The Shame of the Cross

I recently clicked on a link from a blog my friend Andrew contributes to and it took me to post from a Talbot Seminary prof, Joe Hellerman, entitled “Jesus, the Shame-Bearer” about “the public humiliation of Jesus’ death.”  His personal/vocational anecdote about honor-culture is skippable, but the focus on the shame Christ experienced on the cross (particularly in quotes from early church leaders) was powerful.  It lead me to post the following question in his comments section:

“Years ago, I came across a poem by the British writer Stevie Smith about Christianity/ Christ that questioned our faith, including the following lines:

And Sin, how could he take our sins upon Him?  What does it mean?
To take sin upon one is not the same
As to have sin inside one and feel guilty.

It is horrible to feel guilty,
We feel guilty because we are.
Was He horrible? Did he feel guilty?

The lines stuck with me, as an authentic question, but as I meditated on the issue, reading Isaiah 53, I began to wonder if, in some sense, while Jesus did not bear my experiential guilt (though he did take on my legal guilt), he somehow did bear the shame associated with my sin. In response to the poet, we might say, “No, he WAS not horrible–but yes, he FELT horrible as he bore the shame of our sin, experiencing the feeling of being a wrong-doer, though he did no wrong.”

Do you think there is a legitimacy to this? Not that we need to answer this question–I just wonder if, in some sense, this would be an answer…

I know that many Christians struggle with a lingering sense of guilt & shame over past sin. I wonder if contemplating “Jesus, the Shame-bearer” is a way of even adding those feelings of shame as something we recognize Christ bore for us.

I’m not totally sure if this is theologically accurate, though, which is why I ask!”

Hellerman responded that this (our feeling of guilt) wasn’t really what he had been talking about, which I do recognize–I was more using his meditation to launch into a related but distinct point. He was talking about Jesus’ personal sense of shame upon the cross & I was raising a question about our shame/guiltiness and Christ’s work on the cross.

On the note of Christ’s shame, it did make me think of how Christians have many times sanitized the image of Christ on the cross.  With our dread of nudity, we usually drape a little cloth over his genitals or even put him in a robe, yet his shameful FULL nakedness was most likely part of the punishment he endured for us (there are some who hold the view that he was covered with a cloth, but many hold to his complete nudity)!  The only film that I could remember that actually “exposed” the viewer to this aspect of the crucifixion was Martin Scorsese’s heretical and blasphemous film The Last Temptation of Christ

Like one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised & we esteemed him not

I have been thinking more about this question–did Jesus bear on the cross the shame that should be upon me for my sin, the shame that I deserve before God for violating his good design & purposes?  Or is it more that because of he took on our “legal guilt” that we are able to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10.22)?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Whatever the specific theological reality, I believe it’s completely appropriate to devotionally consider both what Christ endured on the cross & to know that we are free from the burden of guilt and shame of sin.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

(“Before the Throne of God Above”)


4 thoughts on “The Shame of the Cross”

  1. First of all, those lines from “Before the Throne of God Above” make up one of the best statements of substitutionary atonement I know of. I effing love that song- that’s what I’m trying to say.

    Second, great point about the nudity. You’d think that maybe the Passion of the Christ would’ve gotten it, wouldn’t you? Seems like a strange omission considering the rest of that film.

    In any case, as to the question itself, I suppose I’ve always suspected that Jesus felt horrible about sin on the cross, but more in terms of the way that the sin separated him from God than the personal shame generally, if that distinction makes any sense. My reading of Jesus in Gethsemane has always been that what Jesus is beginning to feel is his sense of separation from God, and it is this aspect of sin that gives him so much anguish.

    I also wonder if there is a sense in which Jesus felt much, much more guilt than we do because he could understand the ramifications of sin so much better than we could, given his undoubtedly clear sense of loss of God’s perfections and his separations from them.

    In short, I’m with you: I’m not really sure what “the answer” is. But what you said makes sense.

    Andrew Faris
    Christians in Context

  2. Wow. Good post. First one I’ve seen apart from my own which even questions whether or not Christ’s death was more than physical. According to the scriptures…He died the HORRIBLE death of a sinner. He died both body AND soul. He sweated ‘as it were large drops of blood’ in the the point of dehydration..and had to be physically strengthened by an angel. The depth of His agony had nothing to do with the PHYSICAL death he was about to experience. During the scourgings, and for most of the time on the cross…He ‘opended not His mouth’….because the Father was still with him…giving sustanence and strength…as He did with Steven and all martyrs who died for the sake of Christ. But their SOULS did not die…only their bodies. But the ‘sting of death is sin.’ So ,..when the Father was ready, He completely separated…removed…went AWAY from Christ…and the ‘loud cry’ began!! The Father’s spiritual departure even impacted the physical realm as proof that the Creator had withdrawn from it. The light became dark. There was an earthquake, a resurrection of saints, and a very LOUD CRY from the Son saying, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”

    Yes..oh..yes! He suffered as His soul DIED spiritually…in our place…for the sins instagaged at Eden…by the purpose of God. But with our squeaky clean doctrines, we insist that His death was only physical..crucifixion only. We talk about the horror of the scourgings, the spikes, and the third. We are so removed from Truth that we don’t comprehend that the following scriptures are TRUE and LITERAL. To prepare of for such a truth, scripture gives us the example of Jonah. He gave himself to save the sinners aboard the ship. He allowed them to throw him to his death. After he drowned in the raging water, a large fish swallowed him and for three days….he was as far away from the surface as possible….down at the bottom of the mountains. His soul travailed at being in ‘the belly of hell.’ But his soul trusted that he would re redeemed back to the Father. Jonah died, was buried, then resurrected. If Jonah didn’t drown…then Christ didn’t die either physically or spiritually. Because Christ said ‘there’ll be no sign given but that of Jonah.’ SOUND FAMILIAR. Christ was in the center of the earth, as He said, for three days. At least part of the time there….he ‘made his grave with the wicked, and the rich.’ His soul TRAVAILED!!! As in ‘just before birth’…or in Christ’s case…just before ‘resurrection.’

    The Holy Spirit so enlightened my heart to the truth of the death of Christ’s body and soul…literally heavy with man’s sins…not His own…but the outcome was the same. HE died the horrible death of the soul. We, if we know and receive and BELIEVE the depths of His gift…we will never die the Second Death. HE died it for us. We died the first spiritual death at Eden. ‘Man is appointed once to die.’ And because of Christ the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’…the Second death has no power over us.


    After being given the understanding of His unspeakable death, it’s hard for me to see symbolic crosses on communion tables, atop church steeples, on jewelry, and so forth. The symbol of a Cross CANNOT reveal the extent of His sufferings!


    Isa 53:9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
    Isa 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    Isa 53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
    Isa 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

    1. Yes I have always felt that the physical sufferings of Christ are not to be compared to bearing every sin of every human being since the beginning untill the very end. He has paid for everyone, whether they accept it or not, it has been paid for. Of course Jesus felt the spiritual hideousness, He blameless had to feel what it is like to be a gang rapist, a sadist, a treacherous lying murderer, a child sacrificer, a proud and arrogant abuser of the poor, a pedophile, an animal torturer in a laboratory, and worse to feel the disgusting thoughts and feelings of billions of people, this is why I belmieve God will not look lightly upon those who have spit on this gift of grace on judgement day.

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