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As the parent spoke sharply to her little child, the child looked up, her brow all scrunched up, eyes narrowed with remorse, the lip of her frowning mouth quivering with pent up sadness.
As the defendant was led from the courtroom to the jail cell he shielded his face from the popping flashbulbs. Only the posture of his down-turned head could be seen from behind the newspaper held in his cuffed hands.
As the rout continued on the playing field, more and more players on the bench waited for the inevitable defeat from underneath the shade of white towels.
Shame is one of the most painful and lingering of human emotions. We feel it when we’ve done wrong, or failed on some level. We feel it even more when we perceive that others can see how we’ve failed.
Sometimes our shame is deserved. What we’ve done is truly shameful. Other times this feeling is wrongly imposed on us by other people. The school bully is skilled at producing shame in others, even when there is no legitimate reason for them to feel shame. Sometimes we even wrongly impose this feeling on ourselves by wallowing in guilt over things which were never really in our power to change.
Without the forgiveness that comes from Jesus, shame can never truly be overcome. For even when we can do something to fix what we broke, or take back the word we spoke, we can never change the permanent record. We cannot go back and erase what we did, or delete what we said. Only God can take the brush of forgiveness and paint over our past sins and failures, with the blood of his precious Son.
If you suffer from feelings of guilt and shame, that is where you must go. To the cross of Christ. To the arms of God. Only there can we find one who has the authority to say, “Your sins are forgiven. I wore your shame. You stand cleansed and holy in me.”
It has been said that for those who trust in Christ, death has lost it’s power. No longer is death a solid and terrifying thing. For those in Christ death is only a shadow that we must past through on route to our Savior’s welcoming arms.
And the same thing happens to our shame. It becomes less powerful when viewed beside Christ. Our shame becomes merely a shadow that sometimes passes over us. We look on our daily sins with shame, but that shame is lightened and dissipated in the light of Christ’s voluntary and forgiving sacrifice.
This idea is summed up when we say with confidence, “Yes, I am a sinner, but a FORGIVEN sinner, because of my loving Savior.”
Our sermon reading for today focuses on the idea of shame. More specifically, Paul says followers of Christ should feel NO SHAME when we suffer because of our faith in Christ.
These are the words that Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy, in the first century AD.
2 Timothy 1:3-7 (ESV)
3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
The first thing that we see in Paul’s letter here, is his great love and concern for pastor Timothy. Paul had been instrumental in bringing Timothy to faith. In another place Paul calls Timothy “his son in the faith” (see 1 Timothy 1:2).
Paul thought of Timothy often, and prayed for him just as much. Timothy had accompanied Paul on some of his mission travels, but had been left to shepherd the congregation in Ephesus. Ephesus was a place where Christians had faced persecution, as they had in most places in this early time.
Paul remembered how Timothy had wept. We aren’t told what the situation was, but Timothy’s tears were emblazoned on Paul’s memory, and he deeply wished to be reunited with Timothy once again. But that was something Paul wasn’t sure of. Paul was, after all, writing this letter to Timothy from a prison cell in Rome. This was the second time Paul had been imprisoned there and, from other words in this letter to Timothy, we know that Paul felt this second imprisonment would end in his execution. His only hope of seeing Timothy was if Timothy could come to Rome sometime soon.
But Paul didn’t want Timothy to dwell on his approaching death. Instead Paul wants to prepare Timothy for persecution that would no doubt come his way soon. Persecution that would arise from Timothy’s proclaiming the message of sins forgiven through Christ.
To prepare Timothy for the future, Paul reminds him of the faithful examples that he had in his own family. His grandmother Lois was a believer, and so was his mother Eunice. And the same spirit of power, love, and self-control that Timothy saw at work in his mother and grandmother was also at work in him.
Paul continues to encourage Timothy in the faith by saying, verse 8…
2 Timothy 1:8-14 (ESV)
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome the first time, he was very concerned that other Christians not be discouraged by his chains. In his letter to the congregation at Philippi he writes…
“12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV).
It would have been very easy to interpret Paul’s imprisonment as a sign of defeat. That’s certainly the way the world saw Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. So, the great man you claim as the Savior of the world was arrested, beaten, and tortured to death on a cross? And your church’s greatest evangelist is where? In prison at Rome?
To most of the world, being arrested, condemned, and executed are indeed shameful things. Let’s face it, if you’re arrested, condemned, and executed that often means you were at fault, right? That you did something to deserve what you got. But Paul tells Timothy, the suffering that comes because you preach soul saving message of Christ is NOTHING to be ashamed of! If you were suffering for your own crimes, that would be one thing, but if you’re suffering because your trying to save sinners from hell, that’s NOTHING to be ashamed of. That’s your glory!
And that’s what Paul would have us learn today too. When you suffer for Christ and his Gospel, don’t be ashamed of that suffering.
Be like the apostles instead. Once the twelve apostles of Jesus were arrested because they had been openly telling people about the free forgiveness that Jesus has for all sinners. The authorities of Jerusalem had the apostles beaten and they forbade that they preach the name of Christ anymore. What I mean by “beaten” is that they were formally stripped and given 39 lashes with a wooden rod. And when they were finally released, the Bible tells us that they went away anything but shamed.
Acts 5, verse 41 says…
“41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-41 ESV).
Basically, in this letter by Paul, he is telling Timothy, be ready to face the same kinds of persecution you’ve seen other followers of Christ endure. But when you do suffer because of the Gospel, don not be ashamed.
Remember the faith of your mother and grandmother.
Remember the spirit of power, love, and self-control that is becoming yours through faith in Christ.
Remember whose message you’re suffering for! This is the message of the very Son of God, the one who took away your every sin.
Remember me, Paul, I’m suffering for the Gospel too!
Remember how far back our salvation was planned out! From before time began the Lord has been setting up his plan of grace.
Remember how the promises of God found in the Old Testament became visible when the Son of God became human for us.
Remember how he destroyed death and put a huge spotlight on the way to life and immortality—through faith in his cross!
Remember, remember, and don’t ever be ashamed to suffer for Christ. Pain is not defeat. Ridicule is not defeat. Even defeat is not defeat in Christ. If our lives are taken, the Gospel will march on in the hearts and mouths of others.
When the devil imposes suffering on followers of Christ, he does so in order to sour our peace. He does so to make us lose hope in the promise of heaven. He does so to trip up our service to the Gospel. But here’s the thing we have to remember.
The truth that our sins stand forgiven in Christ cannot be changed by pain. The truth remains the truth.
The wisdom of God’s grace in Christ isn’t changed when human beings call it foolishness. It remains the most powerful wisdom this world has ever seen.
And the Holy Spirit doesn’t abandon the Christian in the hours of suffering. We may FEEL abandoned. We may FEEL shamed. But before God in heaven our suffering for his name is precious. Psalm 116 says…
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15 ESV).
And no doubt, precious in the sight of the LORD is the suffering of his saints also. There is no shame in it before the LORD.
The world around us has a lot of shame to lay at the doorstep of Christians. You guys were the whole reason the crusades happened! Most of the great wars in the world have happened because of religious nuts like you! You’re nothing but a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. Who are you to say you have the only way to heaven? Churches are just crutches for people too weak to think for themselves! You just want to tell everyone else how to live their lives! Shame on you!
And our own hearts lay more shame at our feet. We know all the ways in which we have not lived like God wants us to. We know the shameful thoughts, careless words, and wicked things we’ve done. And so does God. Our shameful sins are the reason he sent his Son to this earth.
But God doesn’t talk to us like the world does. This is what God says to his people. First Peter 2, verse 6…
“4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (1 Peter 2:6 ESV).
Prayer: Father in heaven, we often feel guilt over our sins. When we do, remind us to run to Christ, where his death and resurrection can cover over our shame with your forgiveness. Help us to think of your grace often, so that we never feel ashamed for being Christians, or for suffering for Christ. When people dismiss our faith as silly, help us to feel compassion instead of shame. Help us to be bold carriers of Christ’s forgiveness. And let us always find peace and fulfillment in the love that Jesus has for us, the love that he showed us so clearly on that dark Friday. By your power, help us to follow the pattern of sound words that you have laid down in the Bible. Help us to guard the good deposit that you have laid in our hearts. Amen.