Someone has it in for you at work. They have aligned with a clique that has made it clear you don’t fit and they all wish you were gone. Now the boss has their ear. You are being treated like a sub-human, lied to and about, and mocked (sometimes not so privately). It’s a living hell and you don’t know how you can keep coming back to your job day after day, week after week, year after year.
The love of your life has crushed your heart. There has been infidelity and it has been going on for awhile. Right under your nose. Not only has your spouse been intimate with someone else but everything associated with your marriage is crumbling. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that divorce is looming and the kids are going to pay the price for something they had nothing do with. The home is literally, spiritually, and even financially being destroyed right before your eyes. The blackness of hell has engulfed you.
Your child, your spouse, your sibling, or your parent has been taken from you with little or no time to prepare. An illness, an accident, a tragedy, or a crime has cruelly taken so much with so little regard. You are left breathless, clueless, and maybe even penniless. There’s a lot of sympathy, a fair amount of callousness, and a little help. But it’s like giving a baby aspirin for anesthesia to someone who is about to have open heart surgery. It doesn’t touch the pain or despair. Death is now your life. There’s nothing else.
There is not enough time to illumine all of the scenarios that crush the soul and weigh down the heart. When people say “time will heal” what they are really saying is that eventually you will care less than you do now so you won’t hurt as much then as now. But anyone who has (or is now) lived through hell knows what a lie that is. True, life goes on, memories get frayed around the edges, and sometimes even a measure of normalcy returns. However, when the heart is crushed, and since love is eternal, time doesn’t really do anything to heal it. Broken hearts and crushed spirits often produce bitterness, despair, and loss of hope. All that is bad news for faith and Hebrews 11:6 makes it very plain that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God]…”
There is an answer.
When Holy Week began on Palm Sunday Jesus knew what kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual horrors were coming His way. He had, after all, predicted it. He also knew the prophecies, particularly those from Isaiah 52-53. He understood atonement. He knew the wrath of God must be poured out on Him at the cross. He knew He would be the crucified God and the abandoned Son. How do you walk into a situation that spells nothing but heartache, suffering, and abandonment…willingly (if not enthusiastically)?
The answer is simple, yet profound. The way you walk through hell is to keep your eye on Heaven.
Hebrews 11 is well-known as the “hall of fame of faith.” Unfortunately, when divvying up the chapter and verse allotments someone decided to end chapter 11 and begin chapter 12 in the wrong place. The chapter should not end until the epitome of faith is listed. That’s Jesus and is included in the first two verses of chapter 12. The litany of faith builds to a crescendo and culminates with the statement:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race this 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)
The “weight” is the pain and the sin is despair. Jesus walked through the hell of rejection, betrayal, mock trials, false convictions, the passion, the crucifixion, the forsakenness of the Father, and being made into sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) by fixing His eyes on the “joy” that was beyond that week.
I’m convinced that it wasn’t the Resurrection as much as it was the Ascension that Jesus was looking at as He walked into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The sheer joy of being reunited with the Father and Holy Spirit having accomplished the work of redemption! He looked through the pain, the suffering, the forsakenness, the uncleanness, into a cloud that was set aside to receive Him and take Him back from whence He came…Heaven.
That is what faith is about. It’s not just believing in something or someone from the past. It’s holding on tenaciously to a belief in the goodness and glory that is coming (“we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]), and the certainty that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
How do you get through hell? You keep your eye focused on Heaven. How do you walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”? You keep your eye riveted on that table which is set before you in the presence of your enemies (Psalm 23:4-5). Keeping your eyes glued to “the joy that was set before” you neither ignores the pain nor trivializes the loss(es). What it does is keeps hope alive which in turn provides the material for faith (“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for…[Hebrews 11:1]).
Had we been Jesus on Palm Sunday, all we would have seen would have been rejection, pain, and death…a cross. What Jesus saw on Palm Sunday and every day following in Holy Week was…a cloud waiting to take Him back to Heaven.
“Hosanna in the highest!” There is healing and wholeness ahead. It’s just beyond that valley of shadows and on the other side of that ugly hill aptly named “Golgotha.”