The blush of embarrassment, the reddening cheek, have you ever wondered at the power of it? Our lives, when all is done and told, can be summarized in what we held firm to the end, and what we let slip for fear or shame.
The wonder may be nowhere more pronounced than in the words of Jesus: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
Try to imagine it.
The day has come suddenly, like a thief in the night. The angels, too numerous to count, too wonderful to anticipate, too “other” to feel at ease among, now encompass the earth. Some surround Christ, blazing as forest fires. Others bellow loud praises to God and to the Lamb. Still others flash forth as lightning, blowing trumpets and summoning the world to account.
And then you see him. The King of kings, the Lord of lords draped in the glory of his Father. Charioting the clouds, he approaches the world of men. He is adorned in blinding light, dressed for war, a sword protruding from his mouth. The great Spectacle, the great Reckoner, the One by whom and for whom all exists docks his boat upon the shore. The eyelids of this world will pull back. Every eye will see him — even those who pierced him. All activity apart from him will stop. Atheism and paganism and false religion will cease to be. He has come.
In this landscape filled with angels, God, and men, slumped between the true saints and the brazen unrepentant, will be those who knew enough to truly follow him, but never did: the blushers.
They knew Jesus to be who he said he was, but they did not own him. They visited him only at night, but wouldn’t appear with him in the daylight. When the question was put to them before men, devils, those they admired or feared, they could not speak with Luther, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me!” They kept what they took to be their personal convictions and would not confess him.
And there they stand, alongside the great gathering of all who ever lived. The King looks down at them as they looked upon him, with holy embarrassment and godly shame. They lived ashamed of him, and now Jesus is ashamed of them before his Father and this heavenly assembly. They denied him, and now they are denied (2 Timothy 2:11–13). “Depart from me, you cursed,” he will say, “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Some cannot imagine being ashamed of our Lord or denying him. But lest we think ourselves beyond this temptation, saying in our hearts to Christ, “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29), may we remember that the rock, Peter, nearly shattered beyond mending at this quake.
“Live like you know Christ, like you love Christ, like you are waiting unashamedly for Christ to return.”
Fresh off of fleeing from his Shepherd in Gethsemane, Peter now followed Jesus at a distance “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58). As he sat outside in the courtyard, one of Caiaphas’s servant girls caught a glimpse of him warming himself around the fire. “This man also was with him” (Luke 22:56). Once, twice, three times: “I do not know him!” — even invoking a curse upon himself to prove it (Mark 14:71). After the third denial, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61).
That look — whatever pity, disappointment, or shame it contained — sent Peter away weeping. He only barely survived this dark denial, narrowly escaping Satan’s sifting and Judas’s judgment, because Jesus had prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32). Let us all beware self-satisfied assertions of untested fidelity. A rooster may yet crow, even for the strongest of us. Perhaps especially for the “strongest.”
Furthermore, this temptation to be ashamed of Jesus appears prebaked into our seemingly post-Christian culture.
I have sometimes wondered if many of the cowardly, those who were ashamed of Christ and refused to pick up their crosses to follow him, ever considered themselves so. Certainly, if the grand moment of decision arrived, the gun is pointed at the head or the servant girl raises her voice in public accusation, compromise is obvious. But how many of “the cowardly” (Revelation 21:8) go to the second death unrealizing because they did not feel the thud at the bottom of the cliff, but walked the scenic, gentler slope of a quiet, more habitual compromise?
Most of us do not face a cliff, but this soothing slope of small denials. Instead, we deny him in peaceful conversations around many fires. Our embarrassment is the fixed blush on the cheek, the accumulation of small moments in which we harmlessly choose love for reputation, love for esteem, love for ease, for money, for our own lives, over the love for Christ and love for souls. We don’t speak much of Jesus. We take the path of less awkwardness, we fit in more and more with unbelieving friends and coworkers. We don’t “go there” with our unbelieving family as we did before. Our neighbors don’t know we are Christians, and our own family often wonders.
This gentle path is not new. In Jesus’s day, many, including many of the authorities, were said to “believe” in him, but loved their seats in the synagogue and their glory before men above the glory that comes from Christ (John 12:42–43). They believed true things about Jesus, just not that he was worth following at any cost.
He was not their treasure hidden in a field that they in their joy went and sold everything to have (Matthew 13:44). He was not worth following when crosses were involved (Luke 9:23).
It wasn’t that the blushers cared nothing for Jesus nor disbelieved what he claimed. It’s just that when other loves were threatened, they thought it best to keep things to themselves and not go too far.
Does this spirit of disavowal dress up in a suit and tie today? How much have we believed that Jesus is not for polite conversation, not for the public square, not for the family dinner table? How much is normal life about keeping the status quo of unbelief while all around us walk over the rickety bridge into judgment day?
“Do not blush to speak the name of Jesus or to stand next to every word he has spoken.”
Have we muted the intrusive commission to go (to places we are uninvited) and make disciples of the nations (full of people who don’t want us there), baptizing them in the Trinitarian name of God (who they have rejected in their sin), and teaching them to obey everything Christ taught us (Matthew 28:18–20)? Will the Son be ashamed of us before his Father because we have lived lusting and neglectful lives ashamed of him?
How many of us live, even now, instinctively hiding the colors of our uniform, too prone to maintain a secret life of a disciple — as if there truly were such a thing?
Indistinct and worldly “Christianity” is worthless. Salt that is no longer salty is not “good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13). Roads must part, decisions must be made: Christ or this world?
The narrow path leads away from the broad, Lot cannot remain always in Sodom, the jealous masters vie for full allegiance. The prophet’s inescapable question finds all of us out eventually: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Give up spiritual indecision, renounce this saltless Christianity, flee from this halfway house of commitment between Christ and the world. Have done, in reliance upon the Spirit, with what James Stewart calls an “amphibian existence that lacks the courage to decide.” Live like you know Christ, like you love Christ, like you are waiting unashamedly for Christ to return — if you have tasted and seen how precious he is.
Resolve now, God helping you, to live for Christ and nothing but Christ — no matter the cost. Do not blush to speak his name or to stand by every word he has spoken. For what does it profit a man to amass the whole world — celebrity, admiration, the dream spouse, a thrilling career, safety from persecution — if, having had them all, Christ is ashamed of him?