Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Introduction: One of the holiest sites in the city of Jerusalem is the Western Wall also known as the Wailing Wall. There Jews gather there to lament the loss of their temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. If you were to visit the Wailing Wall today, you would undoubtedly see many people standing in front of it, pressed up close and crying out to God for His favor to rebuild the temple (something that Christians know will happen in the end times—2 Thessalonians 2:4 – (Speaking of the man of lawlessness in the end times) — …(He) opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. In the mind of the Jews, however, this will be God’s way of restoring Israel to its former glory. That’s why the Western Wall is also called the Wailing Wall. Now, of course, Jews aren’t the only people to mourn their current situation. Sometimes today, I hear American Christians lament the declining moral conditions in which we live, a reflection, I believe, of the increase of secular humanism and decrease of the influence of the Judea-Christian beliefs and values upon which our nation was founded. And this should make us feel sad. But I’m here today to encourage you in case this whole thing is starting to rob you of joy. I want you to know that God has a plan to turn this thing around for Jesus and believers are expected to play a big part in making it happen.
If you have your Bible handy, turn with me to Matthew 5 and I’ll explain what I mean from the greatest sermon that has ever been preached. In verses three through twelve of Matthew chapter five, Jesus shares His expectations for how His followers are expected to live. These “kingdom standards” include (1) being poor in spirit—admitting our spiritual bankruptcy and complete dependence upon Christ; (2) mourning the presence of sin in the world and our participation in it; (3) showing meekness toward others when vengeance might be more in order; (4) hungering and thirsting for righteousness—both on the personal level and societal level; (5) demonstrating mercy—by forgiving those who have wronged us and showing compassion to the needy; (6) purity of heart—being morally pure and single-minded in our commitment to the kingdom; (7) peacemakers—referring to those who help bring peace between God and man (by the proclamation of the Gospel) and man and man (by leading them to reconciliation); and lastly (8) persecution for righteousness’ sake—opposition being a common mark of a disciple of Christ (See John 15:20).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus shared these kingdom principles with His followers? His purpose was to inform us that we are God’s answer to a world going to pot. Christ’s message in His Sermon on the Mount is simple: when God’s standards are lived out by God’s people the result is in an effective witness to God’s glory. As we tackle our text this morning, I have a couple of thoughts in mind that I want to share with you before we jump into it. First, our nation (and the world) does seem to be coming apart as the result of schisms and fear (mostly right now over the threat of the coronavirus) and so far the government hasn’t come up with a way to fix it. Second, the church must bear some if not much of the responsibility for this current state of affairs. Not only have some of us fallen in love with the world (something we are warned not to do—See 1 John 2:15), but even those who have taken great effort to remain unstained by it, have done so by disengaging with our culture and privatizing our convictions. As a result, we have forfeited our opportunity to influence our communities for good. Sadly, this is the case in spite of the fact that the worse the world becomes the more desperate is its need for the witness of Christians. I want to invite you to join me as we consider what our Lord has to say to His people about positively impacting our culture by faithfully living out kingdom standards in our fallen world. Here’s our passage for this morning: Matthew 5:13-16 — “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. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.” Jesus makes two statements about His followers and how we’re to impact our culture for good. I want to follow this up with three applications that will help us figure out what course of action we’re to take.
You are the salt of the earth. What did He mean by this? You may already know that salt had a great deal of value in ancient times. As a matter of fact, Roman soldiers were often paid in salt. Today it’s where we get the word “salary.” Why was it so valuable?
· Salt was used a preservative. It actually slows decay. The ancients used to rub salt into their meat to help it last longer. In heavy doses it restricted the growth of bacteria that caused the meat to rot. For this same reason, salt was also used as a disinfectant. This is why your mother told you to gargle with salt-water whenever you had a sore throat! It kills germs.
· Salt added flavor to other foods. In fact, it still does! But it’s important to recognize that it isn’t the salt that we celebrate but the flavor of the foods that are accentuated by the salt.
· Salt was occasionally used in small doses as a fertilizer. Actually, what salt did was slow down the fermentation process in manure thus prolonging its effectiveness (Luke 14:34-35)—If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil or the manure pile). Application: Salt made stuff last longer, taste better and work better. Strictly speaking, salt comes from a stable compound and cannot lose its saltiness. However, most of that used in New Testament times came from salt marshes and contained impurities. If the salt leached out, then all that remained was a residue that was completely worthless, fit only to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. And so Jesus wants believers to understand that if we are going to make things better…by acting as a preservative in our culture keeping it from jumping headlong into moral decay, by enhancing the life experience of others so that they are better off with us than without us and by helping create an environment where healthy things grow…then we must follow Christ just as He spells it out for us in verses three through twelve. Illustration: Tim Winton is Australia’s most celebrated novelist today. About fifteen years ago he was interviewed on the popular ABC television show Enough Rope with Andrew Denton. At one point, the conversation turned to Winton’s well-known Christian faith. “I want to talk about faith,” said Denton. “When you were, I think, about five, a stranger came into your family and affected your family quite profoundly. Is that right?” Tim Winton went on to tell how his father, a policeman, had been in a terrible accident in the mid-1960s, knocked off his motorcycle by a drunk driver. After weeks in a coma he was allowed to go home. Winton said he remembers thinking, “The man I now knew was like an earlier version of my father…He was sort of recognizable, but not really my dad, you know? Everything was busted up, and they put him in the chair, and, you know, ‘Here’s your dad.’ And I was horrified.” His father was a big man, and Mrs. Winton had great difficulty bathing him each day. There was nothing that Tim, five-years-old at the time, could do to help. News of the family’s situation got out into the local community, and shortly afterward, Winton recalls, his mother got a knock at the door. “Oh, g’day. My name’s Len,” said a stranger to Mrs. Winton. “I heard your hubby’s a bit [ill]. Anything I can do?” Len Thomas was from the local church, Winton explained. This man had heard about the family’s difficulties and wanted to help. “He just showed up,” continued Winton, “and he used to carry my dad from bed and put him in the bath, and he used to bathe him, which in the 1960s in [Australia] in the suburbs was not the sort of thing you saw every day.” According to Winton, this simple act of kindness from a single Christian had a powerful effect: “It really touched me in that … watching a grown man bother, for nothing, to show up and wash a sick man—you know, it really affected me.” This “strangely sacrificial act,” as he described it, was the doorway into the Christian faith for the entire Winton family. That’s a great example of a believer becoming the salt of the earth. He made things better for a family in need and the impact reached all the way to eternity.
You are the light of the world. Though the Jews saw themselves as the light of the world (Romans 2:19 – speaking of the Jews view of themselves – you are a light to those in darkness), the true light is Christ Himself (Matthew 4:16 – a quote from Isaiah — the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned). Since He has returned to the Father, now Christians are light-bearers (Ephesians 5:8-9 — For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth). So, what does Jesus say about the light we shed on our world?
· Light reveals the ways of God. In the Old Testament (See Exodus 14:20; Isaiah 5:20) as well as the New, light is contrasted with darkness (John 3:19 — This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil). Those who walk in obedience to God are said to be in the light, while those who rebel against God are said to be in the darkness. Here our Lord wants Christians to know that, as His representatives in the world, we’re expected to walk in the light. When we do, we reveal what God is like(God is light—See 1 John 1:5) by virtue of our choices and chosen lifestyles. Illustration: Here’s an example of what I mean. Suppose you just happened to be with a bunch of people who began gossiping about a mutual friend’s marriage that was falling apart. Gossip, according to the Bible, is critical speech shared with a third party in order to diminish someone’s trust and esteem for that person. While they pretend to be expressing their concern for their friend (much gossip is couched in this way), you recognize it as nothing but an opportunity to share some juicy tidbits about this friend with one another. The moment you see the conversation going this direction, what should you do? It’s very simple: Don’t participate. Walk away, turn the conversation to something more encouraging, but whatever you do, don’t join in. By refusing to participate we demonstrate that as Christ’s representatives in the world, we find gossip to be unacceptable because He finds it to be unacceptable. (Light reveals the ways of God.)
· Light points the way to God. Our witness to the world must include not only what we do, but what we proclaim. Jesus is the light of the world and is the only One who can deliver us from the Kingdom of darkness (John 12:46 — I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness; Acts 26: 17-18 – Paul speaking of God’s call on his life heard this from the Lord — I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me). Application: Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden during the darkest night, so neither can believers who walk in the light remain unnoticed by those living in darkness. In the same vain, no one lights a lamp and then tries to prevent it from shining. No, the whole purpose of a lamp is to shed light on everything around it. So, Christians are light-bearers who help others to know the ways of God and the way to God. Never underestimate the importance of light! Illustration: Luci Swindoll shares this thought about the value of light: A friend of mine was caught in an elevator during a power failure. At first, there was momentary panic as all seven strangers talked at once. Then my friend remembered the tiny flashlight he had in his pocket. When he turned it on, the fear dissipated. During the 45 minutes they were stuck together they told jokes, laughed, and even sang. The Bible says we are that flashlight. Just as the flashlight draws power from its batteries, we draw power from Jesus. As light, we dissipate fear, bring relief, and lift spirits. We don’t even have to be big to be effective. We just have to be “on.”
Applications — When we function as salt and light, something really good happens. Unbelievers see our good choices and good works and glorify our God in heaven. Don’t miss what Jesus is saying. By virtue of doing good, the attention of others is drawn to the Lord! THIS IS THE POWER OF SALT AND LIGHT! But it’s not an easy path to follow. If you want to touch people where they’re at and glorify God in the process, it’s going to demand three things of you:
· A sacrifice of your time. We can’t minister to unbelievers from a distance. We have to get right up close and that requires that we reach out to people.
· A sacrifice of your talents. You have unique abilities given to you by God that He would like to use to bless others.
· A sacrifice of your treasures. Sometimes, it’s going to cost you some of your resources, perhaps even your money. But since God has provided for us for that purpose, why should we hesitate? Remember: God calls the rich to be rich in good works and make no mistake, we are the rich people.
Here’s a place to start: On Saturday, May 9th, we’re going to be participating in an event I think we’re going to call Lovefest. This will be an opportunity for our entire church to create a God-honoring footprint in several communities by participating in some community projects to bless our neighbors. You’ll be hearing much more about this as we finalize the details. I’m praying that you will jump in and do your part. Anyone can say to someone in need, “I love you,” but if you really care, “You’ll demonstrate your love through sacrifice.” Remember God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Conclusion: The Bible says in Galatians 6:9 – Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due time you will reap if you do not grow weary. Listen to what one unbelieving editorialist with the New York Times wrote in 2011 as he observed evangelical Christians. Nicholas Kristof praised the work of many evangelical Christians, though noting that at times evangelical leaders act hypocritically and don’t reflect Christ. Still, he also goes on to write: But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith. I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way—and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.