Lent Reflections: Good Friday
38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. Matthew 27:38-44
We don’t often consider the deep emotional and even social shame of the cross. We ponder the physical suffering of Christ’s torture, of the nails, of the spear in his side. We ponder the spiritual forsakenness of Jesus, separated from His father as the wrath of God is poured out on Him. However, the gospel writers painstakingly also relay the relentless mockery and scorn directed at Jesus as he hung exposed on that fateful afternoon.
The insults hurled at Jesus have a particular bite if viewed through eyes of faith. We see the deep injustice of the Righteous One being hung beside common criminals. We sense the bitter irony of mocking His apparent inability to save himself, as those He came to rescue taunt him to come down from the cross. The words of verse 43 strike with particular force as the religious authorities scorn Jesus’ faith and proclaim the Father’s obvious disdain for this “son of God.” In all, the scene is one of deep shame – undeserved and misplaced, yes, but very real and unrelenting nonetheless.
There is much talk about shame in our culture, of its wounding impact in our stories. Shame has a way of destroying us from the inside out by speaking harsh half-truths that limit, discourage and paralyze us from our true calling. Jesus did not merely experience shame on the cross, he bore our shame in our place. As the old hymn says, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood.” As we watch Jesus absorb insults and endure misinformed taunts, we are observing an aspect of the cross’ power.
In exchange for our shame, Christ gives us acceptance and grace. In exchange for the half-truths of self-condemnation, Christ gives us the Spirit who speaks the reality of our salvation into those places of failure and woundedness.
15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17
In the song, “How Deep the Father’s Love” there’s a line that goes, “Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.” I’ve always found that a difficult line to sing. We don’t like to admit that we are culpable in creating the shame Jesus experienced on the cross. Yet, so it is. Jesus came to bear the shame of those who would heap up shame on him. Jesus came to die for the ungodly. That’s us.
Over this past year, I’ve found myself confronting my own shame on many occasions. Whether it’s a deep, abiding need to please others, an awareness of my own inadequacy in fulfilling my God-given responsibilities, or engaging aspects of my story I’d rather forget, ignore or bury, shame has been a theme of this season of my life. I’ve had to hear my voice in the bitterness of those mocking Jesus. I’ve also heard my own internal self-condemnation in the mockery hurled at Jesus. Healing has come, however, in re-learning how to drown out that noise by seeking after His voice. Jesus knows my shame more deeply than anyone … he’s seen it and (amazingly!) chose to experience it climactically on the cross. However, his sacrifice speaks a better and truer word over my identity. His Spirit bears witness that I truly am a child of God: known fully yet loved completely by God, because of what Christ has done.
As you prepare your heart for the Good Friday gathering tonight, acknowledge your shame as you behold the cross. Then see the Savior bearing it all in love, turning to you with forgiveness and grace even in that moment. Hallelujah, what a Savior!