So when we proclaim, as the First Letter of John 4:8 tells us, that “God is love”, and as it is written in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,” we do so because of our Lord Jesus Christ: It was He alone who died on the cross, and it was He who was raised from the dead on the third day and restored back to life in the Spirit.
It is He, Jesus, who is our great High Priest, at the right hand of God, who also pleads our cause: He prays that we will always be faithful to God as God has been faithful to us; He pleads that we will find our way back into the mercy of God if we should go astray.
And he pleads for us that if we should have to undergo suffering that it will be for doing good, for staying true to the path He set for us: the path of goodness, love and generosity.
He pleads too, that the world will be redeemed of its sins and all people restored to their original innocence, original joy, and original peace. It was He, Jesus, who set the supreme example of love, who opened the way to love, by giving to God the Father, and to us, all that He could give: All his love.
Armed with the love of Christ, we renounce all that is not of God so that we can live for God, in the service of God, as children of God: at peace with the world and with one another. We are to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” The goal, the finish line, is staying true to Christ, and to get there we will have to, as the author says, “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.”
This means that whatever is weighing us down, holding us back, preventing us from putting into practice our ability to bear the fruit that most pleases God, which is love, the love of Christ Himself, we are to release, so that we can finish the race of remaining faithful to the path of faith: Faith in Christ.
Notice that the author did not say “the sin that we cling to,” but instead the “sin that clings to us.” He is referring to those attachments that come from our being worried, anxious, and afraid to let go, which is the fear of being at peace, of having nothing to show for our faith but peace: For there is nothing for us to do with God’s peace in Christ but to receive it, know it, live it and, of course, to give it away so that others might live.
So, we die to self, to whatever we are trapped in, whatever we take too seriously, or that we allow to rob us of our capacity for joy, God’s joy in Christ: All is to be given over to Christ, as he gave, and still gives, all to the Father.
Another important image of Jesus in the passage to the Hebrews is this one: Jesus as “the leader and perfecter of faith.” Jesus has lead, and he leads us now, by his own sacrifice, a sacrifice that is offered once and for all: The one acceptable sacrifice of Jesus is not of the past, but of the present; the present which we humans are so good at avoiding or resenting or clinging to while we distract ourselves from true faith, and from facing reality.
Jesus did not avoid or distort reality; he did not have to: He had but one will, the Father’s will, which was to love, to forgive, to heal, to teach.
The passage also says of Jesus, “for the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame.” We do not always equate Jesus with joy, but in truth, Jesus must have felt a deep joy, because his was an everlasting joy, God’s joy in loving us and knowing us through and through. This joy has no equal, it cannot be measured, managed, or planned for, or expected: but it can be shared and received in the measure that we believe and trust in Christ to lead us to God.
Love and joy in Christ are one and the same. The world of ambition, luxury, and images, does its best to convince us that our joy, our happiness, must always be rooted in something or someone. And the world, to convince us to take in this idea of ‘joy,’ over and over advertises itself as the only source of our joy, when in reality God in his Christ is the source of all true joy, serenity, and solidarity. And we are never far from our source of joy, peace and solidarity: God, all of God, in his Son Jesus Christ.
This does not mean in any way that we are to turn away from the world, or that the world is bad: In reality, there is no separation between our being in the world and loving God. We can love God and serve him with all our heart and do our work, and even enjoy the world; but we are never to renounce our covenant with the Father, we are never to give up our freedom, nor our dignity—we are to put our gifts in the service of God and of God’s beloved sons and daughters so that all can benefit from what God has bestowed on his children.
Trust in Jesus, who gave his all, the leader and perfecter of our faith and our love, to see you to the finish line and draw forth from you all that God uses to save the world, restore the world, and redeem it.