Matthew 5:13-20 If you have been in my Sunday School class you have heard this story but you are about to hear it again because it so beautifully illustrates what Jesus is teaching us today about our place and purpose as Christians in this world.
When I was in seminary I remember asking Professor Saleska this question: “Wouldn’t it be better if, after we came to faith, the Lord would simply call us home so that we would never sin again or run the risk of falling away from faith”?
And he kind of gave me this withering look and said: “Well yes, that would be better if you were the only person whose salvation he cared about!”
Despite the fact that I felt like an idiot (or probably because of it) I have never forgotten that lesson: our lives as Christians, so long as we walk this earth, are to be lived in service to others, especially when it comes to their salvation.
We know and understand that when it comes to bearing witness to Jesus to those we meet. We heard President Henning talk about an opportunity he had at Whataburger to speak of Christ’s love to a man who had just lost his wife of 65 years.
But what Jesus teaches us today is that not just our speech bears witness to others for the seek of their salvation, but so do our entire lives—that the way we live our lives as Christian people has an important role to play in our world today as we bear witness to Jesus, not just with words but with deeds. Jesus says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
That is the summary of everything we are going to learn about today: that the purpose of our lives and how we live our lives is intended by God to point those around us to Jesus so that they too—along with us—would glorify our heavenly Father.
To teach us this vitally important role that our day to day lives serve in his work of salvation, Jesus uses a couple of simple illustrations. First of all, he says that we Christians are the salt of the earth. In our day, that saying has come to mean a person who is just a plain old person without pretensions-- but that is not what Jesus meant.
The people of the ancient world understood Jesus’ illustration because their lives depended on the purifying effects of salt. It was really the only way to preserve the wholeness of food and keep decay at bay.
That’s what Jesus means when he says that we are the salt of the earth—that the holiness and purity of our lives are to stand as a bulwark against the moral decay that is all around us.
In our world today, particularly here in the west, virtually every moral restraint has been cast aside so that now it is only those members of Bible-believing Christian churches who stand up to the evil of our day that undermines and destroys marriage and family and life. It is only the Bible-believing Christian who stands up to perversion and says: this is wrong!
And not only is that to be our proclamation it also must be our life. It does those around us not one bit of good to speak up for the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life if we are living out something different in our own lives.
It is critically important to God’s work for those who do not know him to see in us and our marriages and our values something that is truly appealing and that is the beauty and holiness of Christ’s life—and if they don’t because we are living just like they are, then we have lost our purifying purpose in the world.
Jesus says that if the salt has lost its saltiness it is no good, in other words if we have lost that particular characteristic of being different than the world around us, we are no long have any purpose in this world—a sobering warning to those people, who in the name of Christ, want to go along with the world on the road to hell.
Second of all Jesus says that we Christians are the light of the world. We have been rescued from the darkness of sin and death and the devil by Jesus who is the light of the world. Into all of those dark places of doubt and despair in our lives, his light has shined.
And now as his people we are to shine that light of Christ out into the world around us where so many people continue to live in spiritual darkness.
Jesus wants our lives to be shining examples of the same mercy and forgiveness and love that has transformed us. He wants this dark world to see there things that matter beyond the next possession—that there is a peace beyond simply the absence of conflict—that there is real hope for the future, not because of some piece of technology or some political leader, but because Jesus stands at the end of human history with a new heaven and anew earth.
And Jesus wants us to shine the light of his truth into hearts and minds that are darkened by sin and unbelief—that the people around us would know the truth of salvation because they can see in our lives the difference that Christ has made and then they would glorify God for his goodness and take their place with us in that bright, shining city known as the Church that makes the righteousness and light of Jesus known in a dark and dying world.
Jesus says: Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
That is what it means to be salt and light—not to stand in judgment over the world around us because our holiness and our knowledge of the things of God (that was not the way of Jesus!) but to let our transformed lives bear witness to the Savior who changed them. Jesus said:
“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. For truly I tell you, 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.
The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the “yod”. It’s just a tiny little mark. Someone with a lot of time on their hands has counted them up in the Old Testament. There are 66,420 “yods” in the Old Testament. You begin to see the height and depth and breadth of what Jesus is talking about when he says that there is not even the smallest part of the Old Testament that he doesn’t fulfill.
Every promise that God ever made to the patriarchs and prophets of old, Jesus has fulfilled. He has destroyed the work of Satan just as he promised Adam and Eve in the Garden. He is the true prophet of God who speaks his Word faithfully just as God promised Moses. He is the true King of the world as God promised David. He is both the Virgin-born Child and the Ancient of Days as God promised Isaiah. Every moment of his life was a perfect fulfillment of God’s promises.
All of the holiness that God demands of his people, Jesus has fulfilled. Every law and precept Jesus kept. The perfection demanded at Sinai—the holiness that is like that of God himself—Jesus gave. The love of God above all else and the love of neighbor as self, Jesus offered every moment of his life.
And all of the sacrifices that God demanded of his people on account of their sins, the sacrifices that reconciled them to God and reconciled them to one another, the sacrifices they made for their own sins and the sacrifices they made for the sins of other, Jesus made at the cross. He is the scapegoat upon which the sins of all people were placed. He is the perfect sacrifice that atoned for not just our sins but for the sins of the world. And he is the Lamb who was slain so that we might take refuge in his blood from the Angel of Death. Every drop of blood that ever flowed on account of sin finds its meaning and fulfillment and power in the blood of Jesus shed upon the cross.
Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and this means two things for your lives. First of all it means that every promise that God has made—every promise that you are counting on—can be trusted. He is with us always—as he promised. He is working all things for our good—as he promised. We are the forgiven children of God—as he promised. Death is a defeated enemy—as he promised. We have a home for us in heaven—as he promised.
The promise of God can be trusted because they have been fulfilled by Jesus. Secondly, his righteousness that is ours by faith means that we are called to live out the reality of his faithfulness and love and obedience in our lives—because we possess his faithfulness and love and obedience by faith. Jesus says:
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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.
During his earthly ministry Jesus said of himself, that he came, not to do his own will or speak his own words, but the do the will of his heavenly Father and speak his words to the world. As it was for the incarnate Son of God, so it is for God’s adopted sons and daughters.
We don’t have to wonder what it means for us to be salt and light because God has revealed exactly what that means in his Word and exactly what that looks like in Jesus. The will of God is made known in his word-- and the will of God is fulfilled-- in Jesus and our calling as God’s sons and daughters is to do the same in our day—taking our stand upon the Word of God and walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Throughout the visible church today there are countless people who have set aside what God has said about marriage and sexuality and the value of life and the roles of men and women-- and even worse, there are pastors and teachers in these places teaching others to do the same.
Their disobedience and their false teaching may not strike immediately at the heart of faith in terms of who Jesus is and what he has done, but it certainly does not strengthen faith—and in fact, it undermines faith over time destroys it and that is why those who teach live as if God’s word and will no longer matter will be least in the kingdom of heaven.
But those who hold fast to the Word of God, those who are unashamed to go against the cultural tide, those who strive to live out the fullness of God’s Word in their own lives as salt and light in a dark and decadent world have a wonderful promise that God himself sees their efforts and will reward their faithfulness.
But for all of us—great or least—Jesus reminds us that we need a righteousness outside ourselves, a righteousness greater than we could ever achieve in our own. He says:
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.
The Good News for us today is that we have that righteousness that is required to enter heaven—not because we have always fulfilled our calling as salt and light—not because we have always borne faithful witness to Jesus—not because we have always kept his word—but we have that righteousness required for heaven because Jesus has given it to us as a gift through faith. Until that day we enter heaven, we live our lives as salt and light in a dark and dying world. Amen.