What caused Jesus to go to the cross? His fidelity to the Father's will? Emphatically yes. His love for sinners? Yes. But also his inexpressible, abounding joy. Can we really speak of joy for Christ in the cross? Yes. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus '...for the joy that was set before him endured the cross' (Hebrews 12:2).
We know there is joy in the cross for us. Through that cross we have forgiveness for our sins, deliverance from eternal condemnation and acceptance before God. But where was the joy in the cross for Jesus?
The joy of redeeming the love-gift
Remember that the Son of God was given a love-gift by the Father before the world began. That love-gift consisted of a people. But before that people could become the Son's, they had to be redeemed from their sin. The penalty for their sin had to be paid for by the Son. The Son's death on the cross was the means by which they were to be redeemed. The joy of the cross for Jesus was, then, in paying for the sins of these people so they could become his.
We should not, therefore, look at the Son as coming reluctantly to perform the work of redemption. His was no shuffling, grudging obedience. It was a glad, eager, ready obedience.
Yes, that cross meant untold suffering and anguish. Yes, he endured incredible hostility and hardship as he journeyed through his public ministry to that cross. Yes, he knew humiliating shame. And yet there was a sense in which - if we may reverently put it like this - the Lord Jesus Christ could hardly wait to get to that cross because of the joy of making atonement for that love gift. The joy was worth the pain.
On the night before he was crucified, the Lord Jesus saw the pain and the sorrow etched on the faces of the disciples. He had told them he was about to leave them, and they were crushed. He softened the blow for them with these words: 'Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world' (John 16:20-21).
What Jesus said that night to his disciples, he could equally well have said of himself. He knew all about the sorrow and anguish of the cross, but for him, as for the mother bearing a child, the joy of the result made it all worthwhile.
The joy of receiving the love-gift as his bride
Few of life's events bring more happiness and joy than weddings. Two people, deeply in love, commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives.
scripture uses the joy of a wedding to convey Christ's relationship to the church. In his discussion of the relationship of husbands and wives, the apostle Paul refers to Christ's love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Clearly, he intends us to understand that the church is the bride of Christ.
The apostle John carries the theme even further in describing his vision of a coming day: 'And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunders saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his wife has made herself ready"' (Revelation 19:6-7).
The fullest glimpse into the marriage of Christ to his church comes, surprisingly enough, not from the New Testament but from Psalm 45. The author of that psalm had evidently been commissioned to write about the marriage of the king of his nation. As he considered that event, remarkable enough in its own way, he was enabled to write prophetically about a far more magnificent wedding - namely, the wedding of the Messiah and his bride, the church.
The wedding day of those times proceeded along these general lines. The bride and her attendants would gather in the home of the bride's father where they would put on their finest clothes. Meanwhile the groom and his attendants would gather at his home to do the same. When the bridegroom's party were ready they would proceed through the streets of the city to the bride's home and would escort her and her entourage back to his home. A joyful wedding feast would ensue, lasting for a period of several days.
This pattern is evident in the psalm. Verses 2-9 tell us about the bride waiting for her groom. In particular they relate to us some of what goes through her mind at this time. Verses 10-12 tell us how the bride is comforted and reassured while she waits. The psalm comes to a joyous climax with verses 13-15 as the groom finally arrives and the bride is presented to him. The bride's attendants come out to greet him and to assure him that the bride is ready, that she has attired herself in clothing 'woven with gold' (verse 13), and that she will soon be presented to him in 'robes of many colours' (verse 14). That moment of meeting is followed by the procession back to the groom's palace (for he is the king) and to the marriage feast.
All of this, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is designed to make us think about that unspeakably grand moment when the Lord Jesus will return to claim his bride. When he comes he will find her arrayed in the garment that he himself provided for her - the garment of perfect righteousness. He will also find that she has been prepared by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit so that in addition to the outer garment of perfect righteousness she has an inner beauty about her.
God's plan of salvation finally culminates in those whom he gave to his Son in eternity past going back to the palace with him as his holy bride - back to the palace from which the Lord first came to redeem her unto himself, back past all the enemies that he defeated in order to save her. Yes, thank God, it will some day be 'back to the palace' for all those who know the Lord Jesus and make up his bride.
In his wonderful commentary on Psalm 45, Walter Chantry captures something of the significance of this day for those who refused Christ: 'Defeated foes watch in helpless ruin. Observing is the sceptic who once sneered that there was no reality to the Church's trust in the unseen King. All who laughed at the faith of the bride will watch her pass by at the side of her Lord, taken by him to be his holy bride. All who preferred a fallen world system with its pleasures and riches will sit amidst the ruins and ashes of that temporary order now demolished. They will lift their shameful heads to see the Church in a gown interwoven with gold, all radiant in the presence of her loving Lord, about to enter his kingdom and hers. No doubt will remain in any soul of the wisdom of waiting for Messiah and the foolishness of having scorned his offers of mercy. But the Church will pass them by. At that moment those who are accursed will be accursed still. They will have forever to envy the Church and regret their tragic rejection of her society on earth.
The joy of Christ over receiving the redeemed as his bride naturally leads to yet another joy.
The joy of seeing the love-gift gathered round him
Why was there so much joy for Jesus in paying the penalty for those given him by the Father? It is tempting when we are reading a particularly intriguing book to turn to the last chapter to see how it all turns out. If we turn to the last chapter of the Bible for a glimpse of the future, we find this description of the heavenly city that will be the home of the redeemed: 'And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him. They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads' (Revelation 22:3-4).
Here we have at least part of the joy of the Lord Jesus felt in going to the cross. The atonement he made there is going to yield a vast multitude of redeemed people who will faithfully serve him for ever and ever and who will perfectly reflect his character (his name represents his person, and the forehead represents visibility. Hence, the person of Christ will be visible in his redeemed people).
There they are, rank upon rank of them - all of them lost in wonder, love and praise; all of them freed from every last vestige of sin; all of them with bodies 'conformed to his glorious body' (Philippians 3:21); all of them ready to do his bidding. Death can no longer touch them. Their tears have been wiped away forever. Pain and sorrow exist no more. And they are all there for one reason, and one reason only - the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 50:7 gives us some prophetic words that should be understood as nothing less than the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: 'Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.' As the Son of God looked in advance at his death on the cross, he knew he would not be ashamed or disappointed with what he would accomplish there. He knew in advance that he would be satisfied with his work there.
The 53rd chapter of Isaiah's prophecy gives us a fascinatingly detailed preview of the cross of Christ. Towards the end we read of Christ: 'He shall see his seed...He shall see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied' (Isaiah 53:10-11). The 'seed' is the fruit, or the harvest, of Christ's atoning death. It consists of all those who come to faith in him. It is those whom the Father gave him before the foundation of the world.
It is surely correct to say that the Son of God saw them there in eternity past as he looked down the corridor of time. He must have seen them in his mind's eye as he was hanging there on the cross in agony and blood. He certainly sees them as they come to faith in him one by one. He obviously sees them as they come to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. He sends his angels to carry their souls into his presence, and he sees their bodies go into their graves.
Each of these 'seeings' must have been, or must be, deeply satisfying to our Lord. But there is no seeing like the last when redemption's work will finally be done and the love-gift will stand before him as the completed trophy of his redeeming death. He will see, and he will be satisfied.
Matthew Henry puts it admirably: 'The salvation of souls is a great satisfaction to the Lord Jesus. He will reckon all his pains well bestowed, and himself abundantly recompensed, if the many sons be by him brought through grace to glory. Let him have this, and he has enough. God will be glorified, penitent believers will be justified, and then Christ will be satisfied.'
From Christ's satisfaction with his work of redemption, Henry proceeds to draw this conclusion: 'Thus, in conformity to Christ, it should be a satisfaction to us if we can do anything to serve the interests of God's kingdom in the world. Let it always be our meat and drink, as it was Christ's to do God's will.'
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.