“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.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37
So far, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has tackled the ‘average Joe’ topics of blessings, visibility to others, the Law, anger, adultery, and divorce. Now he talks about ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Talk about getting back to the basics.
We were recently watching a season 3 episode of “The Chosen” in which there were scenes of Jesus’ childhood. Jesus never sinned, but even He learned what “no” meant. Toddler Jesus wouldn’t have disrespectfully talked back to His parents or disobeyed them, but even He would have had to learn the human context of what it meant when someone said, ‘no.’ In Jesus’ world, like ours, words meant things.
Flash forward to Jesus as an adult. All throughout the years we know of His life, He often had to say “no” to people…just like any of the rest of us. Yet, if you read those accounts, He did it in loving ways, in ways to edify the other person. His “no” meant “no” and His “yes” meant “yes.” When Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t go to raise him immediately, even when His disciples upbraided Him. Instead, (to paraphrase), Jesus said, “no, not yet,” and they waited several days so that the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection would give even greater glory to God. At Cana, Jesus said “yes” to His mother, even though He wasn’t ready to reveal Himself through miracles.
And “yes?” Ever had someone accept a marriage proposal? Ever accepted a job? Bought a house, bought a truck, answered about a positive pregnancy test, or been confronted about something you did? “Yes” has just as much power as “no.”
God didn’t use Webster’s Dictionary to create the universe. He simply said, “let there be.” His words are simple and powerful. Simple words are the most powerful words in our language because they can have wide-ranging positive or negative meanings and implications without changing their meaning. Jesus wants all of us to have genuine, plainspoken faith in Him, so He tells us to speak simply and with meaning, through Him. “No” and “yes” mean enough on their own. The basic language is more than enough to meet our needs.
For more reading: Leviticus 19;12, Numbers 30:2, Deuteronomy 23:21, Isaiah 66:1, John 11:1-45, Ephesians 6:16, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, James 5:12, Matthew 5:38
Lord, harden my spine for my “yes” and “no” to stand on their own.