Finding Joy Amidst the Pain
“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.”
How was your Thanksgiving week? Our family had a nice meal with just our household but I must admit that it was a bit sad to not have the normal celebrations we’re all used to. Also, I have a friend in the hospital and we’re praying for a miracle. I’ve spoken to several who are struggling mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually in this season and joy seems elusive. Yet Advent calls us to see the hope in the arrival of Jesus 2000 years ago that points to a joyful expectation we can have in the middle of the challenges we have today.
Today’s text points to Jesus’ joy in an unthinkable circumstance: going to the cross. How could Jesus have so much joy amidst so much suffering? First of all, we see that he didn’t find this joy by choosing to circumvent the suffering. He could have called an army of angels to free him from the suffering and agony of the cross if he wanted to escape pain and achieve victory by force. He could have avoided the cross altogether—and perhaps considered it—when he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39b). Jesus chose to literally take up the cross and be nailed to it. Jesus shows me that the Messiah himself still found joy without pain being removed or avoided. How can I find joy amidst the reality of the presence of pain?
I choose to believe that the writer of Hebrews was hinting at Jesus’ bigger vision of the cross. Yes, the cross was real pain and suffering but it was also real redemption and hope. By Jesus taking on the cross he removed the necessity for us to endure it. Though we deserved to suffer for our sins, Jesus chose to take it on in our place and grant us a heavenly inheritance of eternal life beginning right now. So then Jesus’ joy is not wrapped up into some kind of masochistic pleasure in pain nor is joy merely a philosophical idea. It is real joy because he finds ultimate joy in seeing his people escape the death that sin was condemning us to. It is real joy because he knows that he will not leave us alone but will send his very Spirit to be with us, empower us and carry on his work through us even amidst the pain of this world.
Is it too presumptuous to think that Jesus actually was thinking of me as he hung on that cross, filled with joy knowing that I would cry out to him one day and become forever part of his kingly family? Is it too presumptuous of me to see the goodness of God even if I don’t get the answers to the prayers the way I want them?
I certainly do not hesitate to pray for the removal of these pains I’m experiencing: a miraculous healing for my friend, hope to fill those struggling right now and an end to this Coronavirus world. I will still look for the miracle answers but am choosing joy and gratitude because I’m presuming God to be a good God whom is good to his word. I’m choosing joy because I presume God to be good, not because my circumstances are going to be filled with less pain. In this Advent season I pray you will see the glory of the cross and the possibility of joy amidst the pain of this world. Advent is all about waiting and longing for the right things. May we long for Jesus, the One who came on a rescue mission to bring us joy.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you think it’s presumptuous to think that Jesus had us on his mind when he was on the cross? What do you think was the thing that brought him joy as he endured the cross?
Does your church encourage those who seem to have unanswered prayers? How could you help someone who is finding it hard to experience joy amidst this painful season? What would help you see God’s goodness in a difficult season?
Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to take the cross in our place. May we be filled with an awareness of the great love you have for us personally and for your Church this Advent season. Help us to realize that your Spirit continues to pray for us with “groans that words cannot express” thus encouraging us to endure the difficult seasons and to experience real supernatural joy in the midst of of pain. Lead us into Advent with great hope in Immanuel, God with us! Amen.