A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this afternoon and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 5:13-16
[Read Matthew 5:1-16]
Last week, Larry brought us to the conclusion of our study of the Beatitudes, and in a sense, it was a very sobering conclusion. He showed us that the blessing of belonging to God’s kingdom, of being his disciple, is not only evidenced in how we live but also in how the world will respond to us because of how we live. Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Larry pointed us to the sure fact of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ, saying, “The condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful.”
The world will hate you and reject you because of who you are. But do not be discouraged, because it is to this that God has called you for his glory. Jesus is telling his disciples that because of who they are, they are to stand out as witnesses of Christ to the glory of God. This is the claim that this text makes on us: we are to live as a distinct community of disciples shining as lights in darkness for the glory of God. And Jesus turns to two vivid images to make this point.
The first picture Jesus gives is about salt.
[Read Matthew 5:13]
Notice the first two words of his sentence: You are. It’s not “You can be” or “You will be” but “You are.” It’s a statement of present reality. Notice two things about this present reality.
First, consider that Jesus is making this statement at the outset of his public ministry. His disciples have only just begun walking with him, following him. Yet, he describes them as “the salt of the earth” (and later “the light of the world”) prior to them joining him in doing actual ministry. They are these things, not because of what they have done or because of what they know, but because Jesus chose them to be his followers.
The same is true for us today. Those who are blessed are not blessed because they act in a certain way. No, instead they act a certain way because of who they are. Identity precedes activity. Who we are determines how we live. Jesus is not telling us to be something that we are not already. He is telling his people that this is who they are, and then he is going to encourage them to then live like it. Jesus is saying that if you are his disciple, then you are the salt of the earth, so act like it.
Second, I think we can tend to read these words “you are” as if they are addressing us as individuals. Yes, if you are Christ’s disciples you are included in this—you (singular) are the salt of the earth. But Jesus’s language isn’t singular, but plural—you, as a community, are the salt of the earth.
As we consider these two metaphors of salt and light, don’t miss the corporate nature of this identity, of our reality. It’s not so much that you are salt, but that we are salt. Our life as disciples is one that takes place together. You are the salt of the earth.
Now, what does he mean by describing his disciples as the “salt of the earth”?
To be the salt of the earth is to be distinct from the earth. This is made explicit in what Jesus says next in verse 13. He says, “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” He is saying that tasteless salt is no longer salt. It is good for nothing.
But what is it about salt that makes it distinct? One common use of salt in Jesus’s time was as a preservative. Salt slowed decay. Salt was also used to season food, enhancing its flavor. These ideas are complementary, and this is how Christ-followers are the salt of the earth today. We can have a preserving and enhancing impact upon the world around us.
Left to itself a sinful world collapses into confusion and disorder. Sin destroys and it is set on rotting the world we live in. But a Christian has a preserving effect on the world, standing against the decay of evil. Those who follow Christ stand in distinction from a sinful world by preserving that which is good, true, wholesome, and beautiful.
And consider, God’s people are distinct disciples, standing apart from the world, but they are still in the world. Salt is no good if it’s left in the saltshaker. Salt must be put to use to preserve and enhance that which it touches. Our call is not to construct salt cellars where we can all live as salt together, separate from the world. We are to be the salt of the earth. We are to be in the world but not of it.
Jesus, next, provides another picture that illuminates his first statement about salt. These are not random sayings strung together, but they belong next to one another. Jesus turns to another metaphor to describe his disciples.
[Read Matthew 5:14-15]
If Christ’s followers are the light of the world, implied in this statement is that the world is in darkness. For us, who live in the age of the electric light, flashlights, and computer screens, true darkness can be difficult to grasp. We don’t fully comprehend the blinding nature of true darkness.
Total darkness is disorienting. You lose your sense of space, of what is up and what is down. The same is true morally. In darkness we lose the ability to determine right from wrong, good from bad, holy from profane. And this is the darkness of the world we live in. You don’t have to look very hard for evidence of this darkness. We see the darkness in our world as slavery to our passions; it is the hopeless and deadly tyranny of living for ourselves.
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Here, the force of the corporate reality of who we are is brought out clearly. It is not “this little light of mine” that is going to shine, it is the brightness of many the many lights of a city that shines bright in a dark world. This is the effect that a community of disciples has on the world around them, lighting up the darkness around us, bringing sight where there was blindness, clarity where there was confusion, and hope where there was only despair.
“Light” is an important concept in Scripture, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah. Isaiah uses shining light to point to the coming Messiah and his glory being made known throughout the world. In Isaiah 42:6, the Lord calls to his servant—pointing to the coming of Jesus, saying, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.” We see that same phrase again in Isaiah 49:6, that the Lord’s servant will be made “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Jesus is that light. He is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). In John 8:12 Jesus describes himself as “the light of the world,” saying, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And it is here in Jesus’s words of Matthew 5 that we begin to see just how God’s words in Isaiah are to be fulfilled. Yes, Jesus is the true light coming into the world, but by identifying with him, his disciples shine his light in the world to the very ends of the earth.
The very purpose of our existence as Christ’s followers is to shine his light. As light we don’t choose to shine or not. This is who we are. As salt, we can’t just decide not to be salty. This is who we are. Jesus has brought us out of darkness into his light that we might shine the light of the gospel in a dark world.
It is only as we live lives as distinct disciples who are visible to others that we can have God’s intended effect upon the world. As salt and light, we are to be distinct and visible. All of the Beatitudes have led up to this point.
[Read Matthew 5:16]
We are salt and light as we live in this world doing good for the glory of God our Father. We are not salt and light so that people will celebrate us, or so that we might win friends and influence people, or so that we can live our best lives now. We are salt and light, doing good in the world, so that God may be glorified.
Song of Response
Sermon Audio from Recent Sundays