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“Giving Bite & Basis to Belief”

Feb.12, 2017 – Mt.5:13-20


It is all too easy to grow complacent in the Christian life. Over time, the initial enthusiasm resulting from an encounter with God may wear off, the demands and realities of everyday life set in, and we find ourselves wooed by the attractions and temptations of the world to succumb to its patterns. At the outset of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a nudge to His followers to remain vigilant in their discipleship.

             We are privileged to live in one of the most affluent societies on the planet. With affluence comes the temptation to sit back, relax, and enjoy its perks, assuage our appetites. Experts in home design, we create quintessential “cocoons”, complete with customized home theatres and hot tubs; all we need in our hand is the remote control. We can set the thermostat and stock the fridge for maximum comfort. At the end of our working life, there’s the temptation to relax into an endless series of vacation getaways and rounds on the golf course, as we reward ourselves with full-time retirement.

             [graphic] A popular meme on the internet (from “Student Problems”) states in 2 parts: “Me: OK I’m feeling really motivated, when I get home I’m going to sort my life out, get all my work done, & be successful.” Then, “Me when I get home” – and a photo of a young woman crashed in bed, with laptop open, a bottle of pop, and a bag of chips! Can you relate to that? Wanting to get so much done, but succumbing to the comforts of life instead?

             But the Bible warns us that selfishness does not ultimately satisfy: God has designed us for much more than just catering to our pleasure. In today’s reading, Jesus uses the analogies of salt and light to urge His followers to let their lives count, to “get up off the couch” as it were and have a real OUTFLOW.


Jesus has just kicked off His seminal Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. We summed up the first four as “Abased Attitude” and the second group as “BE the Blessing”. Lest people start to think these are just pleasant philosophical principles, Jesus uses a couple of analogies to help people be motivated to put them into action.

             Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth.But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Today we take salt for granted – it’s almost an accessory, like any given spice, you could take it or leave it depending on your personal preference, we spread it liberally on our roads: but back in New Testament times, salt was an essential. There was no refrigeration! So to preserve food, salt was rubbed into it. Roman soldiers even received their pay in salt – hence the word “salary”. Pure salt was evaporated from sea-water. But salt was sometimes diluted with gypsum (think of the white powdery stuff when you cut a sheet of drywall). If it was too impure, it lost its ‘saltiness’ and was thrown out on the footpath to deter weeds.

             What’s your spiritual “potency”? Are you a noticeably “salty” Christian? Food without salt can be bland, tasteless, insipid. Would an outsider observing your religious practices sense they’d lost their “zing”? Has your time with God deteriorated into ho-hum routine? Maybe you could try a different Bible reading plan, or get together with a friend or small group to compare notes and pray together.

             Something notable about salt is its complete lack of self-preservation when it’s truly working. As a flavouring, it augments the flavour of the food rather than drawing attention to its own (salty) flavour. As a preservative, it dissolves into the food in order to guard it from corruption. If your attitude in approaching the spiritual disciplines is, “it’s all about ME!” – that’s not being like salt, which puts itself at the service of the ‘other’ – bringing out its flavour, saving it from going bad. Are you ready for God to DISSOLVE you to put you to spiritual use?

             “If the salt loses its saltiness...” Jesus seems to be implying Christians should be having a flavouring / preserving effect on their neighbourhoods. We’re not just to retreat safely within the four walls of our home and complain about how bad the world is becoming. He calls us to love our neighbour! Christians are to be having a preserving effect on their culture (whether that’s always appreciated or not – may be where some persecution is experienced). How might a block BBQ, or just having your neighbour over for coffee, begin to flavour your local setting?

             And how are you keeping your own salt pure, guarding it from being diluted by the “gypsum” of worldly ways? 2Peter 2:20 warns, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” Life Application Bible notes, “Christians should not blend in with everyone else. Instead, we should affect others positively, just as seasoning brings out the best flavour in food.”

             Jesus switches metaphors from salt to that of light. Mt 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world.A city on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

             Again, Christians are to have an OUTFLOW, an effect, influencing their environment. The glow of light from a town’s streetlights are visible on clouds in the night sky from miles away – at home on the farm when I was young, we could pick out the lights of Stratford and London on the horizon. It would be foolish to light a lamp and then stick it under a bowl (or bed or jar as Mark’s and Luke’s accounts put it, respectively). But if we get all wrapped up in ourselves, preoccupied with our own petty pleasures, that’s an apt analogy: our light is hidden. Salt is meant to be dissolved INTO something else; light is meant to SHINE OUT to illuminate other things. “Let your light shine,” Jesus is commanding.

             Paul writes to the Ephesians, Eph 5:8f “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)...” To the Thessalonians, 1Thess 5:5 “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day.We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” And to the church at Philippi, Php 2:15 “...so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe...” When God’s Spirit through trusting Christ comes into our lives, it’s not just to produce a rosy glow for our own entertainment: it’s meant to be shared!

             Jesus clearly EXPECTS His followers to be active in doing good deeds. V16 “...Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds...” The ‘consumer culture’ seeks to feed oneself, whereas the yeast of “Jesus culture” clearly carries practical benefit for others. Eph 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 1Tim 2:10 & 5:10 Women are to dress modestly and decently “with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” A widow ought to be “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.”

             Again, like the salt dissolving INTO the food, light is there FOR the other, providing illumination, not self-directed. It provides light to other people, AND those practical good deeds throw a spotlight on God’s goodness, too. The beauty of a Christian is to go beyond a “selfie” to point out to others the Lord’s glorious excellence. Jesus said in v16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds AND praise your Father in heaven.” NRSV “give glory to your Father in heaven.”

             We don’t just do good works in hopes of getting nominated for “Citizen of the Year” so we get our picture in the paper! We are God’s workmanship, we walk in these activities He’s prepared for us to make HIM look good. A singular piece of architecture – like Toronto’s City Hall at Nathan Phillips Square – has a unique design that proclaims the creativity and daring of its creator.

             1Peter 2:9,12 - “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, THAT you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” “Live such good lives among the pagans that...they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

             Our daughter Emily was sharing earlier this week some of the “good deeds” being accomplished through the LuluTree. Someone donated the boring of a well to provide clean water. Teen moms in Uganda were being mistreated and shamed, but now someone has donated the use of a building, and Christian teachers are donating their time to teach the teen moms, while other Lulu mamas help provide babysitting. Those “good deeds” are making a noticeable difference in those communities.


But there needs to be a philosophical basis for our belief, principles and mental categories by which we can “make sense of” our place in God’s story, a frame of reference by which to give order and meaning to our worldview. In the next section Jesus describes the relationship of His New Covenant to the Old one. God’s revelation and word are still authoritative; but how will Christ’s followers interpret and apply it if not the same as the religious experts of the day, the scribes and Pharisees?

             Jesus makes it clear He has not come to replace or dismiss the Old Covenant writings, but to complete them. Vv17f “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

             Such a grave warning not to treat the Old Testament with disrespect or as irrelevant! Not a “jot” will drop out – Hebrew “yod”, the smallest letter of the alphabet; not the least stroke of a pen (like an apostrophe) will go missing, until ALL is completed / fulfilled / accomplished.

             Jesus has such great respect for the authority and lasting relevance of Scripture! Do you? His affirmation here goes along with some others. Psalm 119:89 “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” God’s word is more permanent than the physical world and sky you see around you. Become familiar with it, fluent in its phrases.

             However, we do not worship the Bible; we worship its Author. We worship Jesus, the divine Word that was from the very beginning with God, which became flesh (John 1:1,14). So we interpret Scripture through Jesus, God’s express self-revelation. And right here Jesus explains He has come to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. The Jewish tabernacle and temple and sacrificial system was “pointing ahead” to Jesus, in Whom it was ‘accomplished’, completed. As Hebrews makes clear, the Old Testament precursors were “an illustration for the present time”, “copies of the heavenly things”, “only a shadow” (Heb 9:9,23, 10:1). As the Jerusalem Council made clear, Gentiles are not required to follow Jewish rituals such as male circumcision and dietary regulations (Acts 15:28f). Mark 7:19 notes, “Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’ – shocking!

             Paul sees the Law as a schoolmaster appointed to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24): a sort of tracker or scoreboard register to identify sin, that we fall short of God’s standard and need forgiveness. In steps Christ, to provide what the Old Testament was pointing towards. Romans 10:4 “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Those who trust ‘into’ Him are accounted righteous, justified, deemed acceptable to God, sins washed away. So the OT was pointing ahead to Jesus, and to the new humanity He would make possible. Romans 8:4 “[God sent His Son / condemned sin in sinful man] in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Who’s the OT pointing toward? Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. WHO ELSE? “US!” who live ‘according to the Spirit’. In YOU – living, acting, breathing Christ-followers – the righteous requirements of the law are FULLY MET. The aim or object of God’s written word is the creation of people who are living according to His Spirit.

             We DELIGHT in God’s law, and show that by obeying it at a DEEPER level. Who does Jesus say is “great” in the kingdom of heaven, v19? “Whoever practices and teaches these commands.” His purpose is to create a people walking by God’s Spirit, living out God’s principles. Paul urges the church, Php 3:17 “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Php 4:9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Titus 3:8 “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

             But this requires going deeper than just the surface, to the principles at the root of Biblical instruction. Jesus cautioned in Mt 5:20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Those were the religious PROFESSIONALS! The experts! The scribes ‘taught’, the Pharisees made it their calling to flawlessly practice the 613 individual commandments they identified in the OT. YET Jesus was highly critical of both groups, labelling them “hypocrites” repeatedly in Mt 23 – saying one thing, but doing another.

             In the following sections of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes on to give examples of 6 different subjects in which people ‘had heard that it was said’ in the law of Moses, but the righteousness Jesus expects goes deeper – in areas including murder, adultery, divorce, and revenge, for example. He calls us to a higher standard than surface compliance, hypocrisy, men-pleasing, or lip-service. He seeks a level of obedience that’s only possible with God’s Spirit motivating us from the inside.

             We become walking Bibles in the sense of God expressing His goals and principles as His Spirit lives them out in each of our unique stories and places.


In closing, a few quick illustrations... A woman who came to know Christ as her Saviour returned home full of joy – the unique gladness that overflows the heart of a repentant sinner. After a few weeks, she expressed a desire to leave the community in which she lived because it was so sinful. When her pastor heard this, he said with some severity, “How would you like it if the city removed all the lights from the dirty, dangerous streets and left lights only in the good neighbourhoods where no crimes are committed? Didn’t Christ say, ‘You are the light of the world’?” (Mt 5:14) The woman accepted the rebuke, and some time later said to her pastor, “Now there are two lights that shine in our street.” She had led another soul to Christ.

             On the enduring value of the Bible... During World War II, a south sea islander proudly displayed his Bible to a soldier, who uttered in response, “We’ve outgrown that sort of thing.” The native smiled back and said, “It’s a good thing we haven’t. If it weren’t for this book, you’d have been a meal by now!”

             Finally – and here’s your ‘application’ for this week, if you’re not already doing it! Andrew Young, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, urged the graduating class of the University of Maryland’s Eastern Shore campus to “get a Bible” and read a chapter a day. He said in his commencement address, “It won’t hurt you at all, and it will give you more illumination and purpose in life. It’s better to invest $15 in a Bible now than $25 an hour for a psychiatrist later.” Let’s pray.