For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:35-38)
Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Luke 9:23-26)
What is the principle being shared here by Jesus?
I don't believe there is a two-tiered system of valuation for humans so far as God is concerned. The more I study the more I believe that all of humanity was taken up in Christ as our new Adam, not just those who believe. Yet at the same time there is clearly a differentiation in the end where there are seen two distinct classes of people – those who are found in harmony with the principles of God and who have become transformed to be safe enough to live in His intense glory, and those who are so out of harmony and dissonant with these principles of reality that they find His glory to be torture for them.
God does not change His disposition towards sinners and treat them with shame while favoring those who accept His love for them, contrary to much of how Scripture has been interpreted. Yet at the same time there are principles in operation which produce effects that make it appear this is what happens. What I want to discern are the principles of cause and effect that affect the outcome of my choices. For I am convinced that it is not God who arbitrarily imposes rewards and punishments but rather these consequences all are the natural outworking of the principles designed by God that govern reality.
So, what was Jesus talking about when He said He will be ashamed of people who are ashamed of Him? I believe it is vital to correctly understand the true meaning of the term ashamed and to extricate the false baggage usually assumed in this word that incorrectly portrays God as the cause.
When I look up this word in the Greek along with its root words, I find helpful clues. I see that it could be defined as the distribution of disfigurement or shame.
But another verse comes to mind that has also given me insight into similar issues I have pondered over the years. It may also apply to this as well.
And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:40)
I need to ponder this a bit to see how the emerging pieces might fit together correctly. Jesus says that if I am ashamed of Him and His words, this will result in the same thing happening to me. So is there a principle of reciprocity at work here? But it cannot be arbitrary for God does not do things that way. I need to wrap my mind around what is taking place here to eliminate that residual assumption.
The context of these verses helps a great deal in understanding the underlying principle at work. Jesus makes this statement after speaking of the need for anyone wishing to follow Him to be willing to die to self and to embrace the mindset of willingness to suffer persecution for His sake. To follow Jesus then would include loving and forgiving enemies even while they are in the process of harming you. That is what is what I have come to see as implied in His illusion to taking up our cross. For a cross was, in the minds of the people in His day, possibly the most vivid symbol of shame imaginable. When a person was crucified it was done in such a way as to bring about the greatest amount of shame possible on that person, not just the most pain. So the mere mention of a cross would have induced an intense awareness that He was thinking about shame.
The name of Jesus today has become inseparably connected with the symbol of the cross like a shorthand way of referring to the gospel. But our understanding of the meaning of the idea of the gospel has become so warped in our thinking through many lies about it and what actually transpired at the cross that we must go back to discover what it really means as well as to discard all the false ideas that have become attached to this event.
Here is another verse that sheds light on this issue of shame associated with the cross.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In this passage I see some sort of connection between joy and shame. I think it is likely safe to assume they are probably opposites. When we meet someone we can either experience joy or we can feel ashamed; these are two polar opposite potential reactions that can be experienced in our relationships with other people. What I am starting to see here is that this principle works the similarly in our relationship with God. Either joy will be present when we finally meet Him up close and personal, or shame will overwhelm us and define the experience we will feel.
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. (1 John 2:28 NAS95)
But is this shame referred to here coming from God? Or is this more a description of the emotions that define the condition of the emotions and perceptions of these people? Who is it that determines which reaction will happen to us when Jesus shows up with the glory of all the ones He mentions? ...when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Let's go back and look at more context for the verse where Jesus speaks of His close identification with every human being and that what happens to anyone is the same as happening to Him.
Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' (Matthew 25:41-45)
As I read this and related passages I get the strong sense that Jesus so identifies with the full experience of every human being, whether saved or lost, that He can step forward and insist that any revenge we might desire to inflict on anyone for anything they may have done to us must be directed toward Him because He took full responsibility for the consequences of all their sins.
This is a very sobering thought, for when my anger flashes inside of me prompting me to desire any sort of revenge or evil or punishment for anyone, God instantly steps between me and that person reminding me that just as He took upon Himself full responsibility for all of my sins to set me free from guilt, shame and condemnation caused by sin, so too has He done the same for that person that I feel such animosity towards in this moment. He says to me that I am free to unleash anything I want in reaction to the pain or shame they have caused me, but if I intend to do so, whatever I choose to unleash will be felt in full by Jesus as their representative because they are a human that has been embraced by the sacrifice of their new Adam.
Maybe the principle of reciprocity really is not the a good way to describe what is going on here. Jesus never reacts to our treatment of Him by treating us the same way. That is how we often react towards each other, but God never stoops to any of that kind of pettiness. Rather what Jesus describes here may involve a principle of reflection or perception.
When we encounter God in the day when He is finally fully revealed, our own internal picture of God that we have fostered and cherished throughout our life, those beliefs that have consequently shaped the way we have treated others, will all become intensely reactive in the full intensity of God's glory that exposes what has been hidden deep in our hearts. And whatever concept of God we have cherished in our heart will determine the reaction we will experience when we see His face, whether or not that picture of Him is true or very false.
God is not changed by our opinions of Him; that is one thing we must get very clear. God is love and never changes for anyone. That is the main message Jesus came to deliver to us and He demonstrated it most vividly at the cross. Yet because we have been created by design to reflect the kind of God we perceive, when the intensity of God's true glory exposes what is hidden in our heart it will trigger a reaction that will expose whatever we have come to believe about Him, be that real or imaginary.
If this is the principle at work here, then is Jesus describing more the reaction of our perception of Him when He comes in glory rather than what He actually will feel about us? Could it be that even though God never changes His love for us and longs for us to be fully reconciled with Him even at the very end, our perceptions of how He feels about us may be very different and will determine what we believe He is feeling about us?
For more clues let me take a closer look at another passage involving the least of these. I think it may also have something to contribute to my growing understanding of Jesus feeling ashamed.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19)
This passage has also been one that has baffled me most my life. Is this referring to some sort of arbitrary hierarchy that will still be enforced in the kingdom of heaven? Or is Jesus talking about how those in the kingdom will see others outside the kingdom as being the least? Are the people referred to here still in the kingdom or are they not in the kingdom? It doesn't seem to be clear in the passage. But it clearly indicates the estimation on the part of those who are in the kingdom of God and how they view the condition of those Jesus describes here.
First of all, to preclude any idea of legalism or our performance as having some sort of merit to get us into the kingdom, it is important to note that the commandments Jesus speaks of here are rooted in the foundational principle of love. Jesus made this very clear throughout His life while on earth. We are commanded to love one another as God has loved us as well as to love our enemies. Jesus also said that all God's other laws along with everything the prophets represented can all be summed up as love.
When Jesus speaks of someone breaking one of these commandments and teaching others to do the same, He is speaking of commandments that are all descriptions of what love looks like, not arbitrary rules somehow disconnected from love. But it is also possible to give lip service to love and following commandments without actually practicing and living in love. In this way we can still be breaking His commandments even while vociferously promoting them as laws of God. According to Jesus these kind of people will be called least in the kingdom of God. Whether they somehow manage to be included among those who enjoy eternity with Him or not is another matter, but either way they apparently will be considered impoverished based on what carries value in the eyes of heaven.
Going back to the first passages – how are we to understand the shame that Jesus says He will feel when He comes in His glory and encounters those who have been ashamed of Him and His words? Is this only our perception of Him as discussed before here? Or is there an additional way in which He might also truly feel ashamed when such people meet Him?
I believe that it is possible that both options could be viable. The factor of our projecting onto God what we have come to assume about Him when He appears in glory is very true. This is maybe seen most clearly in the reaction of those who are terrified of Him as described at the end of Revelation 6 who can only perceive wrath in the face of the Lamb. This illustrates this principle clearly as the symbol of a lamb clearly infers that the idea of wrath (as in angry) describing the true feelings of Jesus is simply incongruent with the reality of God's passionate love for sinners.
When I consider the principle that Jesus described of His identification with everything that happens to us as an operative factor, then when we come to see Him face to face, the way in which we have treated others will suddenly become intensely vivid in our own minds as we realize that He has felt fully all the emotions and suffering that we have caused in all those around us. This is the nature of judgment – a full exposure of everything that has been hidden deep inside the hearts and minds of each one of us.
So when we treat other people with contempt and cause them to feel shame, Jesus feels that very same shame just as intently as they feel it. And if we do not come to repent and accept cleansing from the selfishness and sin that caused us to treat others this way, then when we meet Jesus in the blazing glory of His love, the same glory that is shared by His Father and His angels, we will then unavoidably experience the intense guilt of realizing that everything we have done to others has been directly felt by the One who identifies fully with them and has absorbed everything we directed at them into Himself. So when we look into His face on that day we will see the same shame we have caused others reflected back to us from His heart of love that has identified with theirs. At that point, if we have not repented and been cleansed from the guilt of this we will be overwhelmed with shame ourselves.
The reality is that we choose our destiny based at least partly on the way we treat others. Yet this is still a natural result of what we choose to believe about God, for the way we treat others is a direct revelation of what we really think about God in our heart whether or not our mind claims to believe the same thing. This is why salvation is not about trying to get our performance and behavior straightened out but rather having our perceptions of God corrected, so that the kind of God we come to reflect in our treatment of others exhibits that God is love, and that never involves shaming anyone.
The only way we can have our relationships healed and restored into love is to first allow the reality of God's unconditional love to to heal our own hearts. Yet it is impossible to give love if one does not first experience love, and since all of us are born with a selfish sinful nature to start with, our only hope is to find love through a personal encounter with the only Source of love that exists – in the face of Jesus. As John puts it – we love because He first loved us.
So if I choose to embrace this love and allow God to ravish me in His love until my own heart begins to reflect that love on to others, then when the glory of God is revealed, a glory that is normal for all those who dwell in heaven, that same love will be what I resonate with and recognize in the face of the Lamb. And this love is the essence of what is true about His heart.
On the other hand, if I insist on clinging to beliefs that God is more like us than like Jesus, and as a result I try to manipulate people utilizing shame or force or fear, then when the exposing glory of God's presence confronts me at His coming, I will find that all the shame and suffering I have caused others is what Jesus feels, because He fully identified Himself with all of us at the deepest level of our feelings.
Jesus is not suggesting here that He will be ashamed of us because He is upset that we didn't make Him look good in our lives here on earth. Rather He is saying that in the way we treat others we represent our version of God to them, for we are designed as God-reflectors whether we believe it or not. The gut-level beliefs we have about how God treats us will always come out in the way we treat others. So if we desire to change the way we treat others we must first allow Jesus to give us a new vision of how God feels about and treats us.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning [reconciling] sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)
This is the nature of the true gospel – the good news about God. No wonder Paul felt the way he did.
I’m certainly not ashamed about the good news, for it’s God’s power to save everyone who trusts in him – to the Jewish people first, and then to everyone else as well. For in the good news God is revealed as good and right, trustworthy from start to finish. As Scripture says, “Those who are right with God live by trusting him.” (Romans 1:16-17 FBV)