“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
As we’ve continually observed, Jesus is describing the Christian and the character of the Christian in this chapter so far. He continues to do so in these four verses but here He specifically addresses what the Christian’s relationship is to the world.
In John 17 Jesus made the statement that we, like He, are not of this world, meaning that although we are still in the world, having become new creatures in Him we are now of another place.
However since we are still in the world we are to be something to the world, in His name, and this is really the only real and significant way we are to relate to this world while we are here.
We are salt and light.
So let’s look at these two words for a few minutes, trying not to fall into the trap of over-analogizing, but just getting the broad picture that these two images portray for us and then gauging how well we as individuals and we as the American church might be filling the role in which these words place us.
SALT AND SALTINESS
The first observation I want to make about this portion is that what Jesus says about salt is in one verse, and the other three verses are dedicated to the analogy of light.
So His statement about salt as it pertains to our relationship to the world is very short. Furthermore, note that Jesus doesn’t say, “You are the salt of the earth. Now salt is used for preservation and for flavoring and...” so forth.
He simply says, “You are the salt of the earth”, and then goes directly to the negative side and talks, not about the uses and usefulness of salt, but the uselessness of salt that has lost the properties that once made it useful.
Now the commentators go into very descriptive detail about how until very recent times there was no refrigeration, so people would preserve meats by rubbing them with salt and how it would retard putrefaction. And they talk about the custom of showing courtesy to guests in giving them salt for their food and so on.
I just don’t think I need to explain to any of you the properties and uses of salt. It was the most common seasoning of ancient times and I’m sure it is today, which may answer any question as to why Jesus did not feel it necessary to go on and explain what He meant by likening His followers to salt as they apply themselves to the world around them.
So having said that, we go back to verse 13 and see that He follows these seven short words, ‘You are the salt of the earth”, with this very blunt and straight-to-the-point declaration.
If salt has lost its saltiness there’s no point in even calling it salt anymore! Like the joke about what to call a fly if it has no wings. Do you call it a walk? Un-salty salt is just white grains of garbage. Throw it on the ground and let it mix with the dirt because that is what it has become.
Now I fooled you a little bit.
Because since Jesus simply stated the negative concerning salt and unsaltiness, that forces us to go back and look at what salty Christians mean to the world in order to fully understand and guard against unsaltiness.
Again I will state the obvious things we know about salt. It preserves. Let me qualify that statement. It preserves temporarily. Eventually, if not cooked and eaten the meat will putrefy anyway.
What is the application? This world is rotting away. It is becoming more putrid with the passing days.
Do you know what’s killing our planet? It’s not global warming. It’s not the loss of the rainforest. It’s not that oil will run out or a large meteor will decimate the globe. People talk and write and picket over these things, living in quaking fear of the ‘maybe’.
No, the evidence of putrefaction is in the widespread acceptance and encouragement of blatant homosexuality. It’s in the wholesale slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every day with total impunity (they think).
It’s in moral-less corporate marketing that sends out the message to young girls and guys that if what they’re doing doesn’t lead to free and frequent sex they just aren’t with it, and then advertises the newest medicine that will retard the eventuality of their herpes breakouts so they can continue in their promiscuity undistracted.
It’s in the bold declaration of a godless media, whether in the news, through commercials or in the theme of sitcoms and cop stories, that men are weak, stupid, useless goons with an Oedipus complex who have to be led by the nose by the worldly wise, beautiful, intelligent, man-despising women around them. And even in the confines of the individual family unit the mother’s most frequent facial expression is one of rolling her eyes at her husband’s latest dumb statement or hot anger at his latest blunder, and every time his kids open their mouths in his presence it is to make a demeaning, sarcastic comment about him, because it’s just so funny to the viewers that ‘dad’ is the butt of everyone’s jokes.
The putrefaction is evident in the growth of the common trend that bad is good and good is bad. Homosexuality is paraded down the street with tickertape and joyful cheering but if you publicly declare the gospel of Jesus Christ you’re seen as an insensitive clod because you may be offending the sensitivities of someone near who doesn’t believe the way you do.
A young woman can wear a shirt to the mall that has the ‘F’ word in eight inch letters on the back telling the reader what she thinks of him and apparently the rest of the world, and no one can tell her to turn it inside out, cover it up or go home.
Is society putrefying? You know it is.
Jesus said to His disciples that they, we, are the salt of the earth. Salt slows down the rotting process, not by being nearby in the salt container, but by being rubbed into that which it is intended to preserve.
So tell me, Christians, where are we not supposed to go? Short of breaking the law or becoming personally involved in a sinful act, where are we supposed to stay away from?
‘Cause I’ll tell you one thing that I know from experience. The dead meat isn’t going to come to the salt. The salt has to be applied to the meat.
A new restaurant opened just about a mile from where we are, about three and a half months ago. They opened on St Patrick’s Day, and since they are a combination, restaurant/pub and advertise such in their name, on opening night the parking lot was full and the street in both directions to the corners of the bordering blocks was lined with cars.
On the other hand, if you were to take a head count in the churches of our town or even just the churches of our own association on any given Sunday morning I don’t think the number would total the number of folks who swarmed into that pub on the afternoon of February 17th, 2006.
Am I sounding too negative? Well, Jesus made a negative statement here in Matthew 5:13, and I may not understand entirely why He did, but like a small boy mimicking his father’s movements I’m just going to copy Jesus here.
Where is the saltiness of the church in our decaying society? They laugh at us! They ridicule us. They trivialize us. And no wonder. We don’t even take ourselves seriously.
I’m hearing on a more and more regular basis, men in speaking positions within the organization of evangelical Christianity, trivializing preaching.
“People, we’ve heard enough sermons to last us the rest of our lives! Now we need to go out and live them!” I’ve never heard such idiotic tripe as this!
When I prepare a sermon it is with a mind and heart to feed you from the bread of life. If my child came home from school and said ‘When’s dinner, I’m hungry’, and I said, ‘You’ve had enough dinners to last you the rest of your life’, she’d look at me like I’m crazy! I would be crazy!
So the ones who are trivializing preaching and declaring the need for less monologing and more dialoging are getting up in front of people who desperately need to be told what the Word says to them instead of being asked what they think the Word is saying to them, but they’re just getting nice little chats about what a good Christian is and how good it is to be a Christian, and in the end they are going out unchallenged, unconvicted, unchanged, and unable and unprepared to share their faith with anyone else in any intelligible or inspiring way whatsoever.
So we have a weak and largely empty church, piddling a small band of devotees out onto the pavement of our city streets, whose idea of ‘witnessing’ is wearing a cleverly worded t-shirt, putting a fish on the back of their van right next to the arrogant little sticker that declares at which school their baby is an honor student, and wearing the latest fad bracelet, and silently praying that no one will ask them to explain any one of these items because frankly, they don’t have a clue!
Where IS the saltiness?
It has to start with sound, biblical, doctrinal teaching of God’s Word, complete with reproof, correction and training in righteousness in the ‘shaker’… in the church, and then it has to be applied by men and women of God going out into every segment of society and every place where people gather and applying what they know and are by living for righteousness and communicating the good news of Jesus Christ, beginning with sin and the need for repentance.
When we are ashamed to gather and sit down with sinners we self-righteously place ourselves on some imagined moral plane above our Savior, who ate and drank with the dregs of society because they needed HIM.
When the church stops doing that, Christians, it is good for nothing but to be trampled under the feet of godless men. Jesus said so.
LIGHT AND ILLUMINATION
Now. What is light? I mean, what is light for? To dispel darkness; right?
To help us see.
Oh, we could just go crazy here and talk about different kinds of light. Visible, ultraviolet, infrared… now the properties of these… nah.
Jesus was talking to people who only knew and understood the very basics about light. So we know that He simply meant light that helps to see. That’s it.
If you hear some preacher on this verse starting to go into a bunch of scientific application about light in order to make an illustration, just turn on your cell phone and call someone for a chat; because you aren’t going to hear anything worthwhile from that bum at all.
Let’s just talk about being light and what Jesus said to do with it.
First, notice that He didn’t say ‘be light’. He said, ‘you are the light of the world’.
Just like salt. You are salt. You are light.
Now this should make us feel pretty special on early reflection (no pun intended). Because John referred to Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel as the Light that came into the world, and in chapter eight Jesus uses the term of Himself.
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
In fact, I just took a quick count so it may not be accurate but Jesus is referred to as Light or the Light that comes into the world no less than 19 or 20 times in John’s gospel, either by someone else or referring to Himself.
So when He says to His disciples, ‘You are the light of the world’, He means that the light we are is as a result of His indwelling presence. No, He wasn’t indwelling them yet. But this wouldn’t be the first or last time He would speak of the nature of a believer as it would be when His work was done.
He said to His apostles on the Mount of Olives prior to His ascension, to receive the Holy Spirit, but the actual fulfillment of that command was realized later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.
So here on the mount as He teaches He is speaking to the people He has just described through the course of the beatitudes and reveals to them that because of this significant connection with God which transforms and conforms to Christ’s likeness, they, just by their involvement in the world, will retard the process of decay while bearing the light of truth into the darkness of men’s hearts and lives.
Then He makes these pretty straightforward observations just to give them clarity of thought concerning what He is communicating…
“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”
Now they’re thinking, ‘Right. Yeah. That’s right. That makes sense”. And He rides in on those thoughts with this admonition:
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”.
Now let’s sharpen our focus on verse 16.
First, we are to do something. We are to let our light shine.
Remember that silly little Sunday School song they used to make you sing? “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” I don’t think the song even attempts an explanation of what the light is supposed to be. I know when I was a kid they made me hold a candle so I thought that was the light and I had no idea at all what good it was supposed to do me or anyone else, when it would be so much easier and brighter to just turn the lights on.
Well we’re going to get a better idea of just what this light is as we go through this verse.
“…before men in such a way…”
Ok, we have the next clue. This is a public thing. We are supposed to be public and not only public but public in a specific way. “In such a way”.
How is that? What way is that? In the doing of good works!
Now that’s not so hard, is it?
But wait. The purpose behind all this public light shining is to bring glory to the Father. So we need to talk about what brings glory to the Father so we’ll know the nature of these good works that are to be done before men.
Well, Jesus’ coming into the world brought glory to the Father; the angels said so.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased”. Lk 2:14
Christ accepting us was to the glory of the Father.
“…accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” Rom 15:7
Now we know that His acceptance of us was made possible through His death and resurrection for our sins and our eternal life. So that’s what brings glory to the Father.
According to Philippians 2:11 the declaration from every tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord will be to the glory of the Father.
So what do we see? The truth of the good news of Jesus Christ and who He is, and what He has done for mankind through Calvary’s work is what causes men to glorify God.
Do sinful men glorify God? No.
So the way in which glory will be brought to the Father through us, is as we tell men the truth and the whole truth concerning Jesus Christ, and men respond in faith and are saved.
What are these ‘good works’ that come out of the light from us? The teaching of God’s Word and encouraging to faith through the message of the cross and the empty tomb.
Is that all?
No, because there are other verses about glory being brought to God through our mutual love and support of one another; and serving one another. I won’t turn this into a Bible drill but you’ve all read them and heard them preached.
Well, ok, I’ll give you two. I Peter 4:11 and Philippians 1:9-11
You can read those later. I want to share a thought or two with you that links back to what I was saying about preaching earlier.
I had this sermon half written and left it for the next day. On the morning of that next day while on my morning walk I was listening to a sermon from Amos chapter 8 and I heard some things that directly related to things I’ve been saying here.
The preacher was covering verses 11 and 12 of Amos 8 at this particular juncture of my walk and his sermon, and those verses are as follows:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD. 12 “People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.”
Now I can’t go into a teaching in Amos here but just a couple of comments for clarity’s sake.
Amos preached during the same period as Isaiah. You may remember some weeks ago when I preached about a Bulge in a High Wall where Isaiah was warning the people of the Southern kingdom about their apostasy and their imminent ruin because they would not listen to God.
Well, Amos is prophesying during this same period, to these same people, and they have consistently rejected the Word of the Lord.
Remember what they said to Isaiah? Don’t speak truth to us! Tell us lies.
So here in Amos 8 God is saying ‘OK, you don’t want to listen, you want to reject My Word, have it your way. I will remove My Word from you and there will be a spiritual famine in the land that will devastate the generation after you”.
Now the reason I mention this here, believers, is because I think we’re beginning to see the same thing happening in A.D. 2006. People, and by people I mean Christians so-called, are not wanting to hear the whole counsel of God.
They have a form of religion but deny its power. They do their duty in attending church and maybe paying their tithe and giving lip service to God but there is no light in them or coming from them.
And I can’t help wonder how long God will tolerate the trivialization of His good news for men to the extent that even the churchgoers don’t want to hear it, before He says to us as He did to His people 800 years B. C., ‘Ok, have it your way’.
That is a disconcerting thought to me, people. Because if God sends a famine on our land for the hearing of the Word of God, where does that put me?
You know, it was another 40 years from the time Amos preached until the things he said came to pass, but it did. Just like he said, because he was preaching, not his own words, but God’s.
I wonder how far into the 40 year period we might be now, where God waits for His people to repent and come back to His table?
I think some of the things I’m saying today have been said for at least the last couple of decades, and I’m afraid we may be coming very close to the time of the comeuppance of the church.
I will say this much. To stop me preaching God will have to give me a very clear and decisive message or take me home. But He is able to do either.
Where is the light that the church is supposed to be before men, Christians?
If it could be compared with the light of Christiandom 50 years ago, or 500 years ago, or 1800 years ago, how would it match up?
I don’t know. All I know is that Jesus doesn’t talk to church buildings or church organizations. He talks to the hearts of individuals as though each one is the only one He is speaking to. And He says, “You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men in such a way that they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”.
There will never be a famine for the Word of the Lord in our land, if individual believers, no matter what is coming over the pulpits or over the airwaves or on the television screens or in the book stores , will continue to let the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ shine through them wherever they go.
If you ever hear anyone arguing that the last days as described in the prophetical books must be far off because the world just isn’t as bad yet as it seems to have gotten in the wording of the prophecies, you might just remind them that the presence of believers in the world is salt and light to the world. The moment they are gone as a result of the rapture of the church, there will be nothing to hold back the decay; nothing to light the darkness for them. The downward spiral will be catastrophic.
Let me finish with this thought.
Jesus said of Himself, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5), and as long as you and I are in the world, Christians, we are the light of the world. Until He takes us out of the world, either individually or corporately by rapture, our mandate is to be salt and light.
Preservation and Illumination.
Salt, by virtue of a walk in holiness and righteousness; light by virtue of the vocalization of the good news that Jesus Christ God’s Son shed His blood and died to pay the penalty for the sins of men, and rose bodily on the third day just as He said He would so that He might give eternal life to all who believe.
You are salt and light. Let your life bring glory to your Father in heaven.