My daughter Abi drew a masterpiece when she was 5 1/2 years old. Her work in Crayola marker was the product of a Vacation Bible School home challenge: Draw a picture about something you learned today. The picture is simple: a Jesus with no arms or body, only a head and two legs, hangs on a fat cross with what looks like a tarantula on top of His head. It’s one of those ‘from-the-mind-of-a-five-year-old’ pictures that warms your heart and makes you chuckle at the same time.
But there is one stroke of the red marker that stunned me, and still does. Abi plastered a great big grin on the face of Jesus. She titled her illustration “Jesus Suffered On The Cross”–but she put a smile on Jesus’ face. I was tempted at first to dismiss the contrast of suffering and smiling as the innocent ignorance of a child’s imagination. But as it turns out, deep truth can be drawn from Abi’s simple sketch. Just before I was about to say, “Oops, Jesus is smiling, shouldn’t He have tears on His face,” the words “for the joy set before Him” came to mind. Yes, this is right. Abi gets it.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that in the midst of keeping pace in our painful pursuit of our kingdom calling we can look to Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:2-3). There is a sense in which a smiling Jesus suffering on the cross is exactly right. In the midst of His excruciating passion for His Father and compassion for us, Jesus had joy. He knew the deep, lasting joy of the cruciform life, pouring Himself out for the glory of God and the good of others (John 17, Philippians 2).