One of my professors read the following excerpts from the works of Cicero in class this week, and I have been mulling them over ever since:
To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is–What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed. (Against Verres)
The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things [that is, the procedures of crucifixion] or the endurance of them, but the liability to them, the expectation, indeed the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (In Defense of Rabirius)
There is no parallel in modern Western culture for the shame crucifixion incurred.
Western theologians have spent a lot of time, ink, and oxygen explaining the work of Jesus’ death on the cross as a work of justification, and rightfully so. I’ve read many times that it took a divine being to bear the fullness of God’s wrath and judgement on sin. All have sinned, all are guilty, but Jesus’ death makes us innocent.
The cross of Christ certainly means our innocence, but it also means more.
Is it possible that just as it took a divine being to bear the wrath our sin warranted, it also took a divine being experiencing one of the most vulgar, humiliating, degrading executions devised in all of history to bear the shame our sin brought us? If Jesus exchanged our guilt for his innocence, I think he also exchanged our shame for his sonship, his identity as the beloved Son of the God who spoke yet unknown galaxies into existence.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2) What was the joy set before him? What did he stand to gain by dying as he did, scorning the shame of the cross? He gained you and me. He gained a world that he is continually, progressively reconciling and recreating to be what he planned from the beginning.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
(“The Love of God,” Frederick M. Lehman)