Sermon Matt 5:13-16
Last week we contrasted the Sermon on the Mount to God giving the Law on Mount Sinai. The people of Israel were not allowed near the mountain lest they die. The Law reminded Israel that God was holy; if they wanted to enter his presence they must be holy. Because they were sinners, they were not allowed near the mountain. But when Jesus comes, he invites sinners up the mountain with him, and he speaks to them of grace and mercy; he opens the kingdom of heaven to them. The question was, what happened to the God of Mount Sinai? What happened to the idea that man must be holy to enter God’s presence?
The answer was that Jesus is the God from Mt. Sinai. God is still just as holy. God still requires perfection to enter his presence. The reason that Jesus could bring heaven to sinners is that Jesus himself would fulfill God’s holy demands; Jesus would obey the whole Law in the place of his people. Christ would then become cursed on the cross for us because the Law pronounced a curse on all lawbreakers. That is why the same God who delivered the holy Law at Sinai could deliver the gracious gospel in the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount is the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus came to establish a kingdom of grace. The Sermon on the Mount explains how one enters that kingdom, and it explains how one should live in the kingdom once he has entered it.
We saw that one enters the kingdom of heaven by admitting their need for Christ, by coming before God confessing they are a sinner, and trusting in the work of Christ to save them. When a sinner calls out to God for salvation looking to the cross, God answers that cry and brings that person into the kingdom of heaven forever.
Then the Sermon on the Mount goes on to describe how a member of Christ’s kingdom should live. How does a Christian in Christ’s kingdom live? A Christian lives out of the grace they have received. Since God has shown you mercy, show others mercy. Since God has cleansed you from sin, walk purely. Since God has made peace with you, seek to make peace with others. And finally, Jesus reminded his people that as they live for Christ in this world they will suffer for it, so he pronounces blessings on you as you suffer for your new faith.
This leads us to our passage this morning, which deals specifically with Christians and their relationship with unbelievers; you living as Christians in the world. There were religious groups in Jesus’ day that had formed communes and had separated themselves from the world. But Jesus tells you that you are to be in the world. Christ’s kingdom will not be separated from this world in a physical sense.
Our Lord uses two metaphors to describe our relationship with unbelievers; salt and light. You are the salt of the earth, and you are the light of the world.
This passage is often used to support a political or cultural agenda. Whenever Christians try to persuade other Christians to support their political or cultural agenda, invariably they evoke Jesus’ words that you are to be salt and light. Christians of a politically conservative bend use this passage to support their causes; and Christians of a politically liberal bend use the same passage to support their causes.
Of course it is not wrong to get involved in social or political causes that benefit this world. As someone who desires to be a good neighbor to others, you may wish to get involved in many causes.
But this is not what Jesus means when he calls you salt and light. The disciples did not hear these metaphors and say to themselves, “we need to get more involved in Roman politics.” If you want to know what Jesus meant you are going to have to allow Jesus to explain it himself.
In attempting to understand our Lord’s words, the first thing you notice is that these are not commands, they are statements of fact. Jesus does not say, “Go and be salt and light.” He says, “you are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” The disciples might have wondered, how are we lights of the world; we haven’t done anything? We are just sitting here listening to you.
The disciples were lights because they had been made members of the kingdom of heaven. You are salt and light simply because you are Christians. You are salt and light because you are members of his new creation, and you live in the midst of the old creation.
The two illustrations of salt and light refer to the same reality. Salt was necessary to the world just like light was necessary to the world. The point is that as Christians you have a very important responsibility to this world. You are the world’s light.
Though the example of salt is new in the Bible, this is not the first time we have heard the phrase, “light of the world.” We read in Isaiah where the Father called the Son the light to the nations. In that passage the Son is a light because he would come and open blind eyes and set prisoners free. And in the book of John Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”
Now given these two other references to the light of the world, what do you think Jesus meant when he tells his disciples that they are the light of the world? That’s right, Jesus is referring to spiritual light; heavenly light. You are light because you have the gospel of life. You are light because you believe the gospel of life. Jesus was not the light of the world because he changed the politics of Israel. Jesus was the light because he brought salvation to sinners.
You are salt and light because God uses you as his instruments in bringing others into the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of light. Jesus is the light, now he has made you lights in his image.
After calling you salt, our Lord asks the question; if salt has become tasteless, what good is it? It might as well be thrown down to be trampled. In the same way, if someone lights a lamp, what good would it do to hide a lamp under a bowl so that no one is helped by the light?
Jesus is not teaching here that you can lose your salvation. The point is that Jesus has saved you not only for yourselves, but that you would be a light to this world. There is no such thing as a true Christian that doesn’t care about the lost.
If you had terminal cancer, and you were cured, would you have no interest in your friends who had that same cancer? That is an impossible thought; as impossible as trying to hide a city set on a hill, or as impossible as salt-less salt. If you have received salvation, then by nature you are going to desire that others receive salvation. How could it be any other way? A light is useless if it isn’t used to give light.
So God has not called you to separate from unbelievers, but to be light to them. Now the question arises, how are you to be that salt and light? Well, first of all, you are going to have to do justice to the strange use of grammar in these sentences. It is not reflected in the English, but the Greek “you” in v. 14 is plural. Jesus says to them, you (plural) are the light of the world.
Here is the strange grammar. “You” is plural, but “light” is singular. We might expect to read, “you (plural) are the lights (plural) of the world.” In this sense each of you would be your own separate light. But that is not what the text says. The singular word “light” reveals that you as a redeemed community make up one singular light.
The body of Christ as a whole makes up the light. We are light first of all as we preach the gospel. Jesus was speaking to his disciples who were in training to be Apostles. In that sense the disciples would be salt and light by their teaching. The light they would bring is the gospel they would preach.
We all together make up the church, and as the church we preach a unified message. The church must preach the gospel that opens sinners’ eyes and teaches them about Christ and salvation. As we preach the gospel we are the light of the world.
We also are light together as we live in obedience to Christ’s commands as a community. That is why Jesus said, “by this all men will know you are my disciples; if you love one another.” Our witness to the world first and foremost is a unified witness. You cannot claim to be light if you separate yourself from the body of Christ.
But Christ’s kingdom is not limited to the church when she gathers on Sunday morning. Christ’s kingdom is inclusive of every area of our lives. Thus verse 16 calls you to be salt and light in the world, whether as a church gathered or as an individual at work. “Let your light shine before others in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Each of you is responsible to abound in good works that others may see that you are Christians.
The good works Jesus is speaking of are defined for us here in the Sermon on the Mount. We have already seen him speak of being peacemakers, and showing mercy to others. He will go on to speak of not lusting against others sexually, not being angry with your brother, to be people of integrity, and to love your enemies.
The Apostle Paul picks up on Jesus’ salt illustration in Col. 4 when he writes “Conduct yourselves wisely toward unbelievers…let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to respond to each person.” Here being salt refers to speaking graciously to unbelievers.
Now, v. 16 is not teaching you to be obnoxious or to show off your Christianity before others. In Matt 6 Jesus will warn you not to practice your righteousness before men to be seen by them. V. 16 is not encouraging you to go out there and tell everyone your convictions on everything. V. 16 is not telling you to go and tell people about Jesus whether they want to hear it or not.
The light we are to shine is the meekness and graciousness of Christ. Meekness doesn’t force people into discussions or twist conversations. Meekness is not argumentative.
The Pharisees told everyone what they believed, and they were very proud of their convictions. But they did not embrace Christ, and they did not sincerely care for people. They only wanted to show others how holy they were.
But Jesus says the goal of your witness is the other person’s salvation, that they may glorify your Father. You are not to seek attention or glory for yourself. You are light to others as you care for them. If you care for others you will not be pushy, but you will sincerely want to get to know them, and befriend them, and pray for opportunities to tell them about Christ or invite them to church.
Since we know that it is God alone who opens hearts, we can pray and wait for that person to ask us about the hope that is in us, and then we can point them to the Savior, or point them to church where the gospel is preached.
Think of a non-Christian you know. Considering he is a sinner, you can probably think of a number of things wrong with him or her, maybe their politics, their morals, their manners, their language, etc. But what does that person really need? He needs the gospel. Why worry about their manners and convictions when they are lost and on their way to judgment? They need the gospel. Pray for that person’s salvation. Care for them sincerely, whether they are open to talking about the Lord or not. Jesus befriended all types of sinners, even though most of them did not believe.
Well, a good response might be; who is sufficient for these things? When we consider the responsibility to be lights, we are reminded that we are very weak examples of Christ. But you must remember that the light does not shine because you never sin. The light shines because you believe in the one who has the answer to sin. Jesus is the only perfect light. You are not pointing people to yourself and your goodness, you are pointing people to the Savior.
Beloved, God has not only redeemed you because he loved you, but also because he planned to use you to bring others to him. He uses you first and foremost as a unified body with one message; the gospel of Christ. He uses you as a body as you love one another with Christ’s love. There is no light without the love of Christ in the body. And he also uses you out in the world, as you walk in good works, as you care for others and desire their salvation.
You are salt and light to this world. To be a Christian means you desire those who are dying to receive the same eternal life you have received. Why else light a lamp? So walk as children of light, and may God use us to bring others to himself; that they also may glorify our Father in heaven. Amen.