Theological Fitness Part One: Aptitude

We are currently studying the doctrine of Christ in my Sunday School class.  I’ve been reflecting for a couple of weeks now about one of our homework questions.  The text: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2) The Question: How is the death of Christ an example of patient endurance? Of course, there are several obvious answers, and I could quickly write down what the text provided, for the joy that was set before Him.  What a profound statement!  For two weeks now, I’ve been chewing on the relationship of patient endurance and joy. We don’t really like the words patient or endure.  My Strong’s Concordance breaks down the Greek endured with words like: to stay under, remain, bear, have fortitude, persevere, abide, and patiently suffer.  In my mind many of these synonyms sound like a passive survival.  But no one I know would say, “I hope to passively survive my Christian life.” The author of Hebrews compares our Christian life to running a race.  He points us to a cloud of witnesses who have forged ahead by faith and have received their future hope.  More importantly, he points us to Jesus Christ, whose patient endurance was active, for the sake of joy.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the fitness of Jesus lately.  He did not give up His life until the proper time.  Think of how He must have longed to be with His Father in heaven.  But even stronger, He patiently endured for the joy set before Him, which was submission to His Father and redeeming a people for Himself.  Jesus had to give up His life; it could not be taken from Him. You see, none of us could even begin to run if it were not for the author and finisher of our faith.  None of us had the fitness required to bear the curse of the world’s sin on that tree.  Only the Son of God would be qualified as a contender: completely righteous, without sin.  In his earthly ministry, he fulfilled all righteousness, resisted temptation, and was ready to be both our sin offering and our thank offering.  Even as the God-man, the cup of God’s wrath he had to drink was enough to make him fall to the ground.  Jeremiah Burroughs lamented on the weight Jesus bore as He fell on His face in prayer:
He, who upholds the heavens and the earth by His power, now falls groveling upon the earth, having the weight and burden of man’s sin upon Him…If all the strength of all the men who ever lived since the beginning of the world, and all the angels in heaven, were put into one, and he had only that weight upon him that Christ had, it would have made him sink down into eternal despair; for had not Christ been God as well as man, He could never have borne it, but would have sunk down eternally. (The Evil of Evils, p.100)
Only one man qualified for that position—Jesus Christ. Because of this, we are told to run with endurance the race set before us.  Only Jesus had the fitness for the cross, but because of Him believers are given the fitness for the Christian life.  Fitness requires conditioning.  And we are told to actively endure.  Since I love to exercise, this is a great metaphor for me.  I think of the cloud of witnesses as the before and after shots fitness programs use for promotions.  We are given a real testimony of believers who endured.  My before shot is pretty shabby.  But my after shot will be a glorified, resurrected body! Anyone can start a race, but only the fit can finish.  By God’s grace, Christians are given endurance to persevere to the end, as Christ conditions us and strengthens our faith along the way.  Most people feel pretty strong in the beginning of a workout.  In one of my regular workouts I do, Bob Harper (yes, I’m a Biggest Loser fan) likes to lay on the heavy licking in the end.  He reminds us that everyone is strong in the beginning of a workout; let’s see who’s strong in the end.  As we begin our weighted-side-plank-T-stand-push-up-craziness, the fitness models begin crying out for mercy (that’s when you know it’s bad).  Bob smiles and encourages, “I am with you.”  I always think of how Jesus told his disciples the same thing in his Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).  We can finish strong because the finisher of our faith finished strong.  He really is with us through his Spirit, the preaching of his Word, and the administration of his sacraments.  I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.  And He is the joy that is set before me. Further Meditation: Ps. 78: 12-16, Isa. 45:22, Matt. 26: 36-39, John 10: 17-18, 12:27-28