Salt and Light


Video for this sermon can be found here: https://youtu.be/NxrrbwuLdFA

Something Jim mentioned in his sermon last week reminded me of a conversation I was involved in a number of years ago. It was at one of our Pastor’s fellowships. We were discussing the Sermon on the Mount. One of the men, a dear brother, a solid brother whom I love, made this statement: “If I am on my deathbed, and you are called to minister to me, one passage I do not want you to read to me is the Sermon on the Mount. It is nothing but unobtainable law. I would feel utterly condemned.”

We spent quite a bit of time that day discussing his view. And I spent a lot of time trying to convince him he had a very wrong understanding of this passage. 

As has already been mentioned, the Sermon on the Mount – as it is most often called, covers all of chapters 5,6 & 7.

It is the longest unbroken and sustained account of Jesus’ public teaching we have. While it was first and foremost to the Disciples, we see that there was a large crowd gathered who listened in.

In the process, it covers the essentials of the Biblical Christian life and outlook. I think it is defensible to say that virtually all of what Jesus taught can be tied in some way to what is given here. It is startlingly complete.

And while some like my friend see it more as an ethical manifesto, as though if one were to obey it perfectly, that would make them acceptable in God’s eyes; that of course is no more true than obeying the 10 Commandments will serve to justify you before God. In fact, in its ethical implications, parts of it are so much more exacting than the 10 Commandments, it would be much harder to fulfill this, than them! That was in fact my friend’s point. He knew he couldn’t measure up. It held no “Gospel” for him.

We must never forget that Justification – right standing with God – comes only one way, through the Cross of Christ. Every genuine Christian has come to know this. Knowing our lost condition and coming to God for mercy on the basis of Jesus having suffered in our place on Calvary.

But once having come to Christ, we are not now just set adrift and left to our own imaginations in terms of what the Christian and the Christian life ought to look like. This sermon sets all of that in quite comprehensive order. And far from condemning, it is an eye opening look into the wonders of what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom of Christ.

It is familiar – especially the beatitudes even to many outside Christianity. And herein is a danger: Things which are too familiar to us seldom get a second or deeper look. And I think that is especially true too of this second portion assigned to me today.

Let’s take a step back and frame the larger picture before we tackle the 4 verses right here.

Over the years I have studied this portion, I have come to see it in 10 parts. I thought Jim’s shorter breakdown last week was exceedingly helpful.

He said that in this sermon: “we see the new heart of his people refracted through many angles – relating to the world, to the law, to the Father, to one another, to false teachers, and to coming judgement.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But let me toss this out there too. I’ll be referring back to the first part which has already been ably preached on by Jim last week, and set today’s focus on part 2. But as I said, to give you a broad overview – I want to suggest one way of understanding it that I hope is helpful. Viewed this way, contained in it are the incredible rights and privileges which belong only to those who are found in Christ by faith.

Keep in mind, this sermon is first and foremost, all about Christ’s Kingdom.

1 – 5:1-12 / Give us a portrait of the CITIZENS of the Kingdom / That all in Christ are conceived of as a “Blessed” people. Irrespective of any external circumstances.

And this would have been in direct conflict with the Pharisee’s teaching of Jesus’ day, even as it is for many today. Blessedness, being in God’s favor is often assumed to be located in joy and comfort in our circumstances. If things are good – I’m blessed. If things aren’t so good, something’s wrong and I need to get back to being blessed.

Jesus tips that notion on its head.

He does that here in His teaching, but He demonstrated it elsewhere too.

Do you remember the account in John 9 where coming upon a man who was born blind, the Disciples asked Jesus who sinned so bad that this was the situation? Was this guy just a wretched sinner even in the womb? Especially evil? Or was it because his parents were so bad – that is why he was born that way?

The implication being, if such was his lot, some sort of special sinfulness must be attached to it. After all, righteous people get blessed, and sinners get cursed – right? That is what the Pharisees taught.

And Jesus takes them up short and says no – that isn’t what is going on here. This man is here, in this condition, at this place and time, so that in healing him, I can display my power and the glory of God!

They didn’t know what to do with that. Many of us don’t either.

2 – 5:13-16 / The ROLE of the Citizens of the Kingdom in this World / Salt & Light.

3 – 5:17-48 / The CHARACTER of the Kingdom and its Citizens / Clothed in and manifesting the Righteousness of God in Christ.

Christ fulfilled the Requirements, Prophecies and Penalties of the Law for us, and counts that righteousness as belonging to all who believe in Him.

4 – 6:1-24 / The LIFE of the Citizens of the Kingdom – SERVICE / Living all of life as unto the Father.

5 – 6:25-34 / The SUFFICIENCY of the Kingdom / The privilege of living above paralyzing ANXIETY.

6 – 7:1-5 / The HUMILITY of the Kingdom / Living UNCRITICALLY, brother with brother. Comrades in the battle against sin.

7 – 7:6 / The OTHERNESS of the Kingdom / Freedom from this present world’s system of values due to the Kingdom’s PRECIOUSNESS and CONTRARINESS.

8 – 7:7-12 / The SUPREME right and privilege of the Kingdom / Direct access to the Father in prayer.

9 – 7:13 & 14 / The single ENTRANCE to the Kingdom / Entering in  -The Narrow Way and Gate. Though Christ alone.

10 – 7:15-27 / The INTEGRITY of the Kingdom / Those in it are both hearers and doers of Jesus’ will as Lord.

But my assignment today is to cover Matt. 5:13-16:

Matthew 5:13–16 ESV

“You are the salt of the earth, 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.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Two similes Jesus uses to describe the Role of The Citizens of the Kingdom in this present World: Salt and Light.

Now a common error in looking at this portion is in divorcing it from the first part – the beatitudes. We must see the relationship between the 2 to grasp what is really going on here.

So the question is: In what way are Believers Salt & Light in the World? What does being salt & light mean? To which a multitude of good answers have been given, but not necessarily in relation to the preceding portion – which is the proper lead-in to this.

One way to go about answering what Jesus means here by Salt & Light is to look at how the Scripture itself refers to salt and light – which it does a lot – in different contexts.

Let’s stick with salt for a minute.

Salt is used in the Bible as a symbol of permanence – so God commanded it be included with every sacrifice to show the permanent and lasting nature of His covenant with His people. (Lev. 2:13; Numb. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5 etc.)

It was often included in contracts of all sorts for the same reason.

After conquering in battle, the lands conquered were to be sprinkled with salt to show the conquest was irreversible. (Judges 9:45)

We have instances of how it is used to purify things. (2 Kings 2:20; Ezek. 16:4)

And the meaning most commonly associated with this passage is that salt acts as a preservative. So the application typically is that Christians in the world, act a preservative against the advance of sin in culture.

And while all of those have their place, and are reasonable, the fact is the quality of salt that is appealed to in the text is not its preserving ability, but its – “taste”.

English Standard Version Chapter 5

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste

Jesus is concerned that the salt, that we, as God’s people in the world, as citizens of His kingdom, not lose our savoriness – our taste.

Which of course begs the question – who is it that is bothered if we become “tasteless” so to speak? And the answer can only be – God Himself.

Calvin takes a similar approach noting that people still lost in their sins are “tasteless” to God, and that through the Gospel we make them so that God can “relish” in them. The Gospel makes them savory to God. Even as it does us. (See: Calvin’s commentary on this portion)

The imagery is somewhat similar to Jesus’ words to the Church in Laodicea in Rev. 3. There, the Church was neither cold and refreshing, nor hot and soothing, but lukewarm. And it made Him nauseous.

Salt losing its saltiness is parallel. You put the salt on food to make it savory – but if it has lost that quality – then it is good for nothing. You might as well toss it out and use it just to help harden mushy ground. But eating it is out of the question.

The Christian’s role in the World is to live in such a way as to be pleasingly palatable to Him. And it is in remaining pleasingly palatable to Him that we have our greatest impact on The World, The Culture, and Society as well. This is how and where we shine as lights. Our aim is to please Him. And the by-product is an effect on the World. But in the first place, our aim is not to impact the World – but to please Him.

And this pleasing Him, is to be done obviously – which is what He means by stating that our role is also – to be light.

To be out in the open so that He is revealed to the World as He is – as our King.

Christians living large (as they say).

It is reminiscent of 1 Peter 2:9 

1 Peter 2:9 ESV

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

To make Him known, in His person and work; in His goodness, grace and glory.

So then, what are these good works He speaks of which light up the world and bring others to glorify our Father who is in Heaven?

And this is what takes us back to what Jim preached last week. This is where we need to read this section in context, and not single it out.

In short: It is to consciously live as the blessed people we are in Christ.

To live as “blessed” in Him. 

Not fearful people.

Not joyless people.

Not grim people.

Not perpetually agitated people.

Not full of anxiety.

Not angry.

Not hopeless.

Not combative.

Not obnoxious.

Not striving after power, pleasure and position.

BLESSED!

It goes back to the world-tilting picture Jesus painted for us in the beatitudes – in His snapshot of the Citizens of the Kingdom. For it defies all worldly and even religious logic.

We can ask: Can one truly be blessed, privileged and joyful when –

Unsuccessful and obscure? Poor in spirit.

Suffering from grief?

Blessed when humble and non-self-promoting – Non-aggressive?

Blessed when constantly battling and wounded by our sin?

Unwilling to crush our enemies? But suing for peace instead.

Wide-eyed and not worldly wise?

Conciliatory instead of confrontational?

When suffering for doing what is right and good?

YES! If we are Christ’s – and are in His Kingdom! When you know your purpose and reward is in Heaven and His kingdom and not here.

Can a person have a sense of being “PRIVILEGED” and still…

Not have wonderful feelings about self?

When suffering heartache and grief?

When not being self-assertive and self-promoting

Yes! Yes! a Thousand times yes!

In fact nothing is more unpalatable to God than a people who claim to be His, but who do not live in the reality that we are supremely and eternally blessed in Christ.

When we do not live this way, when this mindset does not dominate us, all we have left is to complain about the world. To put a fine point on it – contrary to the ways of some – there is no spiritual gift of complaint.

Complaining, miserable, agitated, fearful, pugnacious “Blessed” people is a contradiction in terms. It mixes our supposed Gospel blessedness with the bitterness of the world and we lose our saltiness. We lose our savor to our Father.  

Salt as you know, never actually loses its saltiness. But, when it is mixed with something else – when it is adulterated – then, it loses its effectiveness.

Christians can easily become like 10 of the 12 spies Moses sent over into the Promised land in Numb. 13. You’ll recall that God had promised them the land, but 10 came back with all kinds of negatives. It will be too hard! The people there are giants! It’s too dangerous, – undoable.

Only 2 – Joshua and Caleb said – hey! Let’s go! They believed God had given them the land and so if God promised it, they must be able.

But the opinion and attitude of the 10 prevailed, with the result of 40 years wandering in the desert and not partaking of the good of the land God had promised them.

They had lost their saltiness through unbelief.

Why is does this make us so tasteless to Him?

Because it is the opposite of living “by faith.”

Hebrews 11:6

Hebrews 11:6 ESV

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

It is to live as though all He is, all He has done for us, all that He has promised us, is of no joy or comfort to our souls. As though we didn’t really believe it. As though it makes no real difference.

How then can we in any way be light to this fallen, broken, lost world, if we live as though we are as miserable and hopeless as they are without Christ?

That is tastelessness.

We claim to believe the good news of the Gospel, but adulterate it – mix it with the doubts, fears and values of the world’s mindset, and so the good news loses its power in our own lives, and gives no light to the world.

It robs the world of the light of the truth about the God who has redeemed us from our sins by His mercy and grace – of a true testimony about Him. How He has granted us His indwelling Spirit; promised us the resurrection from the dead; given access to His throne in prayer; prepared and preserved His Word for us; granted us the fellowship of the saints as part of His very own household; made us adopted sons and daughters of His very own; and stored up for us an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us.

The Puritan Richard Baxter remarked that for many, serving Christ had become an exercise in “joyless submission.” He went on to remind us:

All Christ’s ways of mercy tend to and end in the saints’ joys. He wept, sorrowed, suffered, that they might rejoice; he send[s] the Spirit to be their comforter; he multiplie[s] promises, he discovers their future happiness; that their “joy may be full:” he abound[s] to them in the mercies of all sorts; he make[s] them lie down in green pastures, and lead[s] them by the still waters; yea, open[s] to them the fountain of living waters; that their joy may be full: that they may thirst no more; and that it may spring up in them to everlasting life. Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 22 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 66.

Ultimately, this is an issue of faith. And without faith it is impossible to please God. Such faith requires that we embrace His gifts and promises to us as having such value and reality, that they outweigh the very real pains, struggles, confusions, sorrows and difficulties and disappointments of this life: 

2 Cor. 4:16-18

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Now don’t get me wrong – this is not an automatic thing. Our sin natures still draw us to suspect God and gravitate toward not keeping our hearts and minds anchored in His goodness and grace. In our fallenness, this proves to be a perpetual battle.

Martin Lloyd-Jones in his powerful book: Spiritual Depression It’s Causes and Cures – takes a page from how the Psalmist deals with himself in a time of darkness.

We have already seen that the essence of the treatment according to the Psalmist is that we must really face ourselves. In other words we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to talk to us. We must take ourselves in hand, we must address ourselves as the Psalmist addressed himself and his soul, and ask the question: ‘Why art thou cast down? why art thou disquieted within me?’—You have no right to be like this. Why are you depressed and cast down? He faces himself and talks to himself, he argues With himself and brings himself back to the position of faith. He exhorts himself to have faith in God, and then he is in a condition to pray to God. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

When we read the newspapers, watch the news, read and talk to people online – look at the world and its condition, and then fail to go back to God’s Word, remember our blessedness in Christ and remind ourselves over and over of His sovereign care, inviolable promises, gifts of grace, indwelling presence, providential provisions and eternal, wise and perfect love toward us – and talk to ourselves and one another about our blessedness – we lose our saltiness. And we shine no light into the world.

In fact, we tell the world that all that God is, has said and has done – means nothing. We’re just as bad off, just a miserable as if we had never heard or believed the Gospel at all.

We bear false witness against Him.

Let me quote Baxter once again:

“It is only a life of faith, that will be a life of holy, heavenly delight: exercise yourselves, therefore, in believing contemplations of the things unseen.’—It must not be now and then a glance of the eye of the soul towards God, or a seldom salutation, which you would give a stranger; but a walking with him, and frequent addresses of the soul unto him, which must help you to the delights which believers find in their communion with him.” Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 2 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 417–418.

But Christian – we ARE blessed! We are!

We are the salt of the earth, savory to our God, and light to the world – when we know and live in our blessedness in Him.

We are blessed because of what we KNOW

In my lifetime I cannot remember when truth was so hard to come by.

News outlets off all sorts seem to pander to spoken or unspoken ideologies – and report as truth whatever accords with what they want it to be.

In the midst of the Covid-19 event, conflicting experts and conspiracy theorists abound.

Truth it seems is completely left up to individual feelings, opinions and whatever narrative one chooses to adopt.

But for the Believer, we still have the Bible in our hands. A means to weigh and measure the eternal truths which one day will prove to be those that really matter.

So we know the truth about who and what we are, where we came from, why we are here, where all of human history is headed, how to understand pain and suffering and where all things will end.

We know this universe and everything in it was created by our almighty triune God;

That He made humankind in His own image, to be suited above all other creatures to know, reflect and enjoy Him;

That the problem with the world is sin – humankind’s rebellion against God – and our attempt to become our own gods by determining for ourselves what is right and wrong and living to please ourselves;

And that plunged into that darkness, nevertheless God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through faith in the substitutionary death of His own Son, Jesus the Christ on the cross of Calvary – and that John 1:10-13 

John 1:10–13 ESV

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

We know all this. And live in the truth. And we are blessed!

We are blessed because of what we KNOW

We are blessed because of what HAS BEEN DONE for us

That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

That He fulfilled all of the righteousness of God perfectly – so that those who believe might have that righteousness applied to their account – as though we had lived perfectly before God.

And that this Jesus then died for us on the Cross, having our guilt and sin applied to Him – so that those who believe would have all of our sin paid for, and might be reconciled to the Father and stand before Him absolutely guiltless.

We are blessed because of what we KNOW

We are blessed because of what HAS BEEN DONE for us

We are blessed because of what IS BEING DONE for us

We are blessed because of what has been PROMISED to us

Hear this all together in the words of dear John Flavel –

The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, Volumes 1-6 Sermon VII: Of the Solemn Consecration of the Mediator (John 17:19)

And he would never have been the son of man, but to make you the sons and daughters of God. God would not have come down in the likeness of sinful flesh, in the habit of a man, but to raise up sinful man unto the likeness of God. All the miracles he wrought were for you, to confirm your faith. When he raised up Lazarus, John 11:42. “Because of the people which stand by, I said it, that they might believe that thou hadst sent me.” While he lived on earth, he lived as one wholly set apart for us: and when he died, he died for us, Gal. 3:13. “he was made a curse for us.” When he hanged on that cursed tree, he hanged there in our room, and did but fill our place. When he was buried, he was buried for us: for the end of it was, to perfume our graves, against we come to lie down in them. And when he rose again, it was, as the apostle saith, “for our justification,” Rom. 4:25. When he ascended into glory, he protested it was about our business, that he went to prepare places for us: and if it had not been so, he would have told us, John 14:25. And now he is there, it is for us that he there lives; for he “ever lives to “make intercession for us,” Heb. 7:25. And when he shall return again to judge the world, he will come for us too. “He comes (whenever it be) to be glorified in his saints, and admired in them that believe,” 2 Thess. 1:10. He comes to gather his saints home to himself, that where he is, there they all may be in soul and body with him for ever. Thus you see how, as his consecration for us doth speak him set apart for our use; so he did wholly bestow himself, time, life, death, and all upon us; living and dying for no other end, but to accomplish this great work of salvation for us.

If you are not a Christian here today – this blessedness in the midst of this sin-sick world belongs to all who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. To all who acknowledge their sinfulness and rebellion against His right to rule you as His own. And who embrace Jesus’ death on the Cross as Him bearing the just wrath of God against you. Who trust His death in your place as the means whereby you can be reconciled to the Father – and made a new creature in all this blessedness.

Won’t you come to Him today? Won’t you confess your sin to Him right where you are? Plead with Him to have mercy on you, forgive you and make you new? Won’t you trust Jesus? He promises to refuse none who come to Him that way.

And Christian – won’t you take a fresh look at your blessedness in Christ today? For it is only as we live in the light of all that we know, all that has been done for us, is being done for us this very moment and of the promises which are about to be fulfilled – that we are truly savory to our King – and beam the light of His glory in the world.

O happy soul that lives on high

While men lie grov’lling here

His hopes are fixed above the sky,

And faith forbids his fear.

His conscience knows no secret stings,

While peace and joy combine

To form a life whose holy springs

Are hidden and divine.

He waits in secret on his God,

His God in secret sees;

Let earth be all in arms abroad,

He dwells in heav’nly peace.

His pleasures rise from things unseen,

Beyond this world and time;

Where neither eyes nor ears have been,

Nor thoughts of sinners climb.

He wants no pomp nor royal throne

To raise his figure here;

Content and pleased to live unknown,

Till Christ, his life, appear.

He looks to heav’n’s eternal hill

To meet that glorious day;

But patient waits his Savior’s will

To fetch his soul away.

Isaac Watts.

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