Seeing God Again for the First Time

Seeing God Again for the First Time

Matthew 17.1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Nearly forty years ago, one night around midnight, an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway in a drenching rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she was soaking wet as she tried to flag down a car. To her surprise, a young white man stopped to help her, unheard of in those racially charged days. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him as she left.

Seven days went by. A knock came at his door. To his surprise, a giant console color television was delivered to his home. A special note was attached which read, “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

We never know when we’ll meet someone famous. Neither did Peter, James, and John. But what happened on a mountain in Israel twenty centuries ago has profound relevance for our lives today. Next to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe this is the most important event in his entire life and ministry. And one of the most significant for us.

Let me explain. Come with me to a mountain, and see God again for the first time.

Climbing up to God

Here’s the setting (v. 1): “after” is after Caesarea Philippi, where Peter pronounces Jesus the Messiah, and Jesus says that his church will assault the gates of hell itself.

Now he takes Peter, James, and his brother John to be with him. Why these three? Peter would one day be the first to preach the gospel; James would be the first apostle to die for his Lord; John would give us his gospel, letters, and the book of Revelation. And so Jesus is equipping them to fulfill his purpose for them—God does not call the equipped, but equips the called.

He “led them up a high mountain.”Tradition said this was Mt. Tabor, but it’s too far from Caesarea Philippi to be the likely place. Probably this was a mountain in the range of Mt. Hermon, fourteen miles from Caesarea Philippi, 9,400 feet tall. The mountain is so high it can be seen from the Dead Sea, at the other end of Israel, more than 100 miles away.

What happens next occurs at night, as Luke’s gospel tells us the disciples were sleepy (9:32), and that they spent the night on the mountain (Luke 9:37). He leads them “by themselves.” Our most profound moments with God are typically those times when we are alone with him.

Watch what happens next: “…he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (v. 2).

Because Jesus was “transfigured,” this is called the Mount of Transfiguration.

The word means that his appearance changed, not his essence. He was and is God, the Lord of all creation. But here he pulled back the veil to show these three special apostles the glory which was his from eternity and for eternity.

And so “His face shone like the sun,” and not for the last time. When Jesus revealed himself to John on the island of Patmos, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:16).

His clothes became “as white as the light.” Luke says they were “as bright as a flash of lightning” (9:29); Mark adds that they “became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (9:3).

Jesus shows them the heavenly glory which proves that he was and is the divine Son of God.

But this incredible mountaintop experience isn’t done yet: “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (v. 3). Moses was the supreme lawgiver, and represents the Torah, the Law of God. Elijah was the supreme prophet, the most powerful preacher in ancient Israel.

Luke tells us that they “spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (9:31). They came to show that Jesus’ impending death and resurrection fulfills the law and the prophets.

Peter and his companions are asleep until the appearance of Moses and Elijah awakens them (Luke 9:32). Mark tells us that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:6); Luke says that Peter “did not know what he was saying” (9:33). He offers to build tents so they could all stay right there on the mountaintop—avoid the valley below and the cross awaiting Jesus. So often we meet God at spiritual heights and want to stay right there. But we cannot.

The Father himself speaks: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (v. 5). The Father spoke these words earlier to Jesus at his baptism; how he speaks them of Jesus to his apostles.

The disciples are terrified, for no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). They fall on their faces before him, a typical Jewish response of veneration and respect.

But Jesus goes to them, touches them, tells them to get us and says, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 7). Literally, “Stop being afraid.”And when they look up, they see “no one except Jesus” (v. 8). Jesus only.

Seeing Jesus only

Years ago I read a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon on this text which got me to thinking: what if these three men had not seen “Jesus only?”

For instance, what if they had looked up and seen “Moses only?” Moses, the lawgiver—the conveyer of the Ten Commandments of God, the instrument by which God gave the Torah, the Law to his people. If it were Moses only, then you and I could come to God only by keeping the law—only by religion, by legalism, by self-justifying moralism.

Tragically, most Americans live as though it were “Moses only.” Most think that God helps those who help themselves; that if we are good and sincere, that’s enough for God. Do you believe that God hears your prayers, helps you, accepts you because you came to church today and try to live a good life? I did for many years. That’s seeing God through religion. That’s “Moses only.”

But it doesn’t work. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us can find God through Moses. Not even Moses. Don’t choose “Moses only.”

What if they had seen “Elijah only?” The supreme prophet and preacher of God’s word and truth. What if it were Elijah only on this mountain with these men?

Then we could come to God only through other men. Not through the church, but its pastor and leaders. Not through religion, but through the religious. By trusting in what a preacher tells you, by depending on him to get you to God.

Do you let my sermons be your only word from God each week? Do you let your Sunday school teacher’s lesson, or your devotional book, or the radio or television message you hear be your word from God? Or do you go to God personally, digging in his word and searching out his truth for your life? Do you meet God yourself in prayer, in worship, in spiritual commitment? Or do you let me and us substitute for him?

Elijah only doesn’t work. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, even Elijah. Especially me, and us. None of us can find God through Elijah, or any other man or woman. Not even Elijah. Don’t choose “Elijah only.”

What if they had seen all three? Then we would have to come to Jesus through religion and the religious. Through the Law and its preachers. Through the church and its teachers.

What if they had seen no one there? What if the Father had simply taken Jesus from this mountain back to heaven, rather than from the Mount of Olives where he ascended after his resurrection? What if the Father had chosen not to send his Son to our sinful, tortured cross? To die in our place, for us all? What if they had seen no one at all?

Aren’t you glad they saw “Jesus only?” The fact that they did possesses this life-changing, power-filled relevance for us: first, Jesus is God.

He’s not just the great teacher, preacher, and healer we saw him to be last week. Many in human history have been great teachers, preachers, and healers. But not a single person in all of recorded history has ever claimed what happened to Jesus here—that he or she was transfigured into heavenly glory in the presence of Moses and Elijah, while the Father from heaven spoke his words of glorious affirmation and love. No one, except Jesus only.

Jesus is God come to us. He came for Peter, who would deny him three times. He came for James, who would abandon him at the cross. He came for John, the humble fisherman, as well. If he would come to them, he comes to us. Jesus brings God to us. We couldn’t get to him through Moses or Elijah, so he brought God to us.

He comes to you today, if only you’d believe that he is God and bow before him in reverent faith. Wherever you are, whoever you are, Jesus is ready right now to bring God to you. He is God come to us.

Last, Jesus only is God come to us. He was crystal clear about this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus only brings us to salvation and eternal life with our Father in heaven.

Jesus only brings us the word and will of God, guiding us through the decisions we must make and the trials we must endure.

Jesus only gives our lives meaning, purpose, and hope.

I’m reading Jeremiah right now as part of my personal Bible study. Tuesday, God spoke to me profoundly through these two verses of his word: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Of what are you boasting today? Is it Jesus only?


This Mount of Transfiguration proves that Jesus is God, God come to us, the only way to go to God. Jesus is our only source of wisdom, joy, and significance in life. He is available to every one of us, right now.

So, is your life built on Jesus only today? Do you speak with him all through your day? Do you seek his will for your every decision? Do you seek to please him in what you say and do? Are you living for Jesus only?

If it is, then you are walking in the abundant life which Jesus only can give. And one day, you’ll be in heavenly reward and glory, and you’ll hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” All because you lived for Jesus only. The best is yet to be.

A friend sent me this beautiful true story. A woman was diagnosed with cancer and given only three months to live. She asked her pastor to meet with her, so they might arrange her funeral. She selected scriptures to read and hymns to sing, decided the clothes she would wear, and showed him her favorite Bible which she wanted to hold.

Then she made a strange request: she wanted to be buried with a fork in her right hand. He was puzzled, of course. And so she explained: “In all my years of attending church socials and functions where food was involved, my favorite part was when whoever was clearing away the dishes would lean over and say, ‘You can keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming. Dessert was on its way. So I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand so all who come to my funeral will know, something better is on its way.”

At her funeral, over and over, the pastor heard people ask, “What’s with the fork?” During his message he explained. And she was right. When you live for Jesus only, something better is coming. You can keep your fork.

This is the word of God.

The $100,000 Coin

The $100,000 Coin

Matthew 17:24-27

Dr. Jim Denison

Frank Wallis of Mountain Home, Arkansas was having a bad week.

He had just declared personal bankruptcy, and wondered what his future held. He went to his bank to buy a roll of the new $1 coins, in hopes that they might be worth something one day. He had no idea what he had.

One of them had the new Sacagawea dollar emblem on the back, as it should, but a quarter’s George Washington on the front, which it shouldn’t. It turns out that this mistake is the first in the 208-year history of the United States mint. Original estimates placed the value of the coin at $100,000.

Unfortunately for Mr. Wallis, three other so-called “mules” have surfaced, reducing the value of the first to a mere $41,395, the winning bid on eBay recently. For a dollar coin.

What single coin could be more valuable? How about a coin worth 78 cents today? It is the single most precious coin in all of history. Let me show you why, and why this little coin matters so much for your life and mine today.

Finding wealth in strange places

Come with Jesus and his disciples back to Capernaum, the fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has been living here in the home of Simon Peter for the last three years of his public ministry.

You know how it is to be gone from home for a while—the bills are waiting. In this case, the bill collectors themselves were waiting.

From glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to bill collectors. How true this is to life.

So our text says, “the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?'” (v. 24).

Since the time of Moses the people had paid this tax to support the upkeep of the Tabernacle, then Solomon’s Temple, and now Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem.

They contributed what the Greek calls “the two drachmas.” The “drachma” was a Jewish half-shekel, more than two days’ wages. Two of these were nearly a week’s work. This was given by the Jewish people annually as the “temple tax.” In Jesus’ day it was voluntary, and especially not required of the rabbis. So the tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus intends to pay it.

What was their interest? Interest, literally. They exchanged the money of the people into the necessary temple coinage, at interest and profit to themselves. Some estimates range as high as $45,000 that these people made every year.

And so they have come during the Jewish month Adar, or March, as they did every year. Jesus and his disciples have returned home to find them waiting. Peter jumps ahead, as he does so often, when asked if Jesus pays this tax: “Yes, he does.”

Now we find our first miracle: Jesus knows Peter’s mind: “When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak” (v. 25).

Being the master teacher, he seizes this teachable moment: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

The logic of Jesus’ question is obvious: no ruler taxes his own family. Kings and their children don’t pay taxes—they receive them.

Peter is right: “From others” (v. 26). “Then [emphatic in the Greek] the sons are exempt,” Jesus confirms.

But Jesus doesn’t choose to offend the religious people just yet. A successful man chooses his problems.

So verse 27: “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line.” Return to the Sea of Galilee, and use your professional fishing skills. Throw out a line, literally a “hook.” This is the only time this kind of fishing is mentioned in the New Testament.

Why a hook? One fish could not possibly bring enough money to pay this tax. So we find the second miracle: Peter does it. He obeys Jesus. Even though it makes no sense.

With this result: “Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” This is the third miracle in the story. What are the chances that someone would throw a coin worth two week’s work into the Sea of Galilee? That a fish would swallow it, and then Peter would catch that very fish, on that very day? A miracle, indeed.

Now, what does this ancient event say to us today?

Is your God too small?

First, it’s a surprise. This is not the god anyone in Jesus’ day expected.

In his world people worshipped a variety of gods, none of whom were relevant to their daily lives and needs: the Roman emperor, the gods of Greek myths among them. Others have worshipped Buddha or sought his enlightenment, or Hindu gods, or the Muslim Allah. But none of them would intervene in our daily lives and meet our daily needs like this.

Nor is this the god of popular American culture. J. B. Phillips’ classic little book, Your God Is Too Small, lists succinctly the kinds of deities Americans recognize today. Here are their self-explanatory titles—see how many of them you recognize: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” Meek-and-Mild,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Pale Galilean,” “Projected Image” (with Freudian implications).

Again, none of them would meet a practical need like this one.

Most Americans would identify God with the collectors taking money for the Temple, not with the One who gave it miraculously and mercifully. Most see the church as an institution, irrelevant to our daily needs, always wanting “another name, another dollar.” God is removed, abstract, or personal and subjective—whatever or whoever you want to worship is fine with us.

75% of those who claim a faith in America do not think theirs is the only way to God; only 25% even think their faith is the best faith. God is whatever you want him to be. That’s what most Americans think. Most Americans are wrong.

He is there and he is not silent

Francis Schaeffer wrote a best-selling book some years ago entitled, He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Schaeffer was right. All through biblical history and current events, he is right.

What do we do to meet Jesus this personally? To experience his intervention, his active work in our lives and our needs? First, believe that God knows your need.

Jesus knew Peter’s problem, his mind, better than Peter did. That’s the first miracle of the event. Jesus was clear on this: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

This is the Father’s promise: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Give him your need, your problem, your dilemma, your “tax.” A doctor can only help the patient who will let him. When I had minor knee surgery a few years ago, I had to trust the surgeon. I had conducted his wedding on Saturday, then he did my surgery on Monday. That was the most pressure I’ve ever felt conducting a wedding, to be sure. I had to trust him with my problem before he could solve it.

Next, do what God says. Peter could fish; God could provide the coin in the fish’s mouth. Peter did what he could, and God did what he could not. But Peter had to do what Jesus said, illogical as it seemed.

It made no sense for Noah to build an Ark when it had never rained. It made no sense for Moses to stand before the Red Sea with his arms in the air while the Egyptian army rode up from behind. It made no sense for Elijah at Mt. Carmel to build an altar, pour water on it, and promise the people it would be consumed with fire. It made no sense for Daniel to pray when he knew the result would be the lion’s den.

But it made sense to God. Claim Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways follow him, and he will direct your paths.” He promises that he will.

Give your problem to God, and do what he says to do. He’ll lead you through Scripture, through circumstances, through your intuitive experience with him. He wants you to know your next step even more than you do. Do as he says.

Then, expect God to give what you ask, or something better. Philippians 4:19 promises that God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Not always our wants, but always our needs.He knows what is best for us. So, like any loving father, he gives us what we ask, unless he can give us something better.

Billy Graham writes in his autobiography about Emily, the girl he met at Florida Bible Institute, fell in love with, and proposed to. He was sure she was the one. She refused to marry him, and he was despondent. Then a few years later he met Ruth. God gave him someone even better for him.

Last, trust his heart when you cannot see his hand. Sometimes God pays our “tax” today. Sometimes he does not. Sometimes he has a better purpose, a bigger plan in mind, a purpose he can see but we cannot. So we must trust his heart.

A recent e-mail told me about a missionary traveling at night along a very dangerous road. His car broke down, and he had to fix it before he could continue. He was frightened, but all right. Later, robbers in the area were apprehended. They told how they had seen the missionary and intended to rob and kill him, but twenty-six men stood guard around him.

The missionary told the story to his home church, and the pastor told it to their prayer meeting. A man stood up and told the church how that very night God had called him to pray for the missionary, and to get others to join him. He said that he thought everyone who had prayed that night was present in church for this prayer meeting, and asked them to stand. Twenty-six men stood up.


What “tax” do you owe today? Jesus knows it, and has a will for you. If you will do what he directs you to do, believing him for his best, and trusting him when you cannot see him, you’ll find that he is indeed alive today. And active and powerful in our lives, and problems, right now.

One of my favorite stories to tell at memorial services is about a woman who attended a beachfront barbeque in California many years ago. She was early, so she went for a swim. Unfortunately, the undertow caught her and carried her out to sea. About to drown, she cried out to God for help. She heard a voice say, “Reach up here.” To her shock there was a young man in a swimming suit, standing on a large rock beside her. She threw her hand into the air, and he caught it, pulled her to the rock, and saved her life.

When she caught her breath he pointed the way to swim back to shore which would avoid the undertow. She began swimming off, turned to wave, and he smiled and waved back. She waved again in a few moments, but he was gone.

Finally she made it to the beach. Someone asked where she had been. “Swimming out to the rock,” she said. The owner of the property heard her and said, “What rock? There’s no rock out there.” They looked, and there was not.

But there was. In the undertow of life, know that there’s a man on a rock, with his hand toward you. And a coin in it.

This is the promise of God.

The Angel Sat On The Stone

The Angel Sat on the Stone

Matthew 28:1-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Murdo MacDonald was a prisoner of war in Germany and chaplain to American soldiers. After the war was over he told how he learned of the Normandy invasion. Early on D-Day, he was awakened and told that a Scotsman in the British prisoner-of-war camp wanted to see him. MacDonald ran to the barbed wire that separated the two camps. The Scot, who was in touch with the BBC by underground radio, had often given updates on the war to MacDonald in Gaelic, which the two men understood, but the German guards standing beside them did not.

On this early morning, the Scotsman spoke a brief sentence in Gaelic, just a few words which meant, “They have come.” MacDonald ran back to the American camp and spread the news: “They have come … they have come.” And everyone knew the Allies had landed at Normandy. The reaction was incredible. Men jumped and shouted, hugged each other, even rolled on the ground.

They were still captives, but now they were certain of their deliverance. All because of three words: “They have come.”

Today we’ll focus upon three words which offer us even greater hope, help, joy, victory: “He has risen.” Let’s see why they were spoken, and why they matter so much to our lives and our fears this hour.

From death to life

The angel said, “Come and see the place where he lay” (v. 6). Let’s come together to this place, this tomb, this hallowed cave in a holy rock. Why?

It is the tomb of the greatest man who ever lived. If we would venerate the tomb of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., surely we would want to honor and respect the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

It is the tomb of your best friend. If we would honor the tomb of our wife or husband, our child, our parent, our dear friend, surely we would want to honor and respect the tomb of the One who died to pay for our sins and give us eternal life.

It is a real place. We know that this tomb is real, even without the testimony of Scripture. Thallus the Samaritan in A.D. 52 described the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion. Mara bar Serapion before A.D. 70 documented his death. Tacitus, the greatest of the ancient Roman historians, recorded that “Chrestus … suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” And Flavius Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, documented Jesus’ death clearly.

And so the angels bid us come. They invite us to this holy place.

What kind of tomb is it?

It is a costly tomb. It cost Joseph of Arimathea and his family a great deal of money. It cost Jesus far more—his life on the cross. It cost his Father as much—the pain of watching his Son be tortured and executed.

It is a borrowed tomb. It was borrowed from Joseph, and appropriately, for the One who was laid there borrowed our sins and our death on the cross.

It was cut in a rock, so there could be no fraud here. No back door. No way out except past the stone and the guards and the glare of public scrutiny. And appropriately so. But this rock and its stone were but a pebble compared with the Rock of Ages which lay inside.

And so the women come to finish anointing the dead body of Jesus (Mark 16:1). But they are shocked at what they find, and we with them.

What do we see as we come?

We find that the rock is gone. There was a “violent” earthquake—a “mega” earthquake in the Greek. An angel of the Lord has come down from heaven, rolled aside this stone, and sat down on it.

He moved the stone, not so Christ could go out, but so we could come in. He is already gone from here. He was raised from death to life while the guards stood in futility outside, as the Roman government tried in vain to keep him in the tomb. He did not rise from the dead when the angel arrived—”he has risen, just as he said” (v. 6).

All the power of the world is powerless before him. Battle-hardened soldiers from the finest army the world has ever seen have fainted dead away. The ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead one is alive!

His body is gone, with no natural explanation. The tomb is empty, the grave is left clutching the clothes which had enshrouded his dead corpse, because he is alive.

Whom do we meet as we come?

We meet the angel of the Lord, who bids us calm our fears: “Do not be afraid” (v. 5). Literally, “Stop being afraid.”

Then we see the Risen Lord himself! “Greetings,” he says. Literally, “Rejoice!” We can clasp his feet, for his resurrection is real. We can worship him, for in grace he receives our faith (v. 9).

“Do not be afraid,” he says, as the angel had. “Stop being afraid.” Be not afraid, ever again, for he is alive.

What do we do after we have come?

“Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee” (v. 10). How gracious of him—to call those who have forsaken him at the cross his “brothers.”

And Mark 16:7 adds these words: “Go tell his disciples and Peter.” Peter, who denied him three times, now invited specifically to come, so that he would know he was included in the grace and mercy of our Lord.

Tell them about the risen Christ: “there they will see me.” And through them, the world.

Come and see the place where he lay. We’re so glad they did. And so honored to join them.

Are you afraid of death?

Now, let’s see why this event is so relevant to our lives and our fears today. In every survey taken of the fears Americans feel, death is always at the top of the list. Our greatest fear is that we will die, or that those we love will die.

We don’t even like the word “death.” We use such euphemisms for it: “He passed away,” “He went to a better place.” We called those who have died “the dearly departed” or “the deceased.”

We don’t like funerals, or caskets, or cemeteries. The most frightening places at amusement parks are the haunted houses; the most frightening movies we see are about death or the dead. We are all afraid here.

So were the disciples. They knew that their leader had been executed, and were terrified of the same punishment for themselves. In fact, the Scriptures say that “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,” Jesus appeared to them as he had to these women (John 20:19). They were afraid of death.

I am, too. Death is the great unknown. While I trust in faith that death leads to life, I need reassurance, as do we all.

And I am especially afraid of death for those I love. My greatest fear is that something would happen to Janet or our boys. I have prayed for our sons’ safety and well-being every morning and every evening since they were born. I fear death for them.

And I hate death for those I love who have gone there. My father. This year, my two most beloved professors and mentors. Members of our congregation whom I have loved and we have lost.

What about death most bothers you today?

He has risen, for us

Here’s the incredible good news of deliverance: “He has risen.” These three words are enough. Jesus is truly alive. Because he is alive, we can be alive. Because he defeated death, so can we, through him.

Jesus was clear about this: “I am the resurrection and the life … Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).

Now Jesus allows death so he can bring us to life. So we can step out of these fallen, finite bodies and into the glorified presence of the Lord. In the moment of our death we are with him in paradise.

Jesus said it this way, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). “Mansion” originally meant a destination at the end of a journey. By the time Jesus used it, the word meant the reward which comes at the end of life. The picture is simple: we travel through life in these bodies, these “vehicles” for the journey. When we arrive at home, we step out of the car and go into the house.

When Ryan was a little boy, one time our family took a trip to Houston to see Janet’s parents and my mother. We got home late on Sunday night, and Ryan was asleep in his car seat in the back of the car. I picked him up, carried him in the house, and laid him in his bed. When he woke up, he was home.

That’s just what happens to us, and to all we love. Because he has risen, so will we through him.

Jesus will take us home, and he will take all those we love who trust in him to be home with him one day as well. My greatest fear for my family would be their greatest victory. If the worst comes for us, this would be the best for them.

And when that day comes, he’ll be there to hold us up through it. We need not fear the future, for he is there, waiting for us, today.

Oscar Thompson taught evangelism at Southwestern Seminary when I was a student there. He was dying of cancer all the years I knew him, but always with a great spirit and unshakable joy. He had no fear of death. Why? He said, “I’ll have dying grace for dying day.” And those with him when he died said that he did.

So will we.


So, have you put your soul and your eternity in the hands of the One who has risen? This is the most important decision you will ever make. Choose well, today.

Would you put your life, and the lives of those you love, in those hands as well? Would you release those you love who have gone before you into those hands? With the women at the tomb, would you turn from fear to faith, from death to life? Would you love Jesus personally and passionately, since he has purchased eternal life for you and all those who love him?

I once read a parable like this, and it helped me a great deal. Because he has risen, we can think of death this way.

Before you came into this world, you were an unborn baby. We all were. As we think about going from this world to the next, we are again unborn babies so far as that other world is concerned.

Now if a baby not yet born could speak, he might say to himself, “This is a wonderful place. It’s warm, I’m fed, I’m safe and secure. I’ll stay right here.” Someone might say to him, “But you cannot stay here. You have to move on. You must die to this place and be born into another world.” That baby would see birth as if it were death, and he would protest. What to us is birth, to him is death, and he resists it. That world is the only world he can see, the only world he knows. But the day comes when he does die to that life and is born into our world.

What happens to him? He is cradled in loving arms. Soft hands hold him gently. A kind face looks down at him, and he loves that face. Everyone that come near loves him. He is the king of the world he surveys. Then he begins to grow, and he finds life good. He has struggles and hardships, of course, but these are to make him a man. He grows to love this world, with its seasons, its beauty, its human companionship.

Finally he becomes an old man and he is told, “You have to die.” He protests: “I don’t want to die. I love this world. I like the sun on my face, the cool rain, the beautiful sunrises. I love the faces of my wife and children. I’ve lived here a long time. I don’t want to die.” This is the only world he can see, the only world he knows. But he does die to this world and is born into the next.

What happens? He awakens to find himself surrounded once again by loving faces, loving hands. More beautiful light and glory than he has ever seen, more glorious music than he has ever heard. All tears are wiped from his eyes, he is reunited with so many he has loved who have gone before him, and he stands in the glorious, loving, all embracing presence of Jesus himself. And he says, “Why was I so afraid of this thing called death, when, as I now know, it is life?”

Why, indeed?

The Man Who Left Jesus Sad

The Man Who Left Jesus Sad

Matthew 19:16-26

Dr. Jim Denison

As some of you know, I have a definite dislike of heights. Given that fact, I found this story especially interesting. On the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia in 1964, a confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia threatened the security of the region. And so British officers in Malaysia asked a group of their soldiers, the Gurkha tribe from Nepal, if they would be willing to jump from transport planes into combat against the Indonesians. The Gurkhas had the right to refuse the request because they had never been trained as paratroopers.

The Gurkhas usually agreed to anything, but they rejected this plan. However, the next day one of their leaders sought out his British officer and said they had discussed the matter further and would jump under certain conditions.

“What are they?” asked the British officer. The Gurkhas told him they would jump if the land was soft without rocks; the office stated that the area would be over jungle, and so agreed to the request. Then the Gurkhas asked that the plane fly as slowly as possible and no more than 100 feet high. The officer said that jumping from 100 feet was impossible, because the parachutes could not open in time.

“Oh,” said the Gurkhas, “that’s all right, then. We’ll jump with parachutes anywhere. You didn’t mention parachutes before!”

We’re looking at the Christ the world doesn’t know. Today we meet him at his most astonishing, as he talks with a man more like us than any other person in all the New Testament. What Jesus said to him, he says to us today.

Let’s see what it is, and why it matters. Get ready to leave your parachute behind.

Welcome to North Dallas

Our story begins, “Now a man came up to Jesus” (v. 16). What do we know about him? Matthew tells us he’s young, Luke says he’s a ruler, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that he is wealthy. Let’s explore further.

Luke 18:18 tells us that he was a “ruler,” someone in charge of a Jewish synagogue. A layman, elected by his peers to this position. He governed the affairs of their local synagogue, selected the preachers and readers for the services, presided over the elders (a kind of board of directors), and generally ran the institution. A tremendous honor, and great religious accomplishment.

Matthew 19:20 says that he is “young.” He had to be at least thirty to be a synagogue ruler; he’s probably just that, most likely the age of Jesus. He’s successful at an early age, with his whole life before him.

And he’s wealthy. In fact, Matthew 19:22 says that he had “great wealth.” The word means that he possessed fields, houses, and other property as well as great financial means. A real estate tycoon, we would say today.

In the eyes of the world, he’s just like us.

We’re religious. In fact, your attendance at church puts you in the top 38% of America, the average weekly church attendance. If you go to Bible study, this puts you in the top 16%.

We’re not all young, but our average age is 36.9.

We may not think we’re wealthy, but we are. The average price of a home in this community is $437,000; our average household income is $143,000. Like him, most of the world would consider us to be religious, young, and wealthy as well.

But all his success is not enough for his soul: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (v. 19).

Like most Americans, he thinks that eternal life is something we get from the things we do. If you’re good and believe in God, that’s enough.

So Jesus shows him that this won’t work. “Obey the commandments,” he tells him. He lists the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 5th, and then summarizes them with Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The man says that he’s kept all these. So, Jesus shows him that he has not: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (v. 21). If you truly, perfectly, completely love your neighbor as yourself, you would sell what you have and give it to him. If you want to get eternal life through what you do, this is what you must do.

But the man won’t do it: “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). He was the only man in all the Scriptures who came to Jesus in faith and left sad.

Now Jesus’ actions must have astonished his disciples. Here, at long last, is one of the elite ready to follow him. Someone with means and influence. Someone who can advance Jesus’ movement enormously. But Jesus sends him away sad.

Now he shocks them even further: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 23). They thought just the opposite—wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and favor; the wealthy have the best chance of heaven. But they don’t.

In fact, it’s impossible: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). Some have suggested that the “eye of a needle” meant a small door in the city wall through which a camel could crawl. Others say that by changing one letter in the Greek word for “camel” we get “rope,” and that’s Jesus’ point. But it’s not.

When the bewildered disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus is blunt: “With man this is impossible” (v. 26a).

As impossible as shoving a camel through the eye of a needle. We cannot do it. We cannot keep the commandments and get to God. No matter our wealth or prosperity, our religious accomplishment or social status, our youth or energy. With man it is impossible to “get eternal life.”

But here’s the good news: “but with God all things are possible” (v. 26b).

How to leave Jesus happy

Now, what does this story say to us today? Let’s apply God’s word through two questions.

First, are you willing to follow Jesus anywhere? Can he send you anywhere, to do anything, to talk to anyone, to give anything you have to anyone in need? Will you jump without any parachute except your faith in him?

If you will, be encouraged. You are doing exactly what Jesus wanted this rich young ruler to do, and all of us as well. You will leave Jesus happy today.

If you will follow Jesus anywhere, and do anything for him, then for you the message is done today. You already have your parachute. Get ready to jump.

But if you’re not there yet, let me ask a second question: what is keeping you from complete commitment to Christ? For this man, it was his money. Note that this was the only person Jesus ever asked to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. Not Nicodemus, or Zacchaeus, or Joseph of Arimathea, three famous wealthy men of the gospels. Just this man.

The reason was simple: his possessions possessed him. He had to sell them to gain his soul. This is not a condition for everyone to follow Jesus. But note well: the fact that Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.

Would you sell your possessions? If not, they possess you. Let them go today. Give them over to Jesus. Tell him that you’ll sell anything he wants you to sell, do with them whatever he says. Give them to him, right now.

Perhaps the issue keeping you from complete commitment to Jesus isn’t your possessions. Then, what is it? What possesses you?

Is it your career? Your vocational ambitions, which you are afraid will be compromised if you fully follow Jesus? Do you fear that you won’t get the promotion, or the position, or the status you want so much? If so, ask yourself: is it really wise to trade a forty-year career for the eternal rewards reserved only for those who fully follow Jesus? Is this a good career move?

Is it your need for achievement, to accomplish your goals? Not so much for career advancement as to feel significant in your work? This is a real issue for me. I don’t work hard so as to advance my career, but to feel that my life matters. I cannot stand to waste time, because I want my life to do everything it can for God. The problem is, I struggle with letting God change my plans, redirect my work, use me in a different way than I had planned to go.

I don’t need to sell my possessions, but I do need to sell my calendar. I must occasionally remember that the One who died for my sins loves me, and knows far better than I do how to make my life significant. Every day I must surrender that day’s plans and agendas to his Lordship. What about you?

Is it your friends? When you have to choose between popularity with them and pleasing Jesus, does Jesus lose? Remember that Jesus died for you—did they? Would they? Remember that he knows the future, and all that is best for you—do they? Remember that he will be there for you through the hardest times of your life—will they? Remember that your eternal reward in heaven is based on pleasing Jesus, not popularity with your friends. Is putting friends before Jesus the right thing to do?

Is it your family? Under God, my family is my first priority. I will put them before my work, my ambitions, my friends. But will I put them before God? Will you? Can God ask you to do something which would appear to hurt your family? To make a sacrifice which will cause them to sacrifice as well? Know that he loves your family more even than you do. But know also that following him means putting him before everyone else, even them. Have you done this?

Giving everything to follow Jesus is worth the decision. He wants your best, every time. And he can give you a significance and joy in living which no possessions, career, ambitions, friends, or family can offer. Others will see Christ in you, if Christ is truly your Lord.

George Gallup, in speaking to our Marketplace Grill business outreach lunch a week ago, read a quote I asked for on the spot. It is from John Stott, the wonderful pastor and theologian. Listen to his perceptive words:

“When we meet some people we know immediately and instinctively that they are different. We are anxious to learn their secret. It is not the way they dress or talk or behave, although it influences these things. It is not that they have affixed a name tag to themselves and proclaimed themselves the adherent of a particular religion or ideology. It is not even that they have a strict moral code which they faithfully follow. It is that they know Jesus Christ, and that he is a living reality to them. They dwell in him and he dwells in them. He is the source of their life and it shows in everything they do.

“These people have an inner serenity which adversity cannot disturb; it is the peace of Christ. They have a spiritual power that physical weakness cannot destroy; it is the power of Christ. They have a hidden vitality that even the process of dying and death cannot quench; it is the life of Christ.”

I want this. Don’t you?


Will you leave Jesus today sad, or happy? He comes to you now, and asks you to follow him. To sell whatever keeps you from him, and gain treasure in heaven, and follow him. This is the most important decision in all of life. And you must make it, right now. It won’t be easy, or popular, to follow Jesus. But it will be worth its cost, and more.

I conclude with these words from the poet, Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow woodAnd sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.

I will be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence;Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.

It always does.