The Cross As An Instrument of Shame

Steve Viars July 24, 1999 Hebrews 12:2

- This morning we’re going to be continuing on in our study entitled “Embracing the Cross.”
- This summer we’ve been looking at what the Word of God teaches us about the cross-work of Jesus Christ.
- so far we’ve seen that the Bible explains that the cross is....
1) An instrument of peace - Col. 1:20 - “having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
- We’ve also seen that the cross is....
2) An instrument of power - 1 Corinthians 1:18 - “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

- so its an instrument of peace, and its an instrument of power....today we’d like to study the Scripture’s emphasis of the cross as an instrument of shame.

- to try to help us benefit the most from what we’re about to study, let me ask you a series of questions.
1) Are you a person who wants to please God?
- are you a person who wants to grow?
- if we were to sit down together, and talk about things that are especially important to you, things that you’re striving for, and wanting to achieve.....
- would the concept of pleasing Him, of glorifying Him, of becoming more like Christ, of making changes.....be at the top of the list?
- would you say that you’re not just wanting to coast along....you’re not just wanting to be stagnant in your relationship with Christ.....but that you really want to get to a better place?
- so you’ve made it your goal to please Him and take the steps necessary to do that?
- I’m assuming that’s the case for every person in the auditorium.
- whether it really is for you or not is between you and God, but I’m operating on the assumption that that’s true.

2) Would you agree that there are certain blessings and benefits or rewards associated with that goal?
- you could picture this like a race....where you are running toward a prize.....
- the joy of knowing you did what God wanted you to do.....
- the blessing of a clear conscience.....
- the privilege of hearing the words “well done, thou good and faithful servant”.
- the benefit that comes from avoiding the consequences of sin....
- the positive impact on your family and friends, and acquaintances.

- would you agree, in the quietness of this moment, that at least on paper.....the idea of pressing on to maturity.....of making progress of spiritually.....is very attractive.....
- it makes a lot of sense?
- the answer to that should be “yes”....so far, so good.

- now, can I ask you a harder question.....as you evaluate the last six months, or the last year....are you satisfied with the rate of progress?
- its one thing to say I want to become more pleasing to God, or I want to grow, or I want to take steps....[and even to realize that there would be great benefits to doing so].....
- its something else to actually take the steps....
- to make the decisions, to exert the effort....
- so I’m asking you......are you satisfied with your rate of progress?

- now I realize that there’s a broad range of possible answers to that one....but I’m going to assume that you fit somewhere between the range of “not entirely” and “just plain no”.
- now let’s push it one step further......

3) What’s standing between you, and accomplishing the goal?
- what’s standing between you, and taking the steps of growth / progress that God desires, and you say that you desire?
- that question, I can answer.
- even if I’ve never had the privilege of meeting you....and even if you were getting ready to say.....its my spouse, its my job, its my health, its my clothes, its my parents, its this town....
- biblically, we can say that in a very real sense...what stands between you and your accomplishing the goal of taking steps toward growing and pleasing God.....is a cross.
- you say , how do you know that?
- because Jesus Christ said --- if you want to be one of my disciples, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

- the path to pleasing God always involves the cross.
1) For example, if you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, you can’t accomplish the goal of pleasing Him without first “embracing the cross”.
- of admitting your sin.....of admitting your inability to save yourself....
- and of placing your faith and trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
- you can’t get there [to the goal] without embracing the cross/
2) For the many here who have trusted Christ.....you can’t take the next step of growth without embracing the cross.
- there is no such thing as growth without the cross....
- there is no such thing as progress without sacrifice....
- if you want to be one of my disciples, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.
- and what that cross looks like for you is as varied as the number of people here this morning.
- but I want to ask you to think hard about.......what is the next step of growth for you.....
- and what is the nature of the cross required to take that step?
- for a spouse, it might be crucifying your own desires in the marriage and being God’s kind of spouse first.
- for a young person, it might be the cross of honoring and obeying your parents even though that’s hard.
- for a friend, it might be being more vocal about what Jesus Christ means to you.
- it may be a matter of putting off a sinful habit....you know you’re not going to make progress spiritually until you deal with this.....
- for others, it may involve putting on a right habit or discipline.....you know you’re not going to make progress until you start doing right in this particular area.....
- advancement in the Christian life without the cross is impossible.....there is no such thing.
- well, then what’s the obvious question?
- then why aren’t we quicker to embrace the cross?
- why aren’t we quicker to do whatever we have to do to accomplish the goal?
- if getting there [the goal] requires embracing this [the cross], then why aren’t we quicker about it?

- the Bible answers that question too.......just like there’s very positive associated with the goal....joy, blessing, and fulfillment, and peace.
- there’s something very negative associated with the cross.....
- do you know what it is.....shame.
- we’re going to see a verse in just a minute that teaches how the cross is an instrument of shame.
- when you embrace the cross, you open yourself up to ridicule from others....
- when you embrace the cross, you are saying things about yourself that are not easy to say.....
- when you embrace the cross, you are becoming vulnerable.....
- when you embrace the cross, you are opening yourself up to pain.
- just like there is no such thing as growth without a cross.....
- there is also no such thing as a cross without shame.

- and friend, the issue is ---- what are you going to do with the shame that comes with the cross?
- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible this morning to Hebrews chapter 12, verse 2.
- I hope that as we go through this series, that phrases from our key verses will stay with you, and be a help to you as you grow.....
- from Col. 1:20 - “having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
- from I Cor. 1:18 - “...to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
- Hebrews 12:2 is another one of key verses, and you could describe all of these as “hard candy” verses.....
- you have to hold them for a while....you have to turn them over and over......careful concentration and meditation is important....
- but the benefits are sweet.
- read Hebrews 12:2.

- in the time we have remaining, I’d like us to think about I. The Shame of the Cross, II. How Jesus Dealt with the Shame of the Cross, III. Lessons for Us Today.

I. The Shame of the Cross.


- Hebrews chapter 12 helps us to understand that the cross is an instrument of shame.
- according to the NT Dictionary of Theology, the word “shame” that is used in this verse  literally means “to disfigure, make ugly.....shame exposes one to the ridicule of society.”
- those words may bring to mind those sobering verses in Isaiah 53, where we’re told.....  He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
- these verses aren’t telling us that Jesus was somehow physically unattractive---they’re telling us about the position in which Jesus placed Himself when He was dying on the cross for us.
- the cross is an instrument of shame.

- one of the reasons we need to hear this is because the cross, at least on one level, doesn’t have that impact anymore.
- its a fashion symbol....how many people would put one on as part of their jewelry accessories without thinking about the shame that was associated with such a death.
- I appreciate what Philip Graham Ryken said when he wrote, “The cross of Christ has been tamed.  This is a sign that its true meaning has been lost.  For as soon as people understand what the crucifixion means, it becomes utterly offensive to them.”

- now, you might be asking --- PV, how do we know that the cross was such an instrument of shame in the Bible times?
- here’s a couple of answers....

1) By reading about what the Romans thought of the cross.
- I’m speaking, of course, not of the Roman Christians, but of the secular Roman citizens.
- The Roman writer Cicero described crucifixion as:
“a most cruel and disgusting punishment.....It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in chains, it is an enormity to flog one, sheer murder to slay one; what then shall I say of crucifixion?  It is impossible to find a word for such an abomination.......Let the very mention of the cross be far removed, not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.”

- so the cross, to the Romans, was a vile thing.
- it was associated with torture, bleeding, nakedness, and agony.
- it was reserved for the most wretched criminals only.....and only criminals that were not Roman citizens, but instead were considered aliens or foreigners.

- that’s why the NT scholar F.F. Bruce said, “To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman.”
- Philip Ryken summarizes all this with the comment, “The cross was for murderers and rebels, provided they were also slaves or foreigners.”

- see, the point is, the cross was an instrument of shame. 
- those words from the NT Dictionary of Theology are so true.....the cross was a shameful thing, designed “to disfigure, make ugly, to expose one to the ridicule of society.”

2) Well, what about the Jewish individuals of that day?
- they too saw the cross as the most shameful way to die.
- and if you said, PV, why is that?
- its because they learned that in the OT.
- here’s what Deut. 21:22-23 says - And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)...
- God himself viewed crucifixion, described in this passage as “hanging on a tree”, as a curse.
- which is why, by the way, Jesus was not crucified inside of Jerusalem.
- they would have never allowed such a brutal death to take place inside the holy city.
- they made Jesus do what with the cross?.....carry it outside to Mount Calvary.
- one writer said, “The cursed death of the cursed man had to take place outside the city wall.”

- the point of all of this is, the cross is an instrument of shame.
- now, let’s pause right there and bring this into 1999.
- in a minute we’re going to see how Jesus dealt with the shame of the cross.....but I’d like us to think about this issue of shame, and how we might face it today.....so we’re best prepared to study this next point and apply it to ourselves.
- we said a moment ago that there is no such thing as a cross without shame.
- whatever cross Jesus is calling upon you to bear, you won’t take it up until you deal with the shame that comes with it.

- you say --- what do you mean?
1) well, if you have not yet trusted Christ.....the only way to a personal relationship with God is embracing the cross.
- but what stops many people from making that decision?
- its the shame......
- of having to admit.....I have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
- I cannot save myself through my own righteousness....
- I need someone else’s help.....
- many find the shame associated with making such an admission a price that is higher than they are willing to pay.
- so instead of embracing the cross.....they back away from the cross.

2) Think about this from the perspective of believers...of people who have already decided to become a Christian, a follower of Christ....
- in order to get to the goal, you have to embrace the cross.
- and you’ll never embrace the cross, unless you deal with the shame.

- now you might say, PV, please put that in the form of a practical illustration.
- let’s say that, when you think of what the next step of growth would look like for you, your answer would be, “I need to communicate with others in a more godly fashion”.
- you might say, I’m sarcastic, I’m angry, I’m critical, I’m cutting, I’m short, or maybe I clam up, or I refuse to speak, I give the cold shoulder.....
- whatever it might  be --- but you’d say --- the next step of growth for me would be to communicate in a more godly fashion with those the Lord has placed around me.

- what’s standing between you and that goal?....a cross.
- you’ll have to crucify that old way of speaking.
- you’ll have to put it to death.
- you’ll have to admit that the way you’ve been communicating is sinful.
- you can’t change the way you communicate without embracing the cross.

- well, what have we been learning today?
- that cross comes with a price.....you can’t embrace the cross without experiencing shame.
- we’re admitting that something about us is ugly......its sinful....its not right.
- there may also be people in your life who don't know Christ who observe this change and want to heap additional shame on the pile.....
- you’re becoming a wimp, or you’re a goody two-shoes, or you can’t make it in a dog-eat-dog world speaking in a kind, gentle fashion.

- see, we really have four things going on here.....
1) the goal of pleasing God, changing, making progress, the finish line.....
2) the joy that comes from finishing well, from making progress
3) we have the cross, an instrument that has to embraced in order to make progress to the goal
4) the shame that is always associated with the cross.....

- you can’t get to the goal without embracing the cross.....
- and you can’t embrace the cross without experiencing shame.....

- that leaves us with a huge question.....how much value are you going to place on the shame?
- are you going to let that shame stop you from embracing the cross, and therefore stop you from growing at the rate that God wants you to?
- now, you might say --- I’m not sure ---- is there an example I can follow?

- that takes us to our second important point......we need to go from I. The Shame of the Cross, to....


II. How Jesus Dealt with the Shame.


- please look closely again at the phrase in the middle of Hebrews 12:2.....[we’ll pick it up at the end of verse 1].
- “...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
- now, please let that sink in for a moment......this is one of those “hard candy” kind of phrases.
- we saw clearly that in Bible times, the cross was an instrument of shame.
- this passage clearly outlines the categories we’ve been talking about this morning.....
- what did Jesus do.....for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.

- now, if you’re following all this this morning, the question has to be.....but what does it mean to “despise the shame” and how do I do that in everyday life?
- let’s zero in on that word “despise” because that’s the key to all of this.
- what does the word “despise” mean?
- you might say, “hate”......and that’s true....but what does it mean to “hate the shame” associated with the cross?
- please look over at Romans 2:4 and this should make a whole lot more sense.
- this is another use of our word “despise”......but its used very much like our key verse in Hebrews 12:2.
- now, I’m going to read this first from the New American Standard Version.....please think about which word translated “despise” in Hebrews 12:2 is also used here in Romans 2:4.
- Romans 2:4 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
- now, which words in Romans 2:4 do you think come from the same original Greek word as “despise” in Hebrews 12:2?
- the words “think lightly”......
- in fact, if you have a KJV, its translated as “despise”?

- now you say, PV, you’re almost losing me......
- let me reel you back in if that’s the case.
- when the writer of Hebrews said, Jesus endured the cross by despising the shame....he was saying.....”Jesus thought lightly of the shame”.....He didn’t assign a heavy weight of value to it.....
- He didn’t let that shame that came from the cross become so important that He failed to do what God wanted Him to do.

- in fact, the word despise is the Greek Word “kataphreneo” -- phren means mind or think, kata means down, or low, or in this case, lightly.
- to “kataphreneo something” means to think lightly of something.....to not let it become more important than it should be.....to not let it become such a focus that it stops you from accomplishing the goal.
- see, think of the four categories.....from the perspective of our Lord.....
- the goal of finishing the work God had sent Him to do......
- the joy that would come from pleasing the father
- dying on the cross......
- experiencing the shame that came from such a death on such an instrument of shame.

- the issue was, what weight was He going to assign each of these four issues.
- the verse says....for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, by despising the shame.....
- He thought lightly of the shame......
- He didn’t let the shame stop Him from embracing the cross.

- now, let’s push that one step further.
- the early church had a critical decision to make......
- what were they going to do with a religion, with a faith, that had as its central figure the cross, which to their entire culture, was an instrument of shame?
- would they ignore the cross, or put it in the background?

- no, the cross became their rallying point.
- so much so, that they were ridiculed for it.

- the oldest surviving picture of the crucifixion of Christ is actually in the form of graffiti drawn on the wall of a house on the Palatine Hill in Rome.
- the picture has a man with a donkey’s head hanging in a cross.
- underneath is the taunt --- “Alexamenos worships God.”
- in other words, the early Christians had to deal with the scorn that was heaped on people who worshipped a crucified man.
- so what did they do?
- they didn’t let that deter them at all.
- they did exactly what this passage is telling us to do.....
- for the joy that was set before them, they endured the cross, thinking lightly of the shame.
- so over and over, you find verses like....
- Acts 5:30 - The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
- Acts 10:39 - And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.
- 1 Peter 2:24 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

- the point of all of this is, the cross is an instrument of shame, and Jesus Christ did not let that shame stop Him from embracing the cross......
- and the early church didn’t let that shame stop them  from embracing the cross.....

- and the question for you and me is.....what are you going to do with the shame that comes with the cross?
- are you going to “think lightly of it”, or are you going to let it stop you from doing what God wants you to do?

- let’s conclude all of this by talking about:


III. Lessons for Us Today


- I’d like to speak first of all to those who haven’t yet trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
- Friend, does this verse help explain why taking that step might be difficult in your case?

- the cross is an instrument of shame.....God doesn’t hide that fact from anyone.
- to become a Christian, you do have to admit some hard things about yourself.
- you do have to open yourself up to possible criticism or ridicule from others.
- is it possible that instead of thinking lightly about that, you’ve assigned a great weight of importance to this......and in essence said, if I have to humble myself to come to Christ, then I won’t come to Christ.....
- if I have to risk my reputation to come to Christ, then I won’t come to Christ.

- friend, God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.
- would you be willing to embrace the cross today, by admitting your sin and coming to Christ by faith?

- believing friend, what about these questions we’ve been repeating all morning?
- what is the next step in your growth?
- and is it true that in order to get there, you have to go through the cross?

- and is it possible that you’ve held back and held back and held back.....because you don’t want to endure the cross.....
- you don't want to risk the shame....


[develop --- maybe give a practical application to finish it off]

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video