Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. And now—”
“Oh yes. Now?” said Lucy, jumping up and clapping her hands.
“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.
--The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe*
I never think of Christ’s joy when I think about Easter. I think about his suffering and pain and death. I think about his agonized prayer in the garden. I think about the betrayal, the blood, the beatings, the whipping and what an excruciating way to die crucifixion is. I think about Jesus gritting his teeth, setting his mind and forging on directly into the heart of darkness. I think about the work of the cross. I think about the fact that this work was required if salvation was to be accomplished.
What I don’t think about is the fact that he did this work for “the joy set before him.” While I know those words and that concept, the truth of them rarely reaches my heart.
When I read the passage I have quoted from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe I suddenly was able to grasp or have a real understanding of the idea that what Jesus did went beyond duty, even beyond love for us. Picturing Aslan's joy (and Aslan is the Christ figure in these books) I can now see that Jesus had his eye on a prize in a real, visceral, emotional way. This prize is not theoretical. It is a tangible prize of flesh and blood, body and bone, that produced real emotion, a huge emotion - joy!
And we - we are that prize!
Bringing us all into his kingdom, into his family was the greatest, happiest thing Jesus ever did. In Hebrews 2 we can see that the knowledge of this coming joy was the source of his strength. He did all these things for us, of course, but not just for us - not just out of a need to save us. He didn’t just go through it all to give us freedom from sin and death. He did it for himself too. What a thought! The joy of attaining his prize was enough motivation to do the unthinkable.
That changes things for me. When I think about the picture of Aslan, Lucy and Susan romping and playing and laughing; when I think about Aslan lashing his tail, eyes bright with joy; when I think about the complete abandon of overjoyed children - and that Jesus anticipated this great joy for himself - it changes everything. I can’t look at myself the same way. I can’t look at anyone else the same way either. I can’t think of anyone as unimportant or worthless if the joy of including them in his family was enough for Jesus to die on a cross.
When the truth of this really, really sinks into our hearts, into the place where we really live, everything is changed. For me, this is a place where Jesus’ divinity and humanity coalesce and where I see him fully God and fully man. It is only someone who is fully both who could do such a thing for such a prize. And this is a great part of why Jesus steps right down into our darkness and sits with us there. He stays at our side for the great joy it gives him. He warned us that we would have trouble in this life but we can let go of fear because Jesus steps into the midst of it with us. We belong to his family and being present with us gives Him joy.
I want to this to sink so deeply into me that I am also “ rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs” regardless of what I face in life.
*The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Copyright © 1950 by C. S. Lewis Pte., Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1978 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With Aslan: Daily Reflections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © 2010 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Extracts taken from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. 1950-1956. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.