The text we are looking at is Hebrews 12:3:
“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
“Consider Him” — this is very often the best cure of so many problems we have, in many different situations. (See the great book “Consider Jesus” by Octavious Winslow). In this context in Hebrews 12, it is especially when we are facing opposition. Let's start by looking at what kind of opposition and difficulty we might need to deal with:
There is the scorn of the media, which Christians often face. You may well have seen the video of Stephen Fry that went round a few months ago in which he pours scorn on the God of the Bible, and Christians are often ridiculed for their beliefs.
There is the opposition of being called “evil”. Jesus said we would suffer that — “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man”. (Luke 6:22)
Now, of course, sometimes we can be called such names because we have behaved badly — when we’ve spoken rudely, for example, without care and love, and so differently from Titus 3:2, where we are commanded “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle towards everyone”. It ought to go without saying that we should not be suffering in this way. But sometimes even when we do behave as we should, we are still reviled.
Commonly we might get that over the issue of abortion. If we stand up for the rights of unborn children, we can be called woman-haters or misogynists, despite the fact that abortion has probably been the single greatest weapon against women ever invented, with there being hundreds of millions of missing women in the world primarily due to selective abortions.
Then, the attitude that society has towards us as a group can affect us individually.
One of the members of the congregation has recently suffered a lot of abuse simply because he would not approve of homosexual behaviour, even though he expressed himself very moderately and kindly. The man he offended had probably suffered a lot of cruelty and rejection in the past, and his anger at those things was vented on a Christian who was faithful to what God’s Word says.
And then, as well as suffering specifically for Christ's name, there are the general troubles and trials of every day living.
There are many difficulties in life that we share with non-Christians, but for Christians, these things have an added dimension. Hebrews 12:4 describes the whole of our lives as a “struggle against sin”, and for the Christian, every trial comes with a temptation that non-Christians are not facing.
Think about Job and his sufferings. On the human level, his trials did not seem to be to do with his dedication to God. There is no indication that the Sabeans and Chaldeans who attacked him did so because he was a worshipper of Yahweh. However, we know that on the spiritual level, the attacks were coming precisely because of his dedication to God. Satan’s motivation (though not God’s) was to get Job to curse God to his face.
So we too can bring all our trials into the arena of opposition. That might include the difficulty of living in a world full of nasty people. It might include illness, whether minor or major. It could include grief or loss in a family context. It can include stress at work.
All these things wear us down, all of them make us more likely to grow weary and lose heart, and we can be tempted to give up:
We might be tempted to give up on being a Christian — following God is just too hard.
We might be tempted to give up on being patient and kind. “I tried that and it didn’t work. I’m not going to bother any more.”
We might be tempted to use the world’s ways of sorting things out. It could be personal revenge. It could be methods that might be legal, but are the world’s weapons. Peter got out his sword to defend Jesus, but was told “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” There might be other methods which aren’t physically violent, but are still the world’s way of sorting things out, and not God’s way - see 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
So, the instruction to “consider him” is relevant to all of us as we face opposition of many kinds, including the trials of every day Christian living, which can tempt us to give up the fight.
In considering Jesus, we’ll think first of all about the hostility he faced, and we’ll use this question to help us: when is hostility especially hard to bear?
When we are facing opposition and unkindness that we really don't deserve, it is especially difficult. You may even have been trying to do someone good, and instead of getting love back, you get criticism or harshness. “What have I done to deserve this?” you might ask.
David talks about this kind of experience in Psalm 7, where he protests to God about the unfair treatment he has received.
But what about the opposition Jesus faced?
With us, it is only ever true in a limited sense that we don’t deserve what we are facing. None of us is sinless. If you've been on the sharp end of some spite or callousness, you may not have to think back very far to find a time when you have done something similar.
But with Jesus, every bit of hostility he faced was entirely unfair. This is shown most acutely at the cross.
Think of the crowds who called out “Crucify!”. Even Pilate could see how entirely unfair it was, and said “What evil has he done?”. There was no answer to this question, just a greater insistence that Jesus had to die.
There is a hymn that puts this wonderfully — the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown”. It has an extra verse that is not commonly known. It comes after a verse you’ll probably be more familiar with:
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
is all their breath,
And for His death
they thirst and cry.
Why, what has my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Yet they at these
and ’gainst Him rise.
Jesus had done nothing but good to those around, and yet they attacked him senselessly.
Hostility is especially difficult to bear when it is personal: when it is against you, and those you love, and it is by people you know.
If you are insulted as just one member of a large group, you'll probably shrug it off. If you are insulted by a passing stranger, you might be upset, but you'll quickly forget it. But if someone who knows you personally insults you as an individual, it will be far harder to bear. The words of a husband or wife, child or sibling can sting so much.
Now the hostility Jesus faced at the cross was deeply personal.
Firstly, it was against him as in individual. It wasn’t against Jesus as an Israelite, or Jesus as a Galilean. It wasn’t against Jesus and the disciples — the chief priests had the chance to get the disciples but weren’t interested. It was Jesus they were after.
And secondly, it was by people who knew him. The crowds and the chief priests knew Jesus to a certain extent — as he said at his arrest “Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me”. He was not some distant figure.
But it gets more personal. There is Judas, who spent 3 years with Jesus. Psalm 55 gives us some insight into how Jesus felt about Judas’s betrayal:
If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshippers.
And then there are the disciples. They didn't attack him, but they let him down so badly. It feels like the way they abandoned him was worse than the attacks of Judas and the mob put together:
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Could anything have been more painful to Jesus?
Sometimes when we face opposition from a person, we can find excuses for the way they are behaving. “Maybe they had a really bad day. Maybe they misunderstood what I was attempting to say.”
But sometimes hostility is hard to excuse, when it is simply either malice — where a person enjoys making someone else suffer; or envy, which is the other side of the coin — when a person hates other people enjoying good things. When we see this kind of ugliness and experience it against ourselves, it is particularly difficult to forgive. There is nothing that draws out our pity for the attacker.
Many of the attacks against Jesus were of this kind.
And the attacks on Jesus in Matthew 26 and 27 are malicious in an extremely clear way. The soldiers who mock Jesus and strike him are simply getting a kick out of causing pain and suffering. The crowds who mock Jesus as he hung on the cross are another ugly set of faces, as they laugh at his shame and misery. Can we find any excuses for this behaviour?
In all this, Jesus had a unique perspective on sin in all its ugliness:
In order to understand sin, you have to understand the dignity and the worth of the person who has been offended and attacked. If you were walking down the street and you decided to kick a dog, you would have committed one kind of crime. If, instead, you punched the dog's owner, you would have committed a higher degree of crime. If the Queen happens to be in town, and you went and saw her, jumped over the barrier and managed to land a blow on Her Majesty — well, that you would put you in a whole new world of trouble!
Further, in order to judge the seriousness of a crime, you have to be sympathetic to the one offended. If you recognised Her Majesty as the Queen, but hated her, you probably wouldn’t think punching her was that serious.
So, since all sin is ultimately against God, the only one who truly understand the seriousness of sin is God. No-one else can begin to weigh his majesty and dignity. All of us have limited minds, and in addition we naturally have hostility to God that twists our view of sin (Colossians 1:21).
But what about Jesus? As a perfect man who was God, Jesus saw sin perfectly. He knew exactly what was in man (John 2:23-25) — the depths we are capable of.
Jesus saw the worst sin that was ever committed — the murder of the Son of God. Sometimes sin hides and doesn’t appear so bad — for example, when we simply forget about God, which doesn’t appear to be in the same category as directly attacking God. But at the cross, sin was showing itself in its true colours, and Jesus saw it for what it was.
And not only did Jesus see it, he experienced it directly against himself, as the crowds bayed for his blood, without the smallest excuse or provocation.
This is something worth reflecting on. Have you ever seen an example of sin in its raw ugliness? How did you respond? Whatever you have seen, Jesus had an infinitely clearer sight, with a mind that was not twisted by sin like ours, and as he faced personal hostility against himself in all its inexcusable malice.
How did Jesus respond in this situation?
The astonishing response of Jesus was that he did not bite back. He didn't lash out. He didn't complain.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
Pilate was amazed that he didn't even answer any of the accusations against him. The only thing he answered was to confirm that he was indeed the Son of God, and the Son of Man (from Daniel 7 — a divine figure). This was enough to condemn him, and he knew it, and that’s all he said.
Jesus’ response to his attackers went beyond the passive reaction of patient endurance, as astonishing as that was.
Jesus’ approach to the cross was not that of a victim who had been trapped, who was merely accepting his fate. No, he insisted that no-one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord. (John 10:18).
Faced with the sure knowledge of what would happen to him, with hostility of the worst possible kind, he chose to go to the cross. He chose to love us.
His love is seen in things he did, despite what he was facing:
At the supper, he warned his disciples about the dangers that face them. In the garden, we see him concerned about his disciples: “Pray that you do not fall into temptation”. When Peter attacked one of the mob that had come to arrest Jesus, he intervened and stopped him.
And his love is seen in the things he did not do:
He could have avoided Judas and the mob. After all, he clearly knew everything that Judas was about to do before he did it. But instead, he went to meet them in the garden.
Even then, he could have called for 12 legions of angels to rescue him, as he told Peter. But he refused to do so. He was going to the cross.
He could have talked his way out of the trial, it would have been easy for him: “No-one ever spoke like this man”. But he refused — he insisted on going to the cross.
In love he insisted on going to die on the cross, to rescue sinners from hell and the just anger of God. What an amazing Saviour!
When we are going through difficulty ourselves, how can we be helped by seeing these things?
First, we are helped by having something beautiful to look at. What a welcome break it is to look away from the world around us, including all its ugliness and difficulties, and see the astonishing beauty of the character of Jesus!
Not only does this refresh us, but it also transforms us. There is something about beauty that transforms the beholder. That’s why scripture says “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Or again, in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Second, we are helped by this when we remember Jesus’ faithfulness to us. In the most extreme circumstances, with everything that would push Jesus towards giving up on the human race, he chose to love us and go to the cross for us. Is this Saviour going to abandon us in our time of need?
Finally, in Hebrews 12:2, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus with these words:
For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
Jesus looked beyond the cross and difficulty, to the glory that waited for him. And he was not disappointed — God was faithful to him, and brought him through death. The author put this in as an encouragement to us in our difficulties, because God will surely be just as faithful to us, and he will bring us through this life to perfect joy and glory with him — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — forever.