A Miracle In Your Hand

A Miracle in Your Hand

Matthew 5:17-18

Dr. Jim Denison

In our last study we discussed happiness; this week let’s talk about success. If you could have anything to make your life more successful, what would it be?

Here are some technological options I found in the news recently.

You’re listening to a song on the radio but can’t remember its title or artist. Soon you will be able to put your cell phone up to the speaker; in 15 seconds the song’s name and artist will appear on your telephone, with information for ordering the CD.

“Voice badges” are an item worn around your neck, weighing less than two ounces, able to connect your voice to the Internet and your desktop computer as well.

A Personal Digital Pen—you write with it, and your computer transfers the handwriting to typed data input.

Here’s my favorite new invention: a chip for your Palm Pilot or other Personal Digital Assistant. You set your PDA on a table, where it projects a laser image of a full-sized keyboard onto the flat surface. You type on that surface, and the data is captured into your computer.

All miracles you can hold in your hand. Tools for success.

But none compares with this black leather-bound book in my hand. Let’s learn why, and discover why this is the one miracle you need for true success in your life today.

Value the word of God

Jesus continues his sermon: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (17a).

“Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that….”

“That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean.

“The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.

Jesus goes even further: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

“I tell you the truth”—translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this….”

“Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).

“Not the smallest letter”—refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

“Not the least stroke of a pen”—refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted I or the crossed T.”

“Will by any means disappear”—the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.”

“Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.

For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.

It keeps us from sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

It gives us hope: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. Miraculous in its work, and in its preservation and transmission to us today.

John Wycliffe was the first to begin translating the Bible into English. The authorities of his day opposed his work so vehemently that they sought his death. When to their disappointment he died of natural causes in 1384, they found his body, exhumed his remains, burned them, and scattered them in the river.

William Tyndale was the next major hero of the English Bible. 90% of the King James Version is taken from his translation. For his trouble he was arrested in 1536 and hanged. From the gallows he prayed, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.”

And God did. Within three years King Henry VIII instructed all publishers to permit “the free and liberal use of the Bible in our native tongue.” And the King James Version would soon follow. Through Tyndale’s work, God continues to open the eyes of the world. And God gave his life true success.

This book is a miracle—inspired by God, written by men, preserved by the Holy Spirit. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.” Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.

Study the word of God

Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.

I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the 5th grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible, but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.

First, decide to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the NIV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.

As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.

To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask, who wrote it? (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.). To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.

Now ask four crucial questions as you study:

What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.

What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.

What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.

Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?

Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.

Find Jesus in the word of God

Why? Because this is his definition of success: “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.

This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.

Then we can know Christ intimately and personally, and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.

Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?


You hold a miracle in your hand. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.

As you know, Billy Graham comes to Dallas for the last time this week. His has been a ministry of amazing historical significance. He has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history: 100 million face to face on six continents in 85 countries, and more than 2 billion through radio, television, and satellite broadcasts. He has received 25 honorary doctorates; the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civil award. But no one knowing him as a young preacher would have guessed any of this would happen in his ministry.

What has been the key to his powerful ministry? The year was 1949. Billy was 30 years of age, and his preaching had begun to attain notice. Upcoming meetings were scheduled for Los Angeles. And questions about the word of God were plaguing his soul. His friend Chuck Templeton was fast becoming a skeptic. His doubts were bothering Billy. He wasn’t sure what to do or believe.

As his autobiography tells the now-famous story, “I got up and took a walk. The moon was out. The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounding the retreat center. Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me….

“The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.’

“I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.’

“When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul and been fought and won” (p. 139).

What came next? Turn the page to the next chapter. Its title: “Watershed.” The Los Angeles Crusade met for eight weeks, and is now considered the greatest religious revival in the history of Southern California. And the rest is literally history. Would you say he is a success?

Here’s the phrase Billy Graham has made famous, the words he has repeated literally millions of times all over the world: “The Bible says….” The miracle is not the messenger but the message. It’s the same miracle you hold in your hand.

Does it hold you?

How To Live A Legacy

How to Live a Legacy

Matthew 5:21-24

Dr. Jim Denison

By now you’ve heard about the most sensational archaeological find in decades: the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus Christ.

The ossuary, a limestone burial box, is inscribed in the Aramaic language with the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It dates to A.D. 63. Naming the brother was very unusual and almost never occurred, unless that brother was someone of very great significance.

One scholar has called this discovery “the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology.” It is the earliest proof yet discovered for the historical life and importance of our Lord Jesus. And just one more way the greatest legacy of all time continues.

Beyond a tombstone, how will your legacy continue? We all want to leave one. In fact, if our survival and health are secure, legacy becomes our most important need.

According to recent surveys, the most important drives people feel today are to find a life purpose and mission, and to share this purpose and mission with others. In other words, we are looking for a life that matters, that leaves a legacy.

I am. My greatest fear is that I might stand before God one day and be told that I missed his purpose for my life. Do you share my fear? Do you want to outlive yourself, to know that your life will matter when it is done, to be sure that you don’t waste these years God has given to you?

Are you confident that people will remember you, be grateful for you, thank God for you? What will your legacy be? Will it be significant?

We’ll discover this morning that there’s only one way to leave a legacy, and that is to live a legacy. But such a legacy comes at a cost. Jesus will show us how to pay it, and why it’s the best investment we can make.

Refuse to hate or hurt (vs. 21-22)

Jesus continues his Sermon: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment'” (Matthew 5:21).

They “heard” this because the rabbis read the law to them in the synagogue each Sabbath, including this Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13).

A murderer was “subject to judgment,” the local tribunal composed of seven persons. These tribunals inflicted punishment with the sword for capital crimes.

Now we find Jesus’ commentary: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (v. 22a).

Jesus is not dealing here with the simple emotion of anger. This is an inevitable human reaction to hurt or harm. And it was an emotion Jesus felt himself. In Mark 3:5 Jesus “looked around at them in anger” for their unbelief; in John 2:15 he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “In your anger do not sin.” The emotion of anger is not a sin.

He is dealing with a different thing here. In the Greek language, thumos describes the spontaneous and unavoidable emotion of anger; it is not the word here. Orge is this word; it means anger which is long-lived, cherished in the heart, nursed and kept alive. The deliberate choice to continue holding onto your anger. Absolute unwillingness to pardon and move on.

Such cherished anger makes us “liable to judgment.” In other words, hating my brother is as wrong as the murder which hate spawns.

“Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin” (v. 22b).

“Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt which literally meant “empty-headed” or stupid. In ancient Judaism names were much more significant than they are for us. A name denoted a person’s character, and a word took on its own life and power.

So expressing your cherished anger by a term of contempt made you answerable not to the local tribunal but to the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. They typically required reparations in money for such an insult to a person’s reputation and status.

“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (v. 22c).

“Fool” was the worst, most slanderous term you could use against a person in ancient Israel. It comes from the Greek word for “moron,” and meant a person who is morally deficient, corrupted, immoral, a person with no character or value whatsoever.

This level of anger deserves “the fire of hell.” The Greek says, “the gehenna of fire.” The Valley of Gehenna stood to the south of Jerusalem. During the reigns of wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh, children were sacrificed to idols there. King Josiah stamped out such heinous sin, and made the valley a trash dump. Fires were kept burning there constantly to consume the trash; worms lived there which lived off the refuse.

Jesus would later make Gehenna a metaphor for hell “where the fire never goes out … their worm does not die” (Matthew 9:43,48).

What is Jesus teaching us? Refuse to hate or hurt your brother. No matter what he may have done to you. In a moment Jesus will teach us how to reconcile with him. For now, how do we handle the anger our pain has caused?

Act on your anger immediately, before it takes root in your soul: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4.26-27). Deal with this infection before it spreads. Admit it, and give it to God.

Guard your tongue, especially while you are angry: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). What we say shows who we are.

Choose to pardon, for your sake and his. Tim Stafford: “I would rather be cheated a hundred times than develop a heart of stone.” A wise old saint added, “I will never allow another person to ruin my life by making me hate him.”

The Didache is the oldest theological document outside the New Testament. It gives us good advice: “Love those that hate you, and you will have no enemy” (1:3). Ask God’s help, and it will be yours.

Who has made you angry this week?

Make things right today (vs. 23-24)

Now, how do we reconcile your relationship with this person? Jesus will tell us: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

“Offering your gift at the altar” describes the holiest moment a Galilean peasant might ever experience. Very rarely were non-priests allowed before the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem, and only when they were bringing animal sacrifice for a very special occasion. Some would prepare for years or all their lives for this moment. This is something akin to baptism for us.

There you “remember that your brother has something against you”—not just that you have something against him. “Something” is anything. There is no distinction here as to whether this is just or not, whether you are wrong or wronged. If anyone has anything against you today, you qualify.

Leave your gift. Don’t give it to the priest, but leave it where it is. Despite the holiness and significance of this moment. The person comes first: “go and be reconciled.” Take the initiative to make things right. Only then can you give your gift to God. You cannot be right with me if you are wrong with one of my children. Our heavenly Father feels the same way.

How do we attempt this reconciliation? I recently read an article in Psychology Today entitled “Making Amends.” It suggests that a meaningful apology requires three steps:

Regret: recognize that your action or inaction hurt this person, whether you intended such pain or not. Empathize with the pain they feel.

Responsibility: accept total responsibility for your actions or inactions.

Remedy: offer restitution or a promise to take action so that you do not repeat this behavior. Find a way to resolve the situation and restore the relationship.

Take the initiative to reconcile with your brother.

Go to the person directly: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15). Don’t talk about the person, but to him. Do it now.

The poet Edwin Markham lost everything when an unscrupulous banker betrayed his business confidence. He hated that man. And he could not write poetry, but doodled circles on paper for hours. Finally he realized he must forgive the man or die. He said aloud, “I forgive him.” For the first time in months, words began to flow. Looking at the circles on his paper, he wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win.

We drew a circle that took him in.

Start your circle today.


Refuse to hate and hurt. Initiate reconciliation with your brother. Not easy words to hear or easy things to do. So why pay this price? Because our relationships are our legacy. Not our possessions, achievements, or status. One day all that will be gone. Our belongings will belong to someone else. The cheers will die out, the crowds will disperse, life will go on without us. And the marks which will last eternally will be those we made on the eternal souls of the people we know today.

Whose life has made the greatest mark on you? Billy Graham finished the Metroplex Mission last Sunday evening by speaking to the largest crowd he has ever addressed in North America, and received the largest single collection in his ministry’s history. But his legacy will be the souls changed by God through his words. When Texas Stadium is gone and his ministry just a memory in history books, those souls’ eternities will have just begun.

Like him, you and I exist to help people follow Jesus. To love Jesus, and love our neighbor to Jesus. But we cannot be right with our Father unless we are right with his children.

Many stories have been told about the painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. One of my favorites is that da Vinci made the face of Judas similar in appearance to a personal enemy. As the artist thought of how much he disliked this man, it was easy to paint him as the traitor of our Lord. However, when he turned to paint the face of Jesus, he could not. His eyes wandered to the face of his enemy, creating thoughts within his heart which made it impossible to concentrate on the beauty and purity of Jesus. He painted the face of Christ only after he painted out the face of Judas and reconciled himself with his enemy.

To paint the face of Christ tomorrow, whose face must you change today?

It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know

It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know

Matthew 5:19-20

Dr. Jim Denison

This week has been truly historic for the Metroplex, as Billy Graham has returned one last time. How God has blessed us through Dr. Graham’s preaching and through the remarkable crusade events. Dr. Graham came to help us continue to fulfill the Great Commission, making disciples of all nations, beginning in this Jerusalem. God brought him here to help us continue to win the spiritual battle for the souls of millions of lost people living in the Metroplex…and each night, thousands responded to his invitation to faith in Jesus Christ. Another chapter has been written in the miraculous story that is Billy Graham and his ministry.

But Dr. Graham’s own stories always reveal his humility. For instance, he has told about the time during one of his crusades when he went for a walk to mail a letter. He asked a young boy along the way how to find the post office, and the boy told him. Then Dr. Graham said to the boy, “In my sermon tonight I’ll be telling people how to get to heaven. Would you like to come and listen?” The boy thought for a moment and said, “No, mister, I don’t think so—you don’t even know the way to the post office.”

Our country faces grave challenges in these days. Economic hard times; a looming war with Iraq; continued bombings by terrorists with threats of more; the Washington area sniper; mounting problems with AIDS and drug abuse. But the single greatest problem America faces today is that it hasn’t heard Billy Graham’s sermon. It doesn’t know how to get to heaven. It thinks it does, and that’s part of the problem, the tragedy.

This morning I want to be absolutely sure that you know how to spend your eternity with God, and how to be great once you’re there. I will never preach a sermon which is more important than this one.

How to be great in heaven

Jesus’ Sermon continues: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (19). Here Jesus shows us who will be great in heaven, and who will be least.

The “great” will be those who “practice and teach” the word of God. Both are crucial, and in this order. The “least” will be those who break the “least” of the commandments of God and influence others to do the same. Those who do not live by the word and will of God, and lead others away from his word as well.

Practice and then preach. This is how we conform to the image of Christ, achieving God’s definition of success for our lives. This is how we are like Jesus, and how we help other people follow Jesus.

This is why Billy Graham will be great in heaven—not because he has preached to two billion people, but because he first practiced what he preached.

Dr. Graham will not step onto an elevator alone if a woman is in that elevator alone. An associate always goes into a hotel room before he does. He will not eat a meal alone with a woman except his wife. He has taken not one dollar from the collections given at his Missions, drawing only a salary which is publicly disclosed. His team has always undercounted the crowds at his meetings, lest he be accused of exaggeration.

Years ago, Larry King asked Dr. Graham what his greatest fear in life might be. His answer: “My greatest fear is that I might do something before I die which would bring dishonor to my Lord.”

His life is his most powerful sermon. So is yours. So is mine.

How to miss heaven

So Jesus shows us how to be great in heaven. Now let’s ask an even more urgent question: how do we get there? “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20).

“I tell you”—these words come from Jesus himself.

Your righteousness must “surpass,” an emphatic word which means to go far beyond, to outdistance greatly.

Your “righteousness” must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. What was theirs? What must ours be?

The Pharisees were a small group, never more than 6,000 men. Their name meant “separated ones,” and it describes their passionate commitment to separation from regular life in obedience to the minutia of the Torah, the Law of God.

The Pharisees calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they aspired to keep them all.

Here is an example. To write on the Sabbath was to work, and this was prohibited. But what is “writing?” “He who writes two letters of the alphabet with his right hand or with his left hand, whether of one kind or of two kinds, if they are written with different inks or in different languages, is guilty. Even if he should write two letters from forgetfulness, he is guilty, whether he has written them with ink or with paint, red chalk, vitriol, or anything which makes a permanent mark. Also, he that writes on two walls that form an angle, or on two tablets of his account book so that they can be read together is guilty …But, if anyone writes with dark fluid, with fruit juice, or in the dust of the road, or in sand, or in anything which does not make a permanent mark, he is not guilty” (Barclay 1.129).

No group in human history has been more religious than were the Pharisees. If it were possible to go to heaven through human effort, their reservations in paradise would have been guaranteed.

But they were not: “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Certainly not” is a double negative: “by no means,” “there is no way that” you can enter heaven unless you are more righteous before God than were the Pharisees, the most religiously righteous people on earth.

In other words, you cannot do enough or be religious enough to go to heaven. The ladder doesn’t climb high enough. Religion won’t work, no matter how much of it you do. If it didn’t work for the Pharisees, it won’t work for us.

But we try, and we think we’re successful.

Most Americans are nowhere as religious as were the Pharisees. By some estimates, only 28% of Americans even attend a single worship service in a given week, and less than one in three read the Bible every week.

But only 2% of us are afraid we might to go hell. 78% of Americans believe Mother Teresa is in heaven, but 87% are sure they will go there.

Why? Because we’re “good people.” We believe in God and live good lives. Most of us have a church membership where we attend at Christmas and Easter and occasionally through the year. And our good deeds and religious beliefs are good enough, we’ve decided.

Jesus predicted that it would be so to the very end of history. Speaking of the end of time, he told his disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Saying the right religious words and even doing the right religious deeds is not enough to go to heaven. Whether we think it is or not.

How to go to heaven

So, how do we get there? How can our “righteousness” surpass that of the most religiously righteous people who have ever lived?

A week ago, our mission team stopped in London before returning from Russia to Dallas. While there I visited the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels. They are beautiful, but off limits to me. There is literally nothing I can do to earn the right to wear them.

I could renounce my American citizenship, move to England, and become a British citizen. I could serve in the British armed services and rise to their highest rank of office. I could immerse myself in British politics and become elected prime minister. But there is literally nothing I can do to achieve the status of royalty, for I was not born into the royal family. I need a different kind of achievement than is possible for me to realize.

So it is with the righteousness of God required to enter heaven. I cannot achieve it, nor can you, or the Queen of England for that matter. Only God can give this to us. This is the righteousness he gives to those who accept his Son as their Savior. Then we become the children of God—born into the family of God, born again into royalty.

This is the “righteousness” which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. This is the only righteousness which brings us to heaven.

Jesus explained it this way to the religious leader Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Paul added: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Christ Jesus. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the Law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). No one. No Pharisee. No Baptist. Not Billy Graham. Not you or me.

You cannot get to heaven by what you do, but only by what Jesus has done. It’s not what you know, but Who you know. We must “put our faith in Christ Jesus.” Is Jesus your Lord and Master? Do you know him personally, intimately? Does he know you?


Today Jesus has shown us how to get to heaven, and how to be great when we are there. Make him your Savior, your Lord. Then do his word and will, and teach others as well. Follow Jesus, and help people follow Jesus. This is the Gospel. It is so simple a child can understand it, and so profound we will spend our lives living it.

This is the Gospel Billy Graham is preaching in Dallas this weekend. It is the only way to heaven there is, and the only way we need. Now you must choose it for yourself.

In 1776, a Calvinist preacher in England named Augustus M. Toplady reportedly took shelter from a storm under a rocky overhang near a gorge. There, on the back of a playing card, he wrote a poem which captures better than I can this day’s message:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,Let me hide myself in Thee;Let the water and the blood,From Thy wounded side which flowed,Be of sin the double cure;Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my handsCan fulfill Thy law’s demands;Could my zeal no respite know,Could my tears forever flow,All for sin could not atone;Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,Simply to the cross I cling;Naked, come to Thee for dress;Helpless look to Thee for grace;Foul, I to the fountain fly;Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,When mine eyes shall close in death,When I soar to worlds unknown,See Thee on Thy judgment throne,Rock of Ages, cleft for me,Let me hide myself in Thee.

Are you hidden in him today?

Winning The Battle Of The Mind

Winning the Battle of the Mind

Matthew 5:27-30

Dr. Jim Denison

Dios te bendiga! Estoy contento de estar aqui con nuestra. Thus I began my sermons in Cuba last week: “God bless you. We are very happy to be with you.” And we were, for God did marvelous miracles before our very eyes. Each time I was privileged to preach the gospel, the pastors extended an invitation for people to come forward to trust in Christ. And people filled the entire front of the sanctuary and down the center aisle as well. Sunday morning Jeff Byrd and I were two of eight pastors helping to baptize 156 people in a lake outside Camaguey. I’ll never forget the first person I baptized—a young woman with only one leg. Or the oldest: an elderly woman who came up out of the water and said into the heavens, “Now I have died with Christ.”

She was right. When we follow Jesus, we die to the old life and live only for the new. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to live this new life, the biblical worldview, the life of a disciple. Today he deals with sexual sin and adultery.

Is this an issue for us?

40 million American adults have visited a sexually-oriented site on the Internet. Children spend 64.9% more time on pornography sites than on game sites. Annual rental and sales of adult videos and DVDs top $4 billion. The average American teenager views 14,000 sexual references on television each year.

The incidence of adultery has risen 50-70% in the last decade in America.

The problem is clear, and real. How do we win the battle of the mind?

Refuse adultery of body (v. 27)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery’” (v. 27). Here our Lord quotes the Seventh Commandment, cited specifically in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18.

From the very beginning, God made clear to his creation that sexual activity within marriage is normal and good. In fact, he commanded it: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it'” (Genesis 1:28).

But God also made very clear that sex is his gift for marriage. Extramarital sex is always wrong.

“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you” (Leviticus 20:10-14).

“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

Premarital sex is as wrong as extramarital sex:

If a man accuses his new wife of violating her virginity before their marriage, “and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

“If a man happens to meet in town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Sex is God’s gift for marriage. We are to refuse all adultery, of any kind. We are not to engage in sexual activity until we are married, and then with our spouse alone. This is the clear word and will of God.

Refuse adultery of mind (v. 28)

1. How do we keep this commandment? How do we resist sexual temptations, especially in a culture which so surrounds us with them every day? To refuse adultery of body, first refuse adultery of mind.

Aristotle: “What is a crime for a person to do, is a crime for a person to think.” Jesus proves that this is so.

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v.28).

The “I” here is emphatic—Jesus is asserting his own divine authority. This is just as much the command of God as the Seventh Commandment.

“Anyone”—regardless of religious title, status, or significance. No exceptions are granted here.

“Who looks at”—no problem so far. The sin is not noticing a woman or a man. The sin is not the first look but the second. Luther was right: you cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.

“A woman”—not specifically a wife, though this is implied. But adultery of the mind can be practiced with any woman, or with any man.

“Lustfully”—”who looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting.” Barclay translates the phrase, “Everyone who looks at a woman in such a way as to waken within himself forbidden desires for her.”

“Adultery with her in his heart”—the “heart” includes the intellect, the emotions, the will. The place from which actions find the origin. The source of all that follows. When we poison the mind, we poison the body. We poison the headwaters, which pollutes the river which flows out from them. The heart becomes the life.

Refuse the thoughts before they become actions. It will never be easier to refuse lust than when it first appears to your mind.

Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”

Proverbs 6:25-29: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.”

David’s sin started in 2 Samuel 11:2: “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful….”

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

What if you cannot? What if there is an area or activity in your life which continually leads you into lust of the mind? Luther was picturesque: If your head is made of butter, don’t sit near the fire. Here’s how Jesus advises us: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (v. 29).

The “right eye” was considered the better of the two (cf. 1 Samuel 11:.2, Zechariah 11:17), as is the “right hand” in verse 30.

If it “causes you to sin”—the phrase means specifically the stick in a trap which holds the bait; when the prey touches the stick, the trap snaps shut. So it is with the eye, the trap which baits the mind.

What are we to do with a sinful “eye?” Rabbinic hyperbole was a common teaching technique in Jesus’ day. The rabbis would teach a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. It is so here. Taken literally, one leaves the left eye with which to view lustfully. Take both eyes, but a blind man can still think sinful thoughts.

Jesus’ point is simple: rid yourself of anything which causes lustful thoughts in your mind. Premium channels on cable or satellite television; cable or satellite television; or even television. Use Internet pornography filters on your computer, or even get rid of the Internet itself. I have known of men and women who have changed their working relationships to avoid such temptation, and admire them for their courage in doing so. Do whatever you must.

This is spiritual surgery—amputating the diseased limb to save the life of the patient. In this case, the soul. Because the malignancy is spreading.

Another illustration follows: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (v. 30).

The right hand was indispensable for work in the ancient world. People typically saw the left hand as a symbol for evil, so they used it only for the most menial and demeaning tasks. Even today in many places in the East, to gesture to someone with the left hand is obscene.

Jesus’ point: get rid of anything you cannot control sexually. Anything which is causing you to lust must go. No matter how valuable you think it is. You would amputate your hand to save your life. So you must here.

Do it now.

1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

These are commandments from our holy God who is also our loving Father.


We have dealt today with a sober subject, but one which proves the continuing relevance of the Sermon on the Mount to life today. Refuse adultery of the body, extramarital and premarital sex. How? By refusing adultery of the mind. How? By refusing anything which leads you to such mental sin. Now.

Let me close with this fact: you cannot obey the teachings of this text alone. You were not meant to. There is not one word of the Sermon on the Mount which can be fulfilled in human ability. We must have God’s help to do God’s will.

So ask Jesus to deal with the source—your heart. Ask God to forgive your every sin, and claim his cleansing and renewal: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Then stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to the source of your power by praying and worshiping all day long, communing with Christ: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). When your enemy is shooting arrows at you, you’ll stay behind your shield.

Keep your mind focused on God: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God … Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:1, 5). And you will have the victory of God.

When we first come to faith in Christ, we want our lives to be pure, moral, holy. We know how crucial it is that we stay right with God and moral in our thoughts and actions.

But, over time we become more and more engaged in the fallen world around us. We become more accepting of the world’s standards, its culture, its practices. And its sins. We become successful in the world’s eyes, and we begin to see with those eyes. We forget that it is our relationship with a pure and holy God which is the only power which sustains us, the reason for all our true success.

We become like the spider in the fable which began his web at the top of an old, abandoned barn. He dropped a single line from the highest beam of the roof, and began to spin his web from it. Over time his web became larger and larger, and caught for him more and more food. He became happy, then complacent, proud of his success. One day he noticed that single thread running from his web up into the darkness above. “I wonder why that is there,” he thought to himself. “It doesn’t catch me any food.”

So he climbed up to that single thread and cut it. And slowly the entire web came tumbling to the ground.

Let us pray.