“I tell you the truth…” Matthew 5:18
One of the most common five understandable word phrases spoken by Jesus was, "I tell you the truth" (ITYTT). The gospel of Matthew records 30 such quotes. Jesus was described by the apostle John as being full of grace and truth; that in Him was life, and that life was the light of men. Jesus even declared Himself to be, “the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6) Truth, obviously, is a huge trait of our Savior which transcends in His teaching. For that reason alone, every means possible should be made to understand each instance Jesus used these words. We cannot have a casual perspective on the matter, thinking it as just a ‘turn of phrase’ or idiom. The Master Teacher used the phrase to call attention to an eternal truth.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus instructed those who had gathered. After presenting precepts concerning personal disciplines for holiness, He declared that those who practice such disciplines are the salt of the earth and the light of the world whose deeds give praise to God in heaven. (Read Matthew 5:13-16) He then declared: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
What importance should we place in this declaration? First of all, note that Jesus stated His life’s purpose: to fulfill the law and the prophets. He followed this declaration with the five simple words we investigate, ITYTT. What made the law and prophets so unchangeable? Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14), Who existed with God, The Father and God, The Holy Spirit before the earth was created (Colossians 1:16). The law and prophets were breathed by His inspiration into the hearts and minds of those who recorded each statement, even to the smallest jot and tittle.
Secondly, Jesus exposed two things: the inconsistency of the teachers of the law, who dominated the people’s lives with their corrupt practices; and the inability for anyone to enter heaven by one’s works. Jesus was using the platonian teaching method of extrapolating the end result of an action to reveal that action’s own weakness. The teachers themselves could not even meet their own requirements, which is why Jesus condemned those who break the law and thereby teach others to do the same by their example. Jesus exploits the thought with His statement that one’s righteousness must “exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” or be disqualified from entry into heaven. (Matthew 5:20) It seemed an impossibility to meet the stipulations given by Jesus concerning one’s works. And it was (!), if through one’s human effort.
Though Jesus had not yet declared Himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, He was preparing the hearts of those he taught for that truth to be exposed at a later time. We know on this side of the cross that our faith in Christ is the sole qualifier allowing us access to heaven and the eternal presence of Christ. Such was not the case in that day… or at least, that’s not how they understood it.
Jesus exposed man’s attempts to live righteously as falling short. This may be difficult for many to swallow. However, as we follow Jesus and embrace His way, we will walk in ways that will prove each one’s devotion as a true disciple: humility, empathy, sympathy, meekness, mercy, purity, peaceableness, perseverance, and a hunger for righteousness. (Matthew 5:3-12) Having established the law and prophets as essential, Jesus then explains the premise for the laws on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retribution, and neighborly love. (Matthew 5:21-48) The importance of how Jesus prepared the listeners for these insights is essential in establishing His authority on the law and prophets – as a reliable source for sharing truth. Jesus, the embodiment of truth, conveyed only truth, for in Him is no falsehood. He is not only The Way, He is The Life, and Author of all Truth.
Have a blessed day…