Have you ever really thought about the Cross?
Not as a distant Jesus-on-a-hill. Not from afar, looking at the shadow play against the rising sun. Not at the hub-bub happening on the ground, the thieves arguing in the background.
For a minute, just pause with me and imagine you're standing there. Not a hundred feet away. Not forty feet away. Maybe just four feet away. And look at this Jesus.
Look at His broken, bleeding body. Not just the blood streaming down His face. Not just the drops coming from the crown of thorns. Not only the oozing wounds in His hands and His feet, but the open flesh on his abs. The gashes in His chest. The lashes across His arms and legs.
Look at His matted hair. When they took Him, He was sweating in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and no prisoner needs to bathe before His execution. His last agony is still marked in that matted hair.
The dirt of the road is plastered on His flesh, held there by sweat and the heat of the day. Dust from the road, when He stumbled under the weight of the Cross.
Look at His nakedness. Stripped of all but the shreds of human dignity. Exposed except for His most intimate of places, covered only by a scant cloth that despite its attempts, leaves not a lot to be unknown.
Look at the tears on His face. You think He hasn't cried? That He isn't crying now? I don't know why it is that we think of Jesus going stoically to the Cross, His sarcasm masking His pain entirely. He's snarky there, a bit of His spirit hanging on until the very end. Being always who we know Jesus to be. But that doesn't mean He's not also crying. After all, here is a place of perfect shame. He's broken and beaten and bloody. He's fully exposed. Even the least self-conscious of men would struggle at being such a display. There is nothing about the man of Jesus you can't seem to know by looking, truly looking at Him on the Cross.
And yet, look at His watery eyes. There are two thieves among Him. One thief is looking at the other thief, his eyes fixed on the condemned. The other is looking at the Lord, his eyes straining for hope. And Jesus? He's looking straight at you. Straight. At. You.
While the other criminals are so bound by shame that they cannot dare to look at the people, Jesus cannot stop. In this most degrading, most humiliating, most shameful display of His manhood, Jesus refuses to let the Cross speak for Him. Exposed, yet defiant, Jesus declares that even in this moment, He speaks.
He speaks lest you believe that shame is truth. He speaks lest you conclude that this is the end. He speaks to remind you both of His presence and His promise. He is here; you can hear His voice. And that voice reminds you of a place called Paradise, which He promised to the thief with a quick glance to His side, then turned back to you so you could see what that Promise looks like in His eyes.
Some of us...are better at being exposed than others. Some of us live open in our brokenness, in our failings. Others can't fathom such a thing. But know this: anyone who has ever spoken Truth into your life, God's Truth, has done so in the face of their shame. They have done so in defiance to their brokenness.
This is true of preachers. Of pastors. Of counselors. Of authors. Of singers. Of speakers. Anyone who dares speak the truth of God makes a conscious choice in the face of shame to not turn away. Anyone who speaks truth chooses, exposed, to look you in the eye, knowing that if you are truly looking back, you can't help but see their nakedness. Their brokenness.
Some are incredibly good at hiding this. They can get you looking in their eyes so intently that you forget that the rest of them is broken, bleeding, and naked. Some of them, their shame is the first thing you see but it lends a certain tenderness to their eyes when you finally lock glances. Some of them...will remind you to look, will invite you to take it all in, will ask you to see the full measure of their shame so that you can understand the power of this moment. So you can understand what you're about to hear.
And what you hear is Truth. Because when we choose, as preachers, as pastors, as counselors, as authors, as singers, as speakers....as friends, as neighbors, as family...to look you in the eye amid our deepest shame, what we're saying is, "Listen. Because this doesn't speak for me; I am about to speak truth."
I am about to speak so that you don't think that shame is all there is. I am about to speak so that you don't think that brokenness writes our stories. I am about to speak to remind you that we're all present to the same big mess, and that bloody, naked flesh aside, I am right here with you choosing to speak. And I want to speak about Promise, because Paradise is coming and I can see it. I want you to see it, too.