Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame.” Our Lord experienced the ultimate in suffering and shame; the cross was painful physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was awful. Yet, there was joy set before him. This does not mean Jesus relished in the pain; rather, he clearly understood what his suffering would accomplish: the saving of many lives.
Trying to make sense of this great sacrifice on our behalf can be mind-blowing. No earthly illustration or word-picture can begin to adequately capture the idea. However, perhaps what we can understand is undergoing the necessary discipline, effort, and pain in order to accomplish a goal. Back in the day, I was a cross country runner (back far enough for Sherman to set the way-back machine). When I was running I would sometimes get that super nasty pain in my side while running. It is called a side cramp, or side stitch. If you have never experienced it, the pain feels like an intense stabbing, as if someone were taking a knife and twisting it inside you. There is really only one thing to do when this occurs: keep running through the pain and it will subside in a few minutes; to stop running only exacerbates and prolongs the hurt, not to mention losing if it occurs during a race.
Jesus faced the cross knowing that he was going to experience terrible excruciating pain. He also knew that not facing the shame of it all and avoiding the agony would only make things worse and not take care of the problem. Jesus endured all the foulness and degradation of the cross for you and me. The pain was worth it to him. He did not circumvent it, but embraced it so that the result would be people’s deliverance from sin, death, and hell. The end game of his redemptive work was joy over deposing the ruler of this dark world.
Suffering often does not fit into our equation of the Christian life; but it should. Since Jesus bled and died for us, it is our privilege to follow him along the way of suffering. Holy Week is a time to reflect and remember on such a great sacrifice, and to consider our Christian lives in the face of such great love.
Gracious Lord Jesus, I give you eternal thanks for your mercy toward me through the cross. It is a small thing for me to follow you even it means great suffering on my part. My life is yours. Use it as you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.