Jesus Died for Our Shame – Maundy Thursday Meditation

Isaiah 53:1-3 – A meditation by Tim Melton, Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2011, at Surfside PCA Church, Myrtle Beach, SC

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Isaiah 53

 1 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For Jesus grew up before His Father like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He had no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face in disgust
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

As a Christian I often spend time considering the implications of Christ’s suffering on the cross.  This has been especially true for me over the past year, magnified further during this season of Lent.  When I contemplate Christ’s sacrifice, I often think of how He died for my sin and guilt.  Christ took the wrath of God upon Himself that I might be forgiven.  That I might be blessed with the eternal favor of the Father.   I don’t believe that I will ever plumb the depths of that truth – even to the end of my life.  But in recent days, I have been meditating on a different aspect of the Cross – that Christ did indeed die to atone for my guilt, but that He also died to cover my shame.  That the very glory of God became hideous.

That Christ was cast out that I may go in.  And yet I do not esteem Him.

In the Garden of Eden, when our first parents sinned against God, they were guilty.  They came under the curse of the broken covenant.  They were without excuse.  They rightly felt the pangs of guilt.  But pay attention to their first reaction to this guilt.  The Bible says that they “realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.“  How startling this is!  With hardly a second in between, their guilt immediately provoked a deep sense of shame.  Adam and Eve hated themselves.  They looked in the mirror of their lives and what they saw was repulsive, ugly, revolting…shameful.  They hid their eyes.  They turned their faces away.  So they scrambled around and gathered whatever they could find from the garden and pitifully cobbled together something – anything – to make that feeling go away.  And I do the same.  I scramble around this world, this life, picking anything – everything I can find – hoping to find something to make this feeling go away.  This condition.  This sense of shame.  This ugly.  And it has been born in every man and woman since that moment in the garden so long ago.  Handed down from our fathers.  Hewn in our broken souls.  And sewn in the hearts of every child.

Shame is prevalent in every human heart – no matter who we are, no matter what we believe.  A person can escape feelings of guilt.  He can pretend that there is no God.  He can pretend that there is no one there for him to answer to.  But, no matter what a person should do with God, Shame…shame is still there.  Nagging.  Eating away. Evident in everyone. In every soul. In every culture.  And no amount of fig leaves, or money, or style changes, or education, or gifting can make that feeling go away.  We can adorn ourselves with jewels and modify our bodies with exercise and improvements.  We can stack our achievements a mile high.  Yet, our internal reality remains the same.  We stand guilty before God…and as a result, we are consumed with shame.

Christ was cast out that I may go in.  But I did not esteem Him.

To be clear, when we speak of our guilt, we are talking about our sinful standing before God.  We are positionally guilty of sinful acts against His nature.  Against His will.  We are at war with God.  We are His enemies.  And our actions bear that out.  But our Shame…this has to do with our core identity, our peace with ourselves in God’s presence.  So, when we speak of our shame, we are talking about who we are, not what we do.  Not our sinful actions, but our sinful selves.  We see ourselves as ugly.  We see our world as ugly.  Because we have lost touch with God’s beauty, God’s righteousness, and God’s peace.  We are displaced.  Our bodies confound us.  Our neighbors enrage us.  Nature frightens us.  Our tongue betrays us.  We say the wrong things.  We are filled with regret.  Our past haunts us.  Our future paralyzes us.  And so in the darkness of our closets, we desperately seek the right combination of fig leaves to hide our shame.  In these isolated moments of hopeless despair, we whisper, “I am so weak…so stupid…so ugly…so undesirable…so lost…so angry…and I am so desperately alone.”

And this is why we Christians need to come back again to the Christ who was cast out.  We need to come again to that garden where Christ lay weeping.   We need to come back again and again to the Cross where Christ hangs dying.  For it is only here, in this garden, and at the foot of this glorious tree, that we might have our burden removed.  It is only here that our guilt is lifted.  It is only here that our shame is truly covered.  It is in this dark place, beneath the shadow of Christ’s suffering, that we receive the words we so long to believe, “I will not leave you as orphans…I will come to you.  I will cover you.  The leaves in my garden will cover your shame.  The shadow of my tree will lift your head.”

Christ was cast out that I may go in.  But I still struggle to esteem Him.

O’ what a treasure we have in Christ!  What a treasure!  He will not leave us alone in the tragic wasteland of our shame.  On the Cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God for us.  And He endured our shame.  He was vilified.  He was scorned.  He was despised.  He was put to open grief.  And, just as Christ endured God’s Wrath, defeated sin and death, and canceled our guilt; He also took our shame upon Himself.  He was reviled, that we might become desirable.  Christ took our ashes and turned them into the glorious beauty of God.  So to those who mourn in Zion.  To those who mourn in brokenness.  Remember.  Jesus gave us beauty for our ashes.  The oil of joy in exchange for our mourning (Is 61:3).  And though we continue to struggle to esteem Him, yet He will be glorified.  He will be valued.  We will find Him Wonderful! For He has covered our nakedness in a garment of praise and called us glorious trees of righteousness.  Where every branch will be full.  And every bud will burst with life.  We will never have to scramble for leaves again.  For Christ Himself has become our garden.

3 thoughts on “Jesus Died for Our Shame – Maundy Thursday Meditation

  1. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame. – Chesterton

    I gave my body to the blows and my cheeks to outrages. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting. But the Lord has helped me; therefore I have not been confounded. – Isaiah

    1. Your focus on shame is great. I think we should focus more on shame than guilt. In their social science commentaries on the Gospels, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh make the point that the predominance of guilt over shame is a modern latecomer peculiar to individualistic societies in The West. The predominance of shame, on the other hand, comes from agrarian/collectivist societies, like over 2/3 of the world is today. It’s ironic to think Western culture is the oddity and Biblical culture the norm, though I don’t want to deny overlap, since we’re all human.

    Here are some fun quotes:

    a. “Since the introspective, guilt-oriented outlook of industrialized societies did not exist [in NT times], it is unlikely that forgiveness meant psychological healing. Instead, forgiveness by God meant being divinely restored to one’s position and therefore freed from fear of loss at the hands of God.”

    b. Richard Rohrbaugh said in an email: “To be precise it is not quite accurate to say that guilt is a “modern” invention. Both guilt and shame exist in most societies though one response or the other usually dominates. Collectivist societies (dyadic view of personality) are ALL shame societies. Thus All known agrarian societies have been honor-shame societies and it is only individualistic societies in which guilt comes to the fore. The issue is therefore not the modern versus the ancient, but the collectivist versus the individualistic. Since industrialized societies allow for economic, political, and especially psychological individualism, it is industrialized societies that are guilt cultures. It is because the ancient Mediterranean world was a highly collectivistic, agrarian society that guilt was virtually unknown. Reading it into ANY biblical text is a serious mistake.”

    Guilt would come from the sting of individual conscience; shame is when you are affected by judgment from the outside, from the group on you, the castigated outsider. Thus, in collectivist societies it isn’t the individual, but the group, that has the conscience. Thus, it is the group, not the individual, that has guilt; and it is the individual, not the group, that has shame.

    This brings up interesting points for new and improved Bible translation in the future, since nearly all Biblical translators aren’t/weren’t experts in social anthropology.

    2. Guilt leading to shame – I might switch this around. Adam and Eve’s collective guilt because of disobedience lead to their individual shame when thrust from The Garden.

    3. Your use of Guilt and Shame –
    a. Guilt – Our sinful standing before God because of sinful ACTS.
    b. Shame – Our sinful standing before God because of sinful IDENTITY.

    If this was you use throughout the blog, my bad! lol. In these senses, I totally agree! Guilt DOES lead to shame. The act of disobedience leads to a sinful identity. But according to the social/anthropological usages, I’d switch them around.

    Great blog! Missed reading them.


    • Matt,
      It is soooo good to hear from you bro! I miss you a ton. Please let me know where you are stationed and how you’re doing.

      In regard to your reply, I can’t tell you how helpful your thoughts are. I had never read anything by Rohrbaugh, but I certainly agree with his assessment of Guilt being a predominantly communal reality and then out of that comes our individualistic sense of Shame. However, I would hedge in making those into exclusive categories. I think both realities are experienced by the community and the individual. Yet, if we accept that shame is a more powerful reality in the life of the individual, then it is extremely important that Christians make this connection to the redemptive nature of the Cross in regard to shame. Jesus was “put out”of the covenant community that we might be “put in.” He was disgraced and reviled, so that we might be graced and received into the community of His covenant love.

      By the way, is there any books that you would recommend along these lines? Also, would you mind if I use some of your thoughts in future posts?

      Love you Matt!


      • I’m doing great, man. Thanks for asking. How have YOU been? Holy crap. It’s been forever. I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi going to Tech School for Financial Management; I’ve been here since August 22nd. Yuck. But I’ll graduate next week on the 7th. Oh joy! I’m going to be stationed in Aviano, Italy! Hit the lottery! I’m coming back to Myrtle after graduation do to the Recruiter Assistant Program for maybe a month. But I have to be in Italy by May 15th. Other than that, I’m cool. Same ole’ Matt. lol

        I’m glad the social sciences helped you out. Not a lot of people know about them. They helped me out tremendously. And yes. They aren’t exclusive categories, like you point out. But depending on whether the society is individualistic or communal, one would predominate more than the other. Even though the lesser would still exist, sublimated under the greater.

        You might be interested in what the social sciences say about grace, since you mention Jesus ‘gracing’ us back into the community of His covenant. A couple cool books to put on your book list could be David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity and Zeba Crook’s Reconceptualising Conversion. Their main thesis is that grace should be understood (I think we’ve talked about this some . . .) in the social context of a client/patron relationship. Patronage is simply the rich giving poor folk gifts, and where the poor (the clients) were expected to by loyal/faithful in return. Crook actually traces verses referring to the ‘riches of God’s glory’ back to the notion of rich Patrons giving gifts to the poor.

        So, in this context, grace was the willingness of a Patron to bestow benefits/gifts to a group or a person. Even with the pagan Roman gods, the Romans referred to their gods’ grace as the willingness to bestow such benefits, though their benefits weren’t the salvation Jesus offers. But on top of all this, deSilva notes that another use of ‘grace’ in the context was the response of a client to the patron’s gift. In other words, grace was always met with grace, or in the client’s case, gratitude. Thus, an isolated act of grace on the Patron’s part is an anachronism. When the patron’s grace is met with the client’s grace (gratitude), there was a circle dance, very similar to the marriage celebration near the beginning of Braveheart.

        Here’s a mini-book list for you. Please tell me if they help. Because they changed my life, lol.

        1. David deSilva: Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity
        2. James Jeffers: The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament
        3. Bruce Malina and John Pilch: Handbook of Biblical Social Values
        4. Bruce Malina: Windows on World of Jesus
        5. Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey: Portraits of Paul
        6. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh: Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels
        7. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh: Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John
        8. Bruce Malina and John Pilch: Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul
        9. Victor H. Matthews: Social World of Ancient Israel 1250-587 BC
        10. Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians
        11. Jerome Neyrey, Render to God
        12. Whitney Shiner, Proclaiming the Gospel
        13. Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

        That should do, lol. This will open up a whole new world for you, man. Let me know what you think. And YES! Feel free to use any thoughts you want. I wouldn’t call them mine, lol. I’m not original at all. I’m just a mirror.

        Love you to, bro!


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