"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and 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."
Have you ever wondered what this joy was that Christ had to enable him to endure the cross? How could someone possibly find joy in their impending crucifixion? Some would say that it was because he loved the world so much, and we were on his mind as he carried his cross to Calvary. While it is true that he was motivated by love, I believe a stronger influence drove him to the cross. Before I answer the question, let's take a look at what exactly joy is, according to the Scriptures. Proverbs 10:28 says, "The hope of the righteous brings joy." According to Galatians 5:22, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; in other words, joy is the natural by-product of someone who is living their life in accordance with the will of God. In 2 Corinthians 8, we see that the churches of Macedonia were enduring a "severe test of affliction", yet "their abundance of joy and extreme poverty..overflowed in a wealth of generosity". The Macedonian believers were abounding in joy despite their severe trials. Joy is distinct from happiness, in that joy transcends our circumstances. Joy goes deeper, and is felt in spite of our difficulties. Every believer's life should be marked by joy. The source of our joy is not circumstances, feelings, or the pleasures of this world, which are all fleeting and temporary. So what should be the source of our joy?
Towards the end of the Gospel of John, in Jesus' final hours with his disciples, he describes for them why he has come, and gives them instructions for after he has ascended to the Father. In three places, he talks about their joy being made full.
"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." John 15:11Jesus wants his joy to be fulfilled in them. So we are back to our original question, "What was Jesus' joy?" I believe the answer is found in the context of John 15:11. From the beginning of Chapter 15, Jesus emphasizes several times that his disciples are to abide in him, in order to bear fruit for the kingdom. That is what glorifies the Father, and what proves to the world that they are his disciples (v. 8). The key verses are 10-11: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." Do you see it? Jesus' joy was derived from keeping the Father's commandments and abiding in his love.
"Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." John 16:24
"These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves." John 17:13
Jesus chose to endure the cross because the joy of pleasing his Father and being obedient to his will was more important than the temporary sufferings he was about to experience. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that it was the Father's will to crush him. Jesus willingly submitted to his Father's plan.
When we are faithfully obedient to Christ in spite of our circumstances, as he was to the Father, then the same joy he experienced can be ours also, just as he promised. Obeying Christ is to be the source of our joy, and, fittingly, Christ is the ultimate example of faithful obedience. We now must ask ourselves, If Christ was willing to endure the cross in order to remain obedient to his Father's will, to what lengths are we willing to go to obey him?