If you’ve been reading the Bible for many years (or your whole life), I’m sure you’ve had moments where a familiar passage suddenly hits you afresh. Often it’s another person’s perspective that helps you to see a nuance that had escaped you before.
It happened to me recently with this story about Jesus:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)
Carrot and stick
I tend to think of this passage in terms of my obligation to not be ashamed of Jesus. I lament the evangelism opportunities I’ve dodged because I was embarrassed or afraid. Realising how terrifying it is that Jesus could be ashamed of me, I ask God for forgiveness and boldness in speaking up for him next time.
Basically, I focus on the stick. This is good and important because it’s a clear exhortation from the passage. But as I read the book Humble Calvinism [my review], the author J.A. Medders gave me eyes to see the carrot. He writes about Jesus:
“When I’m unfaithful, he’s faithful. When I’m clueless, he’s patient. When I’m lost, he brings me back. When I’m confused, he’s clarifying. When I’m forgetful, he’s steady. Though there are times when I’m embarrassed to talk about him, he’s not ashamed to call me his brother, friend, co-heir.”1
I’d always glossed over the implication in this passage that, if we are united to Jesus, he is not ashamed of us. When I stand at the judgment seat of God, Jesus will say, “She is mine”.
Who should be ashamed?
Jesus has every reason to be ashamed of me, and yet he is not. He doesn’t disown me when I:
- Shrink back from sharing the gospel out of selfish fear
- Gossip about someone behind their back
- Think prideful and unkind things about other Christians
- Seek comfort in shopping or junk food instead of coming to him
By contrast, I have no reason to be ashamed of Jesus. He is the perfect, eternal Son of God. His compassion is unfailing, his power is unmatched. Jesus never did evil, or failed to do good. He was an innocent man, but suffered the death of a criminal. Soldiers flogged him and drove nails into his hands, and as he hung dying on the cross Jesus forgave them.
Some people see only shame when they look at the cross. After all, it was designed to be the most horrifying and humiliating death the Romans could come up with. Paul writes: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
When I think about the cross, glory transcends the humiliation. It was there that my sinless Saviour bore my sorrows and shame. He did the greatest act of love the world has ever seen. And now he reigns as King over all the earth. How could I possibly be ashamed of him?
I will keep praying for God to give me courage in speaking the gospel whenever I can. I must heed the warning of this passage. But more than anything I can rest in the knowledge that even when I fail, Jesus is not ashamed of me. He calls this sinful wretch a friend. I trust that Jesus has redeemed me by his death, and I will wear his righteousness on the day of judgment. And because of this certainty, I’m strengthened to go out and proclaim his name with greater boldness.