The Shame Tree

Luke 19:1-4
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see

This is showing my age and my church-upbringing, but that children’s song about Zacchaeus being a “wee little man” just sticks right inside my head. I can see myself singing it as a little kid. What I didn’t know then and am just now wrapping my head around is precisely how “wee little” Zacc was…how “wee little” I am. Whereas Luke is certainly referring to Zacc’s physical size, it could just as well refer to his heart.

You see, Zacc (as you likely know) was a treacherous traitor. Though he was born a Jew, a child of Abraham, he sold his soul to Rome by becoming a tax collector…and not even a regular tax collector, but a chief tax collector, and one that was wealthy. As a collector he would have military backing to go door to door collecting taxes from his fellow Jews. He had a certain amount Rome required, and whatever extra he charged, he could keep. As the chief, he was the one sending these villains out, skimming off of their skimming. As a wealthy chief, he would have been horrifyingly corrupt in fleecing his own brothers and sisters. He would have been utterly despised and shunned. But at least he was rich, right? If he couldn’t be loved, he could at least be feared, and be comfortable. But it clearly wasn’t working. He began to realize that he was indeed little, very little. His heart had shrunk so that he wouldn’t have to feel his deep pain; his conscience paper thin so the could continue to rob his spiritual family; his love all but gone so he could live just one more day. He was a wee little man.

And so are we. How are you little?

  • Are you petty with others so you feel taller?
  • Do you critique and criticize to keep others beneath you?
  • Do you set your heart on measly worldly treasures to comfort you?
  • Do you seek fleshly satisfaction to numb your greatest fears?

We are all little, and in desperate need of seeing Jesus. Maybe just one glance. Maybe touch the hem of his robe, or steal a little glimpse of he who some refer to as the Messiah. But the only way to do that is to risk being shamed, risk being exposed for the littleness of your soul. Zacc decided to take this risk. He climbed a tree a little ways ahead of Jesus, knowing full well how utterly shameful it was for a grown man to climb a tree. The same is also true for us. For us to risk a glimpse of Jesus means that we have to, at least to some level, admit our littleness. We have to confess to some degree that we are weak, needy, broken, empty, lost, ashamed. And this is exactly where Jesus wants us, where he meets us. He has no interest in meeting the (outwardly) strong, secure, satisfied, healthy people (in reality, those people don’t exist this side of heaven, except in false perceptions). So when Jesus walks by while we are exposed up in our Tree of Shame, He stops, looks up, and calls our name! He declares that he has come to Seek and Save those who are lost (Luke 19:10), revealing that it actually wasn’t Zacc looking for Jesus, but Jesus looking for Zacc (HERE is a great sermon that talks about that by Alistair Begg). He calls us out of our shame and into his presence…and this is what he says:

5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus invites him to “get over himself” and come down. When he then says that he wants to go to Zacc’s house it isn’t for a quick cup of coffee. to “stay” at someone’s house in this culture was to go over for a few days and “abide” with that person. Which is exactly what Zacc needed. He needed the ongoing presence of God himself to heal him and invert his life. And we need it too. We don’t need a magic wand of healing, we need a Person to come in, abide, have his way, clean us up and send us out with His Holy Spirit.

This utterly changed Zacc, which manifest in glorious repentant acts of love. Scripture calls us to 10% giving, Zacc said (because of Jesus’ love) to give 50%. Scripture calls for a thief to return the money + 20%. Zacc said he’ll return the money +300% (a total of 400%). It wasn’t to gain Jesus’ approval, but because he already had it. And this side of the cross we now realize that on the cross Jesus was counted among the thieves so that our thievery could be paid for while being given Jesus’ perfect record of grace-giving.

So, what shame do you have that needs the healing abiding of the Presence of Jesus? Can you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal a particular “littleness” and heal you of the shame that’s plaguing you? And can you hear the words of Jesus “Come down out of your tree of shame. I want to come stay with you!”


We throw around the word “shame” like cheap plastic beads from a mardi gras float.

  • That quarterback should be ashamed of himself.
  • Is this the best you can do? You are a disgrace.
  • I can’t believe you did that … you should be ashamed.
  • I can’t believe I did that … I am ashamed of myself.

Professor and speaker Brené Brown differentiates guilt and shame like this:
Guilt: I DID something bad.
Shame: I AM something bad.

Brené’s TED talks on shame and vulnerability have been incredibly popular, revealing how we all, to different degrees and due to different circumstances, perform a shame-dance to a violently oppressive shame-song whose lyrics tell us that we are worthless, unlovable and isolated. Shame lobs our past at us like grenades, robbing us of our dignity, hope and future. But for all who are in Christ, Shame is a liar.

When I hear the accusing voice,
That whispers hopelessness in my ear;

When I am overwhelmed by my own sin
and tell myself that I’m a failure

When I am told by others that
that I am an utter disappointment

When my darkness is revealed to the world
and I am sure that my life is over…

I have to decide: Where I will take my shame? What will I do?

Will I go the Secular route, which tells me that I am fine just the way that I am? That there is nothing wrong with me. That my “brokenness is beautiful” and I don’t need to worry about the fact that I have causes pain to others, betrayed my Creator and broken the Image in which I have been made. This is mere ignorant, hurtful blindness that tries to convince me that I don’t need a Savior; it castrates the Gospel.

Or will I go the Religious route, which tells me that I am a disappointment to God (in fact, I probably made baby Jesus cry) and that I need to try harder, be better and never do it again. If I don’t watch out, I will either be kicked out of God’s love or, more likely, realize that I’ve never been saved in the first place.

  • Secular wisdom tells us that we don’t need Jesus
  • Religious wisdom tells us that we are too far from Jesus
  • The Gospel tells us both, and neither: that we are infinitely far, yet have been brought all the way home because Jesus, the Son of God himself, carried our personal shame into his shame-filled trial and onto the shame-filled cross so that he could be shamelessly raised from the dead.

Isaiah 50:6-7a
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have NOT been disgraced..

Jesus didn’t only need to die for us but also needed to go through a horrifyingly shameful and disgraceful trial where he was spit on and mocked because he had to take the full brunt of shame that our sin deserved. Sin, at it’s root, is a betrayal of our Identity, of God’s Image engraved into our souls. In a state of Christlessness, shame is a very appropriate response because, like Adam and Eve, we are betrayers of the Almighty and find ourselves “naked and ashamed.”

And so Jesus needed to take on shame, pay it’s full price and replace our shame with His Glory. In Christ our Identities have been utterly transformed, even re-created. We are not longer “naked” but have been clothed with Christ:

Galatians 3:27
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

And so now realize this — our IDENTITIES have been utterly renewed. There is certainly room for guilt when I am convicted by the Spirit that my behavior has been for my glory and not the Lord’s, but there is no more room for shame because I AM A CHILD OF GOD…my IDENTITY is not my behavior, but given and secured by Jesus Christ himself. The Devil (the “accuser” and the “deceiver”) will whisper in our ears that this isn’t true. He and his minions will tell us that we either don’t need Jesus or we are too far from Jesus. But he is a LIAR. We must combat these lies with the Truth of the Gospel…the greatest antidote to the disease of shame is TRUTH. We need to combat lies with what Gospel tells us…over and over again. In an effort to do this I have included below a downloadable/printable sheet with 32 proclamations of your Identity in Christ. To get you started, here’s a few:

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Timothy 1:7
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control