Heb. 12:2 …looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
As this verse makes clear, Jesus despised the shame of the cross. He regarded it with contempt, He loathed it, He basically gave it no regard–He assigned no credibility to it.
But what specifically did He despise? The SHAME of the cross.
The Romans were horrifyingly creative at enforcing their laws on those they conquered. For those they ruled that were not certified citizens, there were certain laws that if violated, would cost the lawbreaker his life. But they didn’t want to just put certain violators to death, they wanted that person’s execution to serve as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to break those laws too.
With those goals in mind, they created a way of putting someone to death that inflicted the maximum amount of bodily pain possible before that person expired.
That stroke of genius was called crucifixion.
But they also recognized that like themselves, the people they conquered and ruled navigated with an Honor/shame based cultural operating system.
Because those born and raised in that kind of cultural operating system might actually fear something more than the incredible pain being crucified produced, something had to be added to the process of their physical death in order to provide the greatest deterrent possible.
What needed to be added was a SHAME generating component.
So, they stripped all of the lawbreakers clothes away and crucified them NAKED!
As difficult as it is to say it…unless the Romans made a huge exception for Jesus, our Lord was buck naked when He was crucified. (And because honor/shame still held a high place in Western European cultures, even the artists of the past would also portray those crucified by the Romans with some kind of cloth covering the person crucified even though that was not accurate!)
Public nakedness not only dishonored the one who was naked, it also shamed the group that their identity was derived from, (their immediate and extended family, fellow villagers, fellow vocational group, etc.).
Having lived and served extensively among honor/shame based cultures, I can tell you firsthand that the majority of the people in those cultures would prefer to suffer intense physical pain rather than bring shame upon the group that supplied them with their identity.
As Americans, we don’t get all of this. But our innocence/guilt, rule of law, culture and individual identity based culture actually filters the way we understand what the bible records.
Good Friday and what we focus on as we commemorate the crucifixion are an example of this. When we think of the brutality inflicted on Him and we try to project ourselves into that kind of situation, we think about the terrible physical pain He suffered on our behalf.
And He did suffer incredibly.
But is it possible that it wasn’t primarily the physical pain He suffered and His impending death that caused Him such inner turmoil?
Is it possible that it was SHAME that really crushed Him?
Heb 12:2 tells us that He didn’t despise the cross, He endured it.
It was the SHAME of the cross that He despised.
The dishonor and the shame that crucifixion cast upon His group, (maybe including the other members of the Godhead, but certainly His family members and disciples), was something He despised, loathed, and ultimately gave no credibility to.
The SHAME of the cross was worth bearing for the joy that was to be found for the family that He considered Himself to be a part of.