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From Glory to Shame

Deut. 21:22-23 


"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 testimony to man's inhumanity to man." ( But neither do we have an equivalent to the shame of the cross-to hang on display while a crowd gathers to mock and leer.

I suppose most of us would prefer to hang a gold chain around our neck with a gold plated, diamond studded cross for ornamentation than to visualize the pain and shame we heaped upon Jesus. One scholar I read on this passage wrote, "The suspension of a human body on the gallows-tree is the utmost climax of ruin and disgrace. It is the fullest exponent of the public detestation and horror for the deed." (Pulpit, v. 3, p. 354)

Pause for a moment with me and reflect on Jesus' willingness to bear our shame. Now personalize it. He was willing to bear my shame. And yours.

A long-time friend of mine, Dr. Rodger Russell had the opportunity to preview Mel Gibson's "controversial" movie "The Passion of The Christ with a group of Pastor's, Rabbis, Priests, and Bishops in Salt Lake City, Utah where he lives. Before going, he had heard a lot about the movie and had read positive and negative reviews and thought he was prepared for the violence and the impact the movie would have on him. He wasn't.

"I was in control" Rodger wrote, until Peter denied Christ. "And when Jesus turned and looked at Peter, I was sunk. All of a sudden my resemblance to Peter flooded my soul. It was as if every time I have denied Jesus passed in front of my eyes. My totally stoic expression broke. Tears began to well up in my eyes. 'O Lord forgive me.'"

"I began to experience emotions that seemed to come from nowhere." Rodger continued. "My heart was filled with gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for me." As Rodger reflected on the impact of coming face to face with Jesus' suffering, he said, "...the tremendous impact of my personal sin wafted over me like never before. He died for me! He paid my sins! Someone has said that a drowning person has his life flash before his eyes just prior to losing consciousness. I must have been drowning. Because I could hold it in no more and the tears began to fall. Any one who leaves the theater believing the Jews were responsible, or that the Romans were responsible, missed the message of the movie, which is the message of the Gospel, 'Jesus died for our sins.'" 1 Cor. 15:3 says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," (NASB)

Some people will never understand. 1 Cor. 1:23 says, "but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness." (NASB) 

What Denby misses in his analysis is that Jesus endured hate as His single greatest act of love. That was my cross He died on. Those nails-they should have gone through my flesh. That cat of nine tails should have been wrapped around my body. I should have hung on the cross. He died in my place. He died for me. 

And you.

Not understanding a movie is one thing. Not accepting Jesus' sacrifice for our sins in another.

All the pain. All the suffering. All the shame. He did it all for you. Jesus loves you and was willing to "hang on the tree" for you. Please let the impact of those words sink in. As undeserving as you are, Jesus still loves you.

To the experienced believer, I want to say, please don't let the familiarity of this story or these words keep you for experiencing the fullness of God's love for you. And to the potential believer, let me say, don't let the newness of these words keep you from experiencing the depth of His love for you.

Right now you can have your sin and shame removed because He bore your sin and shame on the cross. Won't you pray with me now? With a simpleprayer, tell Him that you've sinned and that you're sorry for you sins. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to take them away from you. Tell Him you'll live the rest of your life for Him and that you'll serve Him until your dying day. Tell Him that you are willing to exchange your life for His death. Ask Him to save you. 

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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