Jesus’ Truth - Matthew 5:33-37. Preached this at Kyle Immanuel Baptist Church on May 22, 2016.
Intro: Pray – Father God, I am blessed to be here today, worshipping with this congregation. I pray for Pastor Silverio Hernandez, Youth Pastor Ben Ward, Pastor Wally Goodman, the Interim Pastor (who is away), the Immanuel Baptist Church, and the minister that God knows will come here. May the Holy Spirit come forth and preach...Amen.
Illustration: How many people have ever heard of Politifact? It is a website focused on the idea that people tell lies. It’s so common-place that Politifact has meters that tell if something a politician says is true or false, and everything in between. Their Truth-O-Meter goes from True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants-on-Fire. They also have a No Flip, and Half Flip gauge. They have all comers, from President Obama, to Donald Trump, to Hillary Clinton. To be nice to the politicians, I will cite Jeff Bridges, the actor, giving a false statement for Plastic Pollution Coalition: He says "Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists." The experts, however, say no. Though plastic – depending on the type (bag, bottle) – can be around for decades. It seems that the truth is at least optional, these days.
There are those that cringe when we say that everything is relative. In the postmodern world, the definition of “truth” depends on who is saying it and what do they mean by truth...does it depend on the circumstance? Is it tolerant – in the way that is used today – to say there is one truth? In this sermon are four people, who dealt with “the truth” differently. I invite you to put yourself in their position and see what you would have done in that situation...
What the Bible says about truth:
If you have been a Christian long you have probably heard that Jesus is the truth. In one of my favorite verses, Jesus answered:
John 14:6 New International Version (NIV)
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is truth in the Bible, both big truth and little truths – I like to call them that – or the truth about Jesus and everyday truths. Think about what that means and I will get back to it before we wrap up this sermon.
Does the Bible have anything to say about everyday truth? (I hope so) And where is the verse?
The Bible has lots to say about the truth, both big and little. In Baptist terms, the whole Bible is about one truth: that of God, and specifically, Jesus. That is what the Scripture I just read says in part. If you want the whole, complete, unabridged truth, do not go to the world – go to the Bible and read about God and the story of Jesus. If you believe that He came down here for you, because He loved you, and died for your sins, and was resurrected on the third day to defeat death, then you will have all the truth you need. But that’s another sermon and it’s THE point, but not the point of this sermon. Or is it?
In these days, everyday truth is about as slippery as a fish out of water. Don’t you – at least somedays – think the way that Pontius Pilate did? You remember, the Jewish leaders had brought Jesus to him because the Sanhedrin could not - under Roman law – execute someone. Pilate brought Jesus into his headquarters, and said, in response to Jesus saying He has a kingdom,
John 18:37-38 New International Version (NIV)
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
It was a mystery what the truth was at that time for Pilate. Do you feel like Pilate regarding the truth, sometimes?
The Bible says this about the truth:
In the Bible, we will start in the New Testament, in Matthew specifically, but we will return to the Old Testament as we unpack what Jesus has to say about the truth. Before I get into the Scripture for today, Matthew 5:33-37, let me give you some background in Matthew, the Gospel:
Matthew is the first book in the New Testament. Most scholars agree that the Apostle Matthew wrote it, it was written in Antioch, and it is probably dated in the late 60’s A.D.
Matthew was the most popular of the four Gospels in the first several centuries of the church’s history. It contains the greatest quantity of Jesus’ teaching, including the Sermon on the Mount, which includes some of His most well-known teachings (Beatitudes, Lord’s prayer, Golden Rule), and the Scripture we are focusing on today.
It is an ancient biography of Jesus, and it is historically reliable, although Matthew might have put various sayings of Jesus into one discourse, like the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount:
The Sermon on the Mount is the first, and longest (uninterrupted), and the most carefully structured speech or sermon in Matthew's Gospel. At the base of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus telling about the hearts or souls of people, rather than just their actions. The Sermon on the Mount is part of Jesus’ sayings that are rolled into one sermon, but it is a carefully composed discourse with a deliberate structure. With the Lord’s Prayer in the center (6:9-13), it is Matthew’s composition.
Although some of the sayings are from the historical Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount is not a report of a speech actually given on a Galilean hillside, its setting. John Calvin, who lived in the 16th century, had already taught that the sermon expresses the intention of the evangelist "of gathering into one single passage the chief headings of Christ's teaching, that had regard to the rule of godly and holy living."
The Scripture today, Matthew 5:33-37, is under part of the instructional core of the sermon teaching about “the law,” which is the Torah or Pentateuch.
Before we get into the Scripture, let me introduce you to two of the four persons we’ll see grappling with the truth.
Illustration: The Attack at Columbine H.S.
Columbine Shootings: April 20, 1999
At approximately 11:19 a.m., on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, dressed in trench coats, began shooting fellow students outside Columbine High School, located in a suburb south of Denver. The pair then moved inside the school, where they gunned down many of their victims in the library, including the two I’ll talk about today, Val Schnurr and Cassie Bernall. By approximately 11:35 a.m., Klebold and Harris had killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded more than 20 other people. Shortly after 12 p.m., the two teens turned their guns on themselves.
A victim who lived was Valeen "Val" Schnurr, who was 18 in 1999. Val was in the library during the shootings. She had been sitting on a chair near a table that was close to the main entrance and a window that looked out into the hallway. While Val was reading she heard a shot and shortly after, teacher Patti Nielson came in, telling everyone to get down. Val moved to the table where the girls had been sitting and hid beneath it, along with the other girls. She found herself sitting next to Lauren Townsend, who pulled her closer and told her that everything would be okay. At that time many of the students thought it was all just a senior prank.
When the shooters entered the library, all she could see was their legs. She heard them yell at someone and then shoot a couple of people before one of the shooters [Dylan Klebold] moved over to her table. He shot beneath it, injuring her and Lisa Kreutz. He fired again, as fast as his gun would shoot, this time killing Lauren. Val fell out from under the table, realizing only then that her stomach and abdomen were hurt. Panicking, Val repeatedly cried out: "Oh, my God! Help me!"
Attracted by Val's cries, the shooters both came over to where she was. One of the shooters, who was reloading his weapon at the time, then asked her if she believed in God. She floundered in her answer, saying no at first and then yes, trying to get the answer 'right'. He asked her 'Why?' and she said it was because it was what her family believed. Val then crawled back under the table where she lay down and played dead until the shooters left the library. She then fled the library, being one of the last to leave the library, of those that could.
She graduated from Columbine May 23, 1999 despite her injuries.
Cassie Bernall: One of the victims that passed away was 17 yr. old Cassie Bernall. A born-again Christian as of 1997, she was active in church youth programs and Bible study groups.
When the shooters entered the library she, like many other students, was hiding under the table she'd been sitting at when substitute teacher Patti Nielson entered the library and told everyone to get down. She had her hands over her face, perhaps to keep from seeing what was happening as she could hear other people being shot and killed in the library, near to where she was hiding.
Just after shooting and killing someone and injuring another, Eric Harris came around the table where Cassie and another girl were hiding. He slapped the top of the table twice with his left hand and said to the two frightened girls: "Peek-a-boo!". He then bent down, pointed his sawed-off shotgun under the table and fired once, shooting Cassie in the right side of the head. She died immediately.
In the aftermath of the shooting, she was thought to be the girl who said “yes,” when asked about her faith. I don’t know if Cassie was the "girl who said yes", but she became a martyr to the cause of Christianity. There is a foundation in her honor, the Cassie Bernall Foundation, which came into being because of Cassie’s story, “She Said Yes.”
It seems like telling people that you believe in God or Jesus has mixed results. Is “truth” meant to save you in this world, or the next?
Let’s look at the Scripture for today and see what Jesus, the “truth,” has to say about the truth for us...
Matthew 5:33-37 New International Version (NIV)
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[a]
Matthew 5:37 Or from evil
The Word of the Lord....Thanks be to God.
33 – In verse 33, Jesus probably has in view the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament (Deut 23:23). Maybe the third commandment because God is implicitly in every oath (Ex 20:7). The 9th Commandment prohibits bearing false witness towards your neighbor. The Mosaic law forbade irreverent oaths, misuse of the Lord’s name, and broken vows. In fact, an entire mishnic tract is given over to the subject of oaths. Did you know that swearing by Jerusalem was not binding, swearing toward Jerusalem was! All societies in that day had curses that deities would avenge for those who broke oaths. Jesus’ point was to tell the truth and keep one’s promises.
34-36 – Verses 34-36 are different entities under which an oath was taken. Again in that day, someone would take an oath by his right hand (for ex/) and not worry about carrying it out (because it was an inantimate object). Jewish teachers had to arbitrate which oaths were actually binding because of the name the oath was made under. Jesus teaches that all oaths are under God’s name.
37 – in verse 37 Jesus says take no oaths, or does he? Many groups have understood this literally and have refused to take oaths (Anabaptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses). With all due respect, they probably have taken the texts too literally. The purpose of the text is to stress the importance of the true direction of the OT – the importance of truthfulness. In the Scriptures God Himself “swears” (Gen 9:9-11; Luke 1:68, 73). And the earliest Christians took oaths, if Paul is to be believed (Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:5, 10). Finally, Jesus Himself testified under oath (Mat 26:63-64). Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter, though – untruthfulness was rampant, and He is saying be truthful in all that you do– that is the nature of Jesus’ teaching...
Thoughts on being truthful in these days:
Although the Bible does allow some degree of deception to preserve life, exceptions are rare in our daily lives. Think of Abram and Sarai, where Abram told Sarai – his wife – to act as his sister so Pharoah would not kill him (Genesis 12), or Rahab telling a lie to keep the Israelite spies safe in Jericho (Joshua 2). Both Abraham and Rahab were seen by the writer of Hebrews as heroes of the faith! I think that God gave grace when they lied. But when we lie to cover our own wrong motives, when we commit ourselves to meet people and then delay (as if our time were a commodity but not theirs), or make promises in a business deal or marriage vows; we ought to keep them. Oaths that invite penalties (for ex/ “cross my heart and hope to die”) are unnecessary for people of truth.
Illustration: The Soldier of Fortune
There is a poem that always comes to mind when I am talking about truth. It is a poem that my Dad, Bill Little, had from when he was very young. I liked it so much that I put it in a book of poems that I gathered for my seventh grade English class. The poem is by Robert Service and is entitled “The Soldier of Fortune.” It is a long poem, so I won’t read it all – instead I’ll give you a synopsis: Probably in the early part of the 20th century, The Soldier of Fortune is out with comrades and in most likely Africa. He and his buddies are captured by the tribe and everyone but him is dead all around him as the poem starts. It seems the tribe wants them to deny their Christian God. What we don’t know is how the others answered the question that is now put to him: “Deny your God, and we will give you life!” As the spears and knives come closer, we get the musings of this Soldier of Fortune (figuring that his comrades stayed true to their beliefs and died). While he ponders and has denied God to himself many times, he ultimately decides (for reasons I think are less than that God sent His Son down to die for us) that he won’t deny his God. Listen to the end of the poem:
Not for my creed, my country, but my Love
Will I stand up and meet my death alone.
Then though it be to utter dark I sink,
The God that dwells in me is not denied;
"Best" triumphs over "Beast", -- and so I think
Humanity itself is glorified. . . .
"And now, my butchers, I embrace my fate.
Come! let my heart's blood slake the thirsty sod.
Curst be the life you offer! Glut your hate!
Strike! Strike, you dogs! I'll NOT deny my God."
I saw the spears that seemed a-leap to slay,
All quiver earthward at the headman's nod;
And in a daze of dream I heard him say:
"Go, set him free who serves so well his God!"
Well, that’s a relief. We’ve get three stories and two live and one dies. If we are batting, then we’re batting .667, a pretty good average. But it’s not about that, is it?
The “truth” is: it is getting harder and harder to tell the truth. I’m not talking about lying to preserve your life, though I know what Scripture says about that. The story of Jesus, Judas killing himself, and 10 of the 11 disciples being martyred makes it pretty clear on that, despite Rahab’s and Abraham’s story. I’m talking about little lies, “white” lies, harmless lies – or so we tell ourselves. Lies of omission and commission. What do I say when someone tells a joke that I find offensive because it degrades or is racial. Do I play along? What about when I have done something wrong to somebody and the penalty is stiff for the party’s injurer? What then? What about when my friends are doing something wrong and I know about it and if I don’t do something, somebody or someone gets hurt or injured? What about a name that I cannot remember – do I say “I can’t remember your name,” or say nothing or “brother”?
The truth is, hopefully we all try to be honest. Sometimes we fall short and ask forgiveness, and learn from it. I will leave you with a last story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor and theologian in the middle of the last century.
Illustration: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Poland into a large upper class family. He completed his education, which included a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and two doctoral degrees, all before the age of 25!
He was a pastor and an academic professor, and taught at several universities, including universities in America, England, and in Germany; and he was a pacifist.
Bonhoeffer came from Germany to America in 1938 but while in the U.S., Bonhoeffer had a change of heart.
Listen to Bonhoeffer’s words: “I have had the time to think and pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life of Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”
He came back to Germany on the last ship to cross the Atlantic, before the start of WWII. While in Germany, he became a double agent with the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and for the resistance he tried to broker deals with the Allies if Hitler was not in power.
He was initially arrested by the Gestapo on 1943 for his attempts to rescue Jews. But the Abwehr resistance movement also devised a plot to assassinate Hitler. One of their plots was ultimately unsuccessful in 1944, and Bonhoeffer was amongst the men who were allegedly conspirators in the plot. Bonhoeffer spent two years in Tegel prison, and was killed in one of Hitler’s last orders before Hitler committed suicide.
The “truth” for Pastor Bonhoeffer looked a little different than a simple logical equation, or (in my terms) black and white.
Bring it home to the people:
So during my sermon I have had four people who grappled with the truth: two of them lived, and two of them died. I asked you, the congregation, to put yourself in that person’s place, and see if you would have done it different. I did that because, despite my wanting it to be simple, the fact is that it’s not. Sometimes in chaotic situations you have to lean on the Lord and do what’s right. I hope that you don’t have to go through such times. But we all need to be prepared to do it, just in case. So, having spent time dwelling on this, would your answers change?
One final example – Let’s say that my wife, Amy, has a dress that she likes, and wants to know what I think. I think it the dress flatters her less than some of the other dresses that she has...Do I tell her that she doesn’t look good in it? Hmmm... But you know, God doesn’t think so, and if I do tell her she doesn’t look good, then maybe something’s wrong with my heart, not my head! I think the right answer is: You look beautiful in anything!
I think that you have to look beyond human truth and look to the source of that truth, the big truth, Jesus. If we live our lives – as much as we can – like Jesus, and use the Holy Spirit to guide us, then we will be Jesus’ truth to individuals and the masses. May it be so today and in the future. Let us pray.
Father God, you have what seems like tough requirements in your Word. Make it be so it seems easy, by leaning on the Holy Spirit and doing what is honest, truthful, and right. May we through your Word we see that walking like Jesus is what it’s all about, and use Jesus’ teachings to get an example of what Jesus would do. We ask it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.