We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel, and today’s no different. If you’d like a paper copy to follow along with, just raise your hand and someone will deliver one to you. Anybody else here a little ragged this morning? I’ve got to tell you; I love the sunlight at the end of the day. It is awesome, but it’s rough getting up that early.
Anyway, we’re going to continue our study of Matthew that we’re calling “The King and His Kingdom.” We’re in the Sermon on the Mount right now, as you know, chapters five, six, and seven. This is a good discourse from Jesus. It’s raising, at least for me anyway and I hope for you too, some really good questions about our life. And I think today’s short little passage is also going to raise some questions for us. The question I’ve been thinking about the last few days is, how would you live your life if you could make a difference? I mean, really make a difference. What does it look like to live a life of significance?
You see it on people’s social media biographies all the time. We want it on Instagram or Facebook posts. I saw a fellow bass player from LA, in looking at his Instagram post earlier, I noticed his tagline at the bottom. He lists himself as bassist/composer/producer/investor/influencer. Man, that’s a lot of tag— he’s busy! He doesn’t get a lot of sleep. But the “influencer” tag shows we all want to be known, we all want to be seen. That’s not being famous, but we all want that. We want our lives to mean something. Even if we don’t believe in God, we want our lives to mean something. Just a couple of minutes ago, during the second hymn, I started thinking about how we’re being fed continuous dialogue from our culture to decide that our identity is up to us. It’s our truth, it’s our universe.
Well, there’s a problem with that versus significance by actually making a difference. If we’re deciding all this stuff all on our own, arbitrarily, subjectively, and we don’t have a lot to draw from, it’s a pretty small universe. So, it’s an odd dichotomy, isn’t it? That we all want to live a life that matters, and we’re all searching for significance, and yet we’re starting to do it in much smaller ways. And we wonder why we’re not getting good results. Celebrities end up spending a lot of money in famous rehab centers. Part of the reason why is they realize that fame and fortune and success does not equal significance. I think that’s got to be a lonely place when you get all of the stuff that you’ve always wanted. And then you realize: it’s still me that I’ve got to go home to every night and my life, the real inner me, the real inner life, that’s still the same. It hasn’t changed no matter how much money I’ve got.
Jim, thank you for praying for Ukraine. I know it’s on all our hearts right now. With all of the suffering that we’re seeing going on, we want our lives to make a difference, don’t we? We want to participate. We want to be part of the process of making things right. In our passage today, Jesus is going to invite us to do that. So, if you remember with me, back at the end of chapter four, Jesus starts his public ministry. He ends up going to Galilee and He’s preaching around the countryside. There are huge crowds following him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea. And then as we begin chapter five and the Sermon on the Mount, He leaves the crowds. He goes up a mountain, His disciples follow Him, and He sits down and begins to teach.
At the end of chapter seven, by the end of the discourse, crowds have found Him again, and they are amazed at the way He teaches. He’s different than all the influencers of his day. He teaches with authority. And from the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus turns things upside down, doesn’t He? It’s counter cultural, and He’s calling us to do the same thing. He’s calling His disciples to do the same thing. It’s so different than what His disciples thought that the kingdom of God would look like. And we were talking about this about three weeks ago in our Wednesday morning men’s group, how even to the disciples, Jesus looked so different than they thought the Messiah, the coming King, would look like. Yet they cannot help but follow Him. He’s calling us to be that same way in our lives today, in our world today, to be different than the rest of the world. And by being different point to Him.
So, today we’re starting the second half of the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve seen the first part, the beatitudes, the condition of heart that Pastor Tommy and Pastor Jim led us through for the last three weeks. This condition of the heart that is yielded and has transferred allegiances to Christ. And then today we’re starting the second half, where Jesus is going to take that description of the flourishing life from the beatitudes. He’s going to start giving us details of how we work that out in our everyday lives.
And so, this passage today, these four little verses, are a hinge between these two parts. He’s turned the disciples’ upside down with this description of the flourishing blessed life. Then He’s going to explain how to live that way. Right in the middle, He says, “But you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” And these metaphors, salt and light, they’re so basic, so commonplace, every person that He was speaking to would know exactly what He was talking about. And they’re so universal that they transcend time. The context is going to be a little different for us, because it’s a couple of thousand years later. But those metaphors still apply to us today, salt and light.
So as the story goes, a captain of a U.S. Naval worship, he’s patrolling the waters in the Atlantic. And he sees that he’s apparently on a collision course with what he thinks is a Canadian ship. And so, he communicates with it, he hails it, and he demands that the Canadian ship change course. Well, the Canadian comes back with a reply, “You change course.” And at this point the captain is angry, and he puffs out his chest. And he reiterates his command, and he says, “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course, 15 degrees north, that’s one-five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.” Silence, and then a reply from the Canadian, “I’m a lighthouse. Your call.”
I did see some pictures of lighthouses. I’ve grabbed a couple of pictures of lighthouses this week. Pretty stunning pictures, aren’t they? The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw once said, “I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic, as selfless as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.” Making a difference indeed. And we’re going to talk about a specific lighthouse and lens later. John Stott offers us this encouragement: “If the beatitudes describe the essential character of the disciples of Jesus, the salt and light metaphors indicate their influence for good in the world.” We are not powerless. “Yet the very notion that Christians can exert a healthy influence in the world should bring us up with a start. What possible influence could the people described in the beatitudes exert in this hard, tough world? What lasting good can the poor and the meek do, the mourners and the merciful, and those who try to make peace not war? Would they not simply be overwhelmed by the floodtide of evil? What can they accomplish whose only passion is an appetite for righteousness, and whose only weapon is purity of heart? Are not such people too feeble to achieve anything, especially if they’re a small minority in the world?” Kind of sinking heart feeling when you read that, but then you get to this sentence: “It is evident that Jesus did not share this skepticism. Rather the reverse.” And that’s both exciting and yet it’s challenging too.
So, it’s easy to look at our world today, especially our current condition and lament that the world is going down the tubes, it’s circling the drain. You know what? You’re right. It is circling the drain. It’s been circling the drain and going down the tubes since the third chapter of Genesis. And without God, that’s exactly where we’re headed. But praise God, that’s not His plan. His plan is to reconcile all things back to Him, through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. That’s His plan. And here’s the counter-cultural upside-down part of that plan — Jesus wants to use us as tools in the toolbox to accomplish this task. He’s telling us in this narrative that our lives can make a difference. So, let’s pray, and then let’s read our text, short four verses:
Show us Your ways, O God. Teach us Your path. Guide us in Your truth and teach us, for You are our God, our Savior, and our hope is in You all day long. In Jesus’ name, amen.
So, there is a danger with the familiarity of these verses, because we’ve all heard these verses and these metaphors salt and life, salt of the earth, light of the world; we’ve heard them a gazillion times. So, I would just ask and challenge all of us to stay engaged, and let’s just see what the Lord has in store for us. We can examine those metaphors and turn them over and see some things that might apply to our lives. Would you guys read the text with me? It’s so short, and I just think it’s powerful for us to read things like this together.
[All] “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall it 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.”
Amen, salt and light. The first-century Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, once said, “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.” And that is certainly true. It is true then, and it’s true now. I know that today we mostly look at salt as a flavor enhancer, and indeed it is, but we should also talk about what anybody in the first century listening to Jesus teach about this would understand what He means by these two metaphors. Most of us have heard that salt was extremely valuable in the first-century Roman empire. Sometimes Romans were paid a portion of their wages in salt. That’s where we get the word “salary.” Romans ate salt, they dipped their romaine lettuce into salt. And that’s where the word salad comes from.
So, what are some other uses? Well, flavor enhancer. That’s the first one, especially today. I don’t know about you guys, but what is it about salt that makes everything taste better? Like fries, they’re just a vehicle for salt, right? And I really mean this. If there’s anybody here that’s a chemist or a scientist that can explain, what is it about salt that makes everything great. Like steaks, potatoes, fries, roasted nuts, it makes all that stuff great. But it’s so magic, it even makes sweet stuff great. Like chocolate covered pretzels, or chocolate covered sea salt almonds or maple. Maple bacon donuts. My grandmother has this recipe for molasses cookies that’s unbelievable. Molasses, cinnamon, sugar, ginger, and salt. I’ve made those cookies without the salt and they’re horrendous. I don’t know what it is, but salt as a flavor enhancer just brings everything to light. Unsalted butter? Don’t waste my time. I’m sorry if anybody here has a restricted salt diet and has to use unsalted butter.
What I think Jesus was getting at was that the primary use for salt then was as a preservative. They had no Yeti coolers, no Viking refrigerators, nothing fancy like that to keep their food fresh. They either cooked their food on a fire or they salted it to preserve decay. And we should take note of that. I did a little bit of research, thinking about lighthouses and salt and then thinking about sailors and what they ate on their ships. The idea of meat in a big barrel of brine of salt water was so that you would just pull out a piece of salted meat. I saw some pictures of people that tried to kind of reenact that, and I’m just glad we have refrigerators, that’s all I’m saying. A third use for salt would be as a purifier, which we use it as today. In Leviticus 2, there’s references about seasoning all the grain offerings with salt. What do we do when we’re tense or tired or have toxins? We take a bath in Epsom salts because it draws out the impurities.
Let’s talk about uses for light. Illumination has got to be the first one, right? It’s the most obvious. The first words that are recorded by Moses as being spoken by God in Genesis 1. “Let there be light.” And there was light. It’s got to be important if that’s the first thing we hear God say. In our culture, we’re so used to flipping a switch for 24 hours a day. And even beyond that now. “Alexa turn on the living room lights.” We’re so used to that, that we forget in that first-century Roman empire, when the sun went down, it got dark, and each family would have one or more little, tiny oil lamps that they would set up on a lamp stand to provide illumination for the whole house. And it would make sense to anyone listening to Jesus. Well, of course, if you’re going to light a lamp for the house, you’re not going to cover it up. because then the house is dark.
Another use for light: health and growth. We need sunlight. Obviously, plants need it for photosynthesis. What a cool thing photosynthesis is that plants absorb sunlight, and it makes them do their green things and it benefits us. It’s just amazing, right? And we need sunlight as well. That’s why a lot of us are really challenged during the winter months because there’s a lack of sunlight. There are light boxes that help us get some more light. Even our chickens, if there’s less than 12 hours of sunlight a day, they don’t lay as well, because there’s something about the way their eyes respond to sunlight that prompts their bodies to lay eggs. So, you don’t get many eggs in the winter. We’re starting to get more eggs just in the last couple of weeks because the light’s changing. Light is also a biblical symbol for truth. In the Bible, Psalm 43 says, “Send out your light and truth, let them lead me.” TVCer Phil Keaggy, he’s got a song that’s about 40 years old. If I was a better singer, I’d sing it. But it’s “Send out your light, O Lord, your light and truth let them lead me, O Lord.” Psalm 1:19 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Light is God’s way of lighting up the darkness, of showing us truth, showing us a way to go. John records Jesus in chapter eight saying, “I am the light of the world.” What rich metaphors!
What can we take away from these four little verses? I think the first thing we can take away is that Jesus is giving His disciples a kingdom identity. Starting off with these two “you are” statements. Okay, I’d like to ask for you to do something. Can you turn to one another and say, “You are the salt of the earth.” And then to somebody else and say, “You are the light of the world.” Isn’t that great? Isn’t that encouraging? Challenging and encouraging. And I can’t stress enough here, how emphatic Jesus’ tone was when He was telling the disciples this. It’s not like He’s saying, “Hey, you ought to live like this, or you could live like this, or you should live like this.” He’s saying, “No, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” He’s already been blowing the minds of the disciples from the very beginning, with his upside-down references to the poor being the wealthy ones, the mourners and the merciful, the meek, those are the ones who are going to inherit the earth. And now he’s blowing their minds again, by saying, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
We’ll talk about this in just a second. He adds another statement here at the end of verse 16 that talks about people seeing the works that we do, giving glory to your Father in heaven. That is a brand-new way of looking at God for these disciples. So, in God’s economy, provision always precedes obligation. And aren’t we grateful that we serve a Creator King who loves us and provides for us, and not a creator tyrant who rants and raves and demands that we follow him or else? Grace precedes works. We respond to Jesus and do good works because we’re loved, not in order to get love from God. Indicative always proceeds imperative. Jesus is always going to tell us who we are before He tells us or asks us to do anything. Kingdom identity precedes kingdom activity. In other words, being precedes doing.
Before Jesus gives his disciples a calling, which this is kind of combined in both identity and calling, He’s giving them an identity. There are comparisons here, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. God gave them an identity and a calling to flourish and to fill out creation. We call it being co-regents with God. God did the same thing at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, with nation of Israel. After He’s redeemed them out of Egypt, He gives them an identity first, provides for them first, before He asks for them to live in a certain way. And it’s the same thing here with the disciples. He’s giving them an identity, and then He’s inviting them to live that identity out in a calling. And here’s the why of being salt in the light. We’re always asking that question for anything, any activity we do in church. What’s the “why” for doing this? What’s the why for this class or this event?
What’s the why for Jesus stating that we are salt and light? Because He wants to bring as many sons and daughters to glory as possible. He wants to save as many people as possible. Second Corinthians 5:17-21. We just had gone over that passage with the Men of Valor. In that passage there’s mind blowing stuff. We’re told that, in Christ, God’s reconciling the world to Himself, and as believers, as salt and light, He’s given us, and it uses a word meaning “entrusted” us, with this ministry of reconciliation. And that is mind blowing. Here’s His plan of reconciling the world to Jesus. And we’re the tools in the toolbox. Frederick Dale Bruner in his commentary on Matthew says,
“In the New Covenant, Jesus commands His disciples only after He has blessed them with holy significance.”Frederick Dale Bruner
This is a life that matters, a life of significance.
So, there’s one other thought here about identity. Three times in this chapter, and I think 12 times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to God as our Heavenly Father. And again, this is mind blowing for the disciples. For first-century Jews they would think of God as Creator, King, Lawgiver, but somewhat distant and impersonal, right? Rules to follow, laws to follow, a way to live your life, but not personal, definitely not Father. And this idea of God being a father, it implies personhood and personality, and that implies relationship, which would be mind blowing to the disciples. All of a sudden things are just much more personal for them.
Well, the second thing that Jesus is giving his disciples, as He’s giving them their kingdom identity, He’s giving them their kingdom calling. And it’s the same for us. We are called to live a distinctively different life. And it’s hard because, yes, we all want to have a life that is significant and makes a difference. And that’s the way we’re created, we are created for that, but we also want to fit in. We want to be cool and fit in. Jesus is calling us to live a distinctively different life. And I got to ask, is that encouraging to you? Is it a little scary? For me it’s both. Because I still I want to fit in. This is where we’re encouraged not to lose our saltiness, not to cover up our light to live differently. This is where identity meets calling. So, question for us, are you a flavor enhancer? Is there something about your life that draws people in that makes them thirsty for who you are, and what you’ve got going in your life?
Here’s another Bruner quote that addresses this. This is fantastic.
“There is to be something about the way Christians ‘are,’ about the way they live together and talk about each other and about the way they relate to the not always friendly surrounding world.” That could be altered to almost always not friendly surrounding world.“Frederick Dale Bruner
…that is meant to catch the world’s attention, which is to cause people to ask, ‘What kind of people are these? Who are these people?’” That’s how we should live. Is our life prompting someone at the office to say, “Man, what is it that’s going on with that guy or that woman? How he responds to everyone in the office, especially that jerk Harry. I need to have coffee with him or something because I’ve seen the way Harry is not nice to anybody, especially him. I’ve seen the way he treats Harry. I’ve got to hang out with that guy and find out what’s going on.”
Is there something in your life that pushes back against the decay of culture and continues to point towards Jesus? When Jesus was mentioning this conditional thing about what if salt loses its saltiness, it’s good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under foot. Here’s something to know that that pure salt, sodium chloride, it’s a very stable compound. Technically it can’t lose its saltiness. But the common salt that was used back then was like found in salt marshes and from rocks. And it just had lots of other things in it, impurities to where, if it was diluted at all, the salt would wash out. It would still look like salt, but it didn’t have flavor. And at that point, well it’s not useful for preserving meat for sure. And it’s not useful for flavor enhancing, so it’s just thrown out. And then I suppose at that point, it’s just raw dust, or it could be used as grit for smooth stones or something; but it’s not usable anymore. So, my question for us, thinking about that idea, are we staying distinctive and salty in our lives, or are we being diluted by our culture to where we’re losing our saltiness, both as a preservative and as an enhancer?
Scott says something like this, this isn’t a slide. He says one can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is, where’s the salt? If we want to make a difference, where’s the salt? And in terms of light, is your life pointing to Jesus? Is it pointing to something different than the darkness of our culture? You know, as we lament that the world is circling the drain, we’ve just got to remember that the darker it is in culture, the brighter the light of the Lord shines. And we’re called to be different. We’re called to continue to live a life that points to Jesus. J.C. Ryle in his commentary on the gospel of Matthew says this.
“Surely if words mean anything, we are meant to learn from these two figures that there must be something marked, distinct, and peculiar about our character if we’re true Christians. …Salt and light, evidently implied peculiarity, both of heart and life of faith and practice… We must aim to be singular and unlike the world…”J.C. Ryle
So, I challenge you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s do that, let’s be different. Now, let’s not shine a light right in somebody’s eyes so it blinds them. Let’s not hold their mouth open and empty the saltshaker in their mouth. Let’s not live law like that, but instead let mercy and truth be wrapped around our neck in the way we treat our neighbors. Well, the last thing that I think Jesus is telling his disciples here, and us as well, kingdom living points back to the King. That’s how we’re called to live. Verse 16 of our passage said 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’s in heaven.”
In 1822, a French physicist named Augustine Fresnel, pronounced “fornell,” invented a lens that would revolutionize lighthouses. And Fresnel lens are still used today. You can go on Amazon and look up Fresnel lens, and you can buy these little credit card size lenses that are great as magnifying or fire starters because they intensely focus the beam of light. And that’s what he did. He created this series of mirrors and glass that would bend and focus the light beam. The first Fresnel lens that was used in a lighthouse was installed in the Cordouan tower lighthouse on the Gironde river in France in 1822. It was visible on the horizon over 20 miles away. It’s unbelievable because up till then, lighthouses started fires on hillsides. Well then it went to like lamps or candles. In a lighthouse they were great, but a lot of times, by the time you saw the light, it was too late. You’re dashing your ship against the rocks because you weren’t warned of the danger in time. All of a sudden, this lens, bam, it’s shining the same light out 20 miles away. It didn’t take long before those were in use all along rocky European coastlines. Took a little longer to get to America, but by the time of the civil war, almost every lighthouse had a Fresnel lens in it.
Here’s the catch, the Fresnel lens, it doesn’t change the light, it only reflects it. As amazing as it is, the lens doesn’t save Augustine Fresnel. The lens doesn’t save the lighthouse keeper. But what it does do, it does magnificently. It points this light so far out it into the darkness that it warns sailors 20 miles away of danger ahead and points them the way to safe harbor. The light of the lighthouse saves the sailors, not the lens, but the lens reflects the light in such a way that sailors are saved. Can you get where I’m going with this? It’s not our light, we reflect. We’re just the Fresnel lens. Our good works don’t save us only, Jesus does. But we are called to reflect His light in such a way that it causes the watching world, even from half a world away to give glory to God.
I’ve been thinking about that phrase this week. Okay, what does it matter that it gives glory to God? Well, it’s not like God is saying, “Okay, come on, come on.” He’s wanting glory in a weird way. That’s not it at all. I was thinking this week, when someone gives God glory, especially someone that’s not a believer, all of a sudden, they’re seeing somebody’s life, “Oh, there’s something about your life that tells me, it’s not just you, there’s something beyond you. There’s something transcendent about your life that can only be God.” And when they start thinking that way, all of a sudden, if they’re giving God glory, what are they doing? They’re bowing in awe and adoration and worship. And that leads to bending the knee and yielding your life to Christ. That’s why we live in such a way that we give God glory because it leads others to Christ.
Sarah Groves has a song on her album, Add to the Beauty, called “You Are the Sun.” I’m going to just zoom through this, we’re going on. “You are the sun shining down on everyone, light of world giving light to everything I see. Beauty so brilliant, I can hardly take it in. Everywhere you are, is warmth and light.” And here’s the chorus. “And I am the moon with no light of my own. Still, you have made me to shine. And as I glow in this cold dark night, I know I cannot be a light unless I turn my face to you. I am the moon with no light of my own, but still you have made me to shine.” Man, that is good stuff. The moon’s always lit because it’s always reflecting the light of the sun, even though it has no internal light of its own. Without the light of the sun, the moon’s just a lifeless rock, right? But with a reflected light of the sun, that full moon is glorious. You can be driving down a snowy country road at midnight and turn your headlights off by the light of a full moon. Not recommending it; don’t do that, but you can.
Well God has created us to shine. Ephesians 2:10, we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in. And isn’t that an amazing thought. The God who created this world, the very manner in which Jesus gives us our identity and gives us our calling, it’s been prepared for us ahead of time. Let me close with just a couple of quotes, because I’ve done a really long St Patrick sermon with St. Patrick’s Day coming up. St. Patrick offers a response to such a gift, I love this. “This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change, and we come to know God to praise and bear witness to His great wonders before every nation under heaven.” It’s good, isn’t it? And this is the last quote from John Stott, and we’ll close. This is so good,
“It is the light they will praise, not the lamp which bears it. It is our Father in heaven whom they will glorify, not the children He has begotten, and who exhibit a certain family likeness. Even those who revile us may not be able to help glorifying God for the very righteousness on account of which they persecute us.”John Stott
So, loved ones, in our search for significance, in our desire to make a difference, I want to encourage you with the words of Jesus. And you, Village Chapel, you’re the salt of the earth. Stay salty, keep living a life that draws people to Jesus, which makes them thirsty for what you have. Village Chapel, you are the light of the world. Live a life that points to Jesus. Show them a light so lovely that they will want to know with all their hearts the source of it.
Let’s pray: Lord, we’re grateful for your word. Grateful how you take crazy commonplace things like salt and light, and You give us an identity. You give us a calling. You encourage us that we can make a difference, because it’s through You. Thank You for dying for us, for exchanging Your life for ours, for giving Your light to our darkness. I want to ask that You would help us hear and heed Your word and follow in Your footsteps. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.