A couple years ago at my college, a student group put on an event to educate students about pornography and the sex industry. I paced through it, thinking I had already seen all this before. The exhibit opened with scientific facts about the chemical effects of pornography on the brain, showing how it rewires our mental pathways to crave porn.
Heard them before.
Then there was a room of testimonies, people shared how porn had damaged their lives and relationships. As sincere and moving as these stories were, I had heard them before too. I mean, these addiction stories were basically my own.
But then we moved to the last room.
On the wall was a painting. Eye level. About 4×3 feet. At first glance, it seemed like a typical crucifix painting. There hung Jesus on the cross, bleeding and ashamed.
But then you looked a little lower.
And then you realized that he was not wearing any garment to politely cover the Savior’s genitalia. There was no loincloth to protect the Lord from disgrace.
It was jarring to realize I was looking at Jesus’ penis.
In many ways, the fact that artists have typically covered Jesus up while hanging on the cross has done a disservice to our perception of His scope of atonement. We are used to seeing Him, battered and bloody, yes, but at least with a shred of decency left and a towel wrapped around his midsection.
One of my theology professors would always say we postmodern people do theology like this: And then he would crouch and cover up his crotch, like an embarrassed child who had jumped out of the bath and been caught by the babysitter. We will talk about God in relation to anything but our genitals.
We try to ‘clean up’ the crucifixion.
Today I got curious and checked for myself. Sure enough, all four gospels tell the same story:
Matthew 27:35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Mark 15:24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.
Historians have pointed out that a crucifixion was not only a torturous execution, but also a shameful humiliation. That’s why victims would always be crucified naked: One last insult to injury.
Now, why is it so important that Jesus was crucified naked?
Throughout the millennia, artists have tried to restore to Jesus His dignity by covering up the shameful bits. They have censored the truth of scripture in order to protect young eyes.
The reason my school displayed the painting was to remind us that, while Jesus has absorbed all our sin and wrongdoing, He has also absorbed all of our shame. He was not covered up in order to maintain His dignity while dying on the tree; He was stripped and exposed, so that even until the end His atoning work would be seen as victorious, even over our sexuality and shame.
J. Vernon McGee writes:
He was crucified naked. It is difficult for us in this age of nudity and pornography to comprehend the great humiliation He suffered by hanging nude on the cross. They had taken His garments and gambled for ownership. My friend, He went through it all, crucified naked, that you might be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and so be able to stand before God throughout the endless ages of eternity.
Something I have been thinking through recently is how I too have dichotomized my sexuality from my spirituality. As American Christians, I feel like this is the norm. We go to church over here and think and talk about sex over here. And if I looked at porn, I hid it from God until enough time had passed that I could go and safely confess.
But what I have realized recently is that this is wrong. When I begin to see my sexual desires as something good, something given to me by God, it is easier to align them with His will. When I realize that I don’t have to hide my desires from Him, but rather give them over to Him, it becomes easier to escape temptation and have peace that I can trust Him with my desires. I can trust Him to bring me a wife in His timing, and I don’t have to fear that He’ll never give me one because I have these bad desires.
I think many of my struggles with pornography came from this thought that ‘sex is bad, dirty, and shameful. I need to hide these thoughts from God.’ A lot of them came from a fear that my desires for sex were bad, and therefore I was a bad person. But God loves healthy sexuality. In reality, Jesus has taken all of my shame and all my twisted views of sex to the cross and destroyed them when He was crucified naked.
He has redeemed our perverted views of sexuality. He has taken every last centerfold hanging on the walls of our minds and torn them to shreds.
He was crucified naked so we need not be ashamed anymore.