…looking to Jesus, the founder and
perfecter of our faith, who for the joy
that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame – Hebrews 12.2
When we read this verse we usually focus on the “joy that was set before him”. The Resurrection, the redemption of his people and the vindication of the Father. But before the joy there was path of deep and degrading shame. And we are told that Jesus despised it. What does that mean? Our use of despise usually carries the connotation of hate. Does this mean that Jesus hated what he had to go through? No. Certainly he did not enjoy it but something different is happening here. Something that speaks of his great love for us.
To word translated ‘despise’ here is literally ‘to think down on.’ The idea is to regard something as of little consequence. To regard it as nothing. Linger over this word for there is much beauty of the Gospel here. Instead of despising us who deserved to be regarded as insignificant in his eyes, he regarded the shame as insignificant. His love for us was so great that the shame he endured was as nothing to him. Perhaps some pictures would be helpful.
A Degraded Son
After the prodigal son squandered his father’s money and threw away his dignity in the process he returns home. Everyone in town who knew of how he left would have expected him to be shunned and disowned by his father. Instead as the now broken and humbled son returns the father runs to him and covers the shamed face of his son with the kisses of his love (Luke 15.21). “How could he take him back?” people would have scoffingly asked. The father was willing to look like a fool in order to shield his son from shame. And it was as nothing to him. The father despised (thought little of) the shame in light of the love he felt for his son.
A Defiled Wife
In the book of the prophet Hosea God instructs him to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1.1). He obeys and has his heart broken repeatedly. Gomer, his wife, returns to her immorality repeatedly. He is not sure that the children she bore are his. Her choices lead her into slavery. God speaks again to Hosea and commands him to go and “love a woman who is loved by another man” (Hosea 3.1). Everyone who knew of her promiscuousness expected her to be left there in her shame. Hosea comes to her rescue despising (thinking nothing of) the shame on account of his love for her. “How could he take her back?” people would have scoffingly asked. Hosea was willing to look like a fool, despising the shame, because of the love he had for his wife.
This is the how our shame is removed as well. Our shame is not taken away by what we do but by the one we are connected to. The father connected the prodigal son to his own honor and placed the family ring on his finger (Luke 15.22). Hosea connected Gomer to his honor by covering her shame by giving her his name again (Hosea 3.3). And although our shame is as great as the Prodigal and Gomer it is covered by being connected to Jesus. This point is made in Hebrews 2.9-11:
In verse 9 Jesus is made lower than the angels
and tastes death for us.
In verse 10 his suffers on our behalf
In verse 11 his suffering sanctifies us and
is the reason “why he is not ashamed to
call us brothers…”
The shame he endured to make us clean was as nothing to him on account of his great love for us. And he endured all of that shame so that nothing from our shameful past would keep us from coming to him. No matter how shameful our past we can have a beautiful future with him. He has taken all our shame away. In the place of shame he gives us a place of honor in his family. So when the shame of your past comes back to haunt you…
look to Jesus,…who for the joy
set before him endured the cross
despising your shame.
It was so small to him because his love for you is so great.