We’ve all done something embarrassing: mustard on our chin from a juicy hamburger, a presentation with trousers unzipped, or something far more life-damaging like a DUI arrest.
Shame, a horrible word, is much more toxic than embarrassment. One is light, the other heavy. One is momentary; the other can be life-long.
In ancient times reputation was a family’s most prized possession. Your good name was traced in subsequent generations. In some ways it was eternal life, your legacy. Generation after generation would live with the name you left behind. They would add to it and take away from it.
The cross as a form of execution not only was tortuous, it publically and permanently shamed the person being put to death. Stripped naked, mocked, humiliated and put on public display for days. Nothing was more horrible to witness and endure. In fact, embedded in the word “excruciating” is the word “crucifixion.”
Jesus stepped onto this path of shame the moment he was baptized and began his public ministry. With every miracle, every parable, every sermon, with every theological confrontation he inched closer and closer to public humiliation. Why?
In the 1938 film Angels With Dirty Faces, Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O’Brien) are childhood friends who robbed a railroad car as kids. Rocky saved Jerry’s life during the ensuing chase by pulling him out of the way of a steam train. The police caught Rocky, but Jerry escaped. Rocky grows up to become a notorious gangster, while Jerry has become a priest.
Rocky is captured following an elaborate shootout and sentenced to die. Six boys from the old neighborhood idolize Rocky and Jerry attempts to keep his former friend from corrupting them. Just before the execution Jerry asks Rocky for one last favor – to die pretending to be a screaming, sniveling coward which would end the boys’ idolization of him. Rocky refuses, and insists he will be “tough” to the end and not give up the one thing he has left, his pride and reputation.
At the last moment Rocky appears to change his mind and is dragged to the electric chair. The boys hear about what happened and decide he was a coward. Rocky became yellow to save others from his fate.
I am one of those boys. My life was on downward path of guilt and shame. And yet Jesus knew it was Him or me. If He held on to his dignity and reputation and did not go to the cross and death, I would go into eternity separated from God. But if Jesus goes down to eternal shame, I will be lifted up and spend eternity in the Kingdom of God.
Who really deserves the shame? I do.
(Jesus), being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation…He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Phil. 2:6,8