Lent is an annual reminder and call to take up our cross and follow Jesus, to fix our eyes on Him and His accomplishments, to remember the covenant of our baptisms, to press on with joy toward the prize of Christ Jesus. This passage is all about faith and, beginning at the end, this text insists that it was the faith of Jesus that enabled Him to lay His own life down rightly.
For the Joy & Glory
Jesus is the author and finisher of faith (12:2). This means that He begins and completes this work of faith in us. But His testimony is efficacious, it effects what it proclaims. And this is why the faith of Jesus is good news: it accomplishes what it is. Here, the writer says that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame (12:2). In another place, Paul says that Jesus humbled Himself gladly and suffered because of His absolute certainty of Who He was (Phil. 2:6). God has the most reputation to protect, the most authority to lose, the most critics and enemies, but the Son’s faith resolutely held fast to the joy and glory of the Father (Heb. 12:2, Phil. 2:11).
What is Faith?
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (11:1). Faith is constantly pulling the future into the present. In this way, it is the evidence of things not seen: faith turns ordinary life into a testimony (11:2). Faith sees every situation as an assignment in displaying the glory of God. Faith is what pleases God (11:6). Not only is this because it is “right” but because it imitates God’s own freedom (cf. 11:3, 12:1-2). Faith looks for a city whose builder and maker is God (11:10, 13-16). Faith is a counter-intuitive building project. Faith rejects passing pleasures and suffers affliction gladly seeing Him who is invisible (11:26-27). Faith lays aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us (12:1).
Faith in the Family
Faith is what turns ordinary relational squabble coasting into the magic trick called family. First of all, in reality, wherever there is sin, there can be no “coasting.” That’s a lie. Sin is a weight that pulls us down (12:1). Sin is a snare, a trap. Sin is poison. Sin is a parasite that sucks away your life. Sin is darkness. But secondly, faith sees sin as an opportunity to display the magic of Easter. Faith sees the joy of resurrection and glory. Faith sees Jesus. Faith sees sin as the leech that it is, and gladly pours the salt of the cross all over it.
Faith is necessary for dealing with sin in our lives because we are frequently afraid of the consequences. It might mean embarrassment. It might mean shame. It might mean the loss of a job. It could mean letting lots of people down. It could even mean jail time. But Jesus says it would be better to enter life maimed than with all of your limbs be cast into Hell (Mt. 5:29-30). Faith is necessary to perform the necessary amputations because faith must see the future glory. It must see the future joy, and this is how repentance pulls the future into the present. When a sin is confessed, it is killed and forgiveness is freedom. And the heavenly city comes a little more.
Sin is idolatry. Sin is worshipping another god besides Jesus. But those gods are all idols. They are all liars and thieves. They promise momentary pleasures, but there is suffering and sadness forever. They are weights that pull you down. Many conservative Christians worship the god of respectability, and why? Because behind the god of respectability is the pantheon of Mammon. Money, fame, success, power, and glory. If you are respectable, if you quote the right people, if you toe the party line, then you’ll get that promotion, you’ll be respected in the church, you’ll be looked up to, people will think you are smart, cool, doing OK, whatever. And idols never present themselves as idols. They are liars and angels of light. What is respectable? Quoting Ephesians 5 and Reforming Marriage, having long family devotions, voting for Republicans, buying a house, particular methods of education, health care decisions, what you eat, what you don’t eat. Who are you trying to please? Who do you hope notices? Who are you hoping will give you props? Who are you most afraid of letting down? If your eyes are not fixed on Jesus, then you have another god. And that idol is beating you down. When Jesus rose from the dead, the world was remade and now the whole world is covered in the water of the Spirit. And that means there is only one way to walk. There is only one way to walk on the water, and that is with eyes fixed on Jesus.
Damn respectability. Yes, a good reputation is to be prized, but not at the cost of your soul. What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Faith sees bumps as glory. If there has been a misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or sin, faith gladly repents, takes responsibility, and then thanks God for all of it. Faith is not ashamed and sees every scar as glorious proofs of Easter. Faith has eyes fixed on Jesus. This means resurrection and joy and glory.
Faith is not threatened by humility or humiliation. When someone criticizes or corrects, faith sees equality with God as not something to be grasped because it is sure thing. Faith is confident in the outcome: a heavenly city, community, fellowship.
Because faith is constantly pulling the future into the present, faith sees others as equals and better than equals (Phil. 2:3, Gal. 3:26-29, 1 Pet. 3:7). Our children are co-heirs of glory with us and share in the gift of the Spirit. Wives and husbands are co-heirs of glory and both share equally in Christ.
And here is where idolatry creeps into Christian families. John says: how can you say you love God whom you have not seen when you do not love your brother whom you have seen? If you say that you love God and do not look up and love the one right in front of you, then you are not loving God. And you are manufacturing some idol in your head.
Peter says that husbands are to treat their wives as co-heirs with them of glory, that means listening to them, honoring them, considering them important, significant, and giving their input enormous weight. But Peter says that if husbands do not listen to their wives, God will not listen to them.
Some husbands play the “head of the household” card and are harsh and bossy, but head of the household means you get to die first. It means you get to see all the sins and failures and weaknesses in your home and claim them as your own, and then die in faith trusting God for resurrection.
Other husbands are whiny pushovers. They aren’t necessarily loud and angry or bossy, but whenever there is sin or tangles or big decisions they reluctantly give into their wives with a quiet resentment and bitterness. They do not gladly accept responsibility, and they quietly resent their wife’s input or counsel.
Wives need to stand in the confidence and love of Christ, speaking with honor and respect because of Christ but also with confidence and without apology.
Faith as Freedom
Faith is having our eyes fixed on the future, on the punch line, on the joy set before us. Faith means being absolutely certain that God is not bound by any of our circumstances and that because of His freedom, He is resolutely weaving our stories into His glorious story. The end of our faith is a city with foundations whose builder is God (Heb. 11:10). The end of our faith is community in Christ at the right hand of the glory of God (Heb. 12:2). This is how faith makes us free: seeing the joy of the Kingdom of God coming frees us to work in whatever situation we are in for that Kingdom: suffering, afflicted, persecuted, having failed.
Lastly, freedom is full of joy. And that is always the test. The test is not perfection. The test is not sinlessness (who would pass?); the test is your joy, the test is your eyes fixed on Jesus, the test is your faith. And this is the victory that is overcoming this world (1 Jn. 5:4).