This past weekend, Christians from around the world celebrated the death of Jesus on the Cross and His resurrection.
In a year which has been particularly challenging due to the far-reaching consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, where so much has happened and so much has changed for so many of us, I have been especially drawn to consider how Christ responded to His circumstances and specifically, how He prepared Himself for the pain and suffering that He knew was waiting for Him.
In Hebrews 12:2 we read: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising its shame”.
This is how Jesus endured the Cross, with an attitude of joy — “for the joy set before Him”. But first, He prayed and even though He was in regular communication with His Father throughout His time on earth, it was just before He was arrested that He prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Here we see Jesus, fully human yet also fully divine, expressing the natural human desire that we can all relate to, which is to avoid the “cup” of pain and suffering He was about to endure while also being committed to the will of God, in body, mind and soul.
In that moment of excruciating agony in contemplation of what the future held, Jesus surrendered to the will and purposes of God for His life, and chose joy.
The joy referred to here cannot be likened to happiness as we understand it, although the two are often used interchangeably. The author and lay minister Samuel D Gordon explained why this is: “Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross.”
The biblical definition of joy then is “gladness in the Lord”, which as Jesus showed us, is not dependent on our circumstances as happiness is, but rather on who God is and the many promises He has given us in His Word.
I am reminded of the words of Ralph Abernathy, a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr and fellow civil rights activist: “I don’t know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future”.
As we continue to navigate the uncertain times that we live in, we can have hope in Him and in Him we can be confident, for the joy of the Lord is our strength! (Nehemiah 8:10)