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Volume 16, Issue 3: Stauron

Cup of Shame

Gary Hagen

Christ repeatedly told his disciples that he must drink the cup given to him by the Father. This cup is sometimes described as a cup of judgment for our sin, and this is wholly in accord with biblical imagery (Ps. 75:8, cf. Is. 53:10). But we have not yet recovered a full-orbed biblical understanding of salvation found in the cross of Christ. The Lord's cup contained more than wrathful punishment. This is because our sin resulted in more than the simple legal guilt of transgression (Hab. 2:16).

In his crucifixion, Christ took upon himself the judgment for our sin. The recent production by Gibson portraying Christ's passion goes to great lengths to graphically depict the horrific pain Jesus endured—and yet, of course, the film falls short in many other ways.
A few Protestants have criticized Gibson for his `heavy' Catholic emphasis. But Gibson actually fails to strictly adhere to both the detail of Catholic Stations of the Cross and the historical record. Others say Gibson did not portray the spiritual agony caused by God's judgment. This is, in part, an understandable limitation of the medium. However, there was another aspect of the Cross that Gibson portrayed only incidentally if at all—the shame of the cross. This was not so much a limitation of the medium as much as a limitation of his audience.
In our sybaritic society, little concept of shame remains. Most postmodern "Christian" cultures in the west are largely illiterate in the biblical grammar of shame and honor that once permeated daily life in ancient cultures. Paradoxically, many in pagan cultures of Asia and Africa today have a better grasp of this language.1
Had Gibson portrayed Calvary accurately, it would have necessarily drawn an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Part and parcel of the indignity of Roman crucifixion was to be hung on the stake completely stripped. The Romans weren't much for modesty or loincloths for their victims.2 The malefactors were also flogged naked.3 The Shroud of Turin, whomever it may have belonged to, reveals at least 139 lash wounds ranging from the neck down to the ankles, on both the front and back of the body.4,5
While nakedness in front of enemies is certainly one element in the grammar of shame (Ex. 32:25; 2 Sam. 10:4-5; Is. 20:4), it was by no means the only attribute active in the crucifixion narrative. Crucifixion, the height of shameful deaths, was considered fit punishment for slaves.6Scourging itself was a vehicle not only of brutal pain and sometimes death, but also of great humiliation and shame. Victims often lost control of all bodily functions and soiled themselves.7
Isaiah foretold that Christ's tormenters would spit in his face and pluck his beard from his cheeks.This perhaps helps to explain a later verse that states his face was disfigured beyond all human semblances. But beyond the obvious pain and disfigurement, the tearing out or shaving off of a man's beard was a source or expression of deep shame (2 Sam. 10:4-5 cf. Ezra 9:6).
Both the prophecy in Isaiah and the gospel records show that the soldiers spat on the face of Jesus. Remember that the Lord had told Moses that Miriam would have been ashamed and exiled for seven days had her own father but spit in her face.
Calvary's grammar of shame was robust. A great many actions were calculated to shame as well as injure. Christ was rejected by His people and abandoned to His enemies and denied by His closest friends. He was shamed in being beaten and killed despite His acknowledged innocence.He was arrested; prosecuted and slandered before the Sanhedrin, the king of Galilee, and the Judean governor; struck in the face; despised; insulted with a mock coronation; reviled; buffeted; exchanged for a bandit; defamed; and sentenced to death. He was made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. He was hung out for public ridicule, mockery and sport between the company of thieves. But in this entire process, God was acting to deliver his Son for our sins.
In most non-western, 10/40 cultures, it is understood that guilt is felt regarding one's actions, whereas shame is felt over whom one is—a sense of personal defilement. The Scriptures have much to say about this personal defilement. They speak far more richly of shame in relation to sin than they do of guilt (Ez. 16:63; 39:26; 44:12-13 cf. Dan. 12:2; Is. 45:17).Without an appreciation for this truth, we are left with a caricatured Christianity—however seemingly orthodox—that lacks the full beauty of our Lord's salvation toward us.
One verse most of us are more than familiar with is found in Isaiah where God says that we are unclean, and that even our righteous works are but filthy (menstruous) rags. The word picture there is not one of guilt, but one of ceremonial uncleanness and defilement. After their sin, our first parents were not afraid of God so much out of a feeling of guilt, as from a feeling of shame over their nakedness. God's attiring of Adam and Eve in coats of skins is a type of his clothing the church in the righteousness of Christ. Baptism is a ceremonial sprinkling or washing in Christ's blood to restore cleanliness. And scripture declares that those who believe on Him will not be ashamed (Rom. 9:33). Biblically, this means far more than not blushing over our testimony (Heb. 12:2).

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