A lover of fine art lived in a small town in the Italian countryside. Two barns stood out back of his humble cottage, one serving as a storage shed and the other, renovated into a gallery. One day, the owner of that tiny gallery made an extraordinary discovery. A superb example of marble sculpture was unearthed on his property. He cleaned it carefully and set it up at the center of his showplace. Many visitors came and were thrilled to see this exquisite and timeless masterpiece. After several years on display, it became clear that the statue was buckling the floor of the gallery. The pillars and joists beneath the weight of solid marble were threatening to fail and put the masterwork in danger. Two options presented themselves. The statue could be removed to the only place barely large enough to accommodate it, the storage shed, and thus spare the gallery floor. Or, the gallery floor could be reinforced to sustain the weight of the marble. Moving the statue to the shed would cost nothing – except that the beauty and inspiration of that work of art could no longer be seen. The reinforcement of the floor would be costly and laborious and force the closure of the gallery for a period of time; significant sacrifices. As you might anticipate, the gallery owner sacrificed time, labor, and finances to preserve his ability to display the masterwork.
Today’s text stretches across two chapters and might appear to treat of two separate topics. I believe it all fits together around the masterwork of faith that Christ is chiseling out of the marble of our lives. Jesus initiated and will complete His faith sculpture – He is “the author and perfecter of our faith.” On either side of this statement at 12:2, are descriptions of painful struggles and hardships. Chapter 11 ends with a litany of torturous conditions endured by past heroes of the faith. In chapter 12, verses 4 and following, the present struggles of the author’s audience are alluded to. And yet, through all of it, the concept of victory is invoked. Those who were tortured in the past endured by faith, and have become that great cloud of witnesses. Jesus is then presented as the ultimate victor, having endured and triumphed over the cross. And so the encouragement for the text’s original readers and for us is this – hardship is permitted by the Divine Sculptor to produce a masterpiece of faith. The author calls this God’s discipline. Our persecutors, our broken world, the devil himself may mean to make us suffer, but God will turn it into discipline resulting in victory.
The key for us is the secret of joy. “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” the Master Artist, who was once a block of marble like you. “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” the one who suffered the ultimate hardship and torture, and yet maintained His discipline and endured unto victory. “Fix your eyes on Jesus … who for the JOY set before Him, endured the cross.” There’s the secret! Was there hardship before Him? Yes. Was there torture and suffering before Him? A humiliating, life-sapping cross? Dear God, yes! But where were His eyes fixed?
A joy was set before Jesus that captured His concentration. The cross loomed, but He looked right through it to the joy. Jesus endured the cross because He had fixed His eyes on the joy of becoming a masterwork of faith and on the fullness of joy that would come to all who placed their faith in Him.
When sufferings and trials come, two options will present themselves - to pray for the burden to be removed, or to pray for reinforcement to stand up under their weight. Choose the trial and the reinforcement, which is the transforming discipline of God. And as you choose the chisel, fix your eyes on Jesus, the Joy, the Victor, the Masterpiece. He is sculpting you in His image.
Pray: Discipline me, try me, prove me, shape me, Master. You authored my faith, now finish it. Whatever it takes to chip away what is not of your divine design for me – do it. I want to experience the heights of joy.