Summary: While we normally focus on the pain Jesus suufered, this is an attempt to focus on the horrible shame associated with His crucifixion.
The Shame of the Cross
Text: Deuteronomy 21:22-23
Our theme this year is “Beyond Ourselves in 2012!” The thrust of this theme is on carrying the gospel to our community as the Lord commanded us in the great commission recorded in Matthew 28:19-20. Just as our salvation began at the cross, I believe any evangelistic outreach must begin there too. While there are so many aspects of our Savior’s death, perhaps the most neglected one is the subject of today’s lesson: The Shame of the Cross. Most of the time we focus on the physical pain our Lord suffered and the temporary separation He experienced from His Father. Most of us at one time or another have suffered from intense pain and homesickness. And, I venture to say, most of us would choose either or both of these rather than suffer shame. Let’s re-read our text from Deuteronomy 21:22-23 – “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” Notice that verse 22 addresses an offense subject to capital punishment under the old law. Once the execution has been carried out, then the body of the criminal is hung from a tree or pole in public disgrace. This not only served as an example for deterrence but would also be shameful for the family and friends of the criminal. I like the way Earl Kalland expresses the meaning of “accursed of God” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. “Since judgment basically is God’s, the judgment that takes a person’s life out of the covenant community as a perpetrator of the worst kind of sin and displays that judgment by the humiliation of hanging his body in public shows that that person is under God’s curse.” Therefore, he is accursed of God. Peter Craigie explains it even better in his commentary: “The body was not accursed of God because it was hanging on a tree; it was hanging on a tree because it was accursed of God. And the body was not accursed of God simply because it was dead, but it was accursed because of the reason for the death. To break the law of God and live as though he did not matter or exist, was in effect to curse him; and he who cursed God would be accursed of God. To break the law of God and incur thereby the penalty of death, was to die the worst possible kind of death, for the means of death was a formal and terminal separation from the community of God’s people.” Crucifixion was never a Jewish form of capital punishment except for a brief time during the inter-testamental period – between the old and new testaments. Crucifixion perhaps originated with the Persians as Herodotus mentions the crucifixion of 3,000 Babylonians by Darius. The Greeks also practiced crucifixion as evidenced by Alexander the Great crucifying some 2,000 on the beach after finally capturing the island city of Tyre in 332 B.C. But it was under the Roman Empire that we learn the most about crucifixion and it was in this era that the Son of God suffered this most extreme form of punishment. I hope you’ll study with me for the next few minutes as we look at how Jesus underwent this most wretched of deaths and suffered shame on the cross for you and for me.
The Jewish leaders tried their best to shame Jesus after accusing Him of blasphemy. The high priest Caiaphas tore his clothes after Jesus admitted that He was the Christ, the Son of God. Hear the words of Matthew 26:66-68 as the Sanhedrin plays a cruel version of “Blind Man’s Bluff” in response to the high priest’s question – “What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. Here was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, Who had the power to stop this abuse. Yet He had come to do His Father’s will – the cross ever looming in the distance. Convinced of His blasphemy, they could have stoned Him as they would later do to Stephen. But they wanted something worse for Him – not just simple death! The cruelty was just beginning. And the inspired writer would later write, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). It’s been a long night for our Lord – the betrayal by Judas, His arrest, abandoned by His disciples, denied by Peter, falsely accused, spat upon, beaten and slapped by His Jewish brethren. It’s now early on Friday as we read from Matthew 27:1-2 – When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. We know how Pilate tried to appease the crowd by offering up a prisoner for release but the chief priests and elders had persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. Once again we pick up the text in Matthew 27:21-23 – The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” Dropping down to verse 26, we read what Pilate did: Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Pause for a moment and reflect on the pieces of metal and bone shredding the flesh of our Savior’s back with each lash of the whip. All of us as Christians should shudder at the final words of 1 Peter 2:24 – “by whose stripes you were healed.” Now notice Matthew 27:27-28 – Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. Martel Pace has written that few things were more embarrassing for defeated soldiers than to be stripped by their enemies. Conquering armies practiced this for centuries. But again, imagine how our Lord must have felt to be stripped of His clothing in front of an entire garrison of soldiers – His back raw and bleeding. As if this were not shameful enough, the soldiers are now going to mock Him. Since the Jews are subjects of the Roman Empire, it must have been doubly fun to taunt the man accused of being the “King of the Jews.” Notice the words of Matthew 27:29-31 – When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. None of us likes to be made fun of but Jesus endured it quietly in our place. As we know, Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear our Lord’s cross on up to Golgotha. And now we come to the crucifixion itself – Luke 23:33 – And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Upon reaching the crucifixion site, Jesus and the two thieves were stripped and affixed to their crosses. Can we remember the shame felt by Adam and Eve when they discovered they were naked? Even after making some garments of fig leaves, they still tried to hide from God. Although we’ve lost so much of our sense of modesty, the crucifixion of a naked body added to the abasement and humiliation. Our artwork and films of Calvary show Jesus with at least a loin cloth but only for our own modesty. Martin Hengel observes in his book on crucifixion that it “was an utterly offensive affair, ‘obscene’ in the original sense of the word.” Someone has noted that pagan authors were too revolted by the subject to give comprehensive descriptions. One commentary states that crucifixion was a “status degradation ritual” designed to humiliate in every way, including the symbolic pinioning of hands and legs signifying a loss of power, and loss of ability to control the body in various ways. The site of a crucifixion was a place of nakedness, blood, screams, sweat, vomit and excrement. After crucifying our Lord, the soldiers seem to nonchalantly cast lots for His clothing as foretold in Psalm 22. I believe most of the taunts against Jesus on the cross occurred during the 1st three hours or from 9:00 A.M. until noon. Read with me from Matthew 27:39-44 – And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Our Lord had given ample proof of His divinity during His ministry but the majority refused to accept it. To both the Jews and the pagans, deity could not be put to death. If He really was the Son of God, He could extricate Himself from the cross. Crucifixion was not used on Roman citizens except those belonging to the lower classes. It was reserved for rebellious slaves, mutinous troops, vile criminals and insurrectionists against the state. Of course, Jesus was none of these. The Roman practice of crucifixion was always executed on well-traveled roads for maximum exposure. Bodies were left on their crosses for decomposing and scavengers. Crosses were normally low to the ground to allow the animals access to the corpse. In our Savior’s case, darkness covered the land from noon until 3:00 P.M. when He died. With this rather rambling framework of the cross, I’d like us to turn our attention to Galatians 3:13-14 – Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Earlier Paul had written in verse 10 that anyone trying to remain under the old law was under a curse based on Deuteronomy 27:26. This verse contains the 12th curse which the Levites were to proclaim from Mt. Ebal: “Cursed be the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them” We normally think of 2 Corinthians 5:21 in regards to Jesus’ death on the cross – For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Not only was He made to be sin for us but He also became a curse for us. He who knew no sin was not under the curse of the law but He paid the debt for our sins. But it wasn’t just that Jesus paid the penalty owed for our sins – death – He bore the shame for our sins. God, in his infinite wisdom, looked into the time when a Roman crucifixion would satisfy the debt for the sins of the world. It wasn’t just suffering the pain of death as an innocent man – the just for the unjust. It was also an ironic twist that He would hang upon a tree as a curse for you and me. The humiliation and shame He suffered by crucifixion is the shame and humiliation you and I deserve for our own sins which lie uncovered under the gaze of God. I’ve seen people weep over the painful death our Lord suffered – to shed tears for all the abuses He silently tolerated in our stead. But folks, we should probably weep even more for the shame and humiliation He suffered for the ugliness of our sins.