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.


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.”


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.


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.