The Terror of Public Shame
She moved out of town because she was so ashamed. That’s right. She actually packed her stuff, left town, and moved to another county just to avoid the terror of public shame and humiliation. Shame is so powerful.
Imagine the terror you would experience if you were told that tomorrow morning everyone would know your dark secrets. I mean everyone–your parents, siblings, children, friends, employees, employers, church family, and neighbors. Super embarrassing, right? Well, probably a lot more than just embarrassing for many of us.
Public exposure would be humiliating. Exposure of our dark secrets would generate a prolonged period of shame. It would be hard for us to face our family and friends, to look them in the eye the way we used to. The fear of public shame might be so terrifying that we might even consider relocating. Maybe you have. Perhaps you have relocated emotionally or physically from your family and friends. You’re lonely. You miss your family.
Shame that Motivates Relocating
This is not theory. I know too many men and women whose dark secrets were made public. I know a wife and mother whose picture and story were placed on the front page of the (then) St. Pete Times. Her dark secrets were printed in horrifying detail so everyone in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties knew what she had done. Exposure was super humiliating for her. It birthed a prolonged period of shame for her. She could hardly hold her head up.
Whenever I looked into her eyes—usually filled with fear, I could see the despair of shame and humiliation. She knew I did not judge her, but the shame she felt was overwhelming. Her feeling of despair brought her to the edge of life. Her secrets were dark. Her despair was palpable. Her life had ended in the ashes of shame. She was hopeless.
Shackled by Shame?
Shame is a powerful emotion. Is shame holding on to you with its terrifying grip? Do you feel shackled by shame? Do you think your future is permanently disabled by past secrets? You are not alone. Many feel the same way as you do. But you do not have to serve a life sentence of shame. The shackles of shame can be loosed and removed from your soul and emotions. The Savior can use you for his glory.
At the end of life’s journey, you can look back and feel that your life was worth something and that you contributed something meaningful and positive to others. There is real hope. If you keep reading, I hope to persuade you that there is still hope for you, a confident expectation of good in your tomorrow.
Jesus Knows Our Past
John, author of the 4th Gospel, understands shame. He understands your shame. But he also shows why shame should not maintain its death grip on you and keep you from a useful future.
Here’s how he does it: John links a man and a woman together who share a frightful experience: they discovered that Jesus knew their past—a past they thought was unknown, hidden, or secret. But when they met Jesus, they discovered that Jesus fully knew them, knew their past—whether shameful dark secrets or even a good character. But the good news that John shares with us is that, regardless of what Jesus sees in our past, positive or negative, we can still be useful to him. We can enjoy a meaningful future.
The story of the man and the woman can be your story. Past failure and its accompanying shame does not need to strangle your future with Jesus. Past shame is not a life sentence. Are you still shackled by shame? Do you want to be used by Jesus in your future? You can—in spite of what your fears will tell you.
Key to Unlocking the Shackles of Shame
I’d like to provide you with a key that unlocks the shackles that have captured your emotions and today hold you hostage. I have one key in my arsenal for unlocking the padlock of shame that handcuffs men and women with dark pasts. That one key is John’s use of the phrase, “Come and see.” I know–that sounds ludicrous. But hear me out.
John links three people together with this phrase, “Come and see.” In two cases, “Come and see” ties a man and a woman together whose past Jesus knew with frightening detail and accuracy. But Jesus grabs our attention first.
1st Case of “Come and See”
The first case of “Come and see” is used with Jesus himself. Two disciples of John the Baptist heard Jesus say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, 35) These two disciples of John immediately transfer their allegiance to Jesus and began to follow him.
Jesus turned to them and said: (Jesus’ 1st words in John’s Gospel): “What are you seeking?” They replied: “Where are you abiding (“staying,” “remaining,” “where is your home” is the idea of their question). Jesus answered with, “Come and you will see.” (John 1:37-39)
Eventually, if they “come,” if they keep on following Jesus, they will discover that he will abide in them (John 14:23). Jesus will remain in them. Jesus will make his home in them. Imagine: God’s Lamb—the remover of sins–will make his home in them. He’ll make his home in you, too, if you keep on following him by faith.
By repeating these pivotal words, “Come and see,” Jesus establishes the pattern of missionary work. He invites would be disciples and sinners to follow him with the words, “Come and see.” These three words have attained significance because they have been used by Jesus, God’s Lamb; so we need to be on the lookout for their reappearance. Only three words. But they unlock big shackles.
2nd Case of “Come and See”
The second case of “Come and see” is used in connection with Philip and Nathaniel. Jesus intentionally headed for Galilee (in the north) because he was searching for a particular kind of person to call to follow him.
He found Philip—and called him to follow him (John 1:43-44). Something good must have happened to Philip after Jesus called him because he immediately found Nathaniel (as a result of searching) and said to him, “We have found the one Moses (in the Book of the Law, the Torah, the Pentateuch) and the prophets (the former prophets and the latter prophets) wrote about.” (John 1:45) The person Moses and the prophets wrote about, according to Philip, was Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the Lamb of God.
Nathaniel betrayed his provincial skepticism by asking Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel had a point: Nazareth was never mentioned in the Old Testament or the Talmud. Nazareth was about as well-known as ‘Stinking Creek Road’ in Kentucky is known. Nazareth was located close to a Roman military garrison and was dotted by pawn shops, flea markets, and red-light houses; Nathaniel is justified in expressing his provincial doubts about hick-town Nazareth. I would, too, if I were familiar with the reputation of Nazareth. But did you see John wink at you?
Did You See John Wink at You?
The writer, John, just winked at you with Nathaniel’s question. Nathaniel’s question is another case of irony. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Well, just you wait and see! Good can come out of Nazareth! You have no idea how much good can come out of a red-neck town like Nazareth! Let’s go and see!
Philip is not intimidated and responds to Nathaniel’s provincial skepticism with, “Come and see.” Philip uses the very words of Jesus: “Come and see.” That is striking and should not escape our attention.
Jesus Knew Nathaniel’s Heart
Nathaniel responded by coming to Jesus to see for himself. As he made his way toward Jesus, the God’s Lamb saw Nathaniel and said, “See, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit (no duplicity, nothing false, the model Israelite; John 1:47).” Unlike his contemporaries, Jesus knew that Nathaniel’s heart was free from dishonesty.
Jesus Knew Nathaniel’s Past
Naturally, Nathaniel is curious to know how this stranger from Nazareth knew him—without any prior contact. “How do you know me?” (John 1:48). I would have asked the same question of Jesus if he had said the same thing to me. Wouldn’t you?
How could anyone really know our true inner condition? Only God knows our hearts. Only God has access to that sacred space within us. Yet, Jesus makes the claim that he really knew Nathaniel’s inner heart condition.
That claim calls us to consider Jesus’ true identity. Who is this man from Nazareth who really knows my heart? The question can be disturbing. Most of us prefer privacy when it comes to heart attitudes and character. We are uncomfortable with the knowledge that someone might know our true inner self. Exposure brings the risk of suffering shame and embarrassment.
Jesus Knew Nathaniel’s Past with Accuracy
Jesus’ answer indicates that his knowledge of Nathaniel was greater than he originally thought. He said: “Before Philip called you (with the words, “Come and see”), when you were under the fig tree (a place for the study of the Book of the Law of Moses), I saw you.” (John 1:48)
Jesus showed that he had accurate knowledge of Nathaniel’s whereabouts and movements and activities in the past. Jesus knew Nathaniel’s past. Jesus knew Nathaniel’s immediate past with accuracy—without any prior contact, without being there.
That’s scary. Jesus knew the condition of Nathaniel’s heart and he knew his past history. Jesus knew Nathaniel with pin-point accuracy. He knows the same about you with pin-point accuracy. But not to worry.
Nathaniel Overcomes His Provincial Skepticism
True to his character, Nathaniel’s provincial skepticism about Nazareth (its marginal status being able to produce anything good) was demolished. Not only did something good come out of Nazareth, it was the Son of God, the King of Israel that came out of Nazareth. Nathaniel exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49) Nathaniel’s provincial skepticism is transformed into a confession of faith.
Nathaniel really was the true Israelite, the model Israelite who did not take offense at Jesus, the one in whom there was no dishonesty. He was persuaded (he believed, John 1:50) that the person Moses and the prophets wrote about did indeed come from Nazareth.
Something good did come out of Nazareth! Nathaniel was persuaded by Jesus because of his accurate knowledge of his past, personal insight only God was capable of knowing. Nathaniel believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Only God could know his heart and his past. Nathaniel had Philip to thank for saying to him, “Come and see.”
Setting the Stage
John is setting the stage for his final use of “Come and see.” Jesus used the phrase as a missionary call. Philip also used the phrase as a missionary call to invite Nathaniel to consider Jesus. Nathaniel discovered that Jesus, as Son of God, knew his heart and his past history, things only God could know.
Jesus, as God’s Son, knows the good in your heart as well as the not-so-good. He knows your immediate past as well, whether it’s something shameful or a source of pride. But if you are still held in the grip of shame from your past, and can’t fathom any relief from its awful burden, and refuse to believe that God can use you tomorrow, John wants you to consider his third example of the use of “Come and see.”
I’m With John: Get Up
But let me pause and say that I’m with John on this one. I, too, want you to consider his third case of “Come and see.” John planned this third case for men and women–perhaps you–who believe their tomorrow is controlled by their shameful past. John wrote this third case for those who sit on the cell floor of a self-imposed life sentence. Is that you? Are you going to quit reading just because you yourself do not see any hope for tomorrow? I say to you, get up and “Come and see.”
3rd Case of “Come and See”
The third case of “Come and see” is not written for cases like Nathaniel whose heart was free from dishonesty and whose life was focused on the study of the Torah. The third case was written for men and women whose past history is a source of shame.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well who had come to draw water (John 4:1-15). In the middle of their discussion about water and the living water he can provide her, Jesus abruptly told the woman to go and call her husband and come back (John 4:16). The woman replied: “I have no husband.” Then Jesus dropped a bomb into the conversation: Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” (John 4:17-18) What a conversational explosion.
Exposed by a Complete Stranger
With numerical accuracy, Jesus told a woman, a complete stranger, about her past history, her past five marital failures, and her current living arrangement. Jesus demonstrated to her that he really knew her; she had no secrets that he was unaware of; her past history of failure, her past shameful conduct, and her current not-so-good sexual status was front-page headlines to him. Scary. Exposed by a complete stranger.
As Jesus talked, she listened. She was persuaded that someone super unique was at the well with her. That someone, a Jewish man, a complete stranger, knew her past history with mathematical accuracy.
But instead of being offended by Jesus’ painful revelations about her, she returned to her town and courageously said to the people: “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Can this be the Messiah?” John 4:29.
Jesus, acting as a missionary, said, “Come and see.” Philip, acting as a missionary, said, “Come and see.” The woman, acting as a missionary said, “Come and see.”
Jesus–Evangelist, Philip–Evangelist, the Woman–Evangelist
In spite of her past, the woman, like Jesus and Philip before her, became a missionary. She occupied the practical role of an apostle, an evangelist to her own people. Jesus called two would-be disciples to “Come and see.” They did. Philip called Nathaniel to “Come and see.” Nathaniel did. The Samaritan woman called the whole town to “Come and see.” Did they?
They did. “So they left the town and began coming to him….Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the word of the woman who testified, He told me everything I ever did.” John 4:39
Did you catch that easy-to-miss word? Many. Many Samaritans believed in Jesus because of her word. Numerically, her impact was greater than Jesus or Philip. She told her whole town. Many from that town believed. Many. Not a few. Many.
Marriage Breaker To Missionary
The Samaritan woman’s life was not a waste. Her past did not control her future. Her burden of shame was not a life sentence. Her less-than-ideal marital history was transformed into a new chapter of hope in her book of life. The Samaritan woman drank from the living water that Jesus provided and she became a model of female discipleship--from marriage breaker to evangelist. Her shackles were loosed. She was free. She met Jesus who exposed her past failures and experienced a U-turn, from a life sentence of shame to effective service.
Are you Still Shackled by Shame?
So, are you still doubtful that Jesus can use you in the future? Do you still believe that your past failures control your future? You still believe that your shame is a life sentence? The shackles can be dropped today. You can walk out of your self-imposed prison. You can be free. Will you? Let me suggest a course for you to consider.
Like Nathaniel or the Samaritan woman, have a conversation with Jesus. Let me be the one to say to you: “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus. Have a long conversation with him about your past failures and its shame. As God’s Son, he knows you intimately, of course. But he will listen to you. He won’t walk away. He listened to Nathaniel and the woman.
He knows that at the end of his earthly story stands a cross, where, as God’s Lamb, he was sacrificed in order to take away your sins, the sins that seem so dark and shameful to you today (John 19:1-30). He’ll take away your sins and the shame that beats you down. He did so with the Samaritan woman. He can do so with you as well.
Isn’t It Time for You To Return Home?
Then, with your sins and the shame taken away, you, too, can say to others, “Come and see.” You, too, can be a missionary. You, too, can be the ideal male or female disciple of Jesus. You, too, if you have moved out of town, whether physically or emotionally, can return home to your people. You, too, can say, “Come and see.”
You, too, will be able to persuade your friends who once shared similar shame. You, too, will be able to see those shackles of sin and shame drop away from their hands and feet. They, too, can be free of the life sentence of shame. They, too, can go home and start afresh. So, isn’t it time for you to return home? Come home.
The First Evangelist in Scripture
The Samaritan woman with a shameful past became the first evangelist in Scripture and the most effective evangelist in John’s Gospel. Who could have thought up a story of God’s tender mercy such as this one? Eventually she was baptized and, along with her two sons and five daughters, she traveled to Carthage (North Africa) and became an evangelist. Her name (unrecognizable in an English translation) means “the enlightened one.” Church tradition records that she was martyred for her evangelistic efforts in Rome by being thrown into a well.
She stands with Jesus and Philip as those who, as missionaries, said, “Come and see.” She stands with Nathaniel as one whose past history Jesus knew with uncomfortable accuracy. But her past history and its shame was not the last chapter in her story. She met Jesus and returned home a new woman with a new hope and purpose. From shame to fame. I hope you will give Jesus glory by letting him write a new chapter of hope in your own story.
The wife and mother who relocated out of town due to the terror of shame has not returned home. She still lives many counties away from her home city. Her desire to remain anonymous and escape the terror of shame forced her to relocate far from home. When she has to return to her home town for a day or two, she still fears seeing people she used to know. Years have passed. But the shame keeps her out of county.
I wonder if she will ever return to her roots. If she reads this story, my message to her is, come home. Don’t you think it’s time for you to return home? You can come back without shame. There is no need for it. You will be welcomed back with love and compassion. No reason for the shame. With Jesus, it is not a life sentence. Please return home. Come and you will see.
Jesus: for your glory, please bring many men and women back home. Give them new chapters of life filled with hope. Persuade them that shame is not a life sentence. Let them experience your grace and truth. Like the Samaritan woman, let us hear them say, “Come and see.”
Thank you for reading.