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.


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.