Following Jesus in a Shaming Society
We live in an increasingly shaming society. The internet, no doubt, has made it easier than ever to shame someone in public. It’s never taken so little effort to shame someone else in the eyes of many people as you can with modern media, perhaps especially social media. The Cambridge Dictionary now defines “shaming” as “the act of publicly criticizing and drawing attention to someone, especially on the internet.”
The internet may make it easier than ever to publically criticize and draw negative attention to someone, but surely online is not the only context for shaming. It can happen on your block or in your building, whether through gossip or outright comments. It can happen at work, and in your extended family. And ironically, as our society becomes more and more shameless in acting out what previous generations once thought of as sin, we also make more aggressive efforts to shame those who stand against such sin.
Shame is a painful emotion we feel in the presence of others for not living up to their expectations. And the intentional effort to bring shame on someone in public is nothing new to the twenty-first century.
Emblem of Shame
Two thousand years ago, the Romans employed a brutal method of execution that not only slowly suffocated its victims, in literally excruciating pain, but did so up on trees, in prominent public places, for all to see, with the subjects stripped naked, to maximize both the physical and emotional pain.
There’s an old Christian hymn that calls the cross “an emblem of suffering and shame.” Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “endured the cross despising the shame.” And in a twist of gospel irony, Paul writes in Colossians 2:15 that at the cross, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ].” Jesus was put to shame on the cross, but God had the final word as he conquered Satan and his minions and instead “put them to open shame” at that same cross.
Take Up Your Cross
Our text this morning includes one of Jesus’s more famous sayings, that anyone who would follow him must “deny himself and take up his cross.” It’s easy to domesticate this radical call today, when we wear crosses around our necks and use them as decorations. We’re prone to receive Jesus’s words as a call to endure through life’s minor inconveniences without complaining too much.
But the cross may be the single most horrible form of suffering and shame devised in the history of human wickedness. “Take up your cross” were shocking words to Jesus’s disciples. At first, it was imponderable to them that their master, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, could be made to suffer, and be so shamed, like this. And for it to end this way for their master, imagine what shame would be brought upon the disciples themselves.
Both then and now, what does it mean to “take up your cross”? How do we do that? And why would we want to do that? To answer, those questions, our text this morning holds out a single charge to us as a church, in three parts.
1. Embrace shame for Jesus’s sake (verse 34)
Look with me at verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Now the cross, as we’ve said, is not only an instrument of suffering but also shame. And the reason I’m emphasizing shame here (“embrace shame”) — and not mainly suffering and death, though those are not excluded — is because this passage brings shame into particular focus. “Lose your life” is clearly about death, but if we only think “take up your cross” relates to dying, on the one hand, and life’s minor inconveniences, on the other, we will miss the way this passage is perhaps most relevant to us in our day. What we’ll see in verse 31–33 will put the accent on shame, and then verse 38 makes shame explicit: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We’ll have more to say about verse 38, but for now, let’s have shame in view in Jesus’s charge to the crowds, to his disciples, and to us this morning: “embrace shame.”
But don’t think that Jesus would have us embrace any kind of shame. In verse 38, Jesus gives a specific cause for the kind of shame he calls his followers to embrace: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words . . .” (as well as verse 35, “for my sake and for the gospel’s”).
This is not any old shame. This is not the righteous shame we should feel when we sin or if we misrepresent our Lord to a watching world. This is unrighteous shame that enemies of Christ would seek to heap on us because of our allegiance to Jesus and his words (in the Gospels and in his apostles and their letters). So, God’s charge to us this morning is to embrace shame for Jesus’s sake. Jesus wants his followers to be ready to embrace shame in this world, and he gets us ready by turning our perspective, or mindset, upside down. So the what is embrace shame in this world for Jesus’s sake. Second, Jesus tells us how.
2. Through crucified expectations (verses 22–33)
Here we come to the heart of the passage. The key contrast comes in verse 33 when Jesus says to Peter, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The issue, Jesus says, is a certain mindset (“setting your mind”) or perspective, even expectations. And verse 33 is not just the hinge of the passage but of the whole Gospel of Mark.
All eight chapters of Mark so far have been building up to this point. Jesus has been carefully revealing himself to his disciples as more than a healer and gifted teacher. As we saw again two weeks ago, the disciples have been slow to understand. But here at the hinge of the book (the precise seam is between verses 30 and 31), they finally show a significant step in their understanding, the Gospel pivots, and then immediately Jesus makes it clear that they do not yet understand all they need to know.
Remember where this is going in verse 34: take up your cross. And the key to that, Jesus says in verse 33, is our setting our minds on the things of God, not the things of man. But to understand what Jesus means, we need to walk through the rest of this passage. So, here’s what we’ll do: first, we’ll look at verses 27–30, then back to verses 22–26, and then to verses 31–32.
‘You Are the Christ’ (verses 27–30)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
At long last, the disciples are catching on. Peter, representing the twelve, confesses Jesus as the Christ. And that is true. This is a step forward. Jesus is no mere prophet, as some think; rather, he is the one to whom the prophets have pointed. And this is God at work, that the disciples have seen it. (In Matthew’s telling of this story, he adds these words from Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood [human] has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven [divine],” Matthew 16:17.)
However, how odd is it that Jesus then (in verse 30) “strictly charged them to tell no one about him”? We’ve seen this before in this Gospel:
· 1:43–44: Jesus healed a leper and “sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone.’”
· 3:11–12: “Whenever the unclean spirits saw [Jesus], they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”
· 5:43: After Jesus raised the 12-year-old girl from the dead, “he strictly charged them that no one should know this.”
· 7:36: Jesus healed a deaf man and “charged them to tell no one.”
We’ve talked before about this “Messianic secret,” and Jesus not encouraging the incomplete story about himself to get around prematurely. But why still? And why again in Mark 9:9, after the Transfiguration, as we’ll see next Sunday? Even though his disciples now see him as Christ (“Messiah”), he knows that they do not yet know what it means for him. They have human expectations: the Messiah will conquer his foes and come into glory. And so Jesus begins to teach them here in Mark 8:31 that God’s Messiah is on a different path they than expect — and he continues to teach them this in the next chapter (Mark 9:31), and the next (Mark 10:33), and even then they still don’t understand (Mark 9:32; 10:37). They are setting their minds on the things of man, not the things of God. And this is a supernatural, spiritual paradigm; full shifts don’t happen all at once, but we grow into it.
Like Trees Walking (verses 22–26)
This is where the strange two-stage healing in verses 22–26 comes in. Look at verses 22–26:
They came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Why heal the blind man in two stages? Jesus has the power to do it all at once. His other healings have been all at once. In healing the man from his blindness in two stages, he is anticipating that his disciples will need to be healed from their blindness in two stages. It’s a lived-out parable. Declaring Jesus as the Christ is like seeing trees walking. They see, but not yet clearly. Jesus set this up in verses 17–18 and 21 (“see” in the sense of understand):
· 8:17–18: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”
· 8:21: “Do you not yet understand?”
‘May It Never Be!’ (verses 31–33)
[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Here Peter and the disciples do not yet understand. Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, and no mere prophet. But God’s Messiah will be crucified. He will triumph, and come into his glory, but on the way to conquering, he will give himself to be conquered. He will walk the path of suffering and shame. And his people will walk in his steps. In other words, they will “follow” him. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (verse 34).
Peter’s paradigm, with his mind set on the things of man, is this: Jesus is Christ; therefore he will not die; and we will triumph with him. But Jesus’s paradigm, which he now begins introducing to his disciples, with his mind set on the things of God, is this: I am the Christ; therefore I will be shamed for my people, and rise in glory and honor; and my people too will be shamed with me, and then rise with me in glory and honor. Jesus’s identity in secure enough in God that he is able to make the costly self-sacrifice for others.
Peter was right about the end (honor) but not about the means (shame). He still was thinking naturally. He was setting his mind on the things of man.
So, we’ve heard the charge (“embrace shame for Jesus’s sake”) and then heard the means (“through crucified expectations”), and finally we get the motivation.
3. For the greater gain of being unashamed with Jesus forever (verses 35–38)
We find four fors in a row in verses 35–38, and they drive the motivation deep into the biblical bedrock for why we should embrace shame for Jesus’s sake through crucified expectations. Look at verses 34–38:
Calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
It’s a dense argument from Jesus. So here as we close, let’s quickly pull it apart one statement at a time, and then put it back together, and be done.
Verse 35 is the trickiest statement in the passage because of the word play. The Greek word (psyche, from which we get psychology) means “soul” or “life” in English. Jesus uses it in two senses here: life in this world and life forever. So you could read verse 35 like this: “whoever would save his life in this world will lose his life forever, but whoever loses his life in this world for my sake and the gospel’s will save his life forever.” In other words, given the fallen nature of this world, and given the very mission and nature of the Messiah himself, God’s people are not on a straight, comfortable, shameless path to glory. Yes, our lives are being saved forever, but the pathway to ultimate saving runs through embracing loss in the here and now. The pathway to being finally unashamed forever with Jesus runs through being shamed now in this world for his sake.
Then verse 36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” It’s a rhetorical question. Answer: Nothing. It does not profit a man any to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul. It is an utterly tragic loss. And by “gain the whole world,” what we need to hear in this context is not possessions, but applause; not revenue in this world, but respect in this world; not earthly estates, but earthly esteem. Brothers and sisters, it is not worth saving face in this world by going soft on Jesus, his words, and his gospel.
Verse 37: “For what can a man give in return for his soul?” Another rhetorical question. Another implied answer: Nothing. You cannot swap any amount of respect in this world in return for your eternal soul. You cannot trade all your hard-earned acceptance in this world for what matters most: God’s embrace.
Okay, so let’s work backwards from verse 37, to 36, to 35:
· verse 37: You cannot trade earthly acceptance for what matters most: your soul.
· verse 36: Therefore, it is not to your benefit to gain the world’s acceptance and lose God’s.
· verse 35: Therefore, in saving your life in this world (from shame), you lose what matters most. And in losing your life here (by embracing shame for Jesus’s sake), you find it forever.
Jesus’s whole argument turns on an appeal to desire. Jesus does not say, Forsake your desires and do your duty. He argues that we will be happier — in the end, we will have what we want most and have it forever — if we do not cower to this world’s effort to shame us into the slavery of its submission.
How astounding that Jesus makes an appeal to our desire. When he could simply say, “I am God; just do what I say,” he seeks to win our obedience from the heart. He captures our inner person on the way to transforming our outer person. He gives reasons and rationale and makes his case, and at bottom appeals to our deepest and most enduring joy, rather than treating us as creatures of mere duty.
When Jesus bids us, “Follow me,” he doesn’t call us to die to real joy, but to find it.
When He Comes in Glory
Finally, verse 38 comes in as support for all of verses 34–37: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Don’t misunderstand the call to embrace shame as an end in itself. It will lead to honor. God’s Messiah didn’t go straight to glory, but through the cross, yet he does indeed come in glory. First he walks the path of shame. Then he comes into glory. So too with us.
What form will Christian self-denial take today? Increasingly, it will be more and more like the first century in which Jesus lived. Some will suffer physically. Some may even be killed. But few, if any, of us will escape the world’s efforts at shaming us. But Jesus appeals to our hearts: to embrace shame for his sake, through crucified expectations, for the sake of deeper and more enduring joy.
To the Table
Hebrews 12:2 says “for the joy that was set before him” Jesus “endured the cross despising the shame.” Just as Jesus reversed the shame of the cross, making it his honor and putting his enemies to open shame (Colossians 2:15) by rising again, so this Table is an invitation to shame and to honor.
If you eat and drink here, with Jesus as your Lord, Savior, and Treasure, it’s only a matter of time until our increasingly shaming society will set its sights on you. But when it does, we will be ready together. Alone, we may be caught off guard. But together we will remind each other: Jesus told us it would be this way. We’re ready for this. Let’s stand our ground together. We will gladly suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41), because our being shamed in this world will not be the end of our story, just like Jesus being shamed at the cross was not the end of his.
He is coming again in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, and when it matters most, we will stand unashamed before him.