Jesus is our inspiration and finest example in every challenge of life. Scripture encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV).
The writer of Hebrews compares believers to athletes in a race. Jesus has gone before us in this race. He has crossed the finish line of faith in victorious triumph and is now seated on the heavenly throne at God’s right hand. To reach our goal, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. The Lord’s steadfast endurance and unfaltering obedience establish the ideal pattern for us to follow whenever we struggle. If we keep Him always in our sight, we will find the strength and courage to endure. Moreover, we can live confidently, knowing that He who began His good work in us will continue carrying it to completion until the day when Christ returns (Philippians 1:6).
Jesus endured far more than we ever will when He obeyed His Father and undertook the cross. The cross involved extreme suffering and unimaginable shame for our Lord: “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:3–5, NLT).
Despising the shame is the same as disregarding it. Jesus chose to disregard or ignore the shame and disgrace that the cross would bring to Him. He let Himself be despised by humans as He took upon Himself all the sins of the world. Imagine the mortification the sinless, spotless Lamb of God must have felt! Yet Jesus chose to disregard or despise the shame of the cross. He obediently finished the work that God had given Him to do (John 17:4).
What was it that empowered Jesus to endure the cross, despising the shame? It was His future-focused faith, which is the primary subject of this segment of Hebrews. The Lord concentrated on “the joy that was set before him.” He knew by faith that God would not leave Him in the grave forever but would raise Him back to life (see Psalm 16:8–10; Acts 2:24–33) and exalt Him to glory in heaven (see Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34–36).
The joy set before Jesus—the motivation that enabled Him to endure—included the salvation that His sacrifice would bring: “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10, NLT). Jesus acknowledged the disgrace and humiliation of the cross, but these perils were of no consequence to Him. Instead, He kept His eyes on the coming glory and the salvation of souls that His death on the cross would make possible (see John 3:14–16; Acts 5:30–31; Romans 5:9–10; 10:9–10; 1 John 4:9–10; 2 Timothy 1:9–10; Revelation 7:9–10).
The faith heroes showcased in Hebrews 11 also lived for the future and the joy set before them, enabling them to endure (Hebrews 11:10, 14–16, 24–27). The apostle Paul did likewise: “I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen” (2 Timothy 2:10, NLT). We can overcome faintheartedness and persevere in the face of hardship, “despising the shame,” when we keep our attention fixed on Jesus (see 2 Timothy 2:11–12; Romans 6:8; 8:17; Hebrews 10:36). He is the joy set before us that enables us to press on and run the race set before us (Philippians 3:12–14).