Shame is a devil with many faces. And none of them are smiling. There is the shame of defeat, when you lie on your back with the devil’s jaws gripped tight around your throat. It is the shame of caving in to your lust, to your pettiness, to your hatred, to the anger boiling inside you. It's the kind of shame of which the psalmist speaks when he prays, “Do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me.” It is the shame you all know, when the enemy of hell cackles in the face of your dirtied soul, smeared with the filth he convinced you it would be good and pleasurable to wallow in. This is the shame we invite into our lives when we follow our heart, or our eyes, or our genitals, but not the good and gracious will of our heavenly Father.
And there is yet another shame, the shame of feeling polluted not by your own sins, but by the sins of others. The shame of the innocent misused, abused, dirtied not by their own will and own desires, but by those of another. It is the shame of the rape victim, the beaten spouse, the molested child. Like the smell of second-hand cigarette smoke clings to the non-smoker, so this stench of shame clings to the innocent, ever reminding them of how others have breathed upon them the smoke of their iniquities. It is as real, if not more real, than the shame we feel when we've done something wrong. In fact, most often, we feel guilty because of it, as if we invited this horror into our lives.
If guilt may be likened to a heavy heart, then shame may be compared to an unclean heart, soiled and smelling of death, crying out for the water of purification, something, anything, to wash away the stain. Wouldn’t it be great if there were something that could de-shame us? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had something that could cleanse us of shame as effectively as soap and water cleanse our bodies of dirt? Wouldn’t it be of infinitely more worth than all the gold and precious jewels of the world? Yes, of course, it would.
And yet on our own, we do not have it. We have nothing to de-shame us, nothing in which to bathe our shame-blackened hearts. Bury that shame fifteen feet deep in the soil of your mind, but eventually it will resurface. Try to burn your shame to ashes and the fire will only make it glow hotter and brighter. You do not have it, this “something” that can de-shame you.
But someone does. Someone who, though pure and shameless in and of Himself, allowed the sewer of your shame to be poured over His head. The someone who put all your lust, pettiness, anger, and hatred in a cup, placed it to His lips, and swallowed hard and long, until not a drop remained. The someone who lay down and let the devil’s jaws sink into His bared throat. The someone who is so full of love for you that He let others misuse, abuse, and pollute Him, covering His face with the redness of His own blood and the vileness of their own spit.
There is someone who can take away your shame, for He already has made your shame His own that He might give you, in its place, purity and wholeness. This someone, this Lord Jesus Christ, yearns to cleanse you of the shame of your own sins and the shame you feel from the sins of others. And because it is His fervent desire to do for you what you cannot do for yourself, He gives the gifts of purity, cleanness, and beauty. He gives you a body and soul bathed in the liquid of His own love, the liquid that washes away every tiny hint of defilement.
This liquid is His shame-destroying, life-bestowing blood. It is the blood that flowed from His wounds on the cross, the blood that flows onto your tongue from the chalice, the blood that the Spirit sprinkles on your heart, body, soul, and conscience to render them holy and pure in the eyes of God. This is the blood that gives baptism its power, so that from that divine bath you might emerge free of shame and full of God. “None of those who wait for Thee will be ashamed,” says the psalmist, for those who wait for Christ find Him, arms open wide. Christ beckons to all dirty and dirtied sinners, “Come and let me wash you and you shall be clean.”
This is the Gospel of which we are not ashamed, for it is the power of God that makes us shame-free in the One who became our shame for us.
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