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Leap before you look

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 5:25-26

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….”

Conclusion

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.