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The death of despair

After capturing Chattanooga in the spring of 1864, Margaret Mitchell writes that General William Tecumseh Sherman pointed his troops toward Atlanta.  Joe Johnson and his men met him in the mountains but were badly outnumbered.  The fighting was fierce but Johnson’s line held.  Then Sherman’s troops flanked Johnson’s on the southern side where the railroad was.  Because the supply lines had to be preserved at all costs, Johnson reluctantly moved his troops in response.  Sherman’s main line then moved forward to occupy the position just vacated by Johnson’s troops.  Thus Sherman inevitably inched his way to Atlanta and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.

 

In Atlanta, the same despair was present.  Almost every able bodied person was helping at the hospital.  Each day the number of wounded and dying brought in was increasing, medical supplies were decreasing, and the sounds of battle grew louder as the fighting moved closer to the city.

 

While the specifics may change from person to person, this is the paradigm of despair: 

 

  •       You are besieged by overwhelming forces.

  •    The situation is going from bad to worse.

  •       You are powerless to change things. 

 

Put a person in these circumstances and you can watch their hope shrivel up and die.  And it’s the death of hope rather than the any specific situation that brings despair.  Anything can be endured when there is hope and similarly any situation is lost when hope vanishes. 

 

Can you imagine the hopelessness that set in at the death of Jesus?  Can you imagine what it was like for Mary as they took Jesus’ body down from the cross?  Can you imagine the shock the apostles were in after the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Sunday turned into His crucifixion and death on Friday?  Do you think they were replaying the events over and over, trying to orient themselves amidst the chaos and confusion?  And more to the point, what was left for them now?  At best, they could avoid arrest and go back to what they’d been doing before they met Jesus.  At worst, they would be discovered and soon die.  How dark was the moment and how bleak was their future.  Hopelessness and despair set in and hardened like footprints in concrete.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is about the permanent instillation of hope in our lives.  It means we never again have to embrace the stinging isolation of despair.  We might be besieged, going from bad to worse, and powerless to change our situation but we will never again be without hope.  The resurrection of Jesus means the death of despair. 

 

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 or Romans 8:28-39 and see the hope that lives in the heart of a believer.  It is a hope that cannot be conquered.  Hope and despair met head-to-head at a hill called Calvary.  They fought for three days and when the smoke, ashes and dust had cleared, despair had been nailed to the cross and hope had risen from the grave.

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3).

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