Have you heard someone say, “I swear to God” or “I swear I’ll never do that again!” Why do some people say that? What makes swearing an oath mean more than a person’s word? I remember talking with Justin Hart about keys one time, and he said, “The only reason we have to have these things is because some people are not honest.” Do you remember that, Justin?
We live in a world of lies, do we not? It is hard to know who to trust. Swearing an oath was a biblical way to establish a matter as settled truth. It’s a solemn promise in the sight of God and witnesses. In a world where even oaths are disregarded, truth gets lost. John’s gospel, 18:36-38, tells us about Jesus before Pilate after His trial before the Sanhedren. Pilate was being pressured by the Chief Priests and Jewish High Court to condemn Jesus and Pilate was asking Jesus if He was a king. Let’s listen in on this conversation. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
Pilate wasn’t actually asking for information. He was showing the frustration and confusion that comes when we live in a world of lies and can’t see the truth when He stands right in front of us. Who could Pilate trust? How could he know the truth? Jesus said of His disciples in His prayer in John 17 “Father keep them in the truth, for thy word IS TRUTH.”
Remember this church: Prayer puts us before the very One who is truth. He is the truth. We pray in the very name of the way, the truth and the life. A world without the word of God and prayer is a world of illusions and lies. But a world of obedient faith in God and faithfulness in prayer will find the light of God’s truth through His word. That’s one of the awesome benefits of being a Christian and having the scriptures and worshipping and living in the name of Jesus Christ. We have and share the truth. John wrote in 2 and 3 John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
Truth and faithfulness are tied together. But ever since the garden of Eden when the Serpent lied to Eve, we’ve had major problems. Truth is connected to God and His word. Therefore, oaths in God’s name became one way of establishing what is truth. Setting up monuments as reminders of promises made became like contracts before God. But what happens when you don’t believe in God? Who or what do you swear by then? It’s hard to make a liar tell the truth. Swearing oaths and making vows and covenants, when done by a liar, can be close to worthless. Think of the marriages that break up these days. Marriage is, or used to be, a binding covenant through vows before God that were backed by the laws of the land. I read an article in a news paper in 1946 where a man went to prison for three years for deserting his wife. It was abandonment. He broke his vows. When they caught him, the judge sent him to jail. We don’t hear much about things like that today, do we?
How many of us are married here today? Raise you hands. Did you know that you are living under an oath to your husband or wife? Whenever I am asked to do a wedding, one of the things I require is that the couple carefully consider the vows they take and prayerfully seek God’s will before speaking them to one another before God and witnesses. I don’t mind if couples write vows to one another, but I require them to say vows that are biblically founded as well. And they must convince me that they agree with, and will comply with their vows before I will do the wedding. God holds us to our words, just as He keeps His word.
Some of you may be wondering about how swearing, vows, oaths, covenants and promises fit into a study on prayer, especially given our Lord, Jesus’ command not to swear at all but to let our yes be yes and our no be no. So how does this apply to our prayers? Did you know that we are Christians in part, because of God’s sworn oaths. Our prayers are possible because God keeps His promises. God has sworn by Himself to Abraham that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. It is this oath that is being fulfilled in us today. God’s sworn oath and covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son is the very core of the gospel that saves us and that gives us access to God in prayer. Hebrews 3:11 and 4:3 tells in detail how God swore in His wrath, or declared an oath in His anger that those unfaithful Israelites would never enter His rest. Now that’s not the crowd I want to be in, how about you?
God’s curse is sworn against those with unbelieving hearts that turn away from the living God. But there is also God’s blessing on those who by faith come to God, believing He is and that He rewards those who seek Him. Listen, prayer is a central part of seeking God! Prayer is drawing near to God, coming before God, communicating with God, doing physically things that reveal our hearts sincerity of faith in God’s presence. We pray because God reached down to us and called us out of sin and lies and into righteousness and truth. God has paid a high price so that we could pray.
So, let’s look at this from the perspective of what God has done and is doing to make prayer possible for us. God created us, He made us in His own image and likeness, and designed us to be able to choose Him… or not. God wants us to choose Him. We must choose to pray. He doesn’t force us to do so. God provides us with everything we have. Yet, He allows us to be tempted and tested. He does not tempt us, but He certainly allows it, see Job. And what did Job do during the terrible time of his testing? He cried out to God! When his wife said, “Curse God and die, Job rebuked her for foolishness. In Job’s greatest misery Job continued to call on God. He didn’t have to, but he did. God ordained it that we be free moral agents who decide between good and evil, right and wrong, life and death, heaven and hell. God allows a lot that God does not desire! Let me say that again carefully: God allows a lot that He does not desire. It is not God’s will that any perish, but that all come to repentance. God is for us! God reveals His will to us through scripture. He inspired the Bible. God’s desire for us is eternal life with Him in glory, where we share the inheritance of Jesus Christ, His Son forever. The immense magnitude of God’s love and desire for us is best seen in Jesus’ coming, living with us as one of us, calling us to the kingdom of God through repentance and forgiveness of sins. God came to us, so we would come to Him! Jesus shows us God, doing works of God in signs and wonders, casting out demons, stilling stormy seas, walking on water, opening the eyes of the blind, and ears of the deaf, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead. Jesus shows us God the Father, and calls us to come to the Father through the Son. Prayer is part of that! Jesus gave his life for us. He was crucified for us and because of us. The cross is where the curse of God and the blessing of God come together, where God’s wrath and mercy meet, where our sin is paid for, and His righteousness imparted to us.
Now listen, God swore that this would take place. God swore it to Abraham, to Israel, to David… Here we are, heirs of God’s sworn blessings. We live under that oath of blessing by our obedient faith, it is a covenant of blood, a promise of God fulfilled for us by the God who has done it all for you and me… and now, the word of God and prayer are our tools to maintain this power flow from heaven into our lives. We who are heirs of the promise, children of the King of kings, are here because God vows His promises and keeps them. God swears His oaths and fulfills them. God makes His covenant and is faithful to it. You and I can pray to Him, because God’s word tells us to pray and He is true to His word.
When God tells us to devote ourselves to prayer, He is calling us to come before Him, to stay in touch with Him, and to continue in an awareness of His presence in us and upon us. God wants us to have prayer lives! Lives of prayer and praise!
This month we’ve laid out a basis of what prayer entails, next we will begin focusing on developing our prayer lives and our relationship with God through prayer.