Connections 10.30.2016: Job, Jesus, and Me

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Hebrews 12:1-13

At some point in my young life, I began participating in my parents’ nightly prayer time. Using the denominational devotional guide, one of them would read the suggested Scripture passage and the printed meditation, and then say a short prayer.

One night, with no advance warning, my father handed me the devotional guide and Bible, and said, “Mike, you read it tonight.” I was moved to the point of being awed.

It was my Baptist bar mitzvah.

“Tonight I am a man.” And at eight years old!

I opened the guide to that day’s selection and announced that the reading was from the book of Job.

My parents’ laughter shattered the holy stillness.

They laughed because I had pronounced “Job” like the word for that thing they went to at the mill every day, with a short “o” rather than a long one. How was I supposed to know? Nobody went to a job with a long “o.”

The experience didn’t leave much of a mark (he says as he recalls it like it was yesterday instead of fifty years ago next Tuesday, give or take).

Old Job (with a long “o”) has been on my mind ever since. I think about him when I’m going through a difficult time. I think about him when I’m walking with someone through their suffering. I think about him when I read, hear, or see news reports from Syria and Haiti.

And when I think about Job, I think about how he wanted to know why such terrible things had happened to him, and about how he never found out. I think about how, in the end, it had to be enough for him to know that God was God and that God was with him—and, evidently, it was.

As I journeyed along, pondering Job and pondering life, I came to realize that I’d abandoned simple answers and pithy explanations. Phrases like “It’s just God’s will” or “Stuff happens” didn’t work anymore.

For me, adequate thoughts about life, suffering, faith, and related realities now require essays rather than bumper stickers.

One thing I know, though: as a Christian, I must take Christ into account.

The writer of Hebrews tells me that I should “run with perseverance the race that is set before” me (v. 1) while “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2). The writer tells me that I should “consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners,” so that I “may not grow weary or lose heart” (v. 3).

So when I write my essays about what suffering means, I need to include the teaching of Hebrews: Jesus’ endurance should inspire me to persevere.

But the best expression of my faith in God and of my following of Jesus isn’t in the nuances of my thoughts. It’s in the living of my life.

I honor Christ’s suffering when I keep moving through mine, no matter what….

Discussion

1. The writer of Hebrews connects the fact that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (v. 1a, referring to the “roll call of faith” in chapter 11) with his call to persevere while we keep our eyes on Jesus (vv. 1b-2). How are those ideas related?
2. Like the original readers of Hebrews, “In [our] struggle against sin [we] have not yet resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood” (v. 4). To what point have we resisted? What kind of sin do we struggle against? What price have we paid for our faithfulness to Jesus?
3. In what sense can suffering be regarded as the Lord’s “discipline” (vv. 5-11)? Are there ways of thinking about suffering as being the Lord’s discipline that are healthier than other ways?
4. How would you describe the role of suffering in the Christian life?
5. Why do we need encouragement to endure? What threatens our committed following of Christ?

Reference Shelf

Verse 2 continues the race metaphor by calling on readers to look to Jesus. But there is a double meaning here. Readers are to look away from everything else and concentrate upon Jesus, and they are to “look to” Jesus for guidance and aid. The name “Jesus” is used here indicating that the writer has the historical Jesus in mind (2:9-18; 4:15; 5:7-9). Jesus is described as the “pioneer . . . and perfecter . . . of our faith.” The word “pioneer” was used in 2:10 indicating that Christ was the leader or forerunner of the Christians being brought to glory (see 6:20). Jesus is the initiator of the faith of the readers and the first person to have obtained the ultimate goal of faith—the inheritance of the divine promise, which was only seen from afar by the ancients. The word translated “perfecter” is used along with “pioneer” to describe one complete idea. The Greek word is not found elsewhere in the Bible and is unknown from other literature of the period. Perhaps the writer invented the word to form a complement for the word “pioneer”— with the word “pioneer” emphasizing the origin . . . and the word “perfecter” emphasizing completion . . . . The word “perfecter” would also be appropriate because of the importance of the idea of perfection and the prominence of the verb “to perfect” in Hebrews. Here it is not Christ or his followers who are perfected; it is the faith of Christians. The critical point in the presentation of Jesus as the prime example of endurance in suffering is found in v. 2b: “. . . who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” The key to this relative clause is Jesus’ “endurance.” The cross is the scene of shame as well as death, and Jesus endured both. In sharp contrast with the humiliating death of Jesus is his enthronement. This theme is based on Psalm 110:1 and was first announced in 1:3 and then elaborated in 2:5-9, 8:1-2, and 10:12- 13. In the NRSV, Jesus endured the cross “for the sake of the joy that was set before him.” This would have Jesus endure by looking ahead to the joy of God’s right hand. A note in the NRSV indicates that the Greek phrase translated “for the sake of ” may be translated “instead of.” If the translation “instead of” is accepted, the meaning is that Jesus chose to suffer rather than to maintain the joy of his pre-incarnate (or incarnate) life (1:2). In the context of Hebrews, the translation preferred by the NRSV seems to be more acceptable. It continues the forward-looking nature of faith developed in chapter 11 and acknowledges reward as the consummation of faith (see 11:6, 26).

Edgar McKnight, “Hebrews,” in Hebrews-James, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2004), 289-90

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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