Good Friday….it’s the SHAME….not the physical pain/death

Heb. 12:2 …looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As this verse makes clear, Jesus despised the shame of the cross.  He regarded it with contempt, He loathed it, He basically gave it no regard–He assigned no credibility to it.

But what specifically did He despise?  The SHAME of the cross.

The Romans were brilliant.  They perfected a method of execution that would declare they were an empire governed by a “rule of law”.  Certain violations of certain laws would cost the violator his life.  But before that life was extinguished, the maximum amount of bodily pain would be inflicted upon that person.  Crucifixion was the stroke of genius that made that possible.

But, they also recognized that the people they conquered and ruled didn’t navigate with regard for the “rule of law” that they believed they navigated by.  Those they ruled were primarily honor/shame based cultures, not a progressively growing rule of law based culture like their own.

In an honor/shame based culture, bodily pain isn’t the most damaging thing that can be done to someone else.  SHAMING them is.  And the Romans knew this.

They understood that something other than an incredibly slow and painful process of taking someone’s life was needed to demonstrate that their laws MUST be obeyed.  In other words, the threat of an excruciatingly painful  death was insufficient for motivating people to obey the law.

Honor/shame based cultures place honor/shame above the law.  They aren’t “ruled by law”.  They are ruled by their foundational cultural traits.  And any time the law of the land comes in conflict with their foundational cultural traits and they have to choose between the two….culture trumps the law.

How do you communicate that your laws are what must be obeyed in those times when they conflict with the culture of those you desire to live under your laws?

You use one or more of their cultural traits in such a way as to reinforce the importance of obedience to your laws.

The physical pain and the death produced by crucifixion was insufficient to be a proper deterrent for honor/shame based cultures.  Shame was the only thing that could serve that purpose.

So, those who were crucified were crucified completely NAKED!

As difficult as it is to say it…unless the Romans made a huge exception for Jesus, our Lord was buck naked when He was crucified.  (And because honor/shame still held a high place in Western European cultures, even the artists of the past would also portray those crucified by the Romans with some kind of cloth covering the person crucified even though that was not accurate!)

Public nakedness not only dishonored the one who was naked, it also shamed the group that their identity was derived from, (their immediate and extended family, fellow villagers, fellow vocational group, etc.).

Having lived and served extensively among honor/shame based cultures, I can tell you firsthand that the majority of the people in those cultures would prefer to suffer intense physical pain rather than bring shame upon the group that supplied them with their identity.

As Americans, we don’t get all of this.  But our rule of law culture and the individual identity component of our culture, actually filters the way we understand the bibles that we read.

Good Friday and what we focus on as we commemorate the crucifixion are an example of this.  When we think of the brutality inflicted on Him and we try to project ourselves into that kind of situation, we think about the terrible physical pain He suffered on our behalf.  And He did suffer incredibly.

But is it possible that it wasn’t primarily the physical pain He suffered and His death that caused Him such inner turmoil?

Is it possible that it was SHAME that really crushed Him.

Heb 12:2 tells us that He didn’t despise the cross.  He despised the SHAME of the cross.

The dishonor and the shame that crucifixion cast upon His group, (maybe including the other members of the Godhead, but certainly His family members and disciples), was something He despised, loathed, and ultimately gave no credibility to.  The SHAME of the cross was worth bearing for the joy that was to be found for the family  that He considered Himself to be a part of.

5 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Thank you, Jeff. That is a perspective that needs to be heard more. Yes, His suffering was far more than the physical torture He endured. Not only the physical pain, not only the cultural/psychological shame but, to cap it all off, being forsaken of the Father. I get it, but I always feel awkward calling today Good Friday.

  2. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Amen, Jeff.

    Great perspective on ‘Good Friday’.

    I have been thinking this week, too, along those lines. It is the pain and torture, the brutality and apparent hopelessness that we tend to focus on in our culture. And even as you so aptly point out that Jesus is in an honor/shame based culture and how He despised the shame.

    Yet, what I have been chewing on is the reality that in the midst of it, even to the very end, He is in control. Despite the circumstance, despite the bloody and shamed situation on Calvary, amidst the taunts and jeers, the mockery and the spitting, it is Jesus who is purposeful and intentional, regardless of how things “appear”.

    “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”

    The overwhelming chaos and brutality at Golgotha is sliced clean through, and clarity, hope and confidence appear. Not quite the “norm” for this site. It obviously impacts the centurion who is overseeing this crucifixion.

    Jesus entrusts His spirit into the One who He knows in control…regardless of what it may look like at that particular moment.

    And this makes me think of myself and my own situation.

    Do I have this kind of confidence, regardless of what may be happening around me? In spite of the shame I may be bringing upon those around me because of my walk with the risen Lord Jesus? In the face of ridicule and mockery? Even if, at face value, it appears, at that particular moment, that God is not for me but against me? Is my confidence in Him and Him alone? Or do I place my confidence and trust in what I know to be best? Do I place my trust in those who have helped me in the past and their counsel and opinions?

    Or do I say, in full assurance of faith, with Jesus, “Father, I may not understand what is happening to me right now, I may not have an answer for why I am enduring this valley that is so foggy and dark and confusing and long, but I know that the sheep in Psalm 23 said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me”, and so I will commit the most important part of who I am into Your hands, Father.”

    As Paul the apostle would write, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:
    Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.
    For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” 2 Timothy 1:8-12.

  3. Jeanne DeBenedictis
    Jeanne DeBenedictis says:

    Amen Jeff,
    Thank you for your insight and worthy meditation.
    I love Good Friday and to me it is Good, not because I like the thought of Jesus suffering as we know He did, but that He was willing to go to that cross, “scorning it’s shame” and finish the work for our salvation. Where would any of us be, if it weren’t for that holiest of days, when the Lord of glory suffered for a wretch like me.
    I love it also, because as Anthony Compolo once so eloquently preached; “It’s FRIDAY, but SUNDAY is a coming!” The grave could not hold the Lamb who was slain, HE rose victorious from the grave… SUCH amazingly good news, such amazing grace.
    Thanks again for helping us to consider the full and terrible ramifications of honor and shame in His culture, and so many others around the world today. Lord add many to Your kingdom today.

  4. Jim Vander Spek
    Jim Vander Spek says:

    I wonder how shame was wrapped up in the obedience that was required by Him. He was thoroughly humbled by His humanity and his “obedience to death, even death on the cross.” Contemplating what was going on in terms of the dynamic of the Trinity during that pivotal time is truly mind-bending.

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