10 Ways the Cross Atones for Shame
Guest Mark Baker (Ph.D., Duke) is Professor of Mission and Theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Two of his books Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross explore the saving significance of the cross.
Here are 10 aspects of the atonement potentially relevant to people of honor-shame cultures.
1. Jesus was shamed. Shame was central to the crucifixion itself. Romans opted for crucifixion for its public, humiliating quality. The cross is the ultimate tale of a person being labeled as an outcast. Jesus endured actual, concrete shame. This fulfilled Isaiah’s vision of God’s servant who would bear tremendous shame (Isa 49:7; 50:6-8; 53:2-3).
2. Jesus bears our shame. Jesus absorbed shame on our behalf. As in the parable of the father with two (disgraceful) sons (Lk 15:11-32), Jesus bore shame to communicate God’s costly love. Whether eating with the tax-collectors or dying on the cross, Jesus experienced shame to restore the shamed.
3. Jesus removes our shame. All people have done shameful things, which makes us shameful in God’s eyes (Gen 3; Ez 16). Because of our shameful sin, we lack God’s glory (Rom 3:23). Jesus bore the consequences of that shame—rejection, isolation, and ultimately, death—in our place. Those in Christ will not face shame (Rom 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6-7).
4. God affirmed the shamed. The cross liberates people from shame by displaying Jesus’ commitment to their new identity. Jesus challenged the false cultural practices of social exclusion to the point of death. He died for the shamed. Jesus gave up his own status and honor to included the excluded and shamed. God does not stand with the shamers, but with the shamed.
5. Jesus defeated shame. Shame, like death and sin, was a tool of the enemy that Jesus defeated on the cross. Because of Jesus, shame no longer has any rightful power over people. Because Jesus disregarded the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2) the lie of distorted honor systems was exposed and shame’s power to exclude was destroyed (Col 2:13-19).
6. Jesus was honored. The resurrection overflows with honor and glory (Heb 2:9). Philippians 2:5-11 communicates so powerfully—it is the crucified one who is greatly honored. Jesus enjoys the honor of sitting at God’s right and having a name above all names.
7. Jesus honored God. Jesus did not fall short of God’s glory. He faithfully obeyed God and kept covenant in a way Israel had never done. Jesus brought honor to God on our behalf. Those “in Christ” receive his honoring actions as their own; they are restored to an appropriate relational status of honoring God through Jesus.
8. God saved face. The cross mitigated potential shame and preserved God’s status by demonstrating his faithfulness (cf. Rom 3:3-7; 15:8). God is not all bark and no bite; he delivers on his promises. Yahweh said he would save the world, and he kept that word through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The cross “protects the family name.”
9. Jesus remade the group. The cross formed a new family of God by tearing down the walls of division (Eph 2:11-22). For the Jewish apostles, the remaking of God’s covenant community to include Gentiles from all nations carried cosmic significance. People can now be a part of God’s special group of honored people (1 Pet 2:9-10).
10. Jesus honors us. The cross provides us a new identity—children of God. And as children we are heirs, which underlines our honorable status (Rom 8:15-18; Gal 3:26-29.) We receive Jesus’ own glory and honor for ourselves (John 17; Heb 2:10). The crown of glory we inherit is imperishable and unfading (1:4; 5:4); Jesus appearing will reveal our own glory and honor (1 Pet 1:7). The NT weaves all these aspects of the atonement into a single fabric of salvation. But, pulling apart and tracing a few of the threads helps us see the full glory of the cross during Easter.