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The Greatest Sermon Ever Told | Speaking Truth in a Post-Truth World
October 22, 2023
33“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.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Almighty and merciful God, of your bountiful goodness keep us from everything that may hurt us, that we may be ready in body and soul with free hearts to accomplish whatever you want us to do; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 19
The law of the LORD is perfect,
Reviving the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure,
Making wise the simple;
The precepts of the LORD are right,
Rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure,
Enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean,
The rules of the LORD are true,
And righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Even much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey
And drippings of the honeycomb.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Summary and Connection
This week’s study is based on Matthew 5:33-37. In our previous discussions, we learned about the purpose of Jesus’ teaching: upholding the intent and scope of the law and proclaiming the need for the whole-person righteousness, as opposed to the external righteousness the Pharisees promoted through their teaching of the law. In this section Jesus once again employs a threefold exegetical method: First, he states the teaching of the Pharisees (verse 33). He provides true interpretation by focusing on the importance of truthfulness in all its forms, the abiding nature of God’s covenant, and the power of words (verses 34-36). And thirdly, he offers a practical application: Coram Deo—Christians ought to live their entire lives truthfully and transparently before the presence of God and others in such a way that even their “yes,” and “no” would be sufficient in testifying their honesty and integrity (verse 37). Jesus brings the ax to the root of the lie, thereby destroying its deceptive nature that entrenches behind the oath (perjury, and false testimony). Jesus focuses on the importance of truthfulness in all its forms, and in every situation. In other words, Jesus does not prohibit Christians from taking oath when it is required by the state in the court of law, but advocates for truthfulness in all of life.
1. Looking at the Bible
Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? Who are the main characters in this story? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- How did the Pharisees interpret the law with respect to taking oaths? What did they emphasize?
- According to Jesus what is the true interpretation of the law with respect to taking oaths? What does he emphasize?
- According to Jesus if taking oaths is forbidden, is the prohibition absolute? Should Christians, in order to be consistent in their obedience, decline from taking an oath in a court of law?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- How does Jesus embody truthfulness in all its forms in his life, death, and resurrection?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- In this passage Jesus emphasizes the importance of truthfulness and the abiding power of words. In what ways are we tempted to use our words to lie, or to say less than the whole truth? What truth does our temptation to lie reveal about ourself?
- In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes an insightful observation: “The cross is God’s truth about us, and therefore it is the only power which can make us truthful.” How is the cross God’s truth about you? How does Jesus empower you to be truthful?
4. Looking at Our World
- How might this passage give us hope and confidence to exercise truthfulness in a culture that denies the existence of God’s sacred order and absolute truth?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1a. The Pharisees had narrowed the scope of the commandment by developing rules for oath taking. They had created an elaborate web of formulae wherein one was bound to fulfill the oath only if he were to invoke God’s name in relation to his personhood, and creation. In other words, the people were not bound to an oath as long as they did not invoke the divine name. According to the Pharisees, ‘false swearing,’ meant using the divine name profanely, and not perjury—a dishonest pledging. Through their elaborate formulae, the Pharisees had created wiggle room for people to escape from the consequences of oath-breaking, and perjury. The Pharisees shifted the emphasis from not using the name of the Lord in vain under any circumstances to not using the name of the Lord profanely with respect to taking oaths.
Question 1b. Jesus challenges the Pharisaical teaching by pointing people to the heart of the issue—truthfulness in all its forms. Jesus exposes the false distinction by asserting that a vow is binding irrespective of its accompanying formula, as God’s sovereignty as the creator encompasses both heaven and earth (verses 35-36). No matter how hard we try we cannot possibly take an oath without any relation to God. Therefore, according to Jesus, the Pharisees distinction was not only irrelevant, but outrightly sinful. Jesus provides the true interpretation of the commandments by exhorting the people to not to take oaths at all. It is true that oaths serve as barriers against lies; However, they do not produce truthfulness. In fact, in cases of perjury and false witnesses, oaths aid in concealment of truth. Jesus brings the ax to the root of the lie, thereby destroying the deceptive nature of the lie that entrenches itself behind the oath. Jesus focuses on the importance of truthfulness in all its forms, and in every situation. Jesus emphasizes the need for greater righteousness, or the whole-person righteousness. With respect to taking oaths, the whole person righteousness would mean truthfulness; honesty in intention, speech, and actions; and integrity before God and others under all circumstances. Notice how Jesus by providing the true interpretation of the law reveals the impossible nature of fulfilling the demand of the law on our own. Jesus’ teaching also emphasizes our need for a Savior to redeem us from the bondage of sin, and burden of the law.
Question 1c. The purpose behind Jesus’ prohibition of taking oaths has to do with his concern for truthfulness. In other words, Jesus does not prohibit oath taking in an absolute sense but emphasizes the need for deeper righteousness—truthfulness— in his followers. Christians ought to live their entire lives truthfully and transparently before the presence of God and others in such a way that even their “yes,” and “no” would be sufficient in testifying their honesty and integrity (verse 37). Jesus’ teaching does not absolve Christians from taking oath when it is required by the state in the court of law. Most importantly, Jesus expands the scope of the commandment by pointing Christians to greater righteousness—truthfulness in all its forms, and in all of life.
Old Testament context: God himself used oaths whenever he established a covenant in the Old Testament. It is vital for us to understand that the purpose of divine oaths was not to justify God’s credibility, but to elicit and confirm the faith of his people. God’s covenantal oaths to Abraham and David in the Old Testament was to strengthen their faith, and not to justify his credibility. Furthermore, we see several instances of warning against false witness, and the importance of fulfilling an oath in passages like Ex. 20:7 (Third commandment); Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21. Thus, according to the Old Testament, an oath is an appeal in which the speaker calls upon God to witness his oath and to punish him if he breaks it. God established this commandment as a barrier against untruthfulness. The very act of oath taking serves as a condemnation of the lie.
Question 2: In Genesis 3 we read about the serpent’s deception of Eve. The evil serpent sows the seeds of lies in Eve’s heart by twisting the truth of God’s Word. However, in the same chapter we see God promising Eve about the seed of the woman who would establish the truth, by destroying the lie. We see God’s covenantal oath being fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus establishes himself as the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus proclaims the truth of the gospel in his teaching. Jesus demonstrates the truth of the gospel in his miracles and healings. Jesus embodies truthfulness in his life by his perfect obedience of the law, thereby fulfilling the righteous demand of the law of God. Most importantly, Jesus embodies truthfulness in his death on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross exposes the truth about ourselves—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe. Furthermore, Jesus’ death on the cross also reveals the truth about God’s love towards us—we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. Talking about the cross, Bonhoeffer writes: “The cross is God’s truth about us, and therefore it is the only power which can make us truthful. When we know the cross we are no longer afraid of the truth. We need no more oaths to confirm the truth of our utterances, for we live in the perfect truth of God.”
Question 3: This is a personal application question.
Question 4: This is a personal application question.