I’m not sure the world notices the church very much. And when they do, if we are honest, it’s not a very positive reaction. “Move along, you’re in the way.” When the world notices the church it is accompanied by a yawn or by a rock.
Two weeks ago we talked about how a person who seeks whole-heartedly after the righteousness of God will find himself at odds with the world and find himself the object of persecution and scorn. As Paul wrote, “Whoever desires to live a godly life will be persecuted.”
It is a natural and inevitable consequence of following Jesus. Jesus isn’t finished with the consequences of following him. In fact, if you are a follower of Jesus, your life will take on a distinctive flavor to it:
“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 by men. “You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:13-16)
To this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has painted a picture of those inner qualities which characterize a disciple – those qualities which govern his relationship with God and his relationship with other people. He is poor in spirit, he is broken with grief over his sin, he is meek, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he is merciful, pure in heart, and faithful in the face of persecution.
Now, Jesus points us toward two results of that kind of lifestyle. He says in quick succession – you are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world. Like the previous eight beatitudes, they aren’t optional extras. They aren’t bonus qualities for the super-spiritual. Either you are or you aren’t. Inevitable risks accompany being salt and light. Dangerous consequences follow when a disciple abandons his call.
In these two brief metaphors, Jesus invests in his followers a new sense of identity. They are a distinctive contrast to the world. But with that new identity they, and we, are also given a new sense of purpose. We are no longer marking time as the world marches headlong toward hell. While the world is lost and dead in sin, we hold out the promise of God for new life. Where the world is immersed in hopelessness, we hold out hope. Even though the world cannot conceive of life not lived for self, we surrender our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps we are too far removed from the culture of the ancient world in which salt was as valuable as gold in some respects. It was used in payment of debts, it was essential to the proper offering of sacrifices and the making of covenants.
We go down to the grocery store and a one pound canister of salt costs less than a dollar. But in the ancient world salt was not easily available and very valuable.
Salt was (and is) essential to life. It’s still a fairly common practice (with the invention of refrigeration not necessary) – but in that time the only real method of preserving meat was with salt. And long before the days of spice racks and varieties of seasonings, salt was the only thing available to flavor foods. Salt was used to preserve and to flavor and to purify.
In proclaiming that we are salt and light in this world, Jesus says by implication something very striking and powerful about this world:
This world – and I hope you understand what he means when he talks about the earth or the world – not the planet, not even the people – but the forces and values and the lifestyle that run counter to God and his rule in the lives of people. John characterizes the world very distinctly when he writes in 1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
This world is insipid – that means flavorless. It’s ironic isn’t it that that is the very accusation the world makes against Christians – that we are joyless and repressed and if there is anything fun it must be wrong. (They may know too many Christians who look like they’ve been sucking on sour lemons or eating rotten peanuts.) But the truth is that this world is incapable of any real joy – and any pleasure that the world contrives is always a distortion of something God created. And the Christian, of all people, should bring a distinctive flavor to life.
It’s not just that the world is flavorless – it is decaying and rotting. It is like gangrene that is eating away at living tissue, bringing corruption and death. It is like a piece of meat left too long in the sun, covered with flies, starting to stink. That is the picture Jesus paints of the world.
And so the disciple brings something to this world, that stands in stark contrast. Where the world is insipid and flavorless, the Christian brings flavoring and life. Where the world is decaying and rotting, the Christian brings preserving and purifying. The disciple of Jesus Christ is the salt of the earth.
And when Jesus says we are the light of the world, he is saying by implication that this world is filled with darkness and lost without hope.
It is ironic that the world looks at itself as enlightened. And with our vast resources of information available to us – computers that can merge with the super internet highway and connect us with more information than we could ever assimilate in a hundred lifetimes – you would think that man would grow ever increasingly aware of truth and reality. Instead the world grows more ignorant of reality, more blind to truth, more self-absorbed and spiritually impoverished every day. The 21st century was supposed to bring mankind to its zenith of human accomplishment – yet, while technology mushroomed, our lack of wisdom and understanding has brought us to the brink of self-destruction.
Is it that there haven’t been enough books written, that we don’t have powerful enough telescopes, that the microchips in our computers aren’t fast enough? The problem isn’t with any of those. The problem is with the human heart, and the heart of the problem is sin. And until we deal with the basic problem of sin, no amount of learning and knowledge is going to enlighten us.
When we talk about light, we immediately begin to think of those passages in which the Lord is described as the light of the world:
· John 1:4-5,9 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
· 3:19-20 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
· 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And we understand that and we can wrap our minds around the idea that Jesus is the light. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here. He is saying “YOU” are the light of the world. (Now, we learn in a minute that this light isn’t from us, nor is it for our own glory. Nevertheless, this is a powerful statement of Jesus that we are to become and are becoming what he is.)
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” And when we shine in this world filled with darkness we dispel the darkness. The ignorance rolls back and everything is exposed to view – that’s pretty heavy. And when the darkness is gone and sin is exposed, Jesus says the world is going to do everything it can to extinguish that light.
But the light plays a twofold purpose.
· It guides. Like a lamp on the path, illuminating with truth and purity.
· But secondly, it warns – like a flashing beacon warning of immediate danger – like a lighthouse shining the light over the ocean warning of dangerous reefs – the Christian’s life shines out in warning of the dangers of sin.
I love how Paul phrases this powerful truth in Philippians 2:14-16 - Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…
The point of all this is that the follower of Christ has tremendous influence in the world. We are Christ’s instruments of intervention and proclamation. We are used by God to hold out the promise of life.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” There are joys and blessings that come with being the presence of Christ in this world and letting him shine through us and influencing the world through us. As we noticed last week, there are also dangers that come with being that challenging, convicting presence – as Jesus said in John 15 - “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
But there are even greater dangers involved in ignoring this call – in wearing the name of Christ, but not living the life he has called us to.
Jesus says, “But if salt loses its saltiness…” (lit. – “becomes worthless”) What if we lose our distinctiveness? What if we become so like the world that our functions of preserving and flavoring and purifying are nullified?
“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…” God put that light inside of us so that the world would take notice – he set it on a stand so all the world would see it. But what if we do hide the light under a bucket or turn it down so that the darkness fills the void in our life? What if you extinguish your influence?
I wonder whether the problem is that there is too much world in the church or too little church in the world. We don’t seem to make much of a difference, and I’m afraid our salt has lost its saltiness and our light has been hidden from sight. Our lives aren’t distinctive enough to make anyone wonder why we’re so different.
As Jesus speaks, he looks into each of our eyes and says to us personally – “YOU are the salt… Let YOUR light shine … that they may see YOUR good deeds”
Every Christian is salt and light – you are the salt and light. When Jesus commissions, he commissions you. When Jesus sends, he sends you. Every person is the target of your influence.
But he is also speaking to all of us together. The “you” is plural – “you all” are the light of the world. By myself, my influence is limited, my reach is only as broad as my circle of friends. But when you and you and you and I are joined as the body of Christ and the light of the world – our reach isn’t just increased, it is exponentially multiplied. We can do what I don’t have the resources to accomplish on my own. We are stronger, smarter, more confident than if I am by myself. Our light is brighter than my flickering little candle.
We are the light of Jesus in this community, guiding people to seek the only true God. We are the salt of the earth bringing flavor and salvation to the people with whom we come in contact. But you don’t leave salt in the shaker, you don’t hide the light of the world in a church building. You pour it out, you let it shine.
Are you sharing your faith? Does your life bring glory to God? I don’t know your heart, I can’t know what your life is about – but whatever it is, I know God calls you and me to something more.
Posted on Sun, April 27, 2014
by John Roberts