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He Despised the Shame on Our Behalf



Shame might be one of the most common human experiences. We feel shame for all sorts of reasons, but ultimately, it points to an internal belief that we are somehow and in some significant way not enough. We are different, unlike others, inadequate, and insufficient in comparison to them. The Bible uses a number of metaphors to capture the concept and experience of shame. By exploring shame through these metaphors, we can see how fully Christ deals with our shame.


The author of Hebrews wants his readers to see how Jesus meets them in all their problems. He speaks to Jesus’ compassionate care for them in suffering, in sin and guilt, and even in shame. He writes that Jesus went to the cross “despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Christ dealt not only with guilt on the cross but also with shame! In fact, exploring the life, ministry, and death of Christ allows us to see just how fully He dismantles shame’s power among His people.


Nakedness


From early in the biblical account, we see shame explored through the lens of nakedness. Immediately following their sin, we read that Adam and Eve saw that they were naked and attempted to cover themselves in fig leaves. Prior to their sin, the text tells us that they were “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). Something happened in the Fall that caused shame to settle upon the experience of nakedness. They were suddenly unpresentable to God in their nakedness, and they hid from Him (Gen. 3:10). To be naked was to be unpresentable. Throughout Scripture, to see someone’s nakedness was to bring shame upon them (Gen. 9:18-29; Jer. 13:26). This type of exposure made one vulnerable and was often accompanied by feelings of shame. When we look at Jesus, we see that He, too, was exposed on the cross. There, the divine Son of God was stripped and mocked (Matt. 27:28-30). His body was laid bare before the watching world. Men gambled for His clothes (Matt. 27:35). Contrary to popular presentations of Christ, He was completely disrobed when crucified. Naked and exposed to the world. It was a disgraceful and shameful way to die, but Jesus “scorned the shame” of the cross. He bore the shame of this type of nakedness on our behalf to dismantle shame. All who put their trust in Him find that they are now presentable to God, and they can come into His presence without shame but with boldness (Heb. 4:16).


Outcast and Ostracized


Shame is also explored through the experience of being an outcast and ostracized from the community. There were literally people who were required to live outside of the community of Israel, often due to disease and illness. There were others, however, who simply felt their isolation from the community while walking and living among the people of Israel. As we encounter Jesus in the Gospels, we find that He spends a significant amount of time with outcasts: tax collectors, fishermen, and a Samaritan woman. He is called a “friend of sinners.” The label was intended as an insult, but it truly did define Jesus. But He did more than simply befriend outcasts; He lived as one. He was born into poverty in the disregarded town of Nazareth (John 1:46), and He had nowhere to lay His head at night (Matt. 8:20). Yet, He most clearly identifies with the outcast when He is crucified outside the city. He is like those who are sent out of the community (Heb. 13:12-13). He was Himself “despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3). He was the “cornerstone the builders rejected” (1 Pet. 2:7). Jesus took our shame by being an outcast for us. He was an outcast in order that we might find acceptance by God and be welcomed into His perfect community (Heb. 10:19).


Dirty and Contaminated


Finally, shame is explored through the metaphor of the dirty and contaminated. The Old Covenant put a great emphasis on the concepts of the clean and unclean. The unclean are forbidden from entering the presence of God. They are separated from the community of God’s people. Those who were contaminated (the diseased or those who touched something unclean) were sent outside the camp. Jesus, for His part, touches plenty of diseased and unclean people in His earthly ministry. He touches the leprous, the bleeding, the demon-possessed, and even the dead. He is never contaminated by them but always makes them clean. In His crucifixion, however, we see Jesus becoming contaminated. “He who knew no sin became sin” (2 Cor. 5:21a), and when He is crucified, Jesus is taken outside the city and hung on a cross. He took the shame of our uncleanness. He experienced uncleanness for us “that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21b).

Shame is a hard emotion to work through. It destabilizes us and makes us feel alone, dirty, and unwelcome. Jesus challenges these internal emotions in His incarnation, ministry, and death. He took not merely our guilt, but He despised our shame too. In Him, we can have freedom from shame. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1). When shame is big, look to Jesus. He despised shame on our behalf so that we might experience freedom.


Questions for Reflection


  1. Of the three metaphors, which one connects most with you personally? Why?

  2. What are some scenarios where shame feels big and overwhelming for you? How might you look to Jesus in such moments?

  3. Knowing that Jesus dealt with shame doesn’t automatically remove the feelings of shame. How might you practice believing that Jesus dealt with shame even while the feelings are strong?

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I remember making the comment recently that when I first heard about Biblical counseling and that all that was used was the Bible, thinking "How in the world could a person only use the Bible to actually counsel someone? Seriously?!" Once I started taking the course, I very quickly changed to "How in the world could you use anything other than the Bible?"

Rebecca T.

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