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Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

The previous verse instructs us to run with patience the race that is set before us. In that verse the Christian life is compared to a race that is to be run. This race is not a 100-yard dash, but an endurance race requiring great effort. Those who finish the race receive a crown. By this comparison, the Scriptures emphasize that the Christian life is difficult and strenuous, requiring great effort.

As we run this race, we are told to look to Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God. Looking to Jesus, we will also be able to finish the race and claim the crown.

We consider this instruction of our Lord Jesus in order to meditate on His ascension. It is true that Jesus’ ascension is not mentioned here. Nevertheless, the basis for His ascension is set forth—His enduring the cross. And so is the result of the ascension—His being seated at God’s right hand. Because of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we have someone to look to as we run the race of the Christian life.

Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.

There was a great deal of shame attached to the cross.

First, there was the shame of death by crucifixion. Death is never glorious but always humbling. This was especially true of death by crucifixion, in which a per­son died by inches, in delirium. In addition, crucifixion was the Roman form of capital punishment. What a shameful thing, to be executed as a criminal.

Secondly, Jesus’ crucifixion was shameful in that He was publicly shamed and repudiated by the same people He came to minister to. This is emphasized in verse 3, “for consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.”

But Jesus’ crucifixion was especially shameful be­cause it was the accursed death. By His death on the cross, Jesus endured all the punishment of hell for the sins of His people.

Yet Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.

Jesus went to the cross meekly, as a sheep to the slaughter. Being the Son of God, He had the ability to come down from the cross, as He was mockingly challenged to do by the taunting crowd. But He en­dured the cross, courageously and bravely suffering the full agony of its curse to secure the salvation of His people.

He did so despising the shame. To “despise” means to think little of something. This Jesus did with the shame of the cross. On the one hand, the suffering of the cross was overwhelming, as is evident from Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. On the other hand, Jesus thought very little of the shame of the cross. He considered it as nothing.

Jesus was able to do this because of the joy that was set before Him.

What a contrast! The shame of the cross over against the joy set before Jesus.

This joy is the joy of being set down at the right hand of the throne of God. This speaks of a position of honor and power. The one who sat at the right hand of a king was clothed with power and authority to rule the realm in the name of the king. Similarly, to be set at the right hand of the throne of God is to be elevated by God to the highest position of creation, clothed by God with power and authority to rule all things on behalf of God.

What joy to hold such position!

This joy was set before Jesus. It was set before Him in eternity as a reward for enduring the shame of the cross. It was set before Him in a special way on the Mount of Transfiguration, when in the presence of Moses and Elijah Jesus was given a little foretaste of the glory that awaited Him.

The joy set before Jesus was so great that the shame of the cross was not worthy to be compared to it.

And so, despising the shame, He endured the cross.

As a reward, He was set at the right hand of the throne of God.

This took place at Jesus’ ascension, forty days after His death.

The ascension was a change of place. For thirty-three years Jesus lived, according to His human nature, on the earth. At the ascension, He left the earth in His human nature and now is in heaven.

The ascension was also an advancement in glory. On the basis of the perfect atonement of the cross, God raised Jesus from the dead. This was a wonderful tran­sition from humiliation and shame to honor and glory. For the body Jesus received in the resurrection was a heavenly, glorified body. And then, at His ascension, and still on the basis of His perfect atonement, Jesus was given the joy that was set before Him by His be­ing taken to heaven and seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

As we run the race set before us, we are to look to the ascended Jesus. This look is to be the look of faith. We are to look to Him in faith.

The subject of the previous chapter is faith, where faith is described as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This emphasizes that faith is the inner conviction and confidence in God that He will keep all His promises for our future glory, in spite of what may seem contrary in this life. In this chapter the holy writer also demonstrates how the Old Testament saints lived victoriously in this faith. We know them as the Old Testament heroes of faith. Listed are such notables as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

With the same faith that they had we are to look to Jesus as we run the race set before us.

This brings us to the question, for what must we look to Jesus?

We must certainly look to Him as an example to follow. The Old Testament heroes of faith listed in the previous chapter are set for examples of those who have run the race and received the crown of glory. They serve as a great cloud of witnesses. But the great example of one who ran the race and received the crown is Jesus. Focus your eye on Him. By faith, follow His example. Do so blindly, trusting that, by following Him even into shame and humiliation, you will be exalted as He was.

But we must look to Jesus also for strength to run the race of the Christian life. How difficult this race is. It is a marathon requiring the utmost spiritual strength and stamina. How our besetting sins weigh us down. How our sinful nature tires us. How the temptations of the world distract us. To finish the race is impossible on our own. Yet in Jesus Christ there is the strength to run this race and overcome every obstacle. For He sits at the right hand of the throne of God in power. Look to Him in faith. Look in such a way that you rely upon Him for all that you need in order to run the race of the Christian life. Look not to yourself. Look not to those broken reeds upon which the world relies. Fix your eye of faith solely on Jesus, who sits on the right hand of God.

Look to Jesus, remembering that He is the author and finisher of our faith.

That He is the author of our faith means that our faith originates in Him. No, faith does not originate in us. On account of the fall and the corruption it brought to the human race, we do not have even the ability to believe. Faith must be given to us from above. Jesus works that faith irresistibly in the hearts of all those for whom He gave His life as an atonement for sin.

Jesus is also the finisher of our faith. He is the one who brings faith to completion, to its goal. And the completion or goal of faith is our own glory. For our glory Jesus died for us in shame—to earn it. For our glory Jesus also brings us to faith in Him so that we are empowered in Him to run the race that leads to glory.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith only because He has been set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For this reason we must look to Jesus.

He it is that gives us faith.

And He it is that will finish our faith, bringing us to glory.

Look to Him, that we may run the race set before us.