Summary: Jesus’ metaphors of salt and light reveal how His followers are to be positive influences in the world.
You’ve probably all heard the old adage “No man is an island.” Since that was the thought that first came to mind as I read the passage that we’ll look at this morning, this week I did some research to find out where that saying originated. It comes from Meditation XVII written by an English poet named John Donne in 1623. Here is a brief excerpt from that composition:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
The point of Donne’s essay is that as humans, our lives are connected and that they are all equally valued by God. And as we’ll see this morning, the fact that our lives are interwoven like that means that as followers of Jesus, we can have tremendous influence in the lives of others.
Last week, we looked at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus described the character of those who belong to His kingdom and the present and future blessings that come from being part of that kingdom. But as we’ll clearly see this morning, those blessings are not merely for our own good and edification; they are to be used as a positive influence in the world around us. So take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 5 and we’ll pick up where we left off last week. You can follow along as I begin reading in verse 13:
13 “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.14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)
Here Jesus uses two common objects as metaphors to describe how His followers are to influence the world around them. As part of His kingdom, they are to bring that kingdom to others through their ability to influence those who are not yet part of the kingdom.
The message this morning is clearly directed to those who are Jesus’ disciples. So if you haven’t yet committed your life to Jesus, a lot of this probably isn’t going to make a lot of sense and you’re going to have a hard time applying the message to your life. But if that is the case, my prayer for you is that in some way God will use these words of Jesus to draw you to Him and that you will heed His call to submit your life to Him.
For those of us who are followers of Jesus, this is perhaps one of the most important passages we’ll study in the Sermon on the Mount. It is the perfect complement to the message from a few weeks ago when we talked about our life’s mission to proclaim good news and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Here, Jesus is going to give us some very practical guidance on how we are to actually carry out that mission.
I’ll briefly make a few introductory comments about salt and light, since they are the objects of Jesus’ message and then we’ll spend the majority of our time seeing how we can apply what Jesus said in order to maintain our influence in the world around us.
Since today, we can go to the grocery store and buy a container of salt pretty inexpensively, we don’t really understand the importance of salt in the culture of Jesus’ day.
During that time salt was a necessity of life. Since they didn’t have refrigeration, salt was used primarily as a preservative as well as a seasoning. It was so valuable that it was actually used as a currency. Our English word “salary” comes from the Latin word which refers to the fact that Roman soldiers were paid with salt. So a soldier that did not carry out his duties adequately was said to be “not worth his salt.”
We also know that salt in those days was often not very pure and also contained other elements like gypsum. So when it was exposed to water, the sodium chloride – salt – would leach out, leaving a white residue that looked like salt, but had none of its flavor. This residue would then be thrown on the roads and pathways to keep the dust down.