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Date October 14, 2008

Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)

Midori Ito, the great Japanese figure skater, who was favoured to win the gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, fell in her final routine, and finished with a silver medal. The next day she appeared on national television in Japan, apologizing for her failure, for letting her nation down. This seems strange to many of us in the West and that’s because many Asian and middle eastern cultures are driven by shame. We in the West tend to be guilt based. We want to know if someone is guilty, if he has broken the law. In Middle Eastern Islamic cultures, if a young woman marries a Christian or converts to Christianity it is not unusual to find her brothers or father murdering her. Why? Because she has brought shame to the family and that shame must be avenged.

However shame is very much a part of our culture. We know teens are prone to shame when they must dress, wear their hair, or listen to the music of those whom they want to impress. Adults do the same thing, having a desire to live in that special neighbourhood, drive that certain car, dress that acceptable way. Everyone battles with shame. How would you feel if a DVD of your past week’s thoughts, speech, and actions appeared on a screen at your church’s worship service next Sunday? Shame is a real problem we all face. What are you to do with it?

There are lots of interpretations of Revelation and it is not my desire to sell you on my interpretation, but briefly I suggest Revelation was written by the Apostle John prior to 70 A.D. when Titus of the Roman Empire laid siege to Jerusalem and utterly destroyed it. He says in chapter one that these things must ‘shortly take place.’ Jesus appears to John in apocalyptic visions to encourage and rebuke believers in the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern day western Turkey) who are being terribly persecuted and marginalized by the Jews on one hand and the Romans on the other. The Beast is the Roman Emperor or Caesar, the Harlot is apostate Israel, and the Dragon is the serpent of old, the devil or Satan. In Revelation 16 we find Jesus again prophesying judgement through the seven bowls of wrath which are to be poured out on Jerusalem. As in so many prophecies, there is an immediate fulfilment, many later fulfilments, and one last grand fulfilment. So the bowls of wrath to be poured out on Jerusalem have found themselves poured out many times since that time, but the ultimate fulfilment will be the battle of Armageddon, Revelation 16:16, when Satan and his armies will be utterly and completely destroyed and thrown into the lake of fire forever. It is in this context that Jesus refers to the shame of their nakedness, exhorting them to be ready for his coming. Nakedness is a recurring theme in Scripture. We find the church at Laodicea living in self assurance due to their wealth, but Jesus says they are wretched and miserable, poor, blind, and naked. He tells them to buy clothes to cover themselves, that the shame of their nakedness will not be revealed. In Luke 14 Jesus in his parable tells the people not to go to the head of the table lest someone more important come and remove them to their own shame. And in Jeremiah 46:12 the prophet prophesies shame upon the nation of Egypt because they are to be defeated at the battle of Carchemish. And in Ezekiel 16:25ff the prophet vividly portrays Judah as spreading her legs to everyone who comes her way, multiplying harlotry with false gods, having the shame of her nakedness revealed.

If guilt is vertical then shame is horizontal. If guilt is one’s awareness before God that he falls short of all God commands, then shame is one’s awareness that those whom he respects find him lacking, not measuring up. Shame brings a sense of disgrace, exposure, nakedness, vulnerability, and weakness. When a woman finds that her husband has been unfaithful to her she is filled with shame and disgrace. Why? Her friends now know that her marriage is not perfect, that her husband has not loved her, that she is mistreated. When a couple has a grown child who is in and out of jail, they feel terrible shame, wondering what their friends think of them, guessing that many are asking, ‘How could this happen? I guess Joe and Mary were not the good parents I thought they were.’ When parents are at a birthday party for their own two year old’s friend, and they tell their son to put down the toy and he pitches a temper tantrum, the parents are embarrassed before their peers, fearing that others see them as poor parents. And when a woman finds that her neighbours despise and reject her because she stands for truth on unpopular issues like abortion and same sex marriages, she sometimes feels shamed, hurt by the rejection.

Why does shame come? You feel shame because you worship at the altar of your most important idol – self. One of two things happens from the worship of self. First, you may become angry. That’s because your lesser idols are neglecting you. Your spouse has embarrassed you. Your adult child has shamed you. Your two year old has humiliated you. Your neighbors from whom you crave acceptance have rejected you; and this angers you. Second you may become anxious. That’s because you perceive your lesser idols are not pleased with you. You worry about what people think, how they are evaluating you. You spend time wondering if you will be included in the next social event. Shame reveals itself in one of two ways. The first is self-loathing, inferiority, withdrawal, depression, even thoughts of suicide. Donnie Moore gave up a home run to Dave Henderson of the Red Sox in the 1986 ALCS costing the Angels a trip to the World Series. Three years later he killed himself. And the second is one-up-man-ship. You know people like this don’t you? You tell about your vacation and they can top the story. You talk about your child’s recent award, and he talks about his child doing something grander.

What are you to do to overcome shame? Glory in your justification, that you have the righteousness of Christ by faith in him (see Rom. 5:1, Zech. 3:1ff). And realise that Jesus took incomprehensible shame upon himself, in every aspect of his humiliation (his incarnation, suffering, death, and hell) so that your shame can be removed. You should fear God and not man. You should put away all your shame (assuming you have come to Christ in faith and have made restitution to all whom you have wronged), building on your past failures and sins to enable you to serve others with like sins and failures. Learn to glory in the cross of Christ by faith.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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