Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 19, 1970
NUMBER 41, PAGE 4-5a

"The Shame Of The Cross"


From the earliest days of his ministry the terrible Cross cast its dreadful shadows athwart every path the Savior followed. At the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, when his mother's words stirred him to think of His "hour;" when the frenzied mob would have taken him by force to have made him their king; when the mother of Zebedee's children came craving his special favor for her two sons, Jesus clearly foresaw the frightful ordeal that was awaiting him. It was the feared hour of his agony, the baptism of his sorrow, the cup of his anguish.

We sometimes are puzzled by the tormented suffering we see in Him as he approaches that fateful hour. Surely, He was no less brave than many millions of others who have faced torture and death. Even death by crucifixion, the most excruciatingly painful of all deaths, had been faced by vast numbers of other men with calm courage and fortitude. Why then the "bloody sweat" as Jesus looked forward to his ordeal?

One element in it, we are sure, was the "shame of the cross." Since Christ died on the cross, and stained it by His own precious blood, this instrument of torture has been sanctified and glorified in the thinking of mankind. It is seen on church buildings in thousands of cities and villages, embossed on hymn books, carved into church furniture, worn as charms and bracelets, engraved in stone, marking the final resting place of countless millions of the children of men. Filling whole acres in military cemeteries, the Cross has become something in which to glory, not a symbol of shame and disgrace. This changing connotation was seen even in the very days of the apostles. "Far be it from me to glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," was the exultant cry with which Paul took this emblem of reproach and made it the very ensign of victory and triumph. From then until now Christians have felt a surge of adoration fill their hearts as they "surveyed that wondrous cross." The sacrifice of God's only Son, his victory over death, and the blessed hope which he has brought to us are all summed up and symbolized in that ugly implement of torture. No wonder Christians sing, "In the cross of Christ I glory," or "I love that old rugged cross," with total feelings of joy and commitment.

But it was not always so. There was "shame" attached to that old cross, hideous humiliation and disgrace. "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree," had been written from of old. When Paul applied this to Christ, he well understood that the Galatians (3:13) would not miss the point of the reference. For it was not until the warm, red blood from his own quivering body washed out that curse and removed the stain that the odious stigma was obliterated. Of all kinds of death that might be inflicted on a criminal, this was perhaps the most dreadful. Beheading was mercifully swift, the victim being quickly removed from among the living; stoning took a bit longer, and caused more physical pain. But even here, one solid blow on the head could render the victim insensible. Burning at the stake, being torn apart by wild beasts, even condemned to die in a gladiatorial combat — all of these forms of execution were very soon accomplished, and the hapless victim was released from his anguish.

But crucifixion! Here was something different altogether. The condemned man rarely ever died in less than a day or two, and sometimes it took as much as five or six days for the terrible ordeal to end. (You remember Pilate "marveled" that Christ had died so quickly, and even dispatched a centurion to inquire whether he had been dead for any length of time. (Mark 15:44) As the torn and swollen tissues of the body became inflamed they brought agony that no words have ever been able to describe. Meanwhile, the sufferer (usually naked) was the butt of every kind of ribald jest and jeering derision which a brutalized populace might heap upon him. All of this is a part of the "shame of the cross." But in the crucifixion of Christ there was more, a very great deal more. For here the innocent was suffering, and was enduring this most hideous of deaths at the very hands of those whose penalty he was paying! The guilty ones were executing a just and righteous sentence for evil, except that they were slaying the innocent for the guilty; they were the ones deserving of death, and they were inflicting their own just deserts upon another.

But "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." By his death all the children of men might be delivered from bondage. It was for this cause (for us) that he endured the cross, despising shame, and gave himself a ransom for all. The cross is a glorious symbol of man's freedom from sin. It became such by the precious blood of him who was willing there to die for our redemption. The "shame" of the cross has now become the hope and salvation of the whole human race.

— F. Y. T. —