March 3, 2023

The Truth Manuscript

TEXT: Exodus 20:16 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
DATE: 3-5-23

Watch the sermon here
Take notes here


As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.


If you have your Bible — please turn with me to Exodus chapter twenty — we’ll be looking at verse sixteen together as we continue in our series looking at the Ten Commandments. And  — today — we’re talking about truthfulness — being honest versus being a liar. 

So I had this crazy idea that I thought would be a fun way to start this sermon — but it’s going to require participation on your part. In a moment — I’m going to have you close your eyes. And — once your eyes are closed — I’m going to ask you a question. And you’ll respond to the question by either raising your hand or by not raising your hand. OK? And — if you do raise your hand — I want you to keep your hand raised until I tell you to put it down.

Pretty simple, right? You’re going to close your eyes. I’ll ask you a question and you’ll either raise your hand or keep it down. But if you do raise it — what do you do with your hand? You keep it up until I tell you to put it down. OK. We got it? Great.

Close your eyes. No cheating. This sermon’s about being honest after all. OK. Here’s the question.

If you think that you’re more honest than most people — meaning — if there are ten people in a room with you — and you think that you’re more honest than five of the people — putting you in the top five for honesty — raise your hand. I’m not asking if you think you’re the most honest person — just if you think you’re a top fifty percent kind of honest person. Raise your hand if you think — out of ten people — I’m at least in the top five when it comes to honesty.

Ok. Don’t put your hands down yet — keep them up. And — for a twist — open your eyes. And look around the room — North Mainers look around at the folks at your campus. And we should all feel sorry for the other churches in our community because — apparently — they’re all full of liars — all of the honest people come to our church.

Ok. You can put your hands down. And — now that we’re all relaxed and ready to hear about how we’re all a bunch of liars — here are the words found in Exodus chapter twenty. Verse sixteen. 

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” - Exodus 20:16 ESV


Like the previous eight commandments — we’re going to look at this commandment by asking a few questions. What does this commandment teach us? Why do we break this commandment? And how can we be set free from having to break this commandment? Those are our questions.


So let’s jump in. First — what does this commandment teach us? The answer is in our verse - which states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” - Exodus 20:16 ESV

What is this commandment teaching us? Well one thing it teaches us is that God is against falsehood — God is against falsehood. Which should be obvious — because — he’s given us a commandment against falsehood. But to be clear — what I mean is that God is opposed to everything that’s false. Falsehood isn’t just an enemy of truth — falsehood is an enemy of God himself. 

Additionally, we see the power of a witness — of someone who gives a testimony — and this power can be used for good or evil. That’s why our commandment speaks specifically against being a false witness. In our modern age — we tend to think of witnesses as less reliable than evidence. Shows like CSI, NCIS, and Sherlock make us lean in favor of trusting evidence while being suspicious of eye witness accounts. 

Why? For one reason — evidence can’t lie to us — but a witness can. Evidence is based on facts — whereas a witness may mix up facts with their opinion. But — in the days before technology — the testimony of a witness was considered to be fact. It was pretty much all the judge had to go on — so it was critical for the witness to be honest — to be truthful — to not lie because another person’s life was often on the line based on the testimony of the witness. Do you feel the weightiness of this commandment now? The truthfulness of a witness was a matter of life or death in many cases — so being a person of truth mattered.

We’ll come back to this idea — of being a witness — but for now know that the truthfulness of a witness’s testimony is of utmost importance. And this ninth commandment calls God’s people to be people of truth — not people of falsehood.

Now — we Christians today come from a long line of men and women on whose shoulders we stand. Our Christian faith is built on the truthful testimony of faithful men and women who lived as witnesses for Christ long before us. Our church — in particular — finds its historical roots in the Presbyterian tradition. And — many centuries ago — a document called the Westminster Confession of Faith was adopted as our standard for what the Bible teaches theologically and doctrinally. It’s a collection of statements that articulate what we believe in regards to things such as God and the Bible — mankind and sin — salvation and eternal life — and so on.

In addition to the confession — we have two catechisms — documents written in question and answer format in order to help teach what we believe. They’re called the larger and shorter catechisms. And I bet those titles are obvious enough that you’ve figured out the difference between the two. The one that’s larger — has more questions.

I bring up this bit of Presbyterian history because two questions in the shorter catechism are relevant for our passage in Exodus chapter twenty. The seventy-seventh question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What does the ninth commandment require?” And the answer given is, “The ninth commandment requires us to tell the truth and to maintain and promote it and our own and others’ reputation, especially when testifying.” - Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 77

Here’s Pastor Josh’s translation of that answer: “The ninth commandment requires that we be truthful to one another, including when we talk about ourselves and other people, and especially when we are testifying as a witness.” - Josh Hanson version

The next question in the catechism — number seventy-eight — asks, “What does the ninth commandment forbid?” So we’ve gone from what it requires to what it forbids. And the answer is, “The ninth commandment forbids anything that gets in the way of truth or injures anyone’s reputation.” - Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 78

And — again — the Josh Hanson unofficial translation is: “The ninth commandment prohibits us from being biased towards lying and falsehood as well as anything that causes harm to our reputation or the reputation of someone else.” - Josh Hanson version

So — with all of that — what does this commandment teach us? Having looked at the commandment and the shorter catechism — this commandment teaches us that we’re to be truthful witnesses — we’re to be truthful witnesses.


And — now that we understand what this commandment teaches — let’s move on to our next question — which is: “Why do we break this commandment?” If this commandment teaches us to be truthful witnesses — why do we disobey it? Why are there times in my life and in yours where we’re untruthful — or false — witnesses?

The short answer is sin — but sometimes short answers aren’t the most helpful. So another question to ask is: “What sin in particular tempts us to disobey this commandment?” Regardless if you’re a Christian or not — a follower of Jesus or still trying to figure out what you believe — specifically what is it that entices you and me to be a false witness instead of a truthful one? What we’re asking is: “Why do we lie?”

We’re going to answer our question by looking at two stories in the Bible. One from the Old Testament and one from the New. 

There’s an interesting story in the Old Testament about one of the kings of Israel. His name is Ahab and he’s married to a woman named Jezebel. And in the book of First Kings we read of an incident involving Ahab and Jezebel that involves a man named Naboth. Who? Naboth. He’s the owner of a vineyard that’s the property right next to the king’s palace. 

Now — one day — King Ahab asks Naboth to sell him the vineyard so he can convert it into a vegetable garden. But Naboth refuses — he tells the king no. Why? Well this vineyard is his inheritance. It’s been passed down to him from his father who received it from his father and so on. So this vineyard’s been in his family for generations and he doesn’t want to sell it. And this upsets the king. 

Now — if you’ve never heard of Jezebel — well — let’s just say she’s not someone you want to name your daughter after. Maybe your cat — but not your kid. Jezebel noticed how sad her husband was because Naboth wouldn’t sell him the land. Yup — he’s acting just like a spoiled child. And do you know what happens? Jezebel devises a wicked plan to have Naboth murdered. 

She gets some folks to accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king — and it’s all a lie! Do you know what the punishment for cursing God and the king was? Death! And — if Naboth’s dead — well then — his land would be up for grabs. And this is the plan Jezebel orchestrates. She has false witnesses come forward and accuse Naboth of crimes he did not commit. And he’s found guilty — based on the testimony of false witnesses — and is killed — even though he was innocent.

Ah — but there’s a bit of a twist to the story. You see, God knows all that has happened. So he sends a prophet named Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel. Why? Because God had commanded his people to not bear false witness — it’s right there in our commandment. And conspiring against an innocent person because you want to have his vineyard as your vegetable garden — believe it or not — is breaking our commandment! 

And here’s God’s message for Ahab and Jezebel. Through Elijah, God says, “I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’ 23 “And regarding Jezebel, the LORD says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.’ 24“ The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. 25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the LORD’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.)” - 1 Kings 21:22-25 NLT

Did you hear that? “No one so completely sold himself to what was evil in the LORD’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of Jezebel.” What incriminating words. I mean — who wants to go down in history as the gold medal winner for being the most completely sold out to doing evil — and all so you could plant a vegetable garden? 

Now — back to our question: why do we lie? One reason is because we’re all prone to doing evil things. So we lie to cover up our actions — we lie to hide the motives behind our actions — we lie to get what we want. It may not be a new vegetable garden — but we’ve all — haven’t we — broken the ninth commandment to get something we want.

Now — there’s a second plot twist. After hearing Elijah’s words — Ahab repents of his evil and God relents of his immediate punishment. Who would’ve thought, right? And what a great ending to Ahab’s story this would’ve been — the evil king repents and turns from his ninth commandment breaking ways! But — some time later — Ahab finds himself in the middle of a battle — and he’s fighting as a coward. He’s trying to hide who he is to the enemy by wearing a different uniform than the one the king is to wear in battle. Get this — he’s being a false witness again. And a random arrow — shot in the air by the opposing army — strikes Ahab — mortally wounding him. 

So what does this tell us about Ahab? It seems to indicate that — though he’d repented earlier — Ahab’s heart was never truly transformed by God’s patience and grace. Why do I say this? Because he continues to break the ninth commandment by being a false witness. Instead of being a truthful witness — he’s a false one. And for all of the younger kids and the grown men listening — Jezebel does end up being eaten by dogs. It’s right here in the Bible.

Now — that’s the Old Testament — but I promised a New Testament example as well. An example of a key figure in the New Testament breaking our commandment. Who is it? His name is Peter. You may have heard of him.

When we were beginning our journey in the book of Acts — many years ago here at Gateway — you may remember that a key theme of Acts is that God’s people are to be a witness for him. And we’re to be truthful witnesses as we tell others all about what God has done and is doing — especially through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus.

But before he — and the disciples — were commissioned to be witnesses for Jesus — there’s a revealing story about Peter. Before his death — Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am — what’s the word on the street about me?” After the disciples share the latest street gossip — Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” And “Peter (not missing a beat) answered him, “You are the Christ.” - Mark 8:29b ESV

And Jesus tells him, “You’re right, Peter.” But then the craziest thing happens. After Jesus is arrested — Peter joins a crowd warming themselves around a fire near where Jesus is being questioned. And not once — not twice — but three times people come up to Peter and accuse him of being one of Jesus’s disciples. And all three times Peter denies it. He lies. He has an opportunity to be a truthful witness and — instead — he falsifies his testimony. 

Now — as many of you are aware — Jesus had warned Peter that this would happen. And Peter swore he would never falter in his testimony — he was adamant that he’d never lie or be a false witness. Yet — when it mattered — Peter fumbled the ball. He falsified his testimony. He lied. He broke the ninth commandment. 

But why — Peter — why did you lie? Ahab we understand. He’s a wicked dude married to Jezebel and she’s evil. But Peter? Mister “I walked on water” Peter. Mister “I saw Elijah and Moses standing on a mountain with Jesus” Peter. The man who’d seen Jesus heal the sick, cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak. Peter, who’d seen Jesus raise people from the dead — breaks the ninth commandment — just like Ahab and Jezebel.

What caused him to falsify his testimony? What compelled Peter to lie? What’s the sin behind the sin of him breaking the ninth commandment? Well — it’s the same sin that tempts you and me to break the ninth commandment. We bear a false witness when we fail to trust God’s Word. You and I — just like Peter — we break this commandment when we don’t believe that God’s Word is trustworthy. 

Now that might not be the answer you’d expect for people like Ahab and Jezebel but — ultimately — all of us — Christian or not — we all fail to be truthful witnesses because we fail to trust God and his Word.

It doesn’t matter if our lies are seemingly small and culturally acceptable — like lying about how much we weigh — or if they’re lies that are considered to be big whoppers — like the ones that usually require a team of lawyers to keep you out of prison — and all of the lies in between.

We lie when we fail to trust God’s Word. We bear false witness when we don’t consider God’s Word to be reliable and truthful — so we alter the truth for our benefit. We use deception and lies so things go the way we think is to our best advantage.


And if this is the cause — if this is why we lie — we don’t trust God’s Word — how can we be set free? How do we find freedom from needing to lie?

Well the answer is simple — not easy — but simple. We trust God’s Word. Freedom from being a false witness is found by trusting God’s Word. 

Now — unlike Ahab — Peter really repents of his sin. We know this is the case — because — Peter becomes a key witness for Christ. In fact, Peter’s given the honor of preaching the first few sermons in the book of Acts. And — in response to his sermons — thousands of people coming to faith as Peter testifies as a truthful witness for Christ. 

But — between Peter’s transformation from a false witness to a truthful witness — he had a powerful encounter with Christ. You can imagine — after telling Jesus that you’ll never deny knowing him — and then doing so — not once, not twice, but three times — that Peter was feeling like a loser. So he did what fishermen do when they’re feeling like a loser. They go fishing.

And while he’s out fishing — Peter — and the guys with him — notice Someone on the shore. And — slowly — they start to recognize that it’s Jesus because — get this — Jesus was alive. Now hold on here. I just told you the most incredible news and your response is like “that’s no big deal.”  

So let’s try that again. This guy — Jesus — was murdered on a cross. He was dead. Buried in a tomb. All hope was lost. But — now — Peter and his friends see Jesus alive. You see, a miracle has taken place. Hope that seemed lost was suddenly amplified to a whole new — previously unimaginable — hopeful level. Jesus is alive.

So what does Peter do — Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive — so what does Peter do? Does he keep on fishing? No! He jumps into the water and swims to shore — that’s what hope in Christ does to a person. It causes you to jump head first into whatever’s between you and Jesus so you can be with the One in whom hope is found.

A little later on — Jesus takes Peter off to the side to talk. And three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Remember — three times Peter denied Christ — three times he acted like a false witness. So three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Giving Peter the opportunity to — truthfully reply — three times with, “Yes Lord. You know I love you.”

And — now — Peter’s a changed man. Like a “ I once was blind but now I see” kind of changed man. An “I was lost but now I’m found” kind of changed man. An “I’ll sell all the possessions I have because I’ve found a treasure that far surpasses everything else” kind of changed man.

The kind of change that transforms a false witness into a truthful witness. Someone who once denied Christ into someone who’s now willing to joyfully die for Christ. All because Peter — now — trusted God’s Word. And — in trusting God’s Word — Peter was free to live for God. No need to lie to others — because he had no reason to fear the truth being made known. No need to be a false witness — because he had no reason to fear what might happen to him if he testified truthfully about Christ. What freedom Peter found. Freedom that changed him. Freedom that’s offered to all who trust God’s Word.

Do you trust God’s Word — I mean — really trust his Word — some might even say — profoundly trust God’s Word? Not just believe it to be true. Not just admire this book. Do you trust it? Listen to these words of God and ask yourself, “Do I really trust his Word? Are these words of God changing me? Are they setting me free to live for him?”

“The Lord’s words are (what kind of reliable? Sometimes reliable? No. Half the time reliable? Nope. How reliable are the Lord’s words? The Lord’s words are…) absolutely reliable. They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground, where it is thoroughly refined.” - Psalm 12:6 NET  

Is God’s absolutely reliable Word changing you? How so?

Or how about this word from God? “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!” - Revelation 3:16 NET  

Jesus says that the middle of the road faith — the neither hot nor cold faith — the “just kind of ‘eh’ faith” — makes him want to throw up. How is this word from God changing you? Does your faith make Jesus want to throw up?

OK — that one was a bit harsh — back to a positive verse. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” - Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT 

Don’t be afraid — don't be discouraged — why? Because God is with you. He’s going ahead of you. He’s promised to never fail you nor abandon you. This is good news people — life changing news. So how is it changing you? How is knowing that God is always with you, will never fail you, and will never abandon you — changing you? You can’t trust these words and not be changed.

Jesus said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and (does what? Jesus says the person who listens to my teaching and…) follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t (do what? If you only listen and you don’t…) obey it (that person…) is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” - Matthew 7:24-27 NLT  

Are you merely listening to Jesus or following him? One is the way of the fool — the other is the way of the wise. Those who hear Jesus — but don’t put into practice what he teaches — claim falsely to be his witness — they break the ninth commandment. But the people who put into practice what he’s taught — are those who are truthful witnesses. What kind of witness are you? 

One last verse. Let’s end with an amazing truth from God’s Word. “The LORD will reign (for how long? The LORD will reign…) forever. He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations. Praise the LORD!” - Psalm 146:10 NLT  

What would your life look like — right now — if you really lived as if God is reigning and ruling at this very moment? Not “some day he’ll rule.” Not “maybe he’ll rule forever.” But “God is King and is on his throne right now and he’s in control. And I am his son or daughter. His prince or princess. A beloved child of the reigning and ruling King.” What would your life look like if you trusted these words of God?


Now — one last word of good news — that may feel like a rug being pulled out from under you. Here’s the good news for all of us: Ultimately, our hope isn’t based on how well we trust God’s Word. “Wait, what? It seems like you’ve wasted an entire sermon then, Josh.” Hold on. Our hope isn’t based on how trusting we are — our hope is based on how one man — a perfect man — trusted in God’s Word on our behalf. And the great twist in God’s Story is that this man — who flawlessly trusted in God’s Word — is God’s Word. And — this next part may be so familiar that it no longer astounds you like it should. What’s that? 

Our hope — our life, our freedom, our joy — are all found in the death of God’s Word whose name is Jesus. And the death of Jesus occurred because the ninth commandment was broken by us. 

You see — Jesus was an innocent man. He never sinned — making it incredibly difficult to build a truthful criminal case against him. And with there being no evidence to convict him of a crime — the religious leaders — who hated Jesus — did exactly what Ahab and Jezebel did to Naboth: they had false witnesses make up charges.

“Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. (Of course not. He was innocent. Yet…) 56 many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. (It’s hard to keep your story straight when you’re a liar.) 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. (When you trust God’s Word you have no need to defend yourself against the lies of others.) Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Which is very similar to Peter’s response to Jesus when he was asked, “Who do you say that I am?”) 62 And Jesus said, “I am, (Jesus can’t lie about who he is — he’s the truthful witness. And he goes on to say…) and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.” (Mark 14:55-64 ESV) 

And Jesus was murdered based on the testimony of false witnesses even though he testified truthfully about himself. Jesus was an accurate witness — he was honest — truthful — and he loved these people who wanted him dead — so he shared the truth about himself at the cost of his life. He didn’t cower in fear — he didn’t hide the truth. He freely shared the truth with them — and with all people — so the freedom he offers through faith in him might be found.

So the hope giving irony — here — is that the only truthful witness was murdered because of our lies. Though he never lied nor gave a false testimony — Jesus died the death that all false witnesses deserve. He died the death deserving of a false witness though he was always truthful with every single breath he breathed. 

From the breath which said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one will come to the Father except through me.” To his last breath — with which Jesus said, “It is finished.” No truer words have ever been spoken.

Something undeniable is that we’re all liars. We bear false witness. We stretch the truth so we have the advantage. We tell little white lies so we look better or simply because we want to get out of things we don’t want to do. But — ultimately — we tell lies because we don’t trust God’s Word. And — if we’re honest — we’d admit that none of us are really “top five” kind of honest people. For — when we look to Jesus — we see what truthfulness is — what trusting God’s Word looks like — what being an honest witness consists of. And we realize that we’re all bottom rung of the ladder liars — the falsest of false witnesses kind of people. 

Yet this bad news leads us to the Good news: there’s hope for all of us liars — of who I’m the worst. For Paul — another man who was changed from a false witness into a true witness — wrote these words: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  

A truthful confession: Jesus is Lord. A true belief. God raised him from the dead — he was dead — but now he’s alive. Confession and belief lead to salvation — to the freedom to live as a truthful witness for Christ. Let’s pray.


Heavenly Father, thank you that your Word is absolutely reliable and that we can trust you. And thank you for sending the Word who became flesh — your Son, Jesus — who trusted in your Word as he died in our place — so that all who believe in him would be set free to live truthful lives for you. 

Holy Spirit, if there’s anyone desiring to be set free from their bondage to sin — whether that sin is lying or something else weighing them down — I ask that you would move them to do two things. Confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that he’s been raised from the dead. For true confession and belief in Christ leads to freedom. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Leader: Lift up your hearts.
Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord.
Leader: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Congregation: It is right for us to give thanks and praise.
Leader:  With joy we praise you, gracious God, for you have created heaven and earth, made us in your image, and kept covenant with us — even when we fell into sin.
Congregation: We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord, who by his life, death, and resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. Therefore we join our voices with all the saints and angels and the whole creation to proclaim the glory of your name.

We give thanks to God the Father that our Savior, Jesus Christ, before he suffered, gave us this sacred meal. At his last supper, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after supper and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me.” For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV

Leader: Therefore we proclaim our faith as signed and sealed in this sacrament:
Congregation: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.


At this time, I’d like to invite forward those who are going to be serving us. And — while they make their way forward — know that as the bread and cup are passed down your rows, you’re to take the bread on your own — but save the cup — which we’ll drink together. Also — in the trays with the bread — there’s a gluten free option in the center of the tray. Eat the bread on your own — but save the cup — which we’ll drink together.


The blood of Christ, shed for you.


Let’s pray. Father, you are holy and majestic. In Jesus, your Word became flesh. He was full of grace and truth. He lived as one of us, knowing joy and sorrow. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, opened blind eyes, and broke bread with outcasts and sinners. Dying on the cross, he gave himself for our sins — raised from the grave, he won for us victory over death. We praise you that Christ now reigns with you and will come again to make all things new. In his name we pray. Amen.


May you go speaking words of truth as you believe in and follow the One who is Truth. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.