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From Glory to Shame

Deut. 21:22-23 

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"And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, [23] 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), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." (NASB) 

As you know, everybody is talking about "The Passion of The Christ" movie. By now, I know that most of you have seen the movie and have had a chance to evaluate it from a critical and personal perspective. Prior to going, I'd read several reviews and noted that the reviewers had a split reaction to it. Some of them liked it, others didn't. I was particularly interested in the reaction of David Denby of The New Yorker. He wrote, "The movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony. ... Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagerly involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus' message of love into one of hate." 


You may be anticipating that I read that quote to you so I could be critical of the critic, and if you did, you are mistaken. I am interested in his description of the passion week as a "grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood and agony." Though I'd take exception with the word "unilluminating," I'd say Denby got it right. The passion was grim. And there was a procession of treachery, beatings, blood and agony. Something we 21st century Christians need to be reminded of.

A month or so ago, I wrote a devotional for you about my reluctance for years to embrace the cross as an appropriate design for jewelry. I felt it trivialized the cross. Believe me, the cross wasn't gold plated or diamond studded. You'll recall from the devotional, that I've opened my mind a bit about using the cross in this way, but my primary objection remains. The cross was a place of torture, disgrace and shame. And I don't think we get that. I know I don't.

For years I've been saying, "Jesus died for our sins," and moving right past that statement to get to whatever I was going to say next. Oh, occasionally, I'd preach on what really happened at the cross, but even when I did, I was always conscious that children were present and was careful not to be too explicit. Maybe the reason Gibson had to be "fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ" is because most of us aren't. To most of us the cross is gold-plated and diamond-studded, instead of blood drenched and nail studded.

Our text today says, "he who is hanged is accursed of God." After exercising capital punishment, the Hebrews would often take the body of the man they'd killed and hang his corpse in public display to bring further shame upon him for his criminal act. Deuteronomy 21 certainly wasn't describing crucifixion, which was a Roman, not a Jewish form of capital punishment. Yet, so that we aren't tempted to misunderstand the full implications of this text, Paul draws a straight line from Deuteronomy 21 to the cross of Calvary in Galatians 3:13 where he wrote, "Christ 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'" ( NASB) As does Peter in Acts 5:30 when he said, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree." (KJV) 

The pain of the cross was compounded by the shame of the cross. We don't have an equivalent to the cross in our culture, because modern capital punishment doesn't come close to being as sadistic. In his book, the Case for Easter, Lee Strobel describes the flogging and crucifixion as "a beating so barbarous that it shocks the conscience, and a form of capital punishment so depraved that it stands as wretched 
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