Summary: Jesus gave the ultimate commentary on the Old Testament law, yet it is not very well understood in the Christian community. In this the first of several sermons, we will explore the law and the Christian.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus called us salt and light, then condemned whoever sets aside the least of God’s commands. Does that mean that Christians should put to death idolaters, Sabbath breakers, adulterers and those who dishonor their parents, sacrifices animals, be circumcised, rest farmland every seventh year, observe the new moons, build leafy huts for the feast of tabernacles, pay wages daily and use no leaven at Easter? What does Jesus teach us about the Old Testament law?
To let us know that we already are salt and light, and introduce our relationship to the law.
We will examine salt, light and the law.
Salty Bible Study
In Matthew 5:13 is a description of salt losing its saltiness. In our world that doesn’t happen without a chemical reaction of some kind. Our science of chemistry defines a salt as a compound that results when an acid reacts with a base. The most common salt is table salt or sodium chloride. Another common salt is a road salt, calcium chloride. However, what Jesus meant by salt cannot be defined by modern language. It was probably a mixture of calcium sulfate and our table salt. Calcium sulfate is gypsum and used to make plaster of Paris. This mixture could lose the salt component and thus its saltiness. All this proves a very important step in studying the Bible: get our definitions right. Careful research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions helps us understand the Bible so much better.
Jesus' Salt was not our Salt
Bible critics often claim that the Holy Scriptures say something they do not. Any of us can be guilty of inserting our culture into the Bible. For instance, when Jesus said "if the salt has lost its flavor..." (Matthew 5:13), it is wrong to mistake that as sodium chloride. That's our language. What Jesus meant by salt was not sodium chloride, but a substance that usually came from the Dead Sea that contained some of what we call salt but also contained white gypsum. That "salt" could lose its saltiness, because the gypsum content became too high as the other leached out. Our "salt" does not normally lose its saltiness. Salt has a different meaning today. We cannot retrofit today’s meaning as some have done trying to claim that Jesus didn't know what he was talking about.
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus told his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and are the light of the world. This was no encouragement to become something that they were not yet, but to be what they already were. The same applies to us today. We are the salt that gives the world a good taste and the light that brightens this dark planet. When we are not ourselves, what we have been called to be, our communities suffer. Salt preserves. When we fail to live up to our calling, our nations rotten from the inside out and are not preserved. Light helps us see. When we fail to rise up and be the light of the world, others cannot see God in us. Let’s wake up and be who God says we are. Let’s be ourselves.
The secret Christian
Have you ever heard of secret Christians? Few people know that they are Christians and if asked they may hide their faith. Membership in some Christian societies is also exclusive and people must be invited. Even some churches are like that and it contradicts what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:15. He told his disciples that they were a city on a hill that cannot be hid. The followers of Jesus Christ are a light that is meant to be seen, not hidden away in secret. What exactly about the church is to be seen? Is it our fancy buildings, our church music, our TV shows, our political commentaries or something else? Jesus specifically mentioned that we are to let our good deeds be seen, not to show off, as he later explained, but so that others may glorify God.
Do good things
In the beatitudes Jesus taught his disciples some of the most important fundamentals of Christianity: recognizing their spiritual poverty, mourning world ills and their own sins, humility, craving to do the right thing, showing leniency to the undeserving, filling their hearts with clean things, willingness to take a loss for the sake peace and being harassed or criticized for doing what's right. Then, in Matthew 5:16 he said that they were the salt of the earth and light of the world. How does that work in real life? Jesus encouraged those disciples to go and do something about the wonderfully deep blessings associated with being a follower of Christ, good deeds. Christianity is not just about sitting in a church building, worshiping, singing, and being taught the saving words of Jesus. It is also about doing good things.