Today we are continuing through our study of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Today's passage is another example of how, if we were not working our way through a portion of the Bible verse by verse, we would never cover this section. Never in my short history of leading Bible studies and preaching have I been asked about taking an oath. It is just not a topic that is on the forefront of society’s mind. Ironically, because we could care less about oaths, is exactly why we need to address this topic. Because our casualness to the spoken truth is exactly the issue that Jesus is addressing in our text today. So with that said, let us read the word of truth, pray to Jesus our truth, and then unpack the truth.
- Matthew 5: 33-36 - "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. “
First thing we need to understand is that this passage is not about oaths, it is about our prideful and lying hearts. Just like we have seen over the last three weeks, the topics that Jesus is addressing are topics on sin, and what he is doing is taking the a pious acts of the scribes and pharisees and waving them in front of everyone and the pushing them down to their hearts.
One reason we know that this passage is not primarily about oaths is because oaths are not evil in an of themselves, they are in fact neutral.
- Numbers 30:1-2 - “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, "This is what the LORD has commanded. 2 If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
So you can see here, oaths are not in themselves evil. God is saying that if you say your are going to do something, then do it. Likewise Paul swears by God in 2 Corinthians 1:23 and Romans 1:9-10. Having said that, the existence of an oath is evidence of our sinfulness. For to use an oath is to imply that humanity has a propensity to sin, that humanity can't be trusted, therefore we need special words to convince others that we are not lying.
As we have said before, with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, he is not re-writing, he was resetting the law. The reason that he had to reset the law is that the religious leaders had made a mockery out of oaths and swearing, and therefore they made a mockery out of truth. Just to give you a sense of the problem of the day, turn with me to Matthew 23:16. In this passage Jesus is pronouncing
- Matthew 23:16-22 - “"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.' 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
The second reason we need to understand that this passage is not about oaths is because Jesus, the great Physician consistently operates on the heart, not the mouth. When you make this passage about only about oaths, then you are no better than the scribes and Pharisee. One such group that has done this are the Quakers, or at least they use to do this. The founder of the Quaker denomination is George Fox, a very zealous and devoted Christian man, but off on a couple points. This passage is one of them. Once before the Judges at Lancaster, Fox said this:
“You have given me a book here to kiss and to swear on, and this book which ye have given me to kiss says, “Kiss the Son,” and the Son says in this book, “Swear not at all.” I say as the books says, and yet ye imprison me; how chance ye do not imprison the book for saying so?”
This rhetoric is witty, but off the mark. Having said that, this view of Fox caught on and because of this position, if you were to go into most courtrooms and testify you might be asked to “swear or affirm.” The “affirm” option is largely due to the Quaker movement that was very popular in the early years of America. The problem with this position, is that Fox was doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing but at the opposite end of the spectrum. He was taking the law of God, as spoken by Jesus, and drawing a new line in the sand. He was missing the main point. So what is the main point? Radical truth that flows out of a heart of a disciple of Christ.
There are many ways you could divide humanity. One way you could divide it is good verses evil. Another way is light verse darkness. And a third way to divide humanity is truth and lies . By this I meaning there is a realm of truth and there is a realm of lies. There are two Kingdoms. The Kingdom of truth and the Kingdom of lies.. You can get a sense of these two sides in John 8:43-47.
- John 8:43-47 - “ Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."
These two families are drastically different. In fact, they are polar opposites. The foundation of each Kingdom is built on a different grounds, the Kingdom of God is built on rock solid truth. The Kingdom of Satan is built on lies. God loves the truth and Satan hates the truth. We are told Satan wants nothing to do with the truth. We are told he is, in fact, the father of lies. The reason he is called the father of lies is because what took place in the Garden of Eden.
The first moment Satan spoke in the garden we saw evidence of this. His desire was to deceive Adam and Eve. If you think about his lie, it was subtle. There was even some truth mixed in. In our modern day in age, we call what Satan did in the Garden of Eden “spinning.” He was taking truth and putting his slant on it so as to achieve his purpose. It was, in a way, a little white lie. However there was nothing little about it. The ramifications, the ripple effect of his lie were, and are, enormous. Because of his lie, we are all sinners. Because of his lie, humanity is separated from God. Because of his lie, the wrath of God hangs over humanity waiting to come crashing down at any moment. Because of his lie, Jesus had to die. His lie may appear to be subtle, but this is once again another deception of Satan. There is no thing as a little white lie. It is either a lie or it is not. There is no gray.
So why does Satan lie? Simple, he is a liar. The reason he lies is that is who he is. We are told in verse forty-four that Satan speaks out of his character. His lies are a product of who he is. His lying does not make him a liar. No it is because He is a liar that he lies. This distinction is important because it shows the consistency of rebelling. The act of sin does not make you a sinner. You are a sinner, therefore you sin. Satan is no different. He is not Satan because of his lies. He lies because he is Satan.
And Jesus is telling the Jews in John 8 that their father is Satan. These are very strong words. Once again, this is a Jesus you cannot ignore. Anyone who says that Jesus is soft and cuddly has not read the Gospels. Jesus was a proclaimer of truth, no matter how sharp it was. He did not sugarcoat his message. He did not spin it. So how does Jesus know that their father was Satan? Because you know a tree by its fruit. Jesus just had to look at what came out of their mouth. All the evidence pointed to the reality that they were not in the family of God, but they were instead in the family of Satan. Jesus tells them in verse forty-one “You are doing the works your father did.” and in verse forty-four he says, “ You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.” They are chips off the old block.
This week, as everyone knows, we had a baby. What is the first thing that everyone does when they look at a baby? The try to see which parent they resemble. People will say she looks just like Jessica or I or a mix of both. Why? Because it is true. My child looks like me. Looking like me does not make her my daughter. She is my daughter because she is my daughter, her resemblance to me is just a consequence of the relationship.
Jesus is doing the same thing spiritually. He is telling them that they are acting just like their dad. They are doing what Satan does. They have the same character. They are deceivers, they are liars. They are displaying the spiritual DNA that they have inherited from Satan, their father.
And this is what Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23 and in our text today in Matthew 5. He is addressing the prevalent deception of the day. The Scribes and Pharisees had established a system of lies. There oaths were not something that could be counted on. They were merely hollow words. Truth had no place. White lies, and spinning, and broken promises were common. The religious institution and the culture was not built on a foundation of integrity, and honesty, and reality. It was built on shifting sand. People would say whatever it took, whether true or not, to achieve their purpose and pursue their pleasures. People would pridefully “swear to God” at the drop of a hat, and then lift no finger to follow through. They would make promises that were completely out of their control.
Imagine the frustration of that day. Someone sells you a piece of land and confirms it by an oath, only later to realize that the oath they gave was sworn by the temple and not by the gold, therefore it was null and void. People regularly invoking the name of God to win an argument. As is if God's Holy name exists so that we can leverage it to be cast into the midst of some petty argument. It seems ludicrous doesn't it. Unfortunately, it is not. It is common in this day in age.
If there ever was an indicator of our nation not being a Christian nation, it is our propensity to lie. Generally speaking, we are a nation of liars. We lie about our weight, we lie about our age, we lie on our time-cards at work, we lie on our taxes, we break promises. We swear to God whenever it is convenient. Last week we talked about divorce, there is no better example then the broken vows of marriage. To death due us part, baloney.
Our media lies, our politicians lie, even our religious institutions lie. What is probably more disappointing then the lying is the tolerance of it. Lying has become so commonplace in our society that no one cares. You regularly hear, whats the big deal? It is just a little white lie. I will tell you what the big deal is,
- Proverbs 12:22 - “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD,”
Why does God hate lying lips? Because they wreak of Satan's breath. Listen to what it says in Revelation 21:8.
- Revelation 21:8 - “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
- John 1:14-17 - “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
No lie ever touched the lips of Jesus, however, not only was Jesus truthful, he was incarnate truth. He was the way to truth. He is the answer to our lying and prideful heart. For it is only when we place our complete trust in the one named Faithful and True, that truth comes and reigns in our heart. By faith in Christ, the Word of Truth is planted in our hearts and it bears fruits consistent with our new nature in Christ. No longer will we bear the resemblance of the Father of Lies, but instead we will be beacons of truth, a people of integrity, a people who can be trusted, a people of God.