Leap Before You look

Leap Before You Look

Matthew 5:25-26

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me this list of questions to think about:

Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds?

Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

If 7-11 stores are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on their doors?

Why is it that something transported by car is called a shipment, but something transported by a ship is called cargo?

How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work?

Some questions are worth contemplation, and some aren’t. I read this week that the African impala can jump higher than ten feet and longer than thirty, yet one can be kept in any zoo enclosure with a three-foot wall. The reason? These animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. The paralysis of analysis. Afraid to leap before they look.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is dealing with anger and forgiveness. We must not hate or hurt; we must initiate reconciliation. Now he tells us when to do this: today. Make right what is wrong. No matter what prudence dictates, or your circumstances suggest. No matter how hard it is, or what people will think. Now. Leap before you look. Here’s why.

Make right what is wrong, now

Jesus paints the picture: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way” (v. 26a).

According to Roman law, the plaintiff could carry the accused with him to stand before the judge. No arresting officer was needed.

The Greeks called this “apegagon”—the legal act by which a man could catch another by the robe at the throat and drag him before the courts. Crimes which were subject to this action were stealing clothes at the public baths, picking pockets, house-breaking, and kidnapping.

The Jews allowed this action in the case of financial debt. A man owes you for services rendered, but won’t pay. You see him walking down the road, and are legally allowed to grab him and haul him before the judge.

The defendant may be innocent of the charges, or guilty. But he can be arrested in this way, nonetheless.

So you have such a situation, legally or relationally. You are at odds with someone. They accuse you, or slander you, or condemn you. Perhaps they’re right or wrong on the merits—Jesus doesn’t say. But you’re wrong with each other. What do you do?

“Settle matters.” The Greek word means to “make friends,” to seek good will with someone. It is a word describing the attitude which comes before the action, your heart before your hand.

Don’t react to your adversary by becoming his. Don’t seek to repay his accusations with your own. Don’t hit back. Don’t plot revenge. Seek reconciliation.

When? “Quickly … while you are still with him on the way.”

The adversaries could settle “out of court” before they reached the judge. But once before him, the law must prevail.

Do it now. Don’t wait. No conditions. No exceptions.

Why? “He may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (vs. 25b-26).

If you delay, things will only get worse. Your private conflict becomes public.

And your debt becomes harder and harder to pay. You must pay “the last penny,” the Roman quadrans, a coin worth 1½ cent today. But you’re in prison, so earning the money to pay this debt is harder than ever before. Your family and friends will likely be required to help. The ripples of this conflict spread ever further and further. Things go from bad to worse. Inevitably.

When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I had a student who missed three weeks of school and nearly died from a blood infection which started with a splinter in his thumb he ignored. When I pastored New Hope Baptist Church we had a member who nearly died from a spider bite he ignored. In Atlanta one of my best friends in our church nearly died from a black mole on his shoulder he ignored until it became melanoma. Cancer always spreads. Make right what is wrong, now.

Objections to reconciliation

But seeking reconciliation is hard, isn’t it? And we have many objections. We don’t want to admit we’re wrong, or wronged. We’d rather keep things the way they are, whether the problem is with Iraq or with our spouse. We learn to live with the pain, the self-pity or anger, the bitterness or betrayal. We have many reasons not to act today.

Someone will say to me this morning, the debt is too great. The pain is too deep. You don’t know how badly I’ve been hurt. I cannot let it go. I cannot initiate pardon and reconciliation.

But Jesus prayed for those who drove nails into his wrists and feet, who stripped his clothes and spat in his face: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

And so Stephen prayed for those who held stones with which they would crush his skull and end his life: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

I read this week about Walter Everett, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Hartford, Connecticut, who performed the wedding ceremony for his son’s killer. Michael Carlucci shot Scott Everett to death in 1987. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was imprisoned. Pastor Everett corresponded with him and eventually visited him in prison. Carlucci told him that after receiving Everett’s first letter, he knelt in his prison cell and asked God for forgiveness. In the prison, after an hour-long meeting, the two men stood, shook hands, embraced, and cried. Pastor Everett said, “Christians won’t be able to understand why Jesus came and what Jesus is all about unless we forgive.” Carlucci now runs a trucking business and spends his spare time speaking to prison inmates about what God has done in his life.

No matter how great the debt you owe or are owed, seek reconciliation. Leap before you look.

Someone else will say, I am not able to forgive. I don’t have it within me. I don’t have the ability to seek or give reconciliation.

In Gethsemane, Jesus confessed that he did not want to go to the cross with its sin and separation from his Father. He did not want to pay this price for our forgiveness. But his Father enabled him to say, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). And it was.

And so Paul testified, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). And so can we.

On February 9, 1960, Adolph Coors III was kidnapped and held for ransom. Seven months later his body was found on a remote hillside. He had been shot to death. Adolph Coors IV, then 15 years old, lost not only his father, but his best friend. For years young Coors hated Joseph Corbett, the man who was sentenced to life for the murder. Then in 1975, Ad Coors became a Christian. In time he divested himself of his interest in the family brewery business, but he could not divest himself of the hatred which consumed him. Resentment stunted his soul’s growth and his faith’s joy. Finally he prayed to God for help, realizing that his hatred for Corbett was poisoning his life.

Then, claiming the Spirit’s help, Ad Coors visited the maximum security unit of Colorado’s Canon City penitentiary to talk with Corbett. Corbett refused to see him. So Coors left a Bible inscribed with this message: “I’m here to see you today and I’m sorry that we could not meet. As a Christian, I am summoned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive you. I do forgive you … and I ask you to forgive me for the hatred I’ve held in my heart for you.” Later Coors confessed, “I have a love for that man which only Jesus Christ could have put in my heart.”

Jesus will help you to initiate or receive reconciliation. Leap before you look.

And someone else will say to me, it’s too late for reconciliation. The person is dead. Or gone from my life. I cannot reach them, or reach out to them.

But in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus could say to his Father: “My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21). When we cannot reach someone, God still can.

On an inner wall of a Nazi concentration camp, Allied soldiers found this prayer:

“O Lord, when I shall come with glory in your kingdom, do not remember only the men of good will; remember also the men of evil.

“May they be remembered not only for their acts of cruelty in this camp, the evil they have done to us prisoners, but balance against their cruelty the fruits we reaped under the stress and in the pain; the comradeship, the courage, the greatness of heart, the humility and patience which have been born in us and become part of our lives, because we have suffered at their hands.

“May the memory of us not be a nightmare to them when they stand in judgment. May all that we have suffered be acceptable to you as a ransom for them.”

Then these final words: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and die….”


Leap before you look. Trust that Jesus has your best interest at heart when he teaches you to seek reconciliation today. How different will your life be when this burden is lifted from your soul? When the grief or guilt, the bitterness or malice are gone? When you have made things right, so far as you can make them right?

But to give reconciliation, you must first receive it. You cannot give what you do not have. Have you been reconciled to God? His Son has come to initiate a relationship with you. You could not get from earth to heaven, so heaven came to earth. Jesus to you. He has already died to pay for every sin you will ever commit. His death is your life.

Will you receive this grace? Will you give it away? Will you leap before you look?

Consider these facts: the earth rotates around its axis at 1,043 mph while revolving around the sun at 66,660 mph. Our solar system is moving toward the star Vega at 43,200 mph; the solar system and Vega move in the Milky Way Galaxy at 489,600 mph; the Milky Way Galaxy moves toward the Andromeda Galaxy at 180,000; this group together moves toward the Local Supercluster of galaxies at 540,000 mph. Thus, while you think you’re sitting still, listening to this message, our planet is rotating at 556,260 mph while moving in a line at 1,319,460 mph.

But, the most important movement is the one you make next.

The Holiday God Requires

The Holiday God Requires

Psalm 100

Dr. Jim Denison

What is your favorite holiday? According to all the surveys, Christmas is America’s first choice. Yet it may surprise you to learn that it was not celebrated until 336 A.D., and did not become popular in America until the 1860s. And no one is sure when Jesus’ birth actually occurred. It is observed on December 25 because early Christian leaders wanted to replace Saturnalia, a popular pagan holiday observed on that day.

The holiday which comes in last in popularity for Americans is Thanksgiving. Only 2% rank it their favorite. Would you? God does.

It is a glorious and wonderful thing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We should do so every day. But thanksgiving is the one observance which is commanded by our Lord, absolutely mandated by the Scriptures: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Thanksgiving is the will of God.

Why is thanksgiving so important to God? How can it be more important to us? Today’s message teaches this simple fact: thanksgiving is the key to the presence and power of God. The power you need for your life and problems today. Our text will show us how to use that key this morning.

Be thankful for who God is (Psalm 100)

What are we to do? Here are seven imperatives, seven commands in this famous psalm.

“Shout to the Lord”—”shout” means to participate actively and publicly in vocalizing your praise to God. This is no spectator sport, no watching professionals or musicians perform. To “shout” involves your voice, your mind, your emotions, your spirit, your body. To give everything to personal, passionate worship.

“Worship the Lord with gladness”—”worship” here means to orient your entire life and existence to your sovereign Master, to give him your whole heart, to surrender your entire life to his service. This is 24/7, not just an hour at church. To yield your life all day, every day, to his Lordship. Do this with “gladness,” rejoicing for the privilege.

“Come before him with joyful songs”—literally, “come into his presence through joyful singing.” “Presence” means his face. Get so close to God that you can see his face. Twice over the years, I have heard the President of the United States speak, in the same room. Both times I was so far away that it could have been his brother, or his wife, for that matter. Get into the closest possible presence of God with your worship.

“Know that the Lord is God”—”know” means to acknowledge or confess personally, to admit publicly that the Lord is God over all the world. This is a public confession, made proudly and boldly.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” More of this in a moment.

“Give thanks to him”—once you are in his presence, give thanks to God. The 100th psalm carries the Hebrew inscription, “for giving thanks.” It is the only psalm in the Bible which does.

“Praise his name”—the “name” of God denotes his presence, his personality, his very essence. Praise God himself.

Here are the commands of God, his expectations of us. They come to this: give thanks to God, this day and every day.

Who should do this: “all the earth.” Is anyone excluded? Anyone today left out? No matter our singing ability. I may be the only person you know who was invited not to join his church youth choir. But I can sing in this choir loft. And so can you.

No matter our religious background. As you know, Jews thought God made Gentiles so there would be firewood in hell. But here Gentiles are invited into the worship of God.

No matter our religious achievements. No sins can keep us from God’s love; no failures can bar the way. No sin is beyond the grace and forgiveness of our Father. If you dwell on the earth, you are invited to the worship of the Lord God.

Why do this? Because of who this God is:

He is “Lord.” This is the Hebrew word YHWH, transliterated “Yahweh.” It was the holiest name in all the Hebrew language. It means “the One who was, is, and is to come.” Lord of all time and eternity. Lord of your past, present, and future.

He is “God.” This is the Hebrew word Elohim, meaning “one who is great, mighty, and dreadful.” Yahweh says who God is; Elohim says what he does. He does great, mighty, awe-ful things.

He is “good” (5a). This Hebrew word means that God keeps his promises, out of his character and nature. He is righteous, trustworthy, and holy. He deserves our thanks.

Theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.: “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’ It’s very strange. It’s a little like being married in general.”

Be thankful for who God is. Such thanksgiving is the key to the presence and power of our Lord.

Be thankful for what God does

The psalmist calls us to give thanks for who God is, and now for what God does. Here we see the blessings of the Lord in three tenses.

First, what he has done for us in the past: “He made us” (3b). He created us, each and every one of us.

Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If you dwell in the heavens or on the earth, he made you. There are no exceptions here.

Here are some facts I learned this week about these bodies God has made. Your body is made of 100 trillion cells; 300 million of them die every minute. Your brain possesses 100 billion nerve cells. Each square inch of your skin contains 20 feet of blood vessels; placed end to end, your body’s blood vessels would measure 62,000 miles. That’s how far your blood travels each day. That same square inch of skin has an average of 32 million bacteria on it. Your eyes are the same size as when you were born, but your nose and ears never stop growing. Every year 98% of the atoms in your body are replaced. And when you sneeze, all your bodily functions stop—including your heart.

Your God made all that, when he made you.

In the past God created us, then redeemed us. He made us, and then he bought us.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Now, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (v. 9).

One of the first stories I ever heard in a sermon was about the boy who built himself a little red toy sailboat. He loved it, and played with it every day. Until the day the string broke and it sailed down the river and out of his sight. He was crushed.

A few days later he saw his boat in the window of a pawn shop. He went to get it back, but the owner told him he’d have to buy it. So he saved every nickel until he had enough money. He took it to the shop and retrieved his boat. As he left the store he said to the boat in his hands, “Now you’re mine twice. I made you the first time, and I bought you the second.”

Be thankful for all that God has done for you in the past. Next, be thankful for what he does in the present: “we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (v. 3).

“We are his,” for he made us. He “owns the patent.” He is our owner and master.

And so we are “his people, the sheep of his pasture.” This means that he knows us intimately and personally, as a shepherd knows his sheep. The shepherd lives with his sheep. He sleeps in their field, and walks at their side. He weathers their storms, faces their enemies, comforts their fears. He knows his sheep intimately.

In John 10 Jesus says of himself, “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3). Jesus knows your name. He knows every detail of your life. And he loves you intimately. Nothing shall ever separate you from his love (Romans 8:35-39).

We think we have earned what we have today, but we’re wrong.

If we were to shrink the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, that village would contain the following: 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western hemisphere, and 8 Africans. 52 would be female, 48 male. 6 would possess 59% of the world’s wealth. 80 would live in substandard housing; 70 would be unable to read; 50 would suffer from malnutrition. Do you know how many would have a college education? One. How many would own a computer? One.

Did you deserve to have physical abilities and not challenges? To be born in America and not Iraq? To have parents who would love you and not abuse you? To have the privileges and opportunities you enjoy today?

Be thankful for what God has done in the past, and what he does in the present. Now be thankful for what he will do in the future: “his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (v. 5).

Here’s a glimpse of our future: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Our finite and fallen minds cannot begin to comprehend the future God has in store for us: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).


Give thanks because of who God is, and what he does. When we do, our thanksgiving ushers us into the presence of God: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (v. 4). The “gates” of the Temple were the first entry point; the “courts” were the area where worship was given.

When we worship the Lord, giving thanks to him, we are able to enter past the gates and into the courts of the Almighty. This is how we enter his presence, and experience his power. This is how we meet with God. In this way and no other. Thanksgiving unlocks the gates of heaven. It is their only key.

Is Thanksgiving a holiday or a holy day for you? Is it an annual event or a daily experience? When you see who God is, and what he does in the past, present, and future, can you hold back your thanks and praise? Does he not deserve our attitude of gratitude, thanksgiving as a daily experience and lifestyle? This is how you experience God, in all his holiness and power, grace and glory. This is the one holiday God requires.

I found this poem this week, and it has lifted my spirits every day:

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and praise,

To Him whose loving kindness has followed all my days;

To Him who gently leads me by cool and quiet rills

And with their balm of comfort my thirsty spirit fills.

Within the vale of blessing, I walk beneath the light

Reflected from His glory, that shines forever bright.

I feel His constant presence wherever I may be;

How manifold His goodness, how rich His grace to me!

My heart is overflowing with love and joy and song,

As if it heard an echo from yonder ransomed throng.

Its every chord is vocal with music’s sweetest lay,

And to its home of sunshine it longs to fly away.

I feign would tell the story, and yet I know full well

The half was never, never told—the half I cannot tell.

Fanny Crosby wrote these words. Her eyes were blind. But her heart saw God, and gave him thanks. Does yours?