MESSAGE DELIVERED: JUNE 4, 2017
This section concerning the swearing of oaths is the fourth example of what the Lord meant when He said, in verses 17-20, that He was not intending to CHANGE the Law, but just to RESTORE it to what God originally had in mind, when He gave the Law.
And it’s interesting to look at how this reads in the King James Version, because the word used there, “FORSWEAR” is the ONLY use OF that word, anywhere in the Bible. And it literally means PERJURY.
It’s also interesting to note that, while the teaching being discussed here is recorded in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the exact wording used, doesn’t appear ANYwhere in the Old Testament. So again, notice that the Lord begins this teaching by saying “You have heard that it was said…”.
So this is NOT the teaching of the Laws, but the rabbinical interpretation of that Law. Or maybe “PERVERSION” of the Law would be a better term. Because the swearing of oaths WAS allowed in Old Testament teachings, and sometimes it was COMMANDED, such as in Numbers 5:19.
But the only time an oath is NEEDED, is when the person’s WORD is not reliable, which is an admission of one’s inability to be truthful in ones dealings with others. So while on the SURFACE, the subject appears to be ‘oaths’, what Jesus was doing was going BEYOND that surface, and exposing the need for personal truthfulness in our dealings with one another.
So the actual focus is on verse 37, where the Lord said that we should strive to have a reputation that allows others to know that we MEAN what we say, and “SWEARING THAT WHAT WE SAY IS TRUE” shouldn’t be necessary.
But the teachings of the Rabbis and Pharisees was that, as long as you didn’t make an oath, and SWEAR that oath by God Himself, or by the NAME of God, then that oath was understood to NOT be BINDING! And it’s hard for us to understand WHY a person would even MAKE an oath that others KNEW wasn’t binding. But, with the Pharisees, it was all a matter of APPEARANCES.
So maybe the intention was to IMPRESS one another with the ELABORATENESS of their UNBINDING oaths, I mean, the whole premise of their sect, was how IMPRESSIVE they were seen by others. Everything they DID was meant to show others how SUPERIOR they were to COMMON folks. So when they made long and elaborate OATHS, swearing by the TEMPLE, or by the Holy CITY, or even by HEAVEN itself…the GOLD of the Temple…they thought they were okay, because it really didn’t MEAN anything. It was just IMPRESSIVE SPEECH, or so they THOUGHT.
And it seems that is still with us today. Do you recall how just a short while ago, the Papa John’s Pizza Company was taken to court over their SLOGAN…remember? “Better ingredients, better pizza, Papa John.” Sounds like just more of the same, right?
But other pizza companies SUED both the Company AND its President and spokesman, because, as the complaint read, “They use the EXACT same ingredients that every OTHER pizza maker uses.
And Papa John’s RESPONSE to the complaint eventually was claimed BY that President, the slogan was just “PUFFERY”. So it was alright.
That’s basically what the Pharisees were doing. As long as they did not swear by God Himself, everything else was just “PUFFERY”. But then Jesus came along and said “NO! You CAN’T swear by the EARTH, because that is God’s FOOTSTOOL, or by JERUSALEM, because THAT is God’s Holy CITY, and not by the TEMPLE, for that is God’s DWELLING place”.
In fact, He said “Don’t even swear upon YOURSELF, because what YOU ARE, is what GOD has MADE you to be, and there’s nothing you can do to CHANGE it.
So in verse 33 Jesus said “You have heard it said…” referencing the teachings of the Pharisees…and then said “But I say to you…” and referencing the One Who GAVE the Law in the FIRST place. Only HE had the RIGHT to interpret it.
And what HE said was “Be HONEST in your dealings with one another”. Or “Be the kind of person who is known as one who WILL KEEP his or her word”.
But TODAY, being UNTRUTHFUL, or speaking in HALF-truths…is the NORM, especially in GOVERNMENT…both foreign and domestic.
And everybody underSTANDS that, at least on SOME level. We KNOW when a person runs for office, and promises what they will do if elected. And even as they’re SAYING that, you KNOW they either CAN’T do it, or WON’T do it. Trump campaigned in part on his stated purpose of STOPPING Muslim immigration.
But once elected, what did he do? He went on his first Mideast trip and DANCED with Muslim leaders, called them BEAUTIFUL people, and “HEY, love those SHOES”! And anyway, while he was campaigning, did YOU BELIEVE him?
EVERYbody lies! Maybe not about BIG things, but still they are lies. Sometimes we do it because it’s the SAFEST thing to do. Take the CLASSIC, where the wife says “Honey, do these slacks make my butt look big”? GUYS all KNOW there is NO safe way to answer that question. If he tells the TRUTH and says “Yeah, it looks like you’ve got two watermelons stuck in there”…then he’s gonna be eating burnt biscuits for a month.
Or if he LIES about it…”FIBS”, he’s gonna claim, and tells her “Oh no. You look great”!…then she’s gonna look in the mirror again, and KNOW he lied, and he’s STILL gonna get them burnt biscuits.
In many ways, both THEN and NOW, the matter of swearing oaths could be seen to carry the idea that what you NORMALLY say shouldn’t be believed, that ONLY when you swear an oath are you being truthful.
And that is a problem across the entire spectrum of society. How many of you remember a BETTER time in America? The time I refer to as 1958. I think it WAS better then. Remember Davy Crockett? An American folk-hero?
Back then every boy wanted a coon-skin cap because Davy Crockett was someone to be looked UP to, and EMULATED. And the TV version of Davy Crockett would teach us all several MORAL TRUTHS…such as “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead”…and “Say what you mean and mean what you say”.
Can you think of ANY TV personality today who is espousing values we can all try to imitate?
The thing we looked at last week is a good example. What is the main cause of divorce today? Infidelity. Men and women standing before God and swearing to be faithful, and that faithful only lasts until something BETTER comes along. Or just as bad, a man and woman standing before God and swearing to be faithful for life…but BEFORE that ceremony, they sat down with their ATTORNEYS, and worked out the PRE-NUPTUAL AGREEMENT, because they were going INTO the marriage, with the UNDERSTANDING that it is NOT going to work out and they know who gets what, when the expected BREAKUP comes along.
I don’t think Jesus was calling people to some kind of SUPERIOR MORALITY. I think He just wanted us to understand that we are ALWAYS in the PRESENCE of GOD! Most of us…many of us, claim that. As we are INDWELT by the Holy Spirit of God and we walk in fellowship with Him every day…then don’t GRIEVE Him.
He Who now lives within you, IS the “Spirit of truth”…that’s John 15:26. So IF you have been SAVED by Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary, you should try to remember that He IS with us ALWAYS, and make your conversation reflect that you understand that Jesus IS listening! And when you SAY “no”, MEAN “no”; and when you say “yes”, MEAN “yes”. Practice honesty, and you won’t NEED to swear any oaths. And that is what Jesus was intending here.
Okay, then in verses 38 through 42, Jesus began a NEW teaching. This one is usually called the “Law of Retaliation”…but the REAL purpose behind this, was JUSTICE! So there was a correspondence between the CRIME, and the PUNISHMENT. And what the LAW was meant to do was LIMIT retaliation.
Again, the Pharisees said IF someone INJURED you, you MUST see that THEY are injured in the SAME way! But that quickly became…not an EYE for an eye, but a LIFE for an eye! If YOU push me, I punch you. And if I punch you, YOU take a stick and BEAT me with it. So I take a KNIFE and CUT you, so YOU take a GUN and SHOOT me! Can’t you see the ESCALATION of VIOLENCE? That’s what Jesus wanted to CHANGE…to RESTORE the idea that retaliation was to be LIMITED to the degree of injury caused.
A good example of that escalating violence took place right here in America in the Appellation country…what became known as the Hatfields and McCoys feud. How many MEN and MOMEN were killed…how many FAMILIES torn apart…for GENERATIONS?!
And as that feud raged on, the parties involved even forgot WHAT they were fighting about! At best, it came down to the THEFT of a PIG, many DECADES ago…for THAT, all those lives were lost.
So in verse 39 Jesus said “Do not RESIST…”. Please understand that this deals ONLY with personal retribution, not a CRIMINAL offense. The word, “resist” can also mean “oppose” or “retaliate”. And a whole CULTURE has grown up from this. But Jesus did NOT say that a man shouldn’t fight to protect his FAMILY, or his COUNTRY. The only AFFRONT mentioned here is one to a person’s DIGNITY!
For a right-handed man to strike another on the RIGHT cheek, means he delivered a BACKHAND slap…and THAT was seen as the greatest possible expression of CONTEMPT! It is more of an INSULT than a personal injury.
And the usual RESULT would be the filing of a LAWSUIT, seeking monetary compensation for the insult. But Jesus tells His disciples that THEY are NOT to DO that. In fact, IF someone so INSULTS them, they are only to allow that person to strike them AGAIN.
Now, MOST guys will say that after that SECOND slap, they’re all OUT of cheeks, and then it’s alright to retaliate. But no, you are to allow that other person to humiliate you without striking back. In fact, the real Christian is to consider him or herself to actually HAVE no RIGHTS, in our relationship to others.
How often are we told to “consider others as better than yourself” or, “make yourself of no report”? But how often do we DO that? How often do we DEMAND our RIGHTS? How often do we say “You’re not gonna get AWAY with that!”? And, how often do we actually consider that everyone is BETTER than us? Jesus says we are to not seek physical retaliation…or recourse to the Law for compensation.
So verse 40 says “if somebody wants to sue you for “the shirt off your back”, that you are to not only ALLOW that, but to give up your COAT as well…and to DO that even though the LAW says that a person CANNOT take another’s cloak. In Exodus 22:25, the Law forbids the taking of that important garment, on humanitarian grounds. Even if someone USES that cloak as COLATERAL for a LOAN, the one HOLDING the cloak must GIVE it BACK, every NIGHT, as it may be your ONLY covering from the cold.
I think the PRINCIPLE being applied is, we should NOT be so radically attached to our “RIGHTS” or our “PROPERTY”. And Jesus follows that teaching with the one that every Jew understood, even though they HATED it…and that was the RIGHT of ANY Roman soldier to FORCE any Jewish citizen to CARRY whatever LOAD the soldier had, for one mile.
That was a decree from Rome, on a CONQUERED people, and the Jews FUMED under it. So Jesus said if they FORCE you to go ONE mile, then VOLUNTEER to go a SECOND mile. By doing that, the soldier would either be AMAZED at your willingness to obey…or HUMBLED by your unselfish service.
And THAT was quickly followed with the constraint to “GIVE to everyone who asks…”. So the free and unselfish attitude you have concerning yourSELF, is ALSO to extend to your PROPERTY as well. But a LITERAL application of this verse would soon create a church full of saintly PAUPERS, and a very WEALTHY class of HEATHENS.
The implication of “him who asks” is, “asks for a LOAN”. When someone has a genuine need, and you have the ability to MEET that need, you are to GIVE to the one who asks…and you are to look AT that loan as a potential GIFT. Should the borrower fail or refuse to make you whole, you are to NOT take him to court, as HE probably WOULD do to YOU.
In your expression of yourself to those out there in the world, you are NOT to demand your PERSONAL RIGHTS…you ARE to have a willingness to be INSULTED and IMPOSED upon. And this was NOT a radical CHANGE in how God wants us to present ourselves…and our Savior, to a world of LOST people.
All we have to do, is to look at the example that Jesus gave us, as He was arrested and dragged off to an ILLEGAL trial, and an UNDESERVED beating and ultimate MURDER, for crimes HE had never committed. That is the same response he wants US to have.
And right now, we need to REMEMBER that horrible Death that our Lord endured, to pay for OUR sins.
So I’ll ask the deacons and deaconesses to come and prepare the table, and I’ll ask YOU, church, to listen carefully as I read again the words of institution, as Paul recorded them, in 1st Corinthians chapter 11. (Communion Service)