Matthew 5:13 – 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.

We are still looking at teaching from what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  Our last post pointed out that Jesus taught while sitting on a mountain slope.  This setting allowed him to be both seen and heard by all those who came to hear him.  It was obviously not a truly remote place, because the crowds were able to get there, but it was far enough away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to allow the hearers to concentrate on what Jesus was saying.

Let’s take a moment to consider salt, since that is what Jesus is comparing his followers to.

Here is a fact about salt that you may never have considered before:  You only salt things that are dead.

Now, I admit, that sounds strange, but if you think about it, you will find that it is true.  We don’t go out into our gardens and salt the green bean plants; we add the salt after the beans are picked and we are cooking them.  Since the beans have been separated from the plant, they are technically dead and eventually they will rot.

Likewise, we don’t go out into the fields and salt the cattle as they graze. 

We wait until the animal has been butchered, then add a sprinkle or two of salt on a steak as we are grilling it.

What does salt do for dead things?  It preserves, it enhances flavor and texture and it is also a binding agent in foods like sausage.

In the same way as salt preserves, enhances and acts as a binder for food, the Christian acts as a preservative, enhancer and binder for the human world.

It is the faith, works and prayers of Christians which bring the blessings and favor of God down upon our society.  Without Christian influence, the world would soon become totally corrupt and rotten, much like a steak left in the hot sun for a few days.  We already have evidence of this; the bible tells us that during the time of Noah, there were only a handful of righteous people left.  The rest of the world was entirely unrestrained and corrupt.

Genesis 6:11-12 – Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

This was not a ‘one time’ exception; any generation left without a witness to the truth and power of God Almighty will end up in the same state of death.

Psalms 14:2-3 – The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt, there is none who does good, not even one.

Therefore, it is essential that each disciple of Jesus act as salt in his/her community. In order for the salt to do its work, it must be separate/distinct/different from the food it is preserving.  Otherwise, it can do no good.

In the same way, we must stand out and be different from the culture around us.  If there is no discernable difference between you and the world, how can you function as salt?

One way to measure your influence as salt is to see how you are different from those around you.  For instance, do you have the same goals as those without Christ?  I certainly hope not!  They are looking to gain the whole world, while you should be looking for a heavenly home.

The world seeks to spend their days in idleness and pleasure.  You should be working in the fields of righteousness, because there is a great harvest of souls to be gathered, but the workers are few.

The world is fearful of the future, but you are a person of peace – peace that passes understanding.

The world seeks to find meaning and satisfaction through money, power, sex, alcohol, drugs and other things.  However, the Christian knows that true satisfaction and fulfillment are found in a relationship with the God of the universe.

The bottom line is this – If you are going to be the salt of the earth, you must be different from the world. Your holiness and good works will stand in contrast to the carnality of your generation, giving unbelievers an example of the love, peace and fulfillment available to those who follow Jesus Christ.

If we are no different than the unbelievers around us, then we have lost the ability to act as salt; we can no longer preserve or enhance or hold together the society in which we live.  If that is the case what good are we to the world around us or to our King?

Matthew 5:14-15 – You are the light of the world.  A cit 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.

The ‘light’ metaphors in these verses are much the same as the ‘salt’ metaphor above.  Just as God designed the sun to illuminate the earth, so he designed the Christian to illuminate the hearts and minds of those around us to the gospel of Christ.

If a city is built on a hill, it will not be a secret, especially at night when the lights are on.  Anyone will be able to see it, even from a distance.  The city will be a place of refuge and respite for the weary traveler.

In the same way, the church of Jesus Christ is like a city.  It is not hidden, but it is out in plain view shining with the light of Christ.  Anyone who looks for it can see it.  The church should be a place of shelter and comfort to those who are weary from life.

Matthew 5:16 -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.

Live your own life by the light of the gospel.  Let the world see your holiness and your good works to others.  Let them notice and marvel at your love for all mankind.  Let the world see the true peace and joy that you posses, which is not affected by either good or bad circumstances.  Let them see you glorify and praise your King.  Let them eat of the fruit of the Spirit that you bear in your life.

In so doing, you will point them back to your heavenly Father.  He is to receive the glory and honor and praise for all the good things exhibited in our lives.

This is the opposite of what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were doing.  They performed good works and prayed public prayers so that they themselves would receive the glory of men.  This is not true Christianity, which acts in order to glorify God alone.

Matthew 5:17 – 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.

The ancient scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) had three divisions:  The Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (Ketuvim).

The Torah is the law of God as revealed to Moses, which is recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament. It is also called the Pentateuch.

The Prophets are just what you imagine – the Old Testament books written by the prophets.  These include (but are not limited to) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Samuel, Joel, Jonah, Micah, and others.

The Writings were everything else, including the Psalms and Proverbs.

Essentially, when Jesus speaks of the Law and the Prophets, he is referring to the whole Old Testament or the current covenant between God and the Jews.

Let’s consider these words from the Jewish point of view.  If you were a devout, God fearing Jew back then, you would probably be alarmed at Jesus’ teaching.  You might naturally assume that if the kingdom of heaven was at hand and a new era was beginning, that the law you so loved and cherished would be destroyed.  This would almost be considered blasphemous by the devout Jews, because the law was clearly the word of God.

On the other hand, if you were a Jew who despised the law, you might be very glad to hear that a new covenant was at hand – perhaps it would be more to your liking that the strict rules of the law!

However, Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that he has no intention of destroying the law.  Rather, he has come to fulfill it.  Jesus will be the literal fulfillment of the ceremonial law; he will be the true, perfect sacrificial lamb who would atone for the sins of all mankind.  He would also be the fulfillment of the moral law.  This means that by his life and doctrine Jesus would establish, illustrate and live out the highest meaning of moral law.

It makes sense that Jesus was come to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it.  After all, the Old and New Testament scriptures form a single unified whole.  The law and the gospels are not opposing teachings; they are a single perfect unified whole.  God’s revelation would never contradict itself.

This brings us to another point.  The moral law as taught and lived by Jesus was going to look a whole lot different than the moral law as practiced by the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  This accounts for a lot of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.

Matthew 5:18 – For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Clearly, Jesus is teaching that the law was to remain in full force until it was fulfilled.  He is also telling us that the smallest or least element of holiness in the law has more reality and durability than the whole visible universe.  The heavens and the earth will one day pass away, but not the word of God!

Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Matthew 5:19 – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The religious leaders of Jesus day had a bad habit of dividing up the commandments of God into ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ commands.  If you broke one of the lesser commands, it meant you were guilty of only a trivial offence.  If you broke one of the greater commands, that was a serious offence.  Then, there were the commands that did not suit the purposes of the religious leaders, so they maintained that their traditions made those commands null and void!

While that may seem laughable to us, don’t mock them just yet, because we do essentially the same thing!

For example, which sin is greater:  a little white lie or murder?  How about cheating a little on your taxes or robbing a bank?

You see, even our generation considers some sins to be little (the white lie or cheating the IRS) and some sins to be big and serious (murder and robbery).

God doesn’t see it that way at all.  Each and every breach of the law is sin.  Jesus was saying that he was going to raise, not lower, the standard of righteousness which had previously been accepted by the Jews.  We will find him teaching on this subject in greater detail very soon.

Matthew 5:20 – For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The righteousness of the religious leaders was based on the outward observance of ceremonial law.  They offered sacrifices, fasted regularly, never missed ceremonial washings and paid tithes down to the exact amount of spices in their gardens!

But Jesus wasn’t speaking of outward righteousness.  He is concerned about the righteousness that springs from the heart of a person.  It consists of things like justice, truth and purity of heart and mind.  If we have righteousness in our hearts, our actions will follow suit.

Matthew 5:21-22  – You have heard it said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘you fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus now goes on to give an example of his previous statement.  The teachers of the law told the people that if you murder, you are liable to judgment.  There can be no doubt that this was a correct interpretation of the law.  However, their conclusions and teachings are solely based on outward actions.  No concern is given to the motivations of the heart.  This was the fundamental mistake of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, which they continued to make again and again. 

Jesus, however, is teaching that the law entails more than just your actions – it also includes your inward thoughts and motivations.  Thus, anyone who has malice, hatred, ill-will or scornful anger against a brother is also guilty of murder, just like the man who literally kills his neighbor!

Matthew 5:23-24 – So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

The religious leaders believed that as long as a person performed an external act of worship, they were in right standing with God, regardless of what was in their heart.  For instance, they believed that a person could pay his tithes and it would be an acceptable sacrifice to God, even if he had hatred or jealously or pride in his heart against a fellow man.

But Jesus teaches something far different.  He exemplifies the fulfillment of the law when he says that we cannot offer acceptable worship to God while holding hostile feelings toward another person.  Neither can we offer acceptable worship to God if we have failed to make restitution to someone for an injury we have done to him.  So Jesus explains that we must defer our worship until we make peace with our brother.  Only then will our sacrifice be acceptable to God.

Matthew 5:25-26 – Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Here Jesus gives a real world example of his teaching.  The gist is this:  if you have a quarrel with someone, you need to make things right as soon as possible, before your adversary sets the law into motion.  Once that happens, you will suffer the unrelenting wheels of justice where you will be held responsible to pay every last cent.  Instead of doing that, cast off your pride and anger; make peace with your adversary so you are not caught in judgment.

Likewise, we need to make things right with our fellow man during the time that mercy is still possible.  If we are stubborn and refuse to lay down our pride and anger, we will soon enter a time when judgment without mercy is the only possible outcome.

I hope you are enjoying our study of Matthew!  Before we end this installment, let me give you a little encouragement:  As a Christian, you shine the light of Jesus to a lost and dying world!  What an honor it is to reflect the love and grace of our Savior and King.  I encourage you to shine your light just a little brighter this week.  Try being just a little more bold in expressing your belief in Jesus!

Let me offer you some relief:  If you have a long list of rules for being a Christian, ease up on yourself a bit.  Rather than focusing on ‘do’s and don’ts’ keep a close watch on the intents and motivations of your heart.  If your heart is right, your actions will follow.

Let me offer you some strength:  It is our job to lift up Jesus; it is the Holy Spirit’s job to call people to repentance.  That means that you may do a fine job being salt or light, but others may still reject your witness.  Don’t be worried if this happens; you may be watering or planting a seed that will sprout up at another time.  Continue to shine your light and let the Holy Spirit worry about the results.

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