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James 5:12 "Let Your Yes Be Yes"

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Let Your Yes Be Yes

Introduction
Somebody asked if we were going to be doing an Advent series this year. I wasn’t sure how to respond, because the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, because we are attention is especially focused on the approach of Christmas - our eyes are on the finish line, when we celebrate the Incarnation: The birth of Christ, when the Eternal God took on our flesh, joined himself to our race and came to live with us in the person of Jesus … truth that makes the weary heart to sing. And from now until Christmas, week by week, we will be taking one step at a time … closer and close to that celebration, by focusing on an implication of the coming of Jesus Christ to our world. So, in that sense, ‘yes’ - we are going to do an Advent series.
But we have been journeying through the letter of James for a few months and are in the home stretch of the letter - the finish line is just ahead and we’re not going to leave this letter to go to some other passages that are more ‘Christmasy’. That’s intentional. I want us to see that Christ is the theme of every book, every page, every chapter of Scripture - we believe that, I hope. But here’s a chance to see it up close.
Let’s read our text of Scripture this morning. It’s short - only one verse. James 5:12.
Thought about doing a special Advent series - going through some texts that
If this verse sounds familiar to you - it’s because it is familiar. James took this teaching directly from the lips of his older, half-brother Jesus, who said pretty much exactly the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. Keep your finger in , but turn with me to Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. -
If this verse sounds familiar to you - it’s because it is familiar. James took this teaching directly from the lips of his older, half-brother Jesus, who said pretty much exactly the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. Keep your finger in , but turn with me to Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. -
Jesus turns the wrench and drives the screws deeper into the heart:
A STRANGE EMPHASIS
Did you notice the way verse 12 begins? “Above all, my brothers (and sisters) do not swear ...”? Doesn’t that you strike you as strange? Verse 12 follows directly on the heels of verses . He has been dealing with people -
There was a time when western culture was distinguished from many other cultures in the world by everyone at least AGREEING that the TRUTH matters - not that everyone practiced what they preached - but at least with their mouths - people in the society
George Washington as a kid, chopped down a tree - “I can not tell a lie”. That was a story held out for us as an great example, “That’s the kind of character you should have. Tell the truth, even when it hurts”. Things have changed. Now, little George Washington would be seen as a fool. “Doesn’t he know how to evade, or muddy the waters with his answer? ...“Well, dad - it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”.
“Well, dad - it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”.
The concept of truth has been dying a slow death for many years and has become more noticeable in the past decade or so. In the early 2000s, comedian Stephen Colbert picked up on this cultural phenomenon by coining the term "truthiness," which went on to become Merriam-Webster's word of the year in 2006. Similarly, in 2016 in the wake of our presidential election, Brexit, and accusations across the political spectrum about "fake news," Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" its word of the year. Shortly thereafter, commenting on the presidential inauguration, Kellyanne Conway famously spoke of "alternative facts." In response, Time blazoned the question "Is Truth Dead?" on its April 3, 2017 cover.
2. WHAT WE AVOID
First comes what we are to avoid: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear ...”. The word ‘swear’ here, James isn’t talking about the ‘four letter’ words that we think of when we hear ‘swear’. The Bible speaks against that kind of swearing elsewhere and repeatedly. If you are a Christian - I have no business speaking crudely, or coarsely or with vile language. You praise the Lord with that mouth - I have no business speaking the language of hell with it, too. But that’s not James’ concern in THIS text.
The Greek word he uses here is ‘omnyo’ - and it is used in the Bible for a very specific kind of speech. It’s used for ‘oaths’. And what James is concerned about, in our verse, is Christians taking oaths to guarantee the truth of what they say.
James is concerned about Christians taking oaths to guarantee the truth of
,
Some people think that this verse means that you shouldn’t take an oath in a courtroom. They want to obey God’s Word, which is great - that should be the desire of all of us. But I don’t think that James is saying, “Never swear on a Bible in the courtroom, when the judge asks you to do just that.”
First of all, in the Old Testament, God encourages oaths in His name. , “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him, and by HIS NAME YOU SHALL SWEAR.”
God Himself makes oaths - , “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by which to swear, He swore by Himself.”
In the New Testament - Jesus on trial in , the high priest looks at him and says, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God, are you the Son of God?’ Jesus says, “Yes”.
Paul made oaths. In , “I call God to witness against me - it was to spare you that I kept from coming to Corinth ...”. , “In what I am writing to you, BEFORE GOD, I do not lie!”
Oaths in and of themselves are not always wrong. That’s not what James is saying - the Bible doesn’t contradict itself.
The problem that James and Jesus are concerned about is truthfulness. In the OT, Moses stressed how important it is to keep your vows. , “You shall not swear by My name falsely and so profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
, “If a man vows 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 from His mouth.”
, “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
Vows were a part of a godly life - the important thing was that, once you made the vow - you kept your word. And unfortunately, by the New Testament times, when Jesus stepped into our world, the Bible’s teaching had become massively abused. The

Some people think this prohibits them from taking oaths in a courtroom, or from taking an oath of allegiance. Their desire to obey God’s Word is admirable; but I submit they have really not understood it. As usual, Jesus is preaching in antithetical fashion; and it is important to discover just what he is saying before we take his statement with such insensitive absoluteness.

It needs to be noticed, first, that the Old Testament does permit men to take oaths, even oaths in God’s name. “You shall fear the Lord your God. Him you will serve, to him you will cleave, and you will swear by his name” (Deut. 10:20). Even in the New Testament, Paul, for example, regularly swears by God’s name.

Unfortunately, by the time Jesus came, the Jewish religious leaders had built up a whole legal system of their own around the Old Testament teaching. In the law code called the Mishnah, there is a whole section devoted to the subject of oaths: when they are binding and when they are not binding. Some rabbis were teaching that an oath isn’t binding if it leaves out God’s name. So, if you swear by your own life or someone else’s life, or the life of the king - but don’t mention or at least imply God’s name, then your promise isn’t binding. Or, if you swore BY Jerusalem, that vow isn’t binding; but if you swear TOWARD Jerusalem, then your vow IS binding.” So what you have is a game - you find out the rules and then you can play - and know when you are allowed to lie and when you have to tell the truth in your vows.
If this ‘swearing by Jerusalem’ seems like it has absolutely nothing to do with you today .... let me say, ‘Not so fast’. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And we humans don’t change. Remember back to elementary school? Remember trying to persuade someone that you were telling the truth about something?
ILLUST ....
… so you make a promise? I promise, if you trade me your lunch today, I’ll trade you my Wayne Gretzky rookie card for your Petri Skriko card. Next day comes - ‘Where’s the hockey card?’ ‘Oh, I’m not doing that anymore.’ ‘But you promised!’ ‘I had my fingers crossed’.
Do you remember that? If you made a promise, you were supposed to keep it. But if you made a promise, while you had your fingers crossed, behind your back, where nobody could see them … then you were good to break your promise.
Then the next time that person makes a promise to you, you say, “Oh no you don’t. I’m not a sucker. Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” “But I PROMISE!” “Heard that one before”. “Okay, I promise - cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” .... Or … “I swear to God”. Ahhh - there it is: when someone brings out the big guns. Now you’re supposed to believe him - because he hasn’t just promised - - he’s promised with an oath. “Now I really mean what I’m saying because if I don’t keep my promise - I’m asking God to take a needle and plunge it into my organ of sight. Obviously that’s the last thing I would want … so if I’m offering myself up like this - It shows you just how serious I am.”
That’s the kind of swearing James is talking about here - “Above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath ...”.
Do you understand what you are really saying, when you pull out an oath to back up your promises? When you say, “I swear to God I’m telling the truth”, you aren’t really saying, “This is how seriously I mean what I say”. What you are really saying is, “You can’t trust my word most of the time. I don’t care about being honest in 99% of what I say, that’s why I have to pull out a hammer to drive home how serious I am this time!”
Helmut Thielicke, German scholar and pastor who stood firm for Christ and Truth during the Hitler’s time in Germany. So many leaders in churches were compromising, giving up their integrity to get favor with the Nazi party. Thielicke was one of the ones who wouldn’t go down that road:
“Whenever I utter the formula, ‘I swear by God,’ I am really saying, ‘Now I’m going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruthfulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech.’ In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that people are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns of oaths and words of honor ...”.
What James is saying, what Jesus is saying, what Paul is saying - is that for a Christian, there are no levels of truthfulness. Are you in court and asked to put your hand on a Bible and swear that you will, ‘Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?’ Fine, no problem - don’t sweat it, you can take that oath. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
But don’t be an oath-taker in your personal conversations. Always, always, always remember: Every time you open your mouth, in God’s eyes, you are swearing on a stack of Bibles. Don’t dare as a Christian think that when you bring God’s name into your promises, you’re on the hook to be true to your word - and the rest of the time, you can fudge your way through every situation - ‘fingers crossed!’.
My every promise, every word, every commitment that comes through my lips - it’s all spoken in the Presence of God, with the LORD and judge of the universe as my witness. That’s sobering.
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no be no - so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
3. WHAT WE EMBRACE
So that’s what we are to avoid - Avoid bringing God into your words at convenient times to back up your truthfulness as if there are levels of truthfulness and the rest of the time, you try to get away with whatever level of dishonesty you can. That’s the negative way to look at this verse: what we shouldn’t do. Let’s look now at the positive way of looking at verse 12: “What is it that Christians should EMBRACE?”
Look at the verse again and we’re going to focus on the second half: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, BUT LET YOUR ‘YES’ BE YES AND YOUR ‘NO’ BE NO, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
“LET YOUR YES BE YES AND YOUR NO BE NO”.
What James is saying and what Jesus is saying, is that we, as Christians should be KNOWN for our Radical TRUTHFULNESS. “Let your yes … BE yes and your no BE no.” Mean what you say and say what you mean. Do you see how radical that kind of speech is, in the world we live in today?
ILLUSTRATION
: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? .... The one whose walk is blameless … who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who honors those who fear the LORD; WHO KEEPS AN OATH EVEN WHEN IT HURTS.”
What an impact made by those who are people of their word - especially those who do it when
One reason to ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’ is because that’s what this world needs and it’s what God commands. But there is another reason for radical truthfulness and it is such a perfect time to be talking about this right now. This morning, we are beginning our journey to Christmas - where we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s staggering Promise - His faithfulness to His Promise to purchase us for Himself, at unfathomable cost to Himself.
We are here, in this place this morning, because and only because, God has made promises to His people. And He keeps His promises.
God made promises to Abraham. And Mary the mother of Jesus, in the Magnificat, in , The LORD, ‘has remembered to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever ...’.
But even before that - Almost from the very beginning of human history - we’ve found ourselves absolutely helpless and completely dependent on God making promises and then keeping His word. See Adam and Eve, back in the Garden of Eden … they’ve eaten the fruit God commanded them not to - even though they were warned that when they ate it, they would die. Now they’re standing there,
Struggle, in the Garden of Gethsemane - There under the silhouettes cast by the pale moonlight, Jesus comes to terms with what he is about to endure:
There is the cup of God’s judgment put before him. And the human nature
Let Your Yes Be Yes
Somebody asked if we were going to be doing an Advent series this year. I wasn’t sure how to respond, because the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, because we are attention is especially focused on the approach of Christmas - our eyes are on the finish line, when we celebrate the Incarnation: The birth of Christ, when the Eternal God took on our flesh, joined himself to our race and came to live with us in the person of Jesus … truth that makes the weary heart to sing.
And from now until Christmas, week by week, we will be taking one step at a time … closer and close to that celebration, by focusing on an implication of the coming of Jesus Christ to our world. So, in that sense, ‘yes’ - we are going to do an Advent series.
But we have been journeying through the letter of James for a few months and are in the home stretch of the letter - the finish line is just ahead and we’re not going to leave this letter to go to some other passages that are more ‘Christmasy’ – passages dealing with prophets or angels or wise men or shepherds. That’s intentional. I want us to see that Christ is the theme of every book, every page, every chapter of Scripture - we believe that, I hope. But here’s a chance to see it up close.
Let’s read our text of Scripture this morning. It’s short - only one verse. .
If this verse sounds familiar to you - it’s because it is familiar. James took this teaching directly from the lips of his older, half-brother Jesus, who said pretty much exactly the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. Keep your finger in
, but turn with me to Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5.
1. A STRANGE EMPHASIS IN A STRANGE PLACE
It catches us off guard, on first reading, when we make our way through and we get to v. 12, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath …”
Hang on a second! ABOVE ALL …. Don’t swear?!! That seems like a strange emphasis in a strange place. James is dealing with the tongue, how the Christian speaks … and we now that it’s an important theme in this letter - - 20 PERCENT of the letter is focused on how Christian faith works itself out and shows itself in the way a Christian uses his or her mouth.
But ‘ABOVE ALL’? Is it really that important? Especially here – at this part of the letter, when things are winding up. Verse 12 comes on the heels of verses 1-11 of chapter 5. We have just finished dealing with Christians who are literally starving because some of the ungodly rich in their neighborhoods – the employers they are working for – are refusing to pay their salaries, AFTER they’ve done the work. The bosses are living the high-life, parties and feasts, the people who funded the lavish lifestyle by doing the labor that makes the money … some of the Christians in the church – they are trying to figure out how to feed their kids.
Not to mention – the care-free, faithless rich that James warns in verses 1-6, they are using their positions of power and influence to keep the Christian poor, crushed under their feet – v. 6, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Christians, having to deal with poverty and MURDER – forced to face the constant temptation against bitterness, fight to trust that God has not forgotten them in their suffering and is STILL on the Throne, working out their good …. And James says, “Above all … DO NOT SWEAR?” Is swearing really that important?
You may be here and thinking, ‘I may not be facing murder or unjust imprisonment or imminent starvation – but there IS a WHOLE LOT going on in my life right now. It’s taking me more resources than I have in myself to keep my head above water right now – Christmas hope? That’s a stretch – so how is this verse even relevant to where I am in my life today?
Just to clarify, the ‘Above all’ here introduces the end of the letter – it’s the way letters are written in James’ day. He’s not saying that ‘swearing’ all by itself is the most important thing in the letter – it’s an introduction to the whole conclusion, the rest of chapter 5. But still, it is part of that conclusion of the letter, so it does carry huge weight.
And, I would suggest, God doesn’t make mistakes – He knows what’s relevant to us in our lives. When we talk about ‘swearing’ here – we are talking about TRUTH – We’ll see more of that in a minute. But truth does matter and it’s in short supply in our day.
There was a time when western culture was distinguished from many other cultures in the world by everyone at least AGREEING that the TRUTH matters - not that everyone practiced what they preached - but at least people in the society agreed that honesty is a big deal – it’s important.
George Washington as a kid, got his new hatchet chopped down a tree – His dad confronted him and little George’s response is famous: “I can not tell a lie”. That was a story held out for us as an great example, “That’s the kind of character you should have. Tell the truth, even when it hurts”. Things have changed. Now, little George Washington would be seen as a fool. “Doesn’t he know how to evade, or muddy the waters with his answer? ...“Well, dad - it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”.
The concept of truth has been dying a slow death for many years and has become more noticeable in the past decade or so. In the early 2000s, comedian Stephen Colbert picked up on this cultural phenomenon by coining the term "truthiness," which went on to become Merriam-Webster's word of the year in 2006. Similarly, in 2016 in the days after the US presidential election, Brexit, and accusations across the political spectrum about "fake news," Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" its word of the year. Shortly thereafter, commenting on the presidential inauguration, somspoke of "alternative facts." In response, Time blazoned the question "Is Truth Dead?" on its April 3, 2017 cover.
But imagine trying to live in a world where truth doesn’t matter?
2 WHAT WE AVOID
First comes what we are to avoid: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear ...”. The word ‘swear’ here, James isn’t talking about the ‘four letter’ words that we think of when we hear ‘swear’. The Bible speaks against that kind of swearing elsewhere and repeatedly. If you are a Christian - I have no business speaking crudely, or coarsely or with vile language. You praise the Lord with that mouth - I have no business speaking the language of hell with it, too. But that’s not James’ concern in THIS text.
The Greek word he uses here is ‘omnyo’ - and it is used in the Bible for a very specific kind of speech. It’s used for ‘oaths’. And what James is concerned about, in our verse, is Christians taking oaths to guarantee
Some people think that this verse means that you shouldn’t take an oath in a courtroom. They want to obey God’s Word, which is great - that should be the desire of all of us. But I don’t think that James is saying, “Never swear on a Bible in the courtroom, when the judge asks you to do just that.”
First of all, in the Old Testament, God encourages oaths in His name.
, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him, and by HIS NAME YOU SHALL SWEAR.”
God Himself makes oaths -, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by which to swear, He swore by Himself.”
In the New Testament - Jesus on trial in . The high priest looks at him and says, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God, are you the Son of God?’ Jesus says, “Yes”.
Paul made oaths. In , “I call God to witness against me - it was to spare you that I kept from coming to Corinth ...”.
, “In what I am writing to you, BEFORE GOD, I do not lie!”
Oaths in and of themselves are not always wrong. That’s not what James is saying - the Bible doesn’t contradict itself.
The problem that James and Jesus are concerned about is truthfulness. In the OT, Moses stressed how important it is to keep your vows.
, “You shall not swear by My name falsely and so profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
, “If a man vows 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 from His mouth.”
, “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
Vows were a part of a godly life - the important thing was that, once you made the vow - you kept your word. And unfortunately, by the New Testament times, when Jesus stepped into our world, the Bible’s teaching had become massively abused.
The Jewish religious leaders had built up a whole legal system of their own around the Old Testament teaching. In Jesus’ day, the Mishnah – that’s the law code, there is a whole section devoted to the subject of oaths: when they are binding and when they are not binding. Some rabbis were teaching that an oath isn’t binding if it leaves out God’s name. So, if you swear by your own life or someone else’s life, or the life of the king - but don’t mention or at least imply God’s name, then your promise isn’t binding. Or, if you swore BY Jerusalem, that vow isn’t binding; but if you swear TOWARD Jerusalem, then your vow IS binding.” So what you have is a game - you find out the rules and then you can play - and know when you are allowed to lie and when you have to tell the truth in your vows.
If this ‘swearing by Jerusalem’ seems like it has absolutely nothing to do with you today .... let me say, ‘Not so fast’. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And we humans don’t change. Remember back to elementary school? Remember trying to persuade someone that you were telling the truth about something?
… You make a promise? I promise, if you trade me your lunch today, I’ll trade you my Wayne Gretzky rookie card for your Stan Smyl card. Next day comes - ‘Where’s the hockey card?’ ‘Oh, I’m not doing that anymore.’ ‘But you promised!’ ‘I had my fingers crossed’.
Do you remember that? If you made a promise, you were supposed to keep it. But if you made a promise, while you had your fingers crossed, behind your back, where nobody could see them … then you were good to break your promise.
Then the next time that person makes a promise to you, you say, “Oh no you don’t. I’m not a sucker. Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” “But I PROMISE!” “Heard that one before”. “Okay, I promise - cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” .... Or … “I swear to God”. Ahhh - there it is: when someone brings out the big guns. Now you’re supposed to believe him - because he hasn’t just promised - - he’s promised with an oath. “Now I really mean what I’m saying because if I don’t keep my promise - I’m asking God to take a needle and plunge it into my organ of sight. Obviously that’s the last thing I would want … so if I’m offering myself up like this - It shows you just how serious I am.”
That’s the kind of swearing James is talking about here - “Above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath ...”.
Do you understand what you are really saying, when you pull out an oath to back up your promises? When you say, “I swear to God I’m telling the truth”, you aren’t really saying, “This is how seriously I mean what I say”. What you are really saying is, “You can’t trust my word most of the time. I don’t care about being honest in 99% of what I say, that’s why I have to pull out a hammer to drive home how serious I am this time!”
Helmut Thielicke, German scholar and pastor who stood firm for Christ and Truth during the Hitler’s time in Germany. So many leaders in churches were compromising, giving up their integrity to get favor with the Nazi party. Thielicke was one of the ones who wouldn’t go down that road:
“Whenever I utter the formula, ‘I swear by God,’ I am really saying, ‘Now I’m going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruthfulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech.’ In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that people are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns of oaths and words of honor ...”.
What James is saying, what Jesus is saying, what Paul is saying - is that for a Christian, there are no levels of truthfulness. Are you in court and asked to put your hand on a Bible and swear that you will, ‘Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?’ Fine, no problem - don’t sweat it, you can take that oath. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
But don’t be an oath-taker in your personal conversations. Always, always, always remember: Every time you open your mouth, in God’s eyes, you are swearing on a stack of Bibles. Don’t dare as a Christian think that when you bring God’s name into your promises, you’re on the hook to be true to your word - and the rest of the time, you can fudge your way through every situation - ‘fingers crossed!’.
My every promise, every word, every commitment that comes through my lips - it’s all spoken in the Presence of God, with the LORD and judge of the universe as my witness. That’s sobering.
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no be no - so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
3. WHAT WE EMBRACE
So that’s what we are to avoid - Avoid bringing God into your words at convenient times to back up your truthfulness as if there are levels of truthfulness and the rest of the time, you try to get away with whatever level of dishonesty you can. That’s the negative way to look at this verse: what we shouldn’t do. Let’s look now at the positive way of looking at verse 12: “What is it that Christians should EMBRACE?”
Look at the verse again and we’re going to focus on the second half: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, BUT LET YOUR ‘YES’ BE YES AND YOUR ‘NO’ BE NO, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
“LET YOUR YES BE YES AND YOUR NO BE NO”.
What James is saying and what Jesus is saying, is that we, as Christians should be KNOWN for our Radical TRUTHFULNESS. “Let your yes … BE yes and your no BE no.” Mean what you say and say what you mean. Do you see how radical that kind of speech is, in the world we live in today?
ILLUSTRATION
: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? .... The one whose walk is blameless … who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who honors those who fear the LORD; WHO KEEPS AN OATH EVEN WHEN IT HURTS.”
What an impact made by those who are people of their word – when bosses and friends see you follow through on the commitments you made – even when you don’t feel like it, when a better offer has come along. No change of plans, no excuses – just follow through – that can change a person’s life.
One reason to ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’ is because that’s what this world needs and it’s what God commands. But there is another reason for radical truthfulness and it is such a perfect time to be talking about this right now. This morning, we are beginning our journey to Christmas - where we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s staggering Promise - His faithfulness to His Promise to purchase us for Himself, at unfathomable cost to Himself.
We are here, in this place this morning, because and only because, God has made promises to His people. And He keeps His Word.
Mary the mother of Jesus, in the Magnificat, in , The LORD, ‘has remembered to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever ...’.
But even before that - Almost from the very beginning of human history - we’ve found ourselves absolutely helpless and completely dependent on God making promises and then keeping His word. See Adam and Eve, back in the Garden of Eden … they’ve eaten the fruit God commanded them not to - even though they were warned that when they ate it, they would die. Now they’re standing there, ashamed, suddenly awake to their nakedness and desperate to hide.
Punishment comes – they are evicted from the Garden Paradise that was home – they HAD to leave – they’ve brought sin into the human race and death through sin.
But death isn’t going to be the end of the story.
Even while pronouncing judgment, the God of heaven shows His grace. He makes a promise about what’s to come … says to the serpent, , “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
That’s a promise.
But it doesn’t start out very well. The first couple have their first child – Cain is born. Is this the seed? But then another baby is born into the family. Big brother murders little brother. Is that it? Did God make a promise that He isn’t going to keep? Over and over, through history, the promise of God has come under threat. The world becomes so depraved that God sends a flood to destroy almost the entire human race.
He promises Abraham – “All nations on earth will be blessed through your descendants.” But Abraham and his wife can’t have kids.
David on the throne of Israel – God promises: “I will put one of your descendants on your throne and he will rule over an EVERLASTING kingdom.” One generation later, the Kingdom blows apart and the kings who follow are so utterly corrupt and depraved that the whole nation goes into exile.
And over and over, through every crisis, anyone watching what’s going on, has to ask: “Did God mean what He said and say what He meant?”
The Message Bible translates to read that "the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." Here's how Phillip Yancey describes the type of "neighborhood" Jesus moved into:
A succession of great empires tramped through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Assyrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. He was eventually followed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews' worst villain until Hitler. Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts he sacrificed an unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary.
Antiochus's actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt that's celebrated every year as the holiday Hanukkah. But their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod, their "King of the Jews." After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels' chorus of "Glory to God … and on earth peace." First-century Israel was a conquered, cowed nation. This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future.
Jesus is born. We realize: He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. But no sooner is HE born than human king Herod tries to destroy Him. …. Do you see the constant theme here? God’s promises are always under threat.
Jesus – standing in the Garden of Gethsemane … a very different Garden than Eden. Silhouettes under the pale moonlight, show the Son of God wrestling with what lies before Him on the road to Keeping God’s Promise. Looks straight into the cup of suffering in his lap and cries out: “If it be possible, Father, let this cup pass from me.”
There was no other way for a Holy God to save a sinful race than for the God-Man to sacrifice Himself. So Jesus walked out of the Garden and climbed up on a cross. And died. For you. And Rose from that grave. So now we can trust Him when Paul says, in , “He who began a good work in you WILL carry it on to completion.”
God always keeps His word. You can trust Him.
And that’s why we who belong to Him will fight to be people of our word – even when it hurts. Because we are in the family of God and it’s in our genes.
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