Honour and Shame iv – Strung Up and Lifted Up

24 09 2010

In this fourth and final post I explore two more passages of Scripture that address the particular notions of honour and shame, showing how the Gospel could be communicated from each example:

Disarming the Powers

‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ (Colossians 2:13-15)

Similarly to Leviticus 16, in Colossians 2 we see God dealing not only with the legal demand of guilt, but also the problem of shame. The cross was a hugely brutal and shameful thing to endure. As Jesus hung there, bloody, bruised, broken, naked and humiliated, with a mocking sign above his head, to all intents and purposes it seemed like the powers and authorities (both Roman and Demonic) had won. But actually, as Christ wilfully endured that shameful act of cruelty on our behalf, he turned the tables on the powers, triumphing over them and putting them to open shame as he broke their power forever more. Colossians 2 says he did it ‘at the cross’ but implicit in this as well is the resurrection. It was not only at the cross that he shamed them, but at the grave as well, where he demonstrated their impotence and rose again in glory. And now he is ascended into heaven and there is only, and will only ever be, glory for him!

The Christ Hymn of Philippians

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Phil 2:5-11)

Philippians 2 is an awe-inspiring passage that depicts beautifully Jesus’ willingness to transition from glory, being in very nature God, to shame, becoming like a servant/slave, and ultimately dying a humiliating criminal’s death. The passage ends with God exalting him to a position of extreme honour – every knee bowing before him in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Jesus took on a shameful form to pay for our shame, and his resurrection and ascension in glory prefigures our own eventual resurrection at the second coming.

Conclusion

The Gospel cuts across every culture at some point and causes discomfort. It is not only those in honour/shame cultures that will feel some repugnance at the notion of leaving your family (and dying father?) without a farewell, in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:59-62). Socialising with prostitutes is as much of a cultural faux pas for modern western politicians (and footballers!) as it was for ancient eastern Rabbis! (Matthew 21:32) The Gospel has always been, and will continue to be, foolishness to the perishing (1 Cor 1:18).

There is no easy and comfortable portrayal of the Gospel, as it will always confront our assumptions and challenge us to give up something our culture holds dear; independence, personal comfort, prejudices etc. In a sense, Gospel and Culture will always be somewhat in opposition.

Having said that, it is vital we contextualise the Gospel responsibly, and ensure that we present it in a way that genuinely addresses the concerns of the recipient. Failure to recognise the differences between cultures can result in the presentation of an irrelevant and incoherent gospel.

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