The following is an excerpt from Chapter 6, “Treasured Possession,” of the book Delight! Discipleship as the Adventure of Loving and Being Loved by Justin Rossow, which recently won the 2020 Best Indie Book Award™ for best independently published book in the Christian category. You can find out more at www.findmynextstep.org.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” That’s the Sacrifice of Atonement, the Drama of Salvation in Two Acts, where you go from being God’s enemy to being God’s beloved child because of the cross.
Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s the Sacrifice of Redemption, the Drama of Salvation in Three Acts, where you go from being God’s treasured possession, to being God’s treasured possession under the ownership of an enemy, to being God’s treasured possession back home where you belong, because of the cross.
The movement goes from (1) Mine; to (2) Mine, but Lost to Me; to (3) Mine, Restored with Rejoicing. You can see all three stages of that progression in some of the parables you probably know pretty well, parables like the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, or even the Lost (Prodigal) Son in Luke 15. The sheep, the coin, and the son all three (1) begin where they belong, (2) end up missing in a way that causes searching and longing, and (3) are restored to their proper place with such joy that parties and banquets are in order.
Two of my favorite parables of Jesus emphasize the transition from Act 2: Longing to Act 3: Even More Delight. These pithy stories come in a couple of brief verses in Matthew 13, right in the middle of a bunch of other, longer and more famous parables. In verse 44, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like this situation: some guy finds a treasure buried in a field, and in his joy—the Greek chara is one of our Delight vocabulary words from Section 1: this is Emotional Delight that makes you jump up, spin around, shout “Woohoo!” and start singing your happy song—in his joy he jumps up, spins around, shouts “Woohoo!” and sells everything he has so he can afford to buy that field.
In the next verse, Jesus tells a similar parable. The kingdom of heaven is like this situation: a professional pearl dealer, who has a lifetime’s worth of experience and a lifetime’s worth of inventory, finally finds that once-in-a-lifetime pearl. Sometimes it’s called the Pearl of Great Value, sometimes the Pearl of Great Price (price and value are intimately related). At the bargain basement price of every single pearl in his possession, along with his house and his retirement plan and his brand new camel caravan and his cottage by the sea, that merchant makes the purchase of a lifetime and walks away with a pearl that made all those long years of searching worthwhile.
The value validated the price. In fact, the value exceeded the expense, so that this unbelievably high price—everything you own—was greeted with joy and paid in full, with delight.
Those two verses in Matthew 13 helped me see that I had been reading Hebrews 12 wrong all my life. Hebrews 12 speaks of Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith,” the one who first put pen to paper to tell our story, and the one who himself is responsible for how this drama will unfold. Hebrews 12 points us to Jesus:
“For the joy [chara] set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).
I guess I always imagined that the joy (there’s that Emotional Delight word again)—that the joy set before Jesus was something like receiving the applause of heaven, the praise of saints and angels, and having the honor of sitting at the right hand of God.
Then it occurred to me: before the Incarnation, before the cross, Jesus already had the applause of heaven, the praise of saints and angels. Jesus was already seated at the right hand of God, and had to leave that place of honor in order to endure the cross, and then take back his rightful place.
None of those could be the motivating joy for Jesus, since they were his already.
So what was it? What was the joy set before Jesus?
What could possibly make Jesus jump up and spin around and shout, “Woohoo!” and endure the cross?
What could possibly make Jesus scorn the shame of public humiliation and torture as if it were a bargain-basement price?
What was the joy set before Jesus?
I think it was: you.
The thing that Jesus now has that he didn’t have before the cross and open tomb, is you.
The treasure buried in a field that was worth giving away everything, is you.
The single motivating factor for Christmas and Good Friday and Easter, is you.
Your value validated the price. In fact, your value exceeded the expense, so that this unbelievably high price—everything Jesus owned, even his own life—was greeted with joy and paid in full, with delight.
Jesus looked at the possibility of having you as his own forever, and then he looked at the cross, and in his joy he said, “Yes! Worth it! What a bargain!”
For your sake, Jesus said, “Yes! They can deny me and betray me; they can spit on me and mock me; they can put a crown of thorns on my head, and drive nails through my hands, and hang me up to die! I would gladly pay that bargain basement price if it means an eternity with Carla, an eternity with James, an eternity with Connor, with Ida, with Carrie…”
If you ever have cause to doubt your own value, if you ever wonder what your small existence is worth, if you ever find yourself in a dark and lonely place where your inner voice tells you again and again, and sometimes most days in any given week, that you are ugly, or stupid, or worthless—check your price tag.
Because your price tag reads: “The Very Life of the Son of God.”
And Jesus read that price tag, and considered eternity with you and eternity without you, and then with tears of joy sold everything he had so he could afford to buy you.
You made all those long years of searching worth it.
You were the joy set before Jesus that led him to endure the cross and even scorn its shame.
You were worth it.
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