My life has been a painful and at the same time beautiful 57-year journey into the depths of the depravity of my sinful heart and into the still more astounding depth of God’s grace in Jesus. I trust the twists and turns in whatever remains of this journey will yet prove even more humbling and astounding!
I’ve been a child of God since I was 11 days old. And, without casting the least shred of doubt on the genuineness of the repentance and faith the Spirit worked in me by Word and water, there has been much more to learn every day since about the depth of my natural heart’s depravity.
I am convinced that if God had shown me the full depth of that grotesque reality when I was young the shame might have overwhelmed me. Instead, through one painful insight after another gained from the Word and confirmed in scripturally narrated life experience, the Spirit continues to teach me how true it is that my heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).
And perhaps in few places is Jesus more focused on providing such a sobering lesson than in the section of his Sermon on the Mount before us next Sunday (Matthew 5:21-37). Jesus seeks to pierce far, far beyond the superficial dabbling in the law behind which legalistic pride tries to hide. Jesus refuses to allow me to keep the sharp edge of God’s law at a safe arm’s length where it can only hurt the really “bad sinners” whose evident-to-all-stumbles provide other sinners with gallows humor in supermarket tabloids.
Instead, Jesus reveals the hell-fire-hotness of my petty excuses for personal bitterness toward my brother or sister. He exposes the potentially eternal ugliness of my foot dragging that refuses to run to be reconciled with those wounded by my lovelessness. He torches my downplaying of the seriousness of the lust of my eyes and trashes my shabby rationalizations for speaking varnished truth so that – as God’s mouthpiece no less! – others have a hard time trusting that my “yes” means “yes” and my “no” means “no.”
“Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees” – but they aren’t! “Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands” – but I am (Psalm 119:5-6). This ever more shame-filled ongoing lesson of life often feels like too much to take in!
Until I remember who delivers the message. Speaking these words is a heart that concealed no personal bitterness though many sought to provoke it in him. Here was the one whose life never sinfully offended anyone and yet whose feet rushed to bring reconciliation to everyone. Here is the heart that never knew an instant of lust and the eye which remained pure in every way while walking through our human cesspool of temptations. Here we marvel at words always spoken with such transparency that there was never reason to doubt the simplicity of his “yes” and the honesty of his “no.” Here is the only one whose steadfastness meant that when he considered his Father’s commands he felt no shame.
But then comes the final amazing piece of the puzzle. He who knew no shame of his own covers me with his shamelessness while he loses not just hand or eye but is cut off completely as he bears my shamefulness.
And how does Jesus use this shame-filled and yet, in the end, shameless ongoing lesson? By this he assists me to die day after day to every newly revealed shameful remnant of my sinful pride and to rise to live anew in the wonder of his shameless grace. Thereby he creates in my heart a new strength to forgive and reconcile, to guard against the straying of eyes and hands (and above all heart), and to filter zealously what is about to come out of my mouth.
“Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.” Who learns to plead earnestly those words of Psalm 119:5-6? Every heart taught daily to hate sin and to delight in God’s empowering grace!
Lord Jesus, don’t ever stop teaching me such painfully beautiful lessons!