Endurance of the Cross

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

At one point early in Julius Caesar’s political career, feelings ran so high against him that he thought it best to leave Rome. He sailed for the Aegean island of Rhodes, but en route the ship was attacked by pirates and Caesar was captured. The pirates demanded a ransom of 12,000 gold pieces, and Caesar’s staff was sent away to arrange the payment.

Caesar spent almost 40 days with his captors, jokingly telling the pirates on several occasions that he would someday capture and crucify them to a man. The kidnappers were greatly amused, but when the ransom was paid and Caesar was freed, the first thing he did was gather a fleet and pursue the pirates. They were captured and crucified ... to a man!

This was the Romans’ attitude toward crucifixion. It was to be reserved for the worst of criminals, a means of showing extreme contempt for the condemned. The suffering and shame of a Roman crucifixion were unequaled.

Shame is a word the Romans wanted associated with crucifixion. They wanted that shame to be a powerful deterrent to keep the peace among their conquered nations. The crucifixion was a warning that if you commit the crimes this man committed, you will suffer the same fate. So the Romans made crucifixion as public and shameful as possible. They hanged the criminals along the main roads leading into a city and they removed their clothing before crucifying them. The Romans usually did not scourge their crucifixion victims. That’s because they wanted them to last a long time on the cross. Naked, starving, only given a drink on a pole, visible to those who passed by – everything was done in order to shame the crucified.

Jesus saw it differently. There was no shame in fulfilling God's will or saving the world. In Hebrews we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

If you scorn something, that means you want nothing to do with it. But Jesus “scorning the shame” means that He thought so little of the pain and shame involved that He did not bother to avoid it. He welcomed it. He endured it.

The word translated “endure” is the same Greek root word as “persevere.” The cross was shameful to the Jews because there was a curse upon anyone who died on a tree. But it was even more shameful that Jesus died with humanity’s sins heaped upon Him. But He scorned the shame. He endured the pain. He purposefully set out for Jerusalem, even though He knew what was awaiting Him (Luke 9:51).

The cross with its torture and disgrace was no light load for our Lord, but He held up under it. The shame involved was far outweighed by the joy He found in completing the work of salvation and sitting down in triumph at God’s right hand. Jesus gladly prayed to His heavenly Father on Maundy Thursday, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

Dying for the sins of the world on the cross was something that Jesus set out to do before creation. He knew exactly what was going to happen … and He still went through with it.

Jesus knew that on this Friday morning, a terrible scourge should be lashing Barabbas’ back and shoulders – but it shreds Jesus’ instead. He knew the crushing weight of the cross-piece should fall on the criminal’s shoulders – but Jesus staggers and falls beneath it. He knew the crowd’s mockery and ridicule should assault the murderer as he stumbles along the tortuous Via Dolorosa – but this day Jesus bears the humiliation. He knew the nails should be driven through the notorious prisoner’s hands and feet into the cross, but not today – this day they pierce Jesus instead.

Jesus knew. He is led out to Golgotha where He is crucified along with a criminal on either side of Him. A Roman centurion and his band of soldiers stand guard over Him, but they did not need to bother. Jesus’ friends are not mounting a rescue mission. They are cowering behind locked doors. The crowds that were so energetic on Sunday morning are strangely silent on Friday afternoon. The Jewish leaders stand mocking and ridiculing Jesus, the crowds pass by the busy street shaking their heads on their way into Jerusalem. Even the two criminals at His side hurl insults.

Jesus endured all this … and more.

He had all the sins of mankind heaped upon Him. He is feeling the venom of the serpent seep into His heel. For the only time in His life, Jesus cannot bear to call God His Father. Instead, He cries out in agony and abandonment, “My God, my God,” for He has been forsaken. The sins of humanity now separate the Son of God from the unity of the Trinity. In these hours of separation, Jesus experiences an eternity of hell.

This is what Jesus endured. He tolerated. He accepted. He persevered.

Whether it is illness or temptation or unemployment or bullying or divorce or tension or exhaustion or death that we face; we fix our eyes on Jesus. When we don’t think we can go any farther; we fix our eyes on Jesus. When we don’t think we can make it any longer; we fix our eyes on Jesus … who endured.

Incredibly, unbelievably, Jesus endured the cross for joy. That’s right! Jesus endured the shame and pain of the cross because it brought Him joy! Sheer, unmitigated joy of bearing our sin, paying our price, removing our sin, reconciling us to God, and dying our death.

  • His pain was joy so that we might be healed. 
  • His humiliation was joy so we might be glorified.
  • His suffering was joy so we might be set free.
  • His blood was joy so we might be cleansed.
  • His crown of thorns was joy so we might wear a crown of glory.
  • His nakedness was joy so we might be robed in His righteousness.
  • His gall and vinegar was joy so we might drink the cup of salvation.
  • His sacrifice was joy so we might be saved.
  • His death was joy so we might live.

It is that joy that causes us to call this Friday a Good Friday. For it is on this holy day that our Savior crushed the serpent under His heel. Today our Savior completed His task of redeeming humanity from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Today our Savior gave us life through His death. Today our Savior opened wide the portals of heaven through the shedding of His blood on the shameful cross.

Today we see that God cannot and will not leave our guilt and sin unpunished. We see the devastating fury of that wrath in all that Jesus must suffer on the cross. At the same time, we see God’s boundless mercy, grace and love. You and I deserve a tortuous, agonizing and endless death – bound hand and foot in hell. Instead, Jesus takes our place and satisfies God’s wrath, as He is nailed hand and foot to the cross. All our sins are laid on Jesus, and His perfect righteous is granted to us.

Today is Good Friday.

Today is a day of solemn worship with black altar cloths, nails and a wooden cross. Today we hang our heads in shame knowing that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. It was our gossip that mocked Him. It was our anger that ripped open His back. It was our mob mentality that moved the mob to shout, “Crucify Him!” It was our lack of worship that mocked Him as King. It was our cowardice that left Him alone on the cross.

So today is also a day of shame on us.

At the same time, today is a triumphant day. Christ bore God’s wrath as our substitute – truly making this a Good Friday. Today is not a funeral. But it is a serious celebration of the Lamb of God once for all, for you and for me. Today is a day of deep mourning. But it is also a day of somber rejoicing.

The Romans sent a powerful message to their enemies by using the cross. Jesus sends an eternal message to those who believe in Him by using the cross. The Jews and the Romans attempted to shame Jesus by hanging Him on the tree of the cross on that Friday. But it was for joy that Jesus walked the road toward the cross making this a Good Friday.

Jesus did not look upon this day as a day of shame. He looked upon this day as a day of joy! For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame!