Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re in a very public place, all your friends, family, neighbours are there. Then you realise something is wrong. You are naked. Now I’m no psychologist but I guess that those types of dreams express one of our greatest fears. We fear being exposed, embarressed and publically shamed.
What is shame and where does it come from?
Shame –a feeling of distress, embarrassment or humiliation. It’s deeply emotionally painful
Where does it come from?
-The sense that I fail to live up to others expectations – I won’t meet their high standards
-The fear that others will look at me and consider me foolish and stupid
The conviction that things in my life –things I’ve done, things others have done to me cause me to be seen as disgusting, dirty, worthless, unloveable.
In some cultures –shame is not just something I bring on myself but something I can bring on the whole community.7
Shame as the deep subjective sense of real, objective guilt – I know I’ve done wrong and I fear that my failings will be exposed. People will see me for who I really am instead of the false, acted persona that I put up.
This is seen in the Bible right at the start. When Adam and Eve disobey God, they realise that they are naked –they see themselves as exposed, vulnerable, unable to hide from reality. Of course, they try to hide, they make fig leaf clothes, they hide in the bushes. But they can’t hide for ever.
But that’s what we do with shame. We try to bury it, hide it we run from it. Sometimes we run physically –we move communities, jobs, even across countries to escape our shame, sometimes metaphorically as we try to avoid being found out. Shame means that we are always running, always hiding.
The difference Jesus makes to shame and guilt
So in our Easter week narrative, we come to the crucifixion. Here we see that Jesus is
Mocked by his oppressors and captors who ridicule him as the King of the Jews (John 19:3)
Disowned by his own people who don’t want him to be their King (John 19:15; 21)7
Killed by his rival’s representative. Pilate acts on behalf of Caesar. In having Jesus crucified as “King of the Jews” he is clear that Caesar’s opponent is crushed, humiliated and got rid of (John 19:22).
To some extend the mockery and shame is understated in John’s account but it is still very vividly present. The other Gospel writers emphasise that Jesus is mocked by the Romans, passers by and even those executed with him. Hebrews 6:6 tells us that this is all about public shame. On the Cross he was publically exposed to ridicule and humiliation. He was hung naked on a cross. His death was in a place of curse and shame (Galatians 3:13).
Why does Jesus do this? A key theme in John’s Gospel is that he is not there under compulsion. His accusers could not have forced him to be there if he had not willingly allowed himself to be handed over.
The Bible’s answer is that Jesus was dealing with our problem with our guilt and shame. The root cause of shame is guilt. I have done wrong, I deserve to be exposed as a sinner and rebel. However, on the Cross, Jesus takes my place, he bears my guilt and shame. He receives the penalty of death that I deserve.
Not only does Jesus take my guilt and shame on himself but he gives something to me. When we talk about Jesus dealing with guilt, we talk about justification. We see that because Jesus was perfectly obedient, he gives us his perfect righteousness so that God looks on us as though we had always kept his law perfectly. Another image to do with justification is that we are clothed with his righteousness.
In other words, Jesus suffers the shame and nakedness of the Cross so that I might be clothed. My shame is covered over. In Genesis 3, God deals with Adam and Eve’s shame and nakedness by giving them clothes to wear. In the New Testament, we see God in Christ clothing us with righteousness so that our spiritual nakedness is covered.
There’s a wonderful old hymn called Rock of Ages cleft for me. It includes these lines
Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling
Naked come to thee for dress
Helpless look to thee for grace.
This is the wonder of the Gospel. This is the difference the cross makes. When I realise the true horror of my shame I can come to Christ knowing he will forgive, me, heal me, cover me. I don’t need to run anymore, I don’t need to hide anymore.