The Bare Soul - August 12, 2012
Holy Despair

Matthew 5:48 - Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Upon visiting Israel last year and seeing the supposed site of the Sermon on the Mount outside of Capernaum, my imagination has often taken me to that hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. By the time Jesus spoke to this conflux of persons, His notoriety had grown conspicuously. While no one knows for certain, it is possible the "crowd" He referred to in Matthew 5:1 could be as few as a hundred or possibly in the thousands. Regardless, any number of hills around Galilee's sea would have provided ample room for scores to leisurely recline in the grass and listen to this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. I cannot help but believe they were in no way prepared for what they would hear that day. Beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus turned the religious order of the day on their proverbial ear by declaring many opposites regarding what the people had been taught by the Levitical order. Strength of spirit had always been a sign of spiritual prosperity to the Jews. Yet, Jesus was telling them in His first declaration, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God." (Matthew 5:2) He continues with a seeming contradiction regarding what the Jews regarded as a sign of a healthy soul --- the presence of joy. In Matthew 5:3 He tells them how blessed is the man who mourns over their sin, because they will be comforted. These are just two examples of how Jesus knocks the props out from underneath what the Jews considered to make them right with God.

While the Beatitudes were meant to right the capsized ship of religion in their lives, the Sermon on the Mount went into specifics on how this would occur. Early in chapter five of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells the crowds it is not their responsibility to fulfill the law, but it was His. In Matthew 5:17 He states: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." This is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount which is concluded with our lead verse of Matthew 5:48: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Perfection is the only thing Jesus was aiming at, and He knew He was the only One capable of living it. Probably, at this point in His sermon, they were still unaware of what the Lord was requiring of them. If they were sensing despair because of His radical requirements, His statement of fulfilling the law should have brought them great hope. However, I just wonder how many truly understood what Christ was saying? Jesus went on to explain Himself by way of example in the following verses, using the phrase "You have heard that it was said." He uses this figure of speech five times before the end of chapter five to segue by way of juxtaposition regarding how they assumed God's law applied to their life and their reality. For instance, not only should a man not commit adultery, but to look at a woman in a lustful manner makes him guilty without the physical act (Matthew 5:27). Additionally, Jesus gives them another lesson in not hating their enemies, but instead loving those who mistreat them (Matthew 5:43). These ideas were undoubtedly diametric to all the people had been taught by their religious leaders. For some, it most assuredly brought a despair of ever being able to fulfill this "new law" which Jesus seemed to be preaching. However, for others it more than likely had the opposite effect.

Later in His ministry, Jesus encountered the rich young ruler, who was atypical of many Jews of that time who believed they kept the law. However, when he met Jesus and the Lord told him to sell all his possessions and come follow Him, it created a huge disappointment in the young man. Mark 10:22 states: "But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property." This wealthy ruler had set His beliefs on the fallacy of doing good, rather than being good. Jesus was telling him the way to get free, which was surrendering all the world has to offer and to come follow Him. However, the despair of the thought of relinquishing all of his securities deeply saddened him. He knew he was incapable of such sacrifice. Likewise, there were many who listened to Jesus throughout His three year ministry -- from the Sermon on the Mount until His last week in Jerusalem -- who could not turn toward the Savior because of their need to cling to their old way of thinking. They would not allow that holy despair which the Holy Spirit imparts to have its way in their hearts, convincing them they could never fulfill the law and trusting Jesus to do so in their stead. However, for those who understood---allowing the disappointment of their feeble efforts of pleasing God to work as a catalyst to propel them to God and His mercy---these are the ones who would find life eternal as they allowed their souls to mourn and to be ultimately comforted by God.

The requirements for us today are no different. We must be perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect. When we finally embrace this reality and allow the Holy Spirit to mourn with us over our sin, then we can truly surrender to the Lord and be comforted in His salvation. True godly hope through Jesus' promise of giving us His perfect life will never disappoint, for His love will be shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). While the Sermon on the Mount was truly radical to the sensibilities of those who sought to justify themselves in God's eyes in first century Palestine, it is equally offensive to most in our modern time. We feel uncomfortable talking about mourning over our sin, or allowing God's holy despair to show us our complete inability to save ourselves. However, when we do, He is faithful to comfort and bring great joy to those who would trust in His perfect work in our lives. May we all surrender to Him, knowing that to mourn with the Holy Spirit over our sin means we will have peace beyond comprehension.

Heavenly Father, may You give us Your holy despair producing within us godly sorrow and true repentance. Through our despair, make us joyful sons and daughter of the Most High. Grant us Your understanding over our sin, so that we might partake of the goodness of Your salvation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


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