Sir Salty and Knight Light

May 4, 2008 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Matthew

Scripture: Matthew 5:13–16

Transcript

Sir Salty and Knight Light

Matthew 5:13-16
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith



Immediately after graduating from college, I began a teaching career in the public schools located in the Chicago suburbs. And though I would not say it was the primary reason I was an educator, three of the top perks of being a teacher are: June, July and August! So in an effort to make some extra money and keep myself active with the time off, I was the manager at a large aquatic facility in the summer.

The place was called Centennial Beach. Now you all out here on the East Coast are probably saying, "What do you folks in the Midwest know about beaches?" Well, we had to call ourselves a beach because legally we were not permitted to use the word "pool." You see, we were an old rock quarry that was transformed into a large swimming facility-very unique, and potentially, very dangerous.

The Beach tragically experienced a drowning the final day of the 1972 season and then again on the first day of the 1973 season. So part of my job was to train lifeguards to keep this facility as safe as possible. Often that high calling was conducted in two phases.

First I needed to instill in the minds of these young men and women their calling as a lifeguard. These kids were world-class swimmers, but none of them ever began with the proper mind of a lifeguard. With the bottom of the quarry not visible from the surface, two acres of water needed to be monitored, scuba gear with elaborate search patterns needed to be understood and parents repeatedly losing their four-year-olds in the large crowds; the lifeguards needed to approach their responsibility very seriously. We only employed professional lifeguards who understood that their calling was more than getting a good tan and whistling at the girls.

Once these kids understood the nature of a lifeguard, we could then train them to fulfill their specific role with the excellence, dependability and dedication expected. They had a serious job to do and nothing less than the required expectations of knowledge, technique and conditioning would be accepted.

Who you are determines what you do. The same scenario applies to Christians. In order to call yourself a lifeguard, certain attributes must be demonstrated. In order to call yourself a Christian, certain attributes must be demonstrated as well. Lifeguards must exhibit a safety mindset. Christians must exhibit a Beatitude Attitude. Anything less in either category and we fail to live up to the title we claim.

For the past four weeks we have studied the Beatitudes in verses 1-12. The Beatitudes described who we are. Now this morning as we continue to examine the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will tell us what we are to do. Now that we understand the description of a Christian, we can now focus on the function of a Christian. And in a nutshell, the function of a Christian outlined here is to influence the world.

The lesson comes to us off the lips of Jesus Christ as He employs two metaphors using two objects, both valuable and well-known to the ancient world.

1. YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH

Let's begin with the first metaphor. In verse 13 we read, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

The best way to understand exactly what Jesus was speaking about is to first understand the nature of salt as it existed in the ancient world.

What we take for granted was viewed back then as a valuable commodity. Before the days of refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative. Meat for example could be kept without decay indefinitely when conditioned with salt. Combine the rarity of pure salt with its usefulness and you can understand all the hype over simple table salt. The Greeks called it "divine" (theon). The Romans prized salt second only to the sun.

So how do we transfer this truth about salt to a spiritual lesson? What did Jesus mean when He said, "(Christians) are the salt of the earth?"

Some have said that since salt stings a wound, we as Christians should sting the dead conscience of the world with the gospel. Or as salt creates thirst, we should make people aware of their spiritual dehydration. Others have said our purity should be as white as salt. Still others say our lives should add spice to life, no different than some salt can add zest to a fresh tomato. I would never deny the reality of these statements, but I believe none of them fully consider the historical background and literary context of Jesus' words.

Let's remember, Jesus spoke these words following the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes close with remarks pertaining to persecution from the world. So with the rebellion of the world mentioned in their lesson and the preserving influence of salt known in their culture, I believe Jesus wanted His disciples (and us) to understand that we are spiritual preservatives with the responsibility to keep an evil world from further decay and contamination.

One commentator said, "We are to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or nonexistent" (R.V.G. Tasker, p. 63).

There can be no doubt that the standard of morality in our country has fallen just within our lifetime. Actions socially unacceptable just 20 years ago are now celebrated and embraced without shame today. The world is going down the tubes, but God wants His children to preserve the atmosphere of righteousness through their words and even more powerfully through their actions.

Former President Woodrow Wilson told the story of being in a barber shop one day: "I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D.L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thought, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship" (Cited in: MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, p. 236).

Our Lord wants His people to influence the world. Unfortunately, today, the world has a greater influence on the church. I like the way G.K. Chesterton put it, "We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world" (Issues and G.K.'s Answers, Christianity Today,07-01-02).

Arewe blending in so much that the world sees no difference in us, or do we carry the presence of Christ into our relationships with unbelievers whereby we standout?

Does the foul language suddenly stop when people see you entering a room? Does complaining turn to gratitude and gossip turn to encouragement when you are near? Do co-workers take their jobs more seriously when you are working their shift? Do people reconsider deeply imbedded unbiblical ideas after they have spent time with you in conversation? Does a selfish community become more loving and gentle and merciful and unified when you have joined it? Does an unavoidable aura of joy and peace permeate from your presence?

And when we talk about preserving a culture on a larger scale, it has been mostly Christians who have been the ones behind: Prison reform, medical care, the control of liquor trade, the abolition of slavery, the abolition of child labor, establishing orphanages, reforming the penal code, building schools and curbing abortions (D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 31).

Though the world would hardly admit it, this is a better place because of the presence of Christians who function as the salt of the earth.

This is a purpose of our existence, but what happens when professing Christians cease to function in this capacity? In the following verses Jesus said, "But if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

Obviously salt can never cease to be salt. Sodium Chloride (NaCl), I am told, is a very stable compound. But most salt in the ancient world was harvested from salt marshes (not from the evaporation of salt water) and therefore (despite its appearance) could contain many impurities making it worthless. Like this verse says, such salt was discarded, not in fields where it would kill desired plants, but in the first century garbage dumps, the roads, where it was trampled under foot by men.

So how does this apply to us? I believe there are two possible options for sound interpretation.

Some would say this means that we as Christians from time to time can lose our saltiness. Of course we cannot lose our salvation, but we can lose our effectiveness during periods of backsliding rendering us tasteless, ineffective and useless in the Kingdom of God. Therefore it is our responsibility to walk in the Spirit and avoid the sinful contaminants/impurities of the world (Jas. 1:27). We need to be pure salt, with a pure heart, to impact a world for purity!

While there is much truth to that interpretation, I believe it does not take into account the closing words of the verse. Would God ever say that His children are "no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men?" Throughout the book of Matthew, this is the language is always reserved for the unbeliever (Mt. 3:10, 12; 7:19; 13:40).

Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth." Salt is always salt and can never cease from becoming salt. Therefore, if it is tasteless and fails to preserve after examination, it only reveals itself never to have been salt in the first place.

Therefore, I believe Jesus is speaking about the professing Christian who shows no evidence of his salvation and was thus never really saved. Jesus is stating a fact. His people will manifest a Beatitude Attitude. His people are the salt of the earth. Absence of these character qualities and responsibilities only reveals that such individuals are not truly His people and are exposed as frauds despite their outward profession and appearance.

The people of God will be useful-it is not that they "should be," it is that they "will be" the salt of the earth.

2. YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Well, if the point was not understood with the first metaphor, Jesus in verses 14-16 makes relatively the same point now using another metaphor. Before it was salt, now the metaphor is light. Verse 14, "You are the Light of the world."

Back then they used torches. Today we are blessed with the advent of electricity. Though the sources have changed, the purpose for light was the same back then as it is today. Light reveals reality in the midst of darkness. That is physical light. So what is the purpose of the spiritual light spoken of here?

We need to start with Jesus Christ. John 8:12, "Then Jesus…spoke to them, saying, 'I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness'" (cf. 1 Jn. 1:5). In John 9:5 Jesus said, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world" (cf. Jn. 12:35). That implies that either Jesus will cease to be the Light of the world, or He will shine His light in a different way. The latter is true. Now that Jesus has departed physically from our presence, He has commissioned His people to carry the torch. Ephesians 5:8, "You were formerly darkness, now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light." Philippians 2:15, "Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world." Back to Matthew 5:14, "You are the light of the world."

Let's put it all together. As Jesus was the Light of the world, He has now filled us with His Spirit to continue in His footsteps. We are the light of the world showing Christ by demonstrating Christlike actions and speaking His Word as it is found in Holy Scripture. As Jesus always pointed people to the Father, we too, as Jesus works through us, point people to the Father. We are not "a" light of the world. We are "the" light of the world, the light of Christ shining through His disciples.

We are to image forth the truth of God to a world shrouded in the darkness (Lk. 1:79). That is our mission both individually and corporately as a church. Light exposes darkness (Eph. 5:11). But let's remember, the greater the darkness, the more noticeable the light. And though you alone might only be a small candle, remember, a small candle can have an impact for miles on a dark night. And remember, the darkness can never extinguish the light, but the light, regardless of its size, can always extinguish the darkness. And let's remember, it is not your light, it is the light of Christ shining through you!

Jesus gives two great illustrations:

First, "A city on a hill cannot be hidden" (Mt. 5:14b).

Only when you step away from metropolitan communities do you realize how dark the night can become. I can remember evenings in Armenia in remote towns when you couldn't see your hand six inches away from your face. Now compare that to being in Times Square and barely being able to see a star in the evening sky.

The point Jesus is making here is that a city on a hill in first-century Palestine would compromise the surrounding darkness. Even if you were not in that city, neighboring communities were influenced by the light that radiated from that city for miles.

Point: We are to be like that bright city on the hill and noticeably influence others when they are without any light of their own.

Second illustration: "Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it (singular) gives light to all (plural) who are in the house" (Mt. 5:15).

Only a fool would go through the trouble to light a lamp (much work in the first century!) and then put it under a basket. Such an action totally defeats the purpose of the lamp! It is the nature of light to shine!

Point: We are the light of the world so as verse 16 says, "Let your light shine before men."

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Shine all over the Jersey Shore,
I'm gonna let it shine
Shine all over the Jersey Shore,
I'm gonna let it shine
Shine all over the Jersey Shore,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Let it shine til Jesus comes,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine til Jesus comes,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine til Jesus comes,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. What is the goal in all of this? It is unmistakable in verse 16: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

We are to be distinguishable from the world. And the chief distinguishing mark is our "good deeds." Everything from our actions to our reactions to our countenance to our words and to our witness, we are to be like Jesus Christ, who, Acts 10:38, "went about doing good."

But we must be careful that the attention we receive does not go to ourselves. That is what separates us from unbelievers in the world that seek to do good. They do it for personal recognition. We do it, as verse 16 says, so our Father in heaven is glorified (cf. Jn. 15:8; 1 Pet. 2:12).

Can your heart get around the teaching in these four verses? You have a purpose that is second to none-living for the glory of God. You have a value that is second to none-identified by the same title Christ chose for Himself. And you have an influence second to none-to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! This was not spoken to everybody. Jesus said these words only to His followers ("you are"). And if you are a Christian, this is who you are!

And lest you feel overwhelmed, let's remember that Jesus originally spoke these words to twelve men. And these twelve untrained and uneducated peasants turned the world upside-down (Ac. 17:6). How much more can we accomplish for Christ if we forsake our comfort and self-reliance and set our minds to serve Him wholeheartedly? We may seem insignificant, but with His power working through us as we manifest a Beatitude Attitude, we can impact our community in God-sized proportions. Like the lifeguards, this is your calling and this is your expected response!


More in Matthew

May 1, 2011

The Great Conclusion

April 24, 2011

Resurrecting Hope (2)

April 17, 2011

The First Prerequisite To Resurrection