My father honored me by taking me with him on a journey deep into the wilderness of Southwestern Oregon. My dad had a friend, Dan Tucker, who invited us to travel far into the back country and visit a gold mine.
For hours we bounced along primitive roadways, switch backing our way up one side of a mountain, through a pass, and then zig zagging down the other side. Eventually we came to the end of the road and stopped in to visit some wilderness mountain people who had made their home in that isolated location—hours from the nearest human being.
We parked our 4X4 truck and set out with back packs. By this time the sun had settled behind the mountains so we were left to hike in the dark. Dan was our guide and led the way. I was in the middle and my dad brought up the rear. The trail was narrow but not steep. We followed a creek upstream.
Pretty soon my dad said, “Carlton, you can turn off your flashlight. Just follow Dan’s light. You’ll be okay.
I wasn’t convinced. After all, we were in Big Foot country! Guys like our guide, Dan, had claimed to have sighted Big Foot in that wilderness at one time or another. Somehow I wanted the security of carrying my own flashlight.
My dad didn’t press it. We just marched along following Dan, me in the middle, and my dad coming along behind. Even with my light I remember stumbling a few times. Quickly my dad’s strong arms reached out to steady me. He spoke words of encouragement and guidance that really helped me on that dark night in the wilderness. My dad’s presence helped me feel secure, though not enough to turn off my flashlight!
The writer to the Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 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.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Verse 1 reminds us that the Christian experience is characterized in athletic terms as a race. It requires exertion and effort over a prescribed course toward a specific goal. As Christians we’re all headed somewhere and from everything we know about Heaven from the Scriptures, our goal is going to be well worth the effort. So we keep pressing on, following Christ our great example and high priest.
What does vs. 2 tell us about Christ?
- He is the author and perfecter of the faith.
Christ was there in the beginning of all things, from the foundation of the world. He was a participant in creation. And He is the one who wrote the story line, the script, if you will, for the Christian life. He even went so far as to pioneer the course—demonstrating for us what godly obedience looked like. He set aside His own glory, His own agenda, His own position in order to take on the form of humanity. And then, think about it: God did not spare His own Son any of the trials and tribulations of human life. Jesus wasn’t born with a silver spoon in His mouth. He wasn’t protected from any of the harsh realities of living. No, Jesus did not receive any special treatment even though you could rightly say that He was the favored son!
Jesus wrote the story and then showed us how it was done. He perfected the story with His own blood on the cross. And He showed us the finish line to which all Christians are striving to arrive. He showed us that obedience and sacrifice would not be the end of the story. He showed us that there is a goal, a prize, the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. That’s why we press on.
- He endured the cross, scorning its shame.
I was reading William Barclay’s commentary on this verse and came across these words which struck me forcefully:
“Jesus was sensitive; never had any person so sensitive a heart. A cross was a humiliating thing. It was for criminals, for those whom society regarded as the dregs of humanity—and yet he accepted it. St. Philip of Neri bids us ‘to despise the world, to despise ourselves, and to despise the fact that we are despised.”
Jesus cast aside He human desire to be liked and appreciated in order to bear the excruciating suffering and shame of the cross. What an incredible guide our Lord is for us!
We all want to be liked. We all want to be appreciated and valued. In fact, it is a God-like thing to want to be loved. Indeed, God encourages and enjoys the praise and worship of His people. And we were created in God’s image. As a result we pay attention to what other people say to us and about us. We are influenced by what we perceive as the thoughts others have toward us. It is normal and natural—part of being human.
What struck me, though, is that Jesus was willing to take on the taunting ridicule, the unfair criticisms, the embarrassing moments when He was stripped and beaten mercilessly—He was willing to take all that on because He knew the end of the story. Of course He knew the end of the story—remember…He was the author. He wrote the story! And He knew that there was joy, real joy, wonderful joy awaiting Him on the other side of the resurrection.
Yes, we want to be liked and appreciated. At the same time we must follow our guide Christ Jesus. And if that means that some people don’t like us, if that means we suffer unjustly and pass through hard trials, so be it! For we are looking forward to a city where we will be with our Savior forevermore.
As a teenager I remember singing the chorus “Do Lord.” Seems like there were a gazillion verses to that simple tune. One that comes to mind at this moment is this: “If you can’t bear the Cross then you can’t wear a crown.” The Good News is that Jesus has pioneered the course through pain and hardship in order to show us that there is something better on the other side of this earthly journey.
Too many of us are like I was on that mountain trail so many long years ago. There was Dan, our guide. He knew where He was going because He had been there before. He knew that there were cabins and beds and blankets and everything we needed to make us very comfortable for the night. And he knew that it was a gold mine…literally with riches all around us.
And there was my dad, carefully watching to keep me from falling. Quick to offer an encouraging word.
And there was me, in the middle, determined that I needed to carry my own flashlight. All because I really didn’t trust my guide…and I didn’t trust my dad.
Jesus is our guide. He’s been there before us. He knows what lies ahead and He knows the place to which He is leading. The Holy Spirit is the one coming along behind us, giving us guidance, encouragement, and a steady hand to lean on when we stumble.
And here we are in the middle, thinking that we still need to hold on to our own flashlight.
Release your flashlight into the hands of the Holy Spirit. Follow Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit will be there to help—through the Word, through inspiring counsel from Christian brothers and sisters—through that still, small voice that speaks to your heart. Turn off the flashlight.